Helen’s Story

helen's story

Helen’s Story

During my twenties and early thirties, I had mixed feelings about breastfeeding. I saw my breasts as very sexual, and worried that breastfeeding would ruin that for me.

As things turned out, my marriage ended, as did my subsequent relationship, the one where I thought I would have children. I had my son by donor insemination at the age of 36 during the pandemic, so a partner’s needs didn’t factor into the decision making process. I was also vegan by this time and vegan formula is hard to come by. I had heard how hard breastfeeding was and had many friends who had given up or been unable to feed, but decided to try it at least for the first few feeds and see how it went.

I overcame birth trauma, difficulties with the latch, pumping and syringe and cup feeding, but never giving in to the offers of formula, and when my milk came in on day 3, things slowly started to get easier. My goal stretched to a week, then 6, then 8, each time thinking, well, I’ve fed longer than (insert friend or relatives name). 

At 5 weeks, we both got thrush and the pain was so bad I could barely stand up. I cried with pain through each feed and passed out one day from the agony of trying to put my bra back on. I only kept going because the lactation consultant warned me that stopping so suddenly would cause mastitis.

Much later, after we could be seen in person rather than over the phone (thanks Covid) it turned out that my son probably had a tongue tie but since it “hadn’t affected his feeding”, it was too late to worry about snipping it.

Weeks turned to months and I slowly began to enjoy the feeds rather than dread them. I learnt about the side lying position and the safe sleep 7 and eventually felt confident enough to embrace cosleeping which was a game changer for us. My only regret is that I didn’t do it from birth. I celebrated 4 months (Ruby boobies), then 5, then 6. He started eating food and taking tiny sips of water with a meal which felt very strange. He went to a full time nursery at 8 months and they told me they didn’t know what to do with breastmilk.

I told them they’d have to learn!

At 10 months, I’d finally achieved the milestone of feeding him for longer than my mum fed me. His food intake seemed to dramatically increase at this point, my periods came back and I had a spike of depression as I was getting less of that lovely oxytocin from feeding.

We hit the magic 12 month mark where I’d been reliably told that breastfeeding was no longer necessary and he’d wean himself off. Nothing changed, except that overnight, feeding him in public stopped being a simple act of care but a political statement. My parents didn’t want to give him my expressed milk any more, and the nursery told me they could only give it until 18 months. 

I gradually reduced my pumping by 3 minutes each week and by 15 months had stopped altogether. I had pumped in over 50 different schools as a supply teacher and had done so in cupboards, offices, sheds, relaxation spaces, open staff rooms and on one occasion was offered a toilet. I asked if they wanted to prepare the school lunches in the toilet since they thought it was a safe food preparation area for children and I’d pump in the kitchen. They found me somewhere else.

He didn’t stop feeding in the daytime when I was off work, and fed basically all night. 15 months is also the age when I gave up any pretence of him even starting the night in a cot. I needed sleep and he needed the milk. A couple of times I was too tired to get up when he cried, he went back to sleep and I woke up with blocked ducts. I couldn’t risk it because I knew any doctor would just encourage me to wean rather than treating me. I also gave up trying to ninja roll away during his naps. No little bit of housework that I did at that time could possibly benefit him more than the attachment we were forming by boobie and contact napping.

I nursed through 3 hospitalisations for breathing problems, through a family Christmas, through the pandemic and through contracting covid myself.

At 16 months, during a hospital admission, a nurse wouldn’t bring us a suitable bed to co-sleep and told me they weren’t allowed to promote bedsharing. I told her they were duty bound to promote breastfeeding on demand until at least 2 years and the safe sleep 7 and asked which surface in the room could safely accommodate this. She brought the bed.

At 18 months, a doctor I saw for another complaint told me I wasn’t living my life for myself and I needed to wean. I nursed on.

At 22 months, nursing in a public art gallery, some teenagers told me I was disrespectful. I nursed on.

At around 23 months he started to show an interest in cuddles without boobies for the first time and didn’t immediately pull my top down at nursery pick up time.

We celebrated 2 years, then 2.5, then 1000 days of boob, then 3 years. We fed on planes, on boats, in taxis, in supermarket trolleys, and in 9 different countries.

At 26 months, we moved countries.

He’s now 38 months and although he loves boobies and sometimes talks to them as if they were a separate person, there are nights where he doesn’t have them at all. He’s completely day weaned now, and looks at me in disgust when I forget and offer boobies for a daytime injury. 

He now rarely wakes in the night for boobies and often has a cuddle instead if he wakes at all. Gradually, his emotional and nutritional needs are met elsewhere, with stories, cuddles, conversation, food and water. I’m delighted but sad at the same time. It’s been such a wonderful journey for us and such a part of our bond and connection but I’m enjoying the way we are now finding other ways to connect. My ultimate goal is for him to totally wean himself, but who knows when and if that will happen.

However our journey ends, I will be forever grateful for this time.