Before I begin – let me say, these are just my experiences and opinions on breastfeeding. There are many other wise and experienced breast-feeders out there whose opinions are seriously worth a read to get a well rounded picture of the whole boobing game. Who knows, I may completely change my perspective with this next bundle of joy…!
It’s been 7 months since I last breast-fed (I had a joyous month’s break from crazy mummy hormones before becoming pregnant again – ah Lemsip and Sudofed my dear friends! What a joy it was to tackle that head-cold with you rather than with saline spray and Vicks vapo-rub…you just do not to the job good sirs!) but I’m looking ahead to embracing that journey again in a few months’ time.
I was pretty determined to breastfeed, mostly out of convenience and stubbornness! I did a lot of reading, watching videos and going to a few groups before hand to feel as prepared as possible and I think that really helped.
There is a ridiculously large amount of support for breastfeeding mums in Portsmouth so I thoroughly took advantage of every bit of help I could get! St Mary’s Birthing centre run a lovely Ante-natal breastfeeding group where they go through the basics, this was really helpful. They covered this again in the ante-natal classes which I think is handy for the dads too. When I took part in Julie Whitehead’s Pilate’s course, she gave us a really good run down again which was great and then I watched a couple of videos like this one (this website’s quite good too!). I saw a great poster in the QA waiting room and thought it was the best way to approach breastfeeding: “Try breastfeeding: whether it’s for one day, one week, one month or one year!”
No matter how determined I was to breastfeed, I also knew that so many other factors could make things difficult…a tricky birth, meds during labour, tongue-tie, a bad supply etc etc. I had read about the ‘Hour of Power’; how important that first hour after birth would be to bond and help establish breastfeeding. Finn and I were able to have lots of lovely skin-to-skin time both in the pool and on the bed whist I was being checked after giving birth. He then latched really well with only a little encouragement and that felt like such an achievement! However, Finn was a very sleepy baby (I had heard that babies were likely to be very sleepy if there was lots of pain-relief during labour, and that that could make early breastfeeding difficult. This was one reason why I’d tried to avoid many meds. I guess the pretty long pushing stage we went through really tired him out though…!) in fact, he didn’t cry for a feed for the rest of the night. Even though I had done lots of preparation and knew a lot of stuff, in that post-labour haze, I seemed to forget everything! Don’t do what I did people – get that baby on your boob as often as possible in those early hours! Partly because these precious newborns are at risk of dehydration, but also because it’s such a key time to establish the milk supply (with the benefit of hindsight, this time round I will be encouraging as much suckling as possible in those early hours & days).
I had Finn’s latch checked by 4 or 5 different professionals in those early days, who all said it was great. Unfortunately, it still hurt…a lot! I wish I could say it didn’t!! It doesn’t for everyone, but it seems pretty common that it does hurt first-time breastfeeders for at least a short period of time. On top of this, Finn continued to be very sleepy and rarely cried for a feed. We were encouraged to wake him to feed at least every 3 hours. As a result, although I was happy to breastfeed ‘on demand’ (in theory…more on that to come) we ended up getting into a bit of a routine very early on. Finn was feeding every 3 hours during the day (because we woke him) and then naturally got into that habit at night time as well. This was fine. It seemed do-able. Feeding took almost an hour at the beginning (I was encouraged to offer both boobs, which took about half an hour each) but we often had to strip him off, put wet tissue on his feet or blow his face to keep him awake throughout the feed!! However, after a few days/ weeks there were times where Finn would want a feed sooner than the 3 hourly slot which I had got used to… unfortunately, my poor nips were not up for this!! This was at the most painful time – I felt I needed a couple of hours to recover after feeding and the thought of feeding more regularly that that became almost stressful (which was also not good for the supply). I was very glad to be on lots of pain killers for my stitching and laced my boobs with Lanisoh after each feed…glamorous life!! You can see now why the ‘on demand’ side of the feeding had become very much theoretical during that most painful period for me. It was actually at this time that we gave in and bought a dummy. I knew that the dummy could interfere with breastfeeding and cause nipple confusion, however, I realised that my own wellbeing had to come first if we were going to succeed with this breastfeeding malarkey. Me feeling stressed about the pain of another feed, or being completely tense at the beginning of each feed was really going to do no good for our bond or my supply. I still passionately believe that today (after over a year of successful, easy and rewarding breastfeeding) – that breastfeeding is a two-person relationship. The wellbeing of the mother is just as important as the baby and, in fact I would go as far as to say it is more important. If a mother is sleep deprived, stressed, feeling guilty, in pain or completely trapped by breastfeeding – how can she be the best mother she can be for her baby!? Sometimes it’s right to try other strategies, and sometimes it’s right just to stop.
