Former Olympian and current badass mama Jana Pittman shares the ups and downs of her breastfeeding journey - and it's a wild ride.
I represented Australia at three Olympic Games, won two senior world titles and four Commonwealth gold medals, but breastfeeding has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It affected me physically and mentally.
After a few miscarriages and a relationship breakdown, I made the decision to start IVF alone as for me, having more kids was a huge life goal. It was really now or never for me and I didn’t want it to be a never. Therefore, I conceived Emily, my second child, via IVF and an anonymous sperm donor. Two years later I conceived my third child, the gorgeous little Jemima.
Thankfully, I live a few doors down from my parents and my brother is also a strong support too, so whilst I was nervous I was definitely not alone.
The photo Jana is most proud of - her in her scrubs, about to undergo surgery.
From Olympian to gynaecologist
I have left professional sports to become a doctor and I’m about to start my final year of studies with an end goal of becoming an obstetrician gynaecologist.
Women’s health has always been a strong passion of mine and my goal is to empower women around enhancing their own health and chances to have a family.
Be vigilant about safety. Babyproof your home thoroughly, and never leave a child under 5 in the tub alone. Make sure car seats are installed correctly, and insist that your child wear a helmet when riding his bike or scooter.
Breastfeeding was a major goal for this mama. Image: Supplied
My biggest piece of advice is to give yourself a break. We are always our own harshest critics! I’ve had far more failures in my life than I’ve ever had successes and I have been shattered every time something went wrong. My breastfeeding journey is no exception, it has had more hurdles than my sports career, from oversupply to low supply, recurrent mastitis and breast surgery.
My first breastfeeding journey didn't end how I'd wanted
With Cornelis, I had so much milk that I got recurrent mastitis, but I didn't know a lot about breastfeeding. I had very well-meaning friends who were telling me there wasn’t any difference between my milk and formula, so I gave up. He took to the bottle and I and went straight back into full time training for the World Championships a mere seven months later.
Musings: How Much Time Do I Have Left?
At around five months, one day I squeezed my breast and there was a tiny bit of milk still there. I bawled my eyes out feeling like I hadn't persisted enough, putting my career before my breastfeeding and missing a massive opportunity to bond more closely with my son. I felt deeply depressed because it was too late to go back and it haunted me for many years.
Between Cornelis and my second baby, Emily, I had breast implants, but when I was pregnant with Emily, I didn't anticipate any breastfeeding problems. I just wanted to persist longer than last time so I was determined to feed her for at least a year. I thought I would just put her on the breast and it would be fine, it would be mind over matter. I started with an oversupply again and struggled with sadly the recurrent mastitis was back too. Desperate and very sad, I sought advice from my midwife who introduced me to Qiara, a probiotic supplement especially for breastfeeding mums, shown to reduce mastitis by 51 percent in research. I found it fascinating that it was isolated from breast milk and the single strain/lactobacillus fermentum made a huge difference.
Avoid food fights. A healthy child instinctively knows how much to eat. If he refuses to finish whatever food is on his plate, just let it go. He won't starve.
"The stress became all-consuming"
After this, I never had mastitis again but sadly with all the disruptions my supply became so low that frightening terms like ‘failure to thrive’ were being tossed around by health professionals. Around four months, I started mixed feeding and by five months Emily was fully weaned onto formula.
Despite my strong desire to breastfeed and now having knowledge through my studies I simply didn’t have the practical education around breastfeeding. I also put so much pressure on myself, wasn’t sleeping well and the stress became all-consuming
Breast surgery and nipple stimulation ... and success!
I had my implants removed before I fell pregnant with Jemima and was worried whether further surgery would cause even more issues with breastfeeding but I made it my mission to educate myself about breastfeeding this time around, with the hope of a different outcome.
I started nipple stimulation and expressing colostrum from 36 weeks and I took Qiara for the last three months of pregnancy and also while breastfeeding to try and avoid mastitis – and I haven’t had it at all with Jemima! Wahoo!
Asking questions. Asking questions is a normal part of life – but try to resist asking one after the other. Sometimes it is more helpful to comment on what your child has said and wait.
I also started taking a small dose of Motilium preemptively from around six weeks, then increased this and discovered Boobie Bikkies. I ate two a day, with lots of water and feel this helped heaps with my supply.
Jemima fed frequently and we still co-sleep, reverse cycling and feeding more at night when I was studying. I felt well-rested and love her snuggling in as she seeks the boob. Jemima about to turn two in less than a month and guess what - we are still going!! So, this time around I had a chubby breastfed baby and that wonderful experience of closeness. I feel really proud that I am able to breastfeed, it wasn’t an easy journey but a very, very rewarding one!
I’ve commemorated my breastfeeding success this time around with a 'brelfie' every month. Most of the photos were generally taken when were out-and-about and my favorite is definitely the one in my scrubs just before going into surgery.
With three very different breastfeeding experiences, I am a passionate advocate for educating and supporting new mums - and I hope by sharing my experience