Breastfeeding: When things don’t go to plan
For many of our readers, Jennalea McInnes will need no introduction.
Drawing crowds to her yoga classes and wait-lists to her nutrition practice, Jennalea built a rep for her powerful flows, holistic advice and a soul that feels wise beyond her years.
So when she fell pregnant in 2020, it was natural to assume she’d coast into a picture-perfect version of motherhood.
Life, however, doesn’t always go the way we planned. After an unexpected birth experience and post-natal events beyond her control, Jennalea was forced to adapt her ideals of what it means to be ‘maternal’.
For many, the connection formed in the early stages between mum and bub can be strengthened by their breastfeeding experience – but for countless others this isn’t always a road so easily travelled. For Jennalea, breastfeeding looked quite different to what she’d envisioned, but overcoming those obstacles, and now a proud mama to her son, Ollie, she’s learning to transform expectations into acceptance.
Enjoy our very special chat below.
We’ve been following your journey through your Instagram account @Jennaleamcinnes and love your honest and raw insights into all aspects of your life – especially motherhood. How has motherhood changed you, and your perspectives and beliefs?
Thank you! I think the biggest change would be my priorities and how things that used to seem so relevant, become irrelevant – you don’t sweat the small stuff, at all. You don’t have time to!! But also your priorities shift so significantly. Your love, attention, focus and energy all go into your baby and your family. It takes a while after having a baby to get back into some kind of routine for yourself. Movement, skincare, socialising, eating better etc!! These were massive changes for me. I used to do so much Yoga and weight lifting – so it’s a very humbling journey slowly reintroducing these self care practices back into my life. You become slower and more mindful in some aspects of your life. Yet fast, more stressed, anxious in others. It’s all a rollercoaster and whilst there have been tough moments this past 6 months – it’s a rollercoaster I am extremely grateful to be on.
Many of us have ideals of how our birth experience and breastfeeding journey should be . What were your ideals and how were these challenged?
We as humans are so idealistic! Myself especially. I am known to be so passionate, pedantic and extremely strong willed about my values.
So going into parenthood I had very strong ideals about how I wanted it to play out from birth and beyond. And NOTHING came to fruition from birth and beyond! It’s such a learning curve to surrender more to what is and accept the ride is not always in your control.
My ideal birth was a natural water birth. I went 48 hours in labour drug-free. It just went so long and I was not progressing. It was heartbreaking and exhausting. I now have a completely different perspective and opinion on epidurals. At 60 hours there still was no progression and it was decided we would have a sunroof birth. I was terrified of a C-section but am so grateful for the amazing team at the hospital we were at.
My initial ideals in the beginning of being Ollie’s mama was to breastfeed him as long as I could – ideally until he was 12-18mo. Alas, we had so many complications that I was only able to feed until 3.5 months (which I cherish so much). It was a hard time, and another lesson surrendering (not giving up). But giving in- letting things be the way they are.
I endured so much physical and emotional anguish (and pain) trying to get Ollie breastfed, I was completely exhausted. And my boobs, well. They were beyond exhausted. (“Never be the same again”).
I had nipple thrush, boob refusal, blebs, mastitis, nipple thrush AGAIN, boob refusal with shield, and the shield leaving my nipple looking like a new lipstick.. cracked nipples that didn’t want to heal. Stingy, electric shock pain in my tired breasts. Wearing silverettes constantly, pumping like crazy and feeling constantly uncomfortable.
Then there was mastitis, where one episode left me in hospital for a day. I had no idea that mastitis was so fierce. I read before I had Ollie, that 10/100 women will get it. Once you’ve had it, it’s hard to believe those stats! It seems much more prevalent. And it’s so easy to get. Over-pumping, over-supply, not feeding in time, touching your boobs “too much”. I honestly was under the impression breastfeeding was easy! So many people make it look like a breeze! This was and has been the biggest challenge for me. It’s still a hard pill to swallow. I ended up having nipple blebs (blisters, such painful blisters) and nipple thrush which radiated this incredibly intense pain into the breast tissue. It felt like razor blades and/or electric shocks. It took my breath away. It was all a result from a damaged nipple from a “bad” latch. I was so eager to come off the nipple shields that I kept trying to latch Ollie on without and it all unfortunately went downhill from there.
