Cherise Holt discusses her personal experiences of breastfeeding
Deeply Nurturing spoke with Cherise Holt on the big topic of breastfeeding. Cherise lives in Brisbane with her partner Ben and son William – she works as an enrolled nurse and is studying registered nursing and supports social media posting for Esoteric Women's Health, amongst other projects.
I hear a lot of women in pregnancy when asked about their plans for breastfeeding say that they plan to ‘give it a go’. Was this something that you personally felt? If not, what was your experience?
I never questioned whether I would breastfeed or not, for me it just felt normal to be planning to do so. When my Son was born and he was placed on my chest for his first feed, this confirmed for me that it felt right for us both. I did note however, that there is a lot of pressure on us as women to breastfeed and during a group antenatal class when women asked the Midwives about other feeding options the emphasis that was placed on breastfeeding being 'the best and first way to go' was very strong, which I felt imposed a pressure ‘to perform’.
I have also heard women say that they should breastfeed and in-turn feel very disheartened if they have had to bottle-feed instead. I have to wonder if feeling the need to 'give it a go' is a bit of a trap that sets us up to not feel so lacking in our own self-worth as women; if breastfeeding turns out to not be right for us or our baby, perhaps we can then say at least we tried? I had an older woman always say ‘good girl’ to me when she heard that I was still breastfeeding and this showed me just how much we can impose our own beliefs onto others or equally, take others beliefs on as our own if we choose to.
What was your first experiences of breastfeeding like - were you prepared for what you felt and what was going on around you?
I gave birth to my Son in a private hospital at just over 35 weeks, after being checked over by a Paediatrician he was placed on my chest for our first feed together and it was such a beautiful experience, one that I will never forget. For me it was a testament to how innate the connection between our two bodies and natural instincts were, well before any thoughts or ideals of how things should be could come into play. My Son was then transferred to the Special Care Nursery for observations where I visited him and breastfed for the next 5 nights, whilst he grew in strength and developed further his suckling reflex. Although we weren't prepared for this exact situation I had already sensed that he was going to arrive early and my partner and I had planned to be as flexible as we could be.
In the first 24 hours after birth and because my baby was very sleepy, it was decided that he needed to be topped-up with formula via a nasogastric tube. While we were waiting for the pharmacy to supply the specific formula we had chosen there was a time-pressure from some of the Midwives to hurry the colostrum or milk production from my breasts. On the ward, I then found myself being wrongly measured in cup size for an automatic pump and manually squeezed to express small drops into a syringe, this was extremely painful and led to physical trauma to one of my breasts. It was too painful to breastfeed from this breast afterwards and my baby didn’t want to latch onto it either. I began to lose trust in the Midwives I was speaking to, both on the ward and in the Nursery, whilst feeling the physical and emotional pain of allowing my breasts to be handled in any way less than the otherwise deeply delicate care that I deserve.
How do you see women being affected by the many different ideals and beliefs around breastfeeding?
I did not feel prepared for the myriad of differing opinions and views around breastfeeding that I heard in hospital and more-so the many techniques and beliefs there really are about how to do it correctly! Whilst most Midwives commented and confirmed me in my way of breastfeeding, others made it apparent that I was not doing it correctly in their view and physically manoeuvred my hand position for me. I recall one Midwife saying ‘who taught you to hold it [my breast] like that?!’ – which was clearly a way of holding that just felt natural for me. I was also feeding in the middle of the Special Care Nursery amongst others and where many nurses were coming and going all the time.
Things changed as I regained my own deep sense of self-confidence again, supported by some much needed rest. I was then visited by a Midwife who I could best describe as 'an elder of the community'. She naturally supported me to come from the knowing and trust of my own body again and with this my breasts began to heal and my milk flowed freely. I had no issues with trauma, engorgement, mastitis or painful feeding from that moment onwards.
A woman’s breasts are often seen as something quite functional. They get a solid ‘mention’ and focus at the time of breastfeeding but what is your relationship with your breasts, and what are some of the things that can get in the way of that relationship?
My breasts are beautiful to me but I didn’t believe I was allowed to feel this way about them as a young girl or woman growing up. They really do come to the fore around birth and breastfeeding as they become a common topic of conversation and are taken out for feeding so often. My relationship with my breasts has always been a personal and modest one and although I’ve never felt there has been anything wrong with them physically, they used to just be another part of my body that I didn’t give a lot of attention to. Over recent years though I have seen them more as an important part of me, part of the nurturing woman I am and bring to my whole life.
How interesting it was to find myself in the maternity ward or nursery and see how normal it is for our breasts to be on display or spoken about by other people, as they now had a function. This experience actually supported me to love my own breasts and claim them as being nothing to hide even more – not in a show and tell kind of way, but in the sense that they are a part of me and they are lovely just as they are. There is a lot of hype and opinion around breastfeeding in public and I can see how this can get in the way of women simply enjoying the connection time with their own bodies and baby. Since I stopped breastfeeding my Son I thought I could be disappointed if my breasts became smaller but my experience has been the opposite, I have appreciated them and my body even more and celebrated with the purchase of a supportive and beautiful new bra.
Is there a right or true time to stop breastfeeding?
I don’t believe there is a right or wrong time to stop, however just like anything, everybody will have their own opinion. I do believe there is a true time to stop breastfeeding and that this simply comes as a decision from the baby to stop or the Mother who has felt it is time to stop. It sounds simple (and it should be) but if we let others beliefs or any sort of comparison get in the way we can’t read the true timing for ourselves.
I noticed myself comparing to other women and how long they breastfed for on a few occasions and I also realised I was holding a picture that 12 months was a good length of time to breastfeed and perhaps the right time to stop. I uncovered that this picture was built in me at a young age by listening to my own Mother’s experience as I grew up and that of other women who were my role models. Uncovering all of this has brought great healing for me because when I was caught in the comparison or the picture everything became complicated and so obvious that I had stepped away from that simple truth of what felt true for me and I could choose my clarity again.
What difference can it make having the support of your partner when breastfeeding?
Back to the antenatal class and when it came to discuss breastfeeding amongst all of the women, the male partners were taken to another room where they were taught to swaddle – we were intermixed once again and given the opportunity to share privately with each other what we had both learnt. I remember my partner and I feeling it was odd that we were separated as he clearly wanted to learn about breastfeeding and we both felt that we were in this whole thing together.
I hold the support of my partner in general very dear to me, we are a great team and throughout my breastfeeding he supported me in every decision that I felt was true without question. Having the support of a partner who confirms how beautiful and natural you are as a woman, a mother and then as you breastfeed is immeasurable and really helps if you step away from this knowing of yourself or get caught up in outside influences to always bring yourself back to your truth.
Image by Steffi Henn Photography