Fortunately, Finn didn’t seem even slightly confused by these nipple replacements and breastfeeding continued on. In another attempt to find a balance between ‘breast is best’ and maintaining my own sanity, I started expressing at about 4/5 weeks. Due to the 3 hourly feed schedule which Finn had got himself into, we had also started to be able to predict when he would sleep. I was able to feed him at about 7pm, he would go to sleep in the moses basket, I’d express while Will and I chilled on the sofa (oh how couple time had changed, still I was grateful to be able to have scheduled couple time each night – so precious and crucial during this ridiculously intense time of our lives!) and then would head to bed nice and early. Will was then able to give Finn a bottle before he went to bed at about 10/10.30. This was a great success in many ways: my nipples got a break; I got a solid chunk of sleep (4/5 hours – whoop whoop!); Will got to bond with our boy; Finn got used to the occasional bottle; my supply wasn’t hugely affected as my pumping was replacing a feed (it is worth noting that expressing is not as efficient as a proper feed though so only worked really for one feed a day with my slightly meagre supply). In order to up my milkies before this fun pumping session, I made sure I’d eaten dinner, I drank lots of water, I had a little rest, a lovely warm Horlicks (malt supposedly helps with supply), even massaged my boobs a bit and sometimes ate a ‘Lactation Cookie’ or three!! This 10/10.30pm feed was often a ‘dream feed’. Finn hadn’t necessarily woken up, but we pre-empted the likelihood that he would shortly (probably as soon as we’d fallen asleep), so we gently picked him out of bed, fed him and burped him while he was half asleep – this isn’t always a great success for people, but it worked for us!!
Soon enough, this predictable little feeding and sleeping routine we’d found ourselves in, even led us to feel confident to leave the little man for an evening and head out for some fun!!! Dinners out were relatively easy – we knew we had about a 3 hour window and that we could leave a sitter with a bottle as a back up – phew – often Finn would still be fast asleep when we got home and I’d just boob him (I wasn’t going to be getting an early night after all) and saved the bottled milk for the freezer stash (oh the precious freezer stash – it’s like gold dust when, like me, you don’t have an abundant supply – the knowledge that you could just get away for a few hours if you absolutely had to!! Pure freedom! It actually felt too precious to use very much in the end, but good to know it was there!)
I will always be very grateful for the fact that I had friends around me who were on their 2nd/3rd babies and were able to give me advice outside of the new-born bubble, with the knowledge of hindsight and the bigger picture of the feeding journey. As a result, I was happy to have a couple of small bottles of formula in the cupboard rather than becoming too worried about exclusively breast feeding. If you’ve read my previous blog entries, you’ll know that I was a little concerned that I could be hit with the baby blues – amazingly, I seemed to avoid that on the most part, but there were some really dark times during the early days (well nights) and I have to be honest, that it was largely to do with breastfeeding. Without distractions around me, those times when Finn wouldn’t latch on straight away and would be bobbing on and off (ouch) or when my nipples were at their most sensitive – I just cried for the first few minutes of feeding! I felt pretty alone as I knew there wasn’t anything anyone could do to help in those moments, I was so tired and it felt so frustrating when Finn would want a feed after only a couple of hours – I didn’t feel recovered from the last feed…he was so inconsiderate!! However, knowing that the formula was in the cupboard and that Finn would take a bottle, helped to take the pressure off a bit – a mum with less stress and anxiety is always going to be better for a baby than an ‘exclusively’ breast fed baby I reckon! In the end, we occasionally gave Finn a bottle of formula if we were going out for the evening and I didn’t have enough expressed (or topped up a bottle of expressed milk…talk to the midwives in the neo-natal wards about this strategy!) but didn’t end up using formula very much – mostly for money saving reasons, similar to why we use re-usable nappies really!!