This “failure” (read: expectations not being met) of breastfeeding made me go into a state of Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. It was so awful. I never expected to have that experience as I am so maternal and wanted this more than anything. Which really reflects how it’s our expectations that cause us suffering. I felt like I was letting Ollie down, letting my partner Andrew down and it felt not aligned with my “identity” as a Nutritionist – which is total BS.
I have had to transform all my expectations into a place of acceptance, allowing myself to become more and more relaxed. I notice when something doesn’t go to “plan”, this can cause unnecessary stress. Babies pick up on their parents’ stress. I believe becoming a mum has taught me how to let go easier, become much more patient and trust in the process.
What advice would you give mummas around preparing themselves (mentally & physically) to feed their newborns?
Don’t feel ashamed to be prepared with a tin of formula in the house. Do your research to see which one feels right for your family (cost, availability, ingredients etc).
You might come up against needing to feed your baby in the hospital formula. If the midwife thinks your milk “hasn’t come in” enough/yet, they will encourage formula top ups. They will not accept your formula and will use whichever formula has been sponsored to the hospital. In THIS case, Fed is Best. However, once you get home – you have to do it YOUR way.
If you can, start expressing Colostrum at 37w gestation (and approved by your Midwife). Freeze this magic and take it with you to hospital. You could avoid the above point by doing this.
So often parents have a mini freak out on their way home from the hospital and stop at the most convenient chemist or supermarket and just grab whatever formula is on the shelf! You can be ahead of this by having your informed choice at home in the cupboards, ready.
Know that breastfeeding IS hard. You’re not failing, it is just a much harder process than ever imagined. The best product you will ever purchase are “Silverettes”. These will help heal your nipples faster and better than any lotion/ointment. And are a natural option to avoid any chemicals in baby’s mouth. They may even save a breastfeeding journey.
And finally a message to the mummas already feeding:
- To the mamas who pump – I SEE YOU. Oofttt, please look after yourself.
- To the mamas who feed their babies formula – good, your bub is fed and happy.
- To the mamas who breastfeed – I honestly envy you, but am so glad you have it worked out and it’s worked for you. But please, look after yourself. And your boobies.
Motherhood is a rollercoaster. How do you stay present and calm amongst the ups, down and chaos?
Honestly – motherhood is the epitome of presence! I have never felt this present, ever. I don’t have time to contemplate what I want to do next week, to fantasize about our next holiday (ha, let’s be honest when would that be)!! I am so focused on Oliver’s routine, playing with him when he’s awake, feeding him optimal nutrition (yey for solids)!
When he’s asleep, I crave chill – lazy time to be frank. I will watch a show, do housework with music or a podcast, do a workout or a mini Yoga flow. All of which keep my mind on that. It’s like parenting is the ultimate flow state for me!
The downs? Well my wonderful partner is a temporary punching bag – he definitely feels my wrath from time to time. Parenting can get hard when you’re so sleep deprived and you just have to allow each other to be how you are in the moment and always apologise, communicate and move on.
I have had moments in the fourth trimester I just felt brain fog from the PND and called on my tribe. Had people come keep me company and this was definitely the biggest breath of fresh air. Asking for help is never easy. But it is so crucial when you’re a fresh parent.
Jennalea’s experience will no doubt resonate with mums and dads all over.
The take-away? You are stronger than you think. We, as humans, are resilient, adaptable, and capable of far more than we can imagine.
Our journeys will interweave and collide, but no one’s will be the same. Bringing life into this world is no small feat – so do it your way. Find a rhythm that works for you, a tribe you can lean on in times of need, and know that sometimes the way you envisioned it all, isn’t the way it will be. But the joy that’s to come is worth all the challenges, and more.