As I sit nursing my almost 22 month old watching him drift off to sleep, I think about how important breastfeeding has been in our journey and not just for the obvious benefits we are so often reminded of. I’m thinking of the real time, actual, day to day ways it has influenced and shaped our journey as mother and son.
It started with that first feed, nerves, apprehension, and curiosity making way for relief, and hope that we would have a successful breastfeeding journey. During my pregnancy I’d read that he might struggle, that it might not happen. I’d heard stories of other mums being told not to even try. I was overjoyed and determined.
It then gave me a great sense of purpose after he was rushed to the neonatal unit and given an ng tube. I chose to sit and express milk by his cot side instead of the pumping room as I couldn’t stand the disconnect the room provided. I needed to be beside him. Being wired up in such a sterile and abnormal environment was so foreign to everything I knew about newborn life. I wanted endless skin to skin cuddles on the sofa and cluster feeding, and my own bed. I felt helpless except for being able to provide him with what I knew he needed. I focused on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t.
As a second time parent, it’s supposed to be easier. No longer a fear of the unknown. But this was a different journey. A baby with more to love, 47 chromosomes…down syndrome. Everything felt new and different somehow, we left the security of the hospital and arrived home. I needed my parenting comforts, the familiarity of my slings, my cloth nappies, and to breastfeed. We transitioned from NG tube to bottle to breast within 3 weeks. We needed it, I needed it. It’s wasn’t easy, it was awkward and clumsy. The low tone in his jaw meant I had to help him stay latched on, milk would go everywhere. It was one feed at a time for a long time.
“Breastfeeding allowed that special time together, the oxytocin release, the love that flows, that he would become utter perfection in my eyes.”
When we got his diagnosis mid pregnancy, a million thoughts crossed my mind. Would I love him as much as my daughter?, would he seem imperfect to me?, would I bond with him?, would I look at him and see Down syndrome first and my baby second? It seems unbelievable now that I’d even think those things but I learnt it’s a normal part of the process.
Breastfeeding allowed that special time together, the oxytocin release, the love that flows, that he would become utter perfection in my eyes.
Life became a whirlwind of therapies, and appointments and groups. Carrying him close in various slings as his small floppy body has grown and strengthened over time. Keeping him close made me feel he was more protected, my inner mama bear on constant guard since the first moment we left the house with him.
Breastfeeding has brought an ease and a sense of normality to our journey. I didn’t have the worry of counting ounces and worrying about volumes of milk. My baby was growing well and having enough nappies for me to be confident and trust in what we were doing. When he was hospitalised with bronchiolitis he avoided feeding interventions because he was still breastfeeding.
It’s comforted him at various blood tests, medical appointment, therapy sessions and times of illness.
It’s allowed him an independence over his food intake which we continued when it came time to wean him into solid food by using the baby led weaning method. What better way to promote inclusion than around the dinner table.
It’s provided a form of regular speech therapy for him.
Its now allowing me to calm him when his frustrations at not being able to tell me what he wants and needs get too much.
It helps me get him back to sleep when he makes multiple times in the night.
It eases and helps him when he gets close to constipation.
And for me, it’s a moment to reconnect. At the end of busy long days, when I’ve stopped being a physio, a speech therapist, a nutritionist, an occupational therapist and all the other roles you take on as a mother to a child with additional needs, it’s an excuse to just rest and be mama again.