Breastfeeding - the hardest thing I've ever done! Jana Pittman's story

She’s a world champion athlete, has competed in both Summer and Winter Olympics, won two senior World Titles and 4 Commonwealth Gold medals but for Jana Pittman, breastfeeding has been ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’

Jana, now the mother of three – Cornelis aged 10, Emily 2 and Jemima 51/2 months - is studying medicine and planning to become an obstetrician. She has also trained as a doula and would like to see all her patients have the support of a doula when birthing. She talks enthusiastically about how empowering a positive birth experience can be for women and how this is a calling for her. Jana chose to have her two daughters by herself with donor sperm and IVF and, despite her taxing load of being a single mum and studying, she is exclusively breastfeeding Jemima and is determined to reach her goal of breastfeeding for two years this time.

Jana Pittman’s breastfeeding journey has had more hurdles than her career , from over supply to low supply, recurrent mastitis and breast surgery, but she’s doing an awesome job and thoroughly enjoying her children. I spoke to her after a day at the track for her son’s school athletic carnival – with Jemima on her boob. She says, “with Cornelis, I had so much milk, I got mastitis but I didn't know a lot about breastfeeding and very well-meaning friends were telling me there wasn’t any difference between my milk and formula. If I put him on the bottle, I could let my husband or my mum feed him and it would be easier for me to train. I thought it would be too hard to train with heavy, leaking breasts so I weaned him at eight weeks. He took to the bottle beautifully and I and went straight back into full time training for the World cup (which she won).”

“At around five months, one day I squeezed my breast and there was a tiny bit of milk. I bawled my eyes out realizing I had put my career before my baby and now my baby was going to my mum more than me. I fell into depression because it was too late to go back and I had missed so much.”

Between Cornelis and her second baby, Emily, Jana had breast implants but when she was pregnant with Emily, Jana didn't anticipate any breastfeeding problems. She says, “I thought I would just put my baby on the breast and it would happen naturally.” Jana started with an oversupply and struggled with recurrent mastitis for the first eight weeks until a friend introduced her to Qiara*, a probiotic supplement especially for breastfeeding mums. She says, “ I never had mastitis again but my supply became so low that frightening terms like ‘failure to thrive’ were being tossed around by health professionals. Emily was born on the 35th percentile but had slipped down to the 15th percentile and was losing weight, despite being latched on the boob 24/7. I started mixed feeding until around 4 months and by 5 months she was fully weaned onto formula.

Jana puts her disappointing experience down to a lack of knowledge. ”I hadn’t educated myself about breastfeeding. I also put so much pressure on myself because I was so desperate to breastfeed, it became all-consuming when it wasn’t working.”

Jana had her implants removed before she fell pregnant with Jemima and was worried whether surgery would cause issues with breastfeeding. Not wanting to face disappointment again she made it her mission to educate herself about breastfeeding this time around. She explains, “ I started nipple stimulation and expressing colostrum antenatally from 36 weeks and I took Qiara for the last 3 months of pregnancy and also while breastfeeding to try and avoid mastitis – and I haven’t had it at all with Jemima. I also started taking a small dose of Motilium pre-emptively from around 6 weeks then increased this and have now discovered Boobie Bikkies. I eat two a day and feel they are helping me with supply too. Jemima feeds frequently and co-sleeps , reverse cycling and feeding more at night when I am studying. I feel well-rested and love her snuggling in as she seeks the boob.

This time around I have a chubby breastfed baby and I feel really proud that I am able to breastfeed for the health benefits but mostly for the closeness and how natural it is – just how it’s meant to be.”