Saturday 25 October 2014

Why it's only 'liquid gold' for my baby

Nobody told Mary-Elaine Tynan the many unexpected advantages of breastfeeding her baby daughter

Published 13/06/2012 | 06:00

Out in public: Mary-Elaine Tynan breastfeeds her baby in a Dublin cafe.

At every turn these days you'll find an expert who's just dying to recite off the many virtues of breast milk and breastfeeding. I agree. Take last week for example.

After spending 45 minutes getting the bambino into her swimming nappy and minuscule polka-dot pink togs so we could have a plunge, no sooner had we hit the water and she decided she was hungry!

This had the potential to be a nightmare but for us, no problem -- milk on tap, anywhere, anytime. Even the pool! Now that's one plus those experts fail to list!

That wasn't really in the plan when I decided to breastfeed. What initially piqued my interest was when I heard that the initial milk, colostrum, is also known as liquid gold. I wanted my baby to have some of that.

I must confess, though, that, while this wannabe hippy obviously wants the best for baby, not all of my reasons for breastfeeding were entirely selfless . . .

The single biggest influence on my decision to eschew formula in favour of breastfeeding was the assurance that the baby weight would fall off. And what did I do with this information? I succumbed to wanton laziness and unashamed gluttony during and post pregnancy. Thus I stacked on the pounds, safe in the knowledge that they would melt away within days of breastfeeding . . . Not quite! Consequently, four breastfeeding months later and I'm yet to shift the blubber. I'm now resigned to using the gym for purposes other than relaxing in the café and sauna! Sigh!

Initially, breastfeeding was a very daunting experience. I'd been warned by friends that it can be painful, tiring and ties you to the baby. Those things are all true. It's tough initially -- and lonely. It's an intensely emotional journey punctuated by exhaustion, mostly at 3am, and yet profound joy.

I was exhausted enough from a labour that lasted longer than Lent, so being a child's only source of sustenance was exhausting and overwhelming at times.

But I'm no superwoman. After surmounting the initial challenges, it has been a fairly smooth experience.

It really is an extraordinary privilege to be able to feed our little girl whose tiny body pressed against mine creates an unparalleled physical and emotional closeness. Furthermore, knowing that every additional pound of flesh on her tiny frame is a direct consequence of milk which my body produced is nothing short of mind-blowing. I am so happy to have been able to breastfeed.

And yet, it is a massive commitment. That is why I never judge women who choose not to breastfeed. Though it's not as overwhelming as I was led to believe, it means that baby is 100pc dependent on mammy. Which some women are into. But as a fiercely independent person who desperately needs space sometimes, even from her child, the early days were difficult.

That was until I began my relationship with a mechanical device akin to a milking machine and just as efficient: the electric breast pump. It really is a fantastic invention and means that sanity is never far away since I can put baby and an expressed bottle into the willing hands of hubby, grandma, auntie or any other (responsible) adult while I get a break/sleep.

By far the most surreal moment was when a friend and I found ourselves pumping milk in the toilet of a very trendy Dublin nightclub. She "pumped and dumped" as she'd had a few drinks. I wasn't so I boogied with the boobie-juice sloshing around in my clutch bag for the rest of the night! It was definitely heavier than the lippy, powder and 50 quid I normally carry but a damn sight more comfortable than hauling around aching, milk-laden, brick-like boobs!

One of the most fascinating aspects of breastfeeding is people's reactions. Initially, it bothered me as I found myself justifying why I was doing it. The first time I breastfed her in public, I was very self-conscious. I soon realised that I'd never leave the house if I couldn't master nursing in public, so I got over it. Now I really don't care.

In fact, I've had very few problems. It's a shame really, as I've been saving up a retort that my friend used when she was asked by a disgruntled stranger in a restaurant to breastfeed her child in the toilet. She replied "Do you eat your food in the toilet?" Touché!

Having my friend's children huddle around me asking to see my milk again and again was adorable and nearly as funny as my teenage niece who nearly has a seizure at the mere mention, never mind sight, of a boob!

And then there's that awkward issue that most nursing mothers encounter: how long to breastfeed for before it's a bit weird and/or you're shunned by friends and family?

I've yet to find the answer to that but I do love it when people (frequently) ask how long I plan to continue.

This is really code for "Are you one of those weirdos who's going to feed the child into adolescence and mortify us all?" It's too tempting not to wind them up.

So with as straight a face as I can muster, I reply "Ah, probably until she's about four or five. Sure we'll see . . ." That usually shuts them up!

Irish Independent

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