19 months and counting…

I had always intended to breastfeed my baby. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just the way I thought things should be. I had planned a pool birth and would feed immediately. I was in shock at needing an emergency caesarean section and was exhausted after a 32.5 hour labour but my son and I had skin to skin once we got up to the ward about 2 hours after his birth and he latched straight away. He stayed that way for 2.5 hours! The midwife then dressed him and put him in the bassinet. We had a good first night, I can’t remember how much he fed but it wasn’t that much, maybe twice, and we both got some sleep.

The next day he was very sleepy and showing signs of jaundice so I was told to not let him sleep for longer than 6 hours without a feed. He also had urates in his nappy but the hospital weren’t too concerned about this.

On night 2 my son latched and must have stayed that way for 12 hours! He screamed when I put him down to even use the toilet. The midwife assured me this was normal newborn behaviour for night 2. I managed to doze on and off but it was exhausting.

By 2 weeks all the jaundice had gone, but my nipples were in shreds and I had a searing pain on let down. It was so bad I had to bite my finger to stop me screaming out in pain. We had moved on to visits by the health visitor now. My son had regained his birth weight and more and she assured me the let down pain would be gone by 6 weeks. She was very supportive of breastfeeding.

At 3 weeks my nipples were still bleeding. If my son vomited it was pink! I also still had the let down pain and was exhausted. One night I was in so much pain I decided I couldn’t continue. It was a Sunday night and we had no bottles of formula in, so I had to continue until morning. Of course in the morning I kept going. I felt breastfeeding was best for my baby as I have allergies and asthma and I wanted to give him the best possible chance of avoiding these things.

By 6 weeks my nipples had more or less healed, the let down pain had gone, I was attending a weekly breastfeeding group, and my son was sleeping for longer at night. I thought we had it solved!

At around 9 weeks my son developed what appeared to be severe eczema. By 14 weeks he was covered in it and waking lots at night. It took until he was 5 months and many, many trips to the GP and dermatologist to work out he was allergic to cow’s milk and was reacting to it in my breastmilk. This is the simplified story, it was a very long and upsetting process. Despite my GP telling me that me having cow’s milk wouldn’t affect my baby, I knew it was and decided to eliminate dairy from my diet. At this point I was also given prescription formula. I did try to give it to my son but he refused it, so I had no choice but to continue breastfeeding.

Within a couple of months my son’s skin was better and he was sleeping better at night, only waking for 1 or 2 feeds.

Of course there were the usual growth spurts along the way. I haven’t included specifics of them in my story as I can’t remember! They were tough, I remember that! After 6 weeks old my son only gained 2-3oz a weeks and did the rest of his growing during growth spurts. (He dropped from the 75th centile to the 25th but luckily the health visitor who runs our local breastfeeding group wasn’t concerned and never suggested I needed to top up.) I was already feeding about 12 times in 24 hours and this increased during the dreaded growth spurts. I was tired. It was horrible. I took it one feed at a time and we got through it. Guilt also kept me feeding. In my mind I had failed to give birth to my son properly by needing an emergency caesarean section, the least I could do was breast feed him. (Of course having a section of any kind isn’t failing, but in my mind this is what I thought).

I was lucky that I found it very easy to express and my husband gave our son an expressed bottle once a week from about 6 weeks old, so I have had a bit of freedom to go out for a few hours without him, but I rarely did! It is only now at nearly 19 months I feel comfortable leaving him for a few hours!  My son was reluctant to drink from a bottle so there was always some excess which I kept in the freezer. At around 9 months my son started refusing a bottle altogether, so at 10 months my husband started offering him soya milk from a beaker the one evening a week I was out. I continued to express for a few more weeks and froze it. I had about 35oz of expressed milk in the freezer and realised my son was never going to drink it. I didn’t want to throw it away after all that work to express it. I found out about Human Milk 4 Human babies through a friend in Canada and found the Facebook page for for the UK group. I posted that I had frozen milk to offer. A lovely lady contacted me to ask for it for her daughter. She asked me various questions about my health and lifestyle which I answered honestly. I was happy to provide her with any information she required about me. We then arranged to meet at a local shopping centre one Saturday afternoon. I had the milk frozen in special storage bags of various sizes. I packed them all into an insulated bag and set off. It was very odd looking for a stranger at a shopping centre with a bag full of milk! I easily found her thanks to her description of wearing her daughter in a green sling. We chatted for a while and I handed over the milk. She thanked me then we said goodbye. I have messaged her since to see how her daughter is getting on. They are doing well and she said her daughter was very settled whilst drinking my milk.

My milk supply has settled now so I can no longer express any milk. If I could, I would be happy to still donate it to babies in need.

At 19 months I am now so glad I stuck with breastfeeding (sometimes against what I thought I wanted). It is so easy and quick. My son is very rarely ill and I love those special cuddles with him. 30% of my antenatal group were still breastfeeding at 1+, and I know this helps to make it feel normal when our society seems to think feeding over 1’s isn’t right.

I’m not sure how long I’ll continue. I never intended to be feeding a 19 month old! I did have a wobble and think about stopping around my son’s 1st birthday but it didn’t feel right as I don’t think it was the right time for us. I thought 6 months would be my limit. I have 2 years in my mind now, but we’ll see.

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