No one ever talks to you about the hardships of breastfeeding, they just say ‘breast is best’ and ‘formula is bad’. Being breastfed for 12 months myself I always knew breastfeeding was something I wanted to do for my babies. But little did I know what was ahead of me.
Other mums had told me it would be ‘natural’ and in all my birthing classes no one ever really emphasised breastfeeding. When me or my husband did ask questions, they kind of brushed them off or told me not to worry.
There was so much focus on actually giving birth, no one ever explained to me how to breastfeed. The only thing I was told was by a surgeon when I had my breast implants removed, who said that regardless of the surgery there’d always be a chance of not being able to breastfeed.
I had no idea about mastitis or nipple thrush, I had no idea my nipples would crack and bleed when the baby didn’t latch correctly - I had no idea my breasts would get engorged or leak! I just thought you put the baby on and it feeds - and I guess for some mums, it is that easy.
When I had my daughter I was only in the hospital a day, and during that time I saw five different nurses and was told five different ways to breastfeed. From day one, my nipples cracked and were bleeding and I kept getting told I was ‘doing it wrong’ - it was so confusing.
Around 3-4 days after I got home from the hospital my breasts were painful, swollen, and engorged, it felt like I had implants again. My nipples were so cracked and painful I had to brace myself before every feed as I curled my toes and put my baby girl on.
I had it embedded in me that breastfeeding was what I wanted to do, so I just had to persevere and feed through the pain. I could feel each latch was getting more and more shallow as the pain was getting more intense. My milk was building up because my baby girl wasn't getting it out properly - and my breasts just became more swollen.
The week after she was born I was told by the GP I had mastitis and given antibiotics. It took about five day of antibiotics until I could physically get out of bed, I was so sick.
I had fevers, cold chills but I just had to push through and keep trying to feed her through the pain because they said it's the only way to unblock the ducts and reduce the swelling by getting the milk out. I remember there were 30 degree days at the time, I went through literal blood, sweat and tears trying to get the milk out.
I was in so much pain that I was too scared to express my own milk - my husband had to get me in the hot shower and massage it out for me. I wanted to give up so many times and I kept saying that this is the last time, but i just couldn't had to go keep going with it
A couple of weeks later my milk ducts blocked and became infected - and I got mastitis AGAIN. At this point my nipples were either scabs or bleeding, I didn’t think they’d ever heal and I was desperate.
After being given another round of antibiotics, I was persevering with breastfeeding. I was in so much pain I couldn’t even enjoy my baby it became an obsession each drop was like liquid gold. I was tired, I was still recovering from the birth and I just wasn’t myself anymore.
Everyone kept telling me the cracks in my nipples would heal after the first six weeks - but it had been three months now. I was using nipple shields, creams, lotions, gel pads - but nothing helped. I couldn’t wear bras or anything on my top half, so I was unable to leave my house for months - and when I absolutely had to go out, to see the doctor, I had to put ice packs in my top to make it bearable.
I noticed my nipples were not healing, so I went back to my doctor. I showed them my daughter’s white tongue because I thought it could be thrush after a google search - but I was told it was just milk and that I had a staph infection. Which meant another round of antibiotics. I wasn't convinced and I wanted a second opinion.
My friend had referred me to a specialist breastfeeding doctor who was booked out for weeks. I was so desperate though, so that’s the reason I had to seek any help I could get while waiting.
When I was finally able to get an appointment they told me I had nipple thrush and a fungal infection! They gave me a cream for my nipples and my daughter’s tongue and after a week my journey started to get better. She really saved me, and helped me until it was no longer painful to feed my baby girl - and it was what everyone told me it was meant to feel like.
If I had just been able to see the specialist earlier, I would have been able to treat the thrush (that the antibiotics were feeding) and I could have fed my daughter more and prevented the milk building up and resulting in mastsis, over and over again.
It was just the most horrendous first experience, it was emotional, excruciating, tiring. I wanted to give up every day but there was so much pressure to be able to breastfeed my baby because that’s what I thought I HAD to do.
At the time I had to stop working, I had no energy to focus on my new business. I mean my whole business was focused around pregnancy and breastfeeding - I was designing maternity activewear and I wanted to be able to use the breastfeeding crops I was creating!
I was the only one in my mothers group who was struggling with breastfeeding and I felt like a failure - I even put it down to maybe being due to having my breast implants removed.
Looking back now I feel so proud and blessed I was able to push through, thankful for my husband's support and SO lucky that I saw the breastfeeding doctor who saved my breastfeeding journey. I was able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for 14 months.
I just think if I had been educated about this before having my baby and given information about what to watch out for, like thrush - could all of this have been avoided?
I would tell all pregnant women to please ask as many questions and do as much research as you can on breastfeeding - and book in with a breastfeeding specialist for after the baby’s born. So at least if you need to see them like I did, you already have an appointment secured. I just wish someone had told me all this before giving birth.
And finally don’t put so much pressure on yourself - if you can breastfeed that's amazing and if you can’t don’t be scared to use formula it is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong, everyone's journey is their own.
Emma launched her activewear brand Emamaco in 2019 after getting on top of breastfeeding. With this issue being so close to her heart, during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week she is donating $1 from every maternity order to the Australian Breastfeeding Association.