Having been there, done that; just as naively as I thought the first time round, I would squat in a bush, sneeze out a baby and suckle it for exactly 6 months before weaning onto food and never use a bottle or formula, I had the preconception that having used my boobs for nutritional sustenance before that it would be easy peasy lemon squeezy second time round. That, and the labour and delivery would be quick and I would DEFINITELY get my home birth.
Seven days past my due date, I got impatient. After suffering with SPD from 22 weeks, I wanted the boy out. Didn’t care how. Just out. I tempted fate by having a family day out at the local theme park without wearing a massive incontinence pad just to will on my waters breaking in the most humiliating way, preferably in front of a load of horrified tourists. Didn’t happen.
So I went for a sweep. Painful. Then I had another one. Less painful but no signs of dilation and the midwife told me that his head was no longer engaged and just bobbing about in my pelvis. