As I sat in the antenatal class listening to a young mummy-to-be quiz the midwife on breastfeeding issues, I had only one question on my mind which hadn’t been answered. Can I still breastfeed at 40?
It was clear I was the mother hen of the group, the voice of experience. So why did I feel so vulnerable? I was determined to breastfeed my baby as much as any of the twenty-somethings sitting around me. I was also desperate to keep the middle-aged spread at bay. The problem was I feared being older would mean I wouldn’t shake the extra calories as easily and they’d head straight for my hips.
More importantly though I wanted to bond and nurture my baby to the best of my ability. I knew there would be a few stumbling blocks as a new older mum, but my biggest fear was not being able to produce enough milk.
I was sick and tired of reading articles that claimed I’d have less energy to manage the sleepless nights associated with having a new addition to the family. I knew that rest was vital to producing a good milk supply, so if sleep was going to be an issue because of my age, how would I have enough milk to feed a hungry baby? Sadly I didn’t have a Plan B.
I wondered if there was a local breastfeeding support group for women in their 40s to share experience with. There was a special one JUST for men, but nothing on the notice board at my hospital for older women like me.
It was interesting how the hospital had classed me as high risk, told me I faced an uphill battle because of my age, but then left me to wing it in an antenatal class with people half my age. I had questions I wanted to ask, but I didn’t feel comfortable raising them in a room full of youngsters who might giggle at me talking about perimenopause.
What if my symptoms interfered with my ability to breastfeed comfortably? Were there any vitamins I could take or changes I could make to my diet? I never got the answers to my questions because I was too afraid to ask.
How would I feed on demand if I had to return to work early or was out with friends? Would I get strange looks from people if I did it in public because I was older? I was the oldest in the class and had no one to share my thoughts with.
The midwife had reeled of 101 reasons to breastfeed and I agreed with all of them, but I doubted my own ability. If you’d ask me at 20 if I thought I’d be breastfeeding at 40, I would have probably looked at you with disgust, yet there I was contemplating it.
So how did breastfeeding go in the end?
I felt more confident than ever after having a baby at 40. I breastfeed from the moment he landed on me, just minutes after the birth. I took on all the nighttime feeds and didn’t miss a few broken hours of sleep at all. My husband’s cousin had come to visit, we had friends around and family, but I refused to disappear sheepishly into another room. I breastfed in front of anyone who was there and they probably felt more uncomfortable than I did. I didn’t nap when the baby did because I was too busy planning my blog. BUT at 20, if my sleep had been disturbed, I would have probably put a pillow over my head after muttering some unmentionables.
Despite feeling invincible though, I wasn’t. The constant nagging fear that I wasn’t producing enough milk was in the back of my head every time Cyrus cried. Was it colic or was it because I had a low milk supply because of my age? I mentioned it every time a health professional landed on my doorstep. My midwife assured me that I was doing OK. His weight was perfect in the first few weeks. I still worried.
I knew that many factors could affect milk supply, including conditions such as hypertension, anemia, and severe postpartum bleeding. Nonetheless, I was able to build up my milk supply during the first few weeks with the help of a breastpump. I breastfed for six whole weeks before my husband wanted to get in on the act and feed him too. He’d bought some Aptamil for breastfed babies while out shopping and once Cyrus got a taste for it, he started to struggle with breastfeeding. I was a little upset at first, but life did become easier when he started bottle-feeding.
Perhaps if I’d persevered with the breastfeeding and had better guidance and support from women the same age, sharing similar experiences, I might have been able to continue for longer.