Finding support in unexpected places: Kat's breastfeeding journey

Kathleen (Kat) Bourjaili is mother to Ava (2 and a half) and Matteo (6 months). We spoke to Kat about the twists and turns in her breastfeeding journey, and how she managed to ask for help, find comfort in her community, and overcome many hurdles.

Hi Kat. Can you tell us a little about how your breastfeeding journey started and what you experienced in the early days with a new baby (Ava)?

When I started breastfeeding, initially I was not prepared for what it was going to be like. You think it’s going to be alright but then you realise it can get quite challenging. I didn’t do much research because I tend to get overwhelmed, so I thought, I’m just going to go with the flow and see what happens. I didn’t think it was going to be as challenging as it was, especially the first few months. 

And how did that change with the birth of Matteo, your second child?

The first three months with two children were quite hard and I think finding all my support networks helped me a lot. My maternal health nurse was a huge support and being able to call the lifelines, other people I knew that had breastfed, my parents group and knowing that they were going through similar things really helped. 

I got mastitis in the second week after my son’s birth and when we finally got over that, my eldest picked up a bug from childcare which was passed onto Matteo who was just six weeks old. We ended up in the hospital overnight to check his breathing. 

With all this happening, Matteo wasn’t feeding enough and to make things worse, the following week, I ended up with appendicitis and had to be rushed off to hospital. I had to be away from both of them which was really hard, having to pump at hospital and send the milk home and also dump milk. 

We did a bit of mixed feeding for that week because I wasn’t able to get enough milk to him in time. He did really well with that but I felt like my supply was dwindling and once I got home I didn’t feel like I had enough milk.

We got through it though, and I felt like I could have quit, it was too hard and I was too tired but we just built a village with my mum and mother-in-law helping out and we got through it in the end. 

What would you say was your main source of support during those times?

My biggest support was my husband. I would talk to him and he would help me out and reassure me. If he wasn’t as active in supporting me, I think it would have been easier to give up. He was really helpful, he didn’t really know anything about breastfeeding but just having him there with me, it really helped.

Having his support was really important for my breastfeeding success, knowing that you’re not on your own and you’re a team—even though you are the one breastfeeding your child. 

When you’re in your head trying to figure it all out on your own it can get too hard, be too overwhelming and you feel like you can’t do it. But when my husband would see that I was getting overwhelmed he’d say “what can WE do to make this easier?”.

Beyond your family, who did you reach out to for support with your breastfeeding concerns?

When it came to my support networks, it took me some time to find the right fit for some support networks. With my daughter I was on antibiotics for nearly two months when I didn’t need to be. I was in a lot of pain, so I went to see my maternal health nurse who helped direct me to a lactation consultant. My lactation consultant worked out that I had vasospasm and showed me what I needed to help combat that. I needed to warm myself up more but just knowing what to do, and what was wrong was enough to help me.

After getting over that hurdle, things were a lot better. I knew that if there was a sign of any issues that we needed to be on top of it. When I was weaning my daughter, after going back to work I got mastitis, it took two weeks of trying different things to figure out what worked to unblock my ducts. My maternal nurse got me onto the miracle of therapeutic ultrasound. So when I got mastitis with my son I knew the signs, and was at the physio straight away.

What’s your advice for new parents when it comes to breastfeeding?

Ava (2) with her “baby” next to mother, Kat and baby Matteo (6 months.).

Ava (2) with her “baby” next to mother, Kat and baby Matteo (6 months.).

Having a good support network is important in successful breastfeeding. I think people that don’t have that, or haven’t known how to tap into the help and resources that are out there just feel a bit overwhelmed and can’t breastfeed for as long as they may have or would have liked to.

I have a few friends who breastfed but didn’t know what was happening to their body, they were in pain and had been going through it alone for so long and ended up quitting because it was all too much. They have said to me, if I knew that I had this network to call or had just talked to these people then I could have continued. 

I think it’s really important to try a lot of different things and access a lot of different support and networks, something that works for one child may not work for another. Even in instances of siblings. My eldest was misdiagnosed and I knew that network wasn’t going to work for me so I looked for another option and didn’t give up. No matter if your doing this the first or second time, keep looking for your community, your village and don’t give up.

I have a much bigger and stronger community around me since having children. My parents group definitely helped, you can’t put a value on it. If you really connect and you’re all going through the same things at the same time it’s really easy to open up and say if you’re struggling and most of the time they are going through the same thing and need just as much support.

Have you felt comfortable to breastfeed in public if you wanted to?

When breastfeeding in public I feel comfortable enough. I hope for communities to be more accepting of breastfeeding and I think sometimes there’s that judgement of “You’re still breastfeeding?”, or, “Why don’t you just use a bottle?”.

I love having my babies so close to me and the bond that you get through breastfeeding them and knowing that your body is designed to do this. I knew I could do it and told myself that I will do it.