My daughter is 16 months and I’m still breastfeeding. To be honest, I didn’t start out thinking I’d be such an epic breast feeder. I was aiming for 9 months, a year tops. At the beginning when she was arching back after every suck, crying continuously and not sleeping, I felt sure I was going to have to give up. How could it possibly be this hard?

At the time, I vowed to give it another day or two. Days rolled into weeks which rolled into months. Now here I am at 16 months with a fully-fledged toddler at my breast and I feel this journey is coming to an end. As I cradle her in my arms for our nightly pre-bed cuddle and slurp, there are a few things I wish I’d known in those fuzzy first few weeks.

  1. Find the help that suits you

The help available to Australian mums is incredible, but you don’t need to take all of it. I called up the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Karitane, Tresilien and made countless visits to my early childhood centre. One expert told me my daughter should be feeding every four hours but I just couldn’t stretch her longer than 2.5 hours. I stressed over this for days but in the end I just had to ignore that advice. Even now my daughter can’t go that long without eating, she likes lots of small meals very often. Every baby is different and you need to find the advice that works for your family.

  1. Breastfeeding is a lovely way to bond, but it’s not the only way

I had my share of latching problems and difficulties with flow, however I was lucky that these problems ironed out after six weeks or so (other than that time she bit me, OUCH!). I am in awe of what women go through, from cracked nipples to mastitis leading to hospital stays and excruciating abscesses. Being a new mum is the hardest job in the world and if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, please don’t beat yourself up. There are so many other ways to bond with your baby, like carrying them in a sling, having a bath together or enjoying their sweet baby smell as they doze in your arms.

breastfeeding at the top of a tower

Feeding at the top of a tower in a rainforest down on the Great Ocean Road!

  1. Practise bottles regularly

If you want any type of independence, practise bottles weekly. I was worried about breast refusal so ended up with a child who would rarely take a bottle. It meant if I had a night out, I would often come home to a screaming baby who only wanted the good stuff straight from the source. It also meant I threw litres and litres of rejected expressed breast milk down the sink. Heartbreaking.

  1. It’s ok to have a drink

Sometimes all you feel like is a bloody great big glass of red after a hard day in baby land. You’ve abstained for nine months after all, you deserve it! If you’re breastfeeding, you need to keep track of what you’re drinking but I just found out that the Australian Breastfeeding Association has an app for that! Called Feed Safe, you can input your weight, height and the amount you had to drink and it will tell you when it’s safe to breastfeed again. Bottoms up!

  1. It won’t always be this hard

Last night, I noticed I had teeth marks in my nipples. At some point my toddler had grabbed on with her chompers during the feed and I didn’t even notice. For the breastfeeding newbies, it may hurt like hell now, but for most people breastfeeding gets easier in time. Soon you’ll be able to feed wherever you want, sitting in a café, mooching in a park with your mother’s group friends or on top of a 47metre tower in a rainforest, like I did once!

For you new mums at the beginning of the breastfeeding journey, good luck! It’s not easy but for me it has been one of the highlights of parenting so far.

This blog first appeared on iVillage Australia

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