Breastfeeding- My Autistic Experience.
Having known me for months already, when the midwife had to deliver the breastfeeding talk she was already prepared for the fact I'd done my research and had probably memorized stats. I naively thought this would be the most obvious way that being autistic would affect me and my choice to breastfeed.
As my milk came in early, at about five months I would encounter the odd bit of colostrum (the thick, yellow 'first milk' also known as Liquid Gold in midwifery circles). One day my husband suffered one of the worst migraines I'd seen, he was a pale and agonised shadow of himself. Being autistic, my hyper-empathy came into play and I felt his pain deeply. My heart broke for him. But that wasn't the only body part to react: with the rush of love and sympathy my Let Down Reflex kicked in and milk poured from me.
When I told my autistic sister-in-law, who had trained as a midwife, she said it was nothing to worry about. In fact, she said, it was one of the most romantic things she'd heard of. The intense connection I felt to my husband was so deep, my whole body reacted.
Skin-to-skin contact was done at both my deliveries and was a wonderfully overwhelming and soothing sensory bubble.
Once breastfeeding was established, there were very few problems, but I've made some observations that I've wondered about. For example, when feeding I notice that if I'm hyper-focused on another subject the baby acts like he's not getting as much as he wanted. I wonder if this is related to the role the hormone oxytocin plays in feeding.
If my brain is hyper-focused or stressed, will releasing the stress hormone cortisol take precedence over oxytocin?
I combat this by practicing mindfulness, being in the moment and putting my phone down to use my sensory capacity. I focus on the sound of his breathing, his scent, the feel of his skin and hair. I find he feeds more contentedly soon after.
I'm of the opinion that breastfeeding as an autistic mother has unique challenges. The very presence of a small, loud person needing to be on you so much of the day can be daunting and in times of stress off-putting (in theory). However, our biology has a solution in the form of oxytocin, that wonderful bonding hormone. Once the good stuff is flowing, you both get washed over with a sense of calm regardless of the environment.
There are more practical consequences to choosing to breastfeed that an autistic woman may struggle with. You may have to find new clothes that allow you to feed in, with fabrics you may not like the feel of. Feeding bras are often made of thick material and strong straps. Then there's the annoying feeling of breast pads moving around your bra. It's a job in its own right, finding your comfort zone again with all these changes.
The social aspect can be a burden, this isn't restricted to autistic women alone. We've all heard or read stories of tutting, glares and so on (though this has never been done to me) and it's understandable to be nervous of feeding in public at first. Here I find our focused autistic brains are useful. Focus on you and baby, block out the world, wear ear defenders, don't consider potential naysayers. Create a little cocoon for you and baby.
I hope, if you choose to breastfeed, that it's everything you want it to be. Thank you for reading!
Resources that have helped me:
www.kellymom.com Full of studies, stats and advice for those stat-hungry autistic mothers.
Dr Amy Brown , Associate Professor at Swansea Uni, published author on breastfeeding matters.