For me, it took about 6-8 weeks for breastfeeding to feel comfortable. I used to count in my head during the painful latching part. At first it was a full 60 seconds then I noticed it getting less and less until I didn’t have to count at all. Then…WOW. What a joy. Breastfeeding was all that I had wanted it to be!! I felt powerful – to be able to sustain my little man – I felt we had something special that only he and I shared, it was easy to feed him out and about as well as at home, it was comforting for him and YES the rush of feel-good hormones for me were soooooo good – one of best reasons for breastfeeding in my opinion (that and the weightloss!), especially in trying to avoid PND! On that note however, I am so aware that the stress, anxiety (often brought on by pressure the mum puts on herself or the mum feels from other people), pain and sleeplessness of a difficult breastfeeding journey can be a major factor in PND and I really feel that – as well as providing all the support, advice, tips and encouraging a mum to persevere with breastfeeding – we have to be ready to help a friend accept if it’s actually better to stop. Sometimes that’s what true friendship looks like!
Once my supply was established and Finn started to sleep for slightly longer stints at night (about 8 weeks in), I noticed that he would sometimes miss the early morning feed entirely, sleeping through from about 1 – 6am – however, this wasn’t consistent. One night, when Finn did wake up at about 4am, I thought I might try comforting him back to sleep in any way other than boobing, just to see if he was really hungry or not. I rocked, I sang, I cuddled, I gave him the dummy…45 minutes later, he was still not asleep and I ended up feeding him. A bit demoralising, but fine really as I guessed he just needed a feed. The next night, he woke at 4am again so I thought I’d give it one more try. This time, with not much persuasion at all, Finn went back to sleep without a feed (still having been comforted and loved), waking again for the morning feed at about 6.30am. After that, Finn never woke again at 4am! Furthermore, at about 12 weeks he also naturally dropped his 1am feed and slept through from the 10.30 dream feed to about 6.30am. ENERGY RETURNED!! Each time Finn dropped a night feed, my boobs did feel really full in the morning (Pamela Anderson eat your heart out!) but it wasn’t painful – luckily – maybe an indication that these reductions were at the right time? I managed to express loads from one (alternating) boob each morning whilst still having plenty of milk for Finn’s morning feed – the freezer stash grew! – until my morning milk levelled out with what Finn now needed over the night. I actually noticed that just before bed and during the dream feed, Finn actually become much more efficient at feeding, taking far more to help him last longer between feeds – it’s amazing how these little things have such natural and logical strategies really! That all went pretty smoothly for us really, but I can appreciate it is not always like that for many people.
In my personal opinion, I think you can find a balance between providing loads of goodies for your baby but also gently making that work around your life – there are loads of different strategies and one thing I noticed about pre-empting Finn’s need for feeds (and naps actually, but that’s a whole different thread!), he became so much happier – he barely cried because he was confident and secure in the knowledge that exactly what he needed would be coming just at the time he needed it (we kept an eye out for signs that he might like to go longer between feeds and naps during the day and adjusted this accordingly, but generally – timings stayed pretty similar for quite a long time) – he didn’t need to cry! This also helped me to be able to plan out my days in some way. It felt so crucial to get out and have adult conversation – I knew what times a day that would most suit Finn’s feeds (which could obviously be done easily anywhere I happened to be, as long as I wasn’t travelling somewhere just at the wrong time) and naps, and worked around that.
By about 5 months, just before Finn started trying out solid food, I think we were in this kind of routine:
9-10am nap (sometimes in the buggy en route to meeting friends/a group, sometimes at home so I could shower and get dressed!!)
12 o’clock feed
12-2 nap (usually at home to try and make the most of the down time, but sometimes in the pram so I could enjoy a lunch date etc.) – our journey towards this nice long nap was no-where near as blissful as our night time success, but I’ll save that for another day!)
5pm half feed (one boob – just to keep him going until bed time! I then made sure I drank lots of water & ate something to make sure I was hydrated and ready to give him a good night time feed)
10.30 dream feed
We introduced solids at dinner time first, so this quickly replaced the 5pm half feed and then lunch time food over took the 12 o’clock feed. Breakfast was introduced last and was just in addition to the morning feeds for a while but it did manage to push the 10 o’clock feed (because he wasn’t hungry for it) later and later until eventually that one was gone too. We trialled removing the 10.30pm feed bit by bit (if using a bottle, we put less in, if boobing, I tried to give just one boob) as we were nervous about loosing our lovely sleep! But the solids were obviously filling Finn up and soon that feed was dropped too.
I breast-fed for another 7 months after that. Once I returned to work (in June 2015 – Finn was 10 months old) we were in this kind of routine:
1.30 – 3.30 nap
Totally do-able as a working mum and still lovely to have those special morning and bed-time snuggles with my boy. Just before I went back to work, we had been on a family holiday and Finn has started a midday feed again (probably due to the heat) but I knew that he would either take a bottle or not be bothered at all if I wasn’t there – turns out, he wasn’t bothered and water and solid food did the trick.
After the summer holidays, Finn dropped the morning feed too. He was too interested to get up and go in the mornings, really enjoyed breakfast (Wheetabix usually) and would have a small bottle of cows milk while pottering about too if he wanted it (I went on a long journey about whether to even give cows milk – I’m still not convinced and don’t think children over one need it at all, but Finn likes it and asks for it so we go with it – Baby Signing was quite helpful in that department!) This actually made my life easier with trying to get ready for work. I still really enjoyed our night-time feeds though (usually listening to Ludovico Einaudi – which was also on my birthing playlist so it felt like nice continuity!).
In the October, when Finn was 13.5 months old, Will had to work in Lanzarote for about 4 weeks. During the half term holiday, Finn and I were going to join him. I noticed the week before leaving, that every other night, Finn really didn’t want his night time feed. He just wanted a dummy and wanted to go to bed! This was ok – I wanted to follow his lead. When we actually arrived in Lanzarote, every night I offered a night-time feed but Finn didn’t want it and happily went to bed. That was the end of our breast feeding adventure…! Kind of un-dramatic really! We tried to see whether Finn wanted to replace the boob feed with a bottle in a similar way (just before bed, dark room, music etc) but he didn’t, so we offered him milk before his bath, which he sometimes wanted and sometimes didn’t and that’s still where we are today really!
If you’ve made it this far – wow, you have real staying power! Sorry for all the rambling. I’m kind of writing this for my own memory really but also for a few friends who are about to embrace about all this breastfeeding malarkey for the first time!
In theory, I’m looking forward to my next breastfeeding experience, but I am so aware that there is a wealth of difficulties which could be looming! I also know the leisurely pace I was able to take with Finn will definitely not be possible this time, so that will be a new challenge. I’m hoping we’ll be able to utilise some of the strategies which were successful last time and that my nipples are now made of steel (unlikely), but I also want to get some advice from the Southsea Sling Library about how to breastfeed in a baby carrier so that I can remain on the move while feeding (relaxed coffee shop boobing breaks will not be so easy with an active toddler!). I’ll report back on how that all goes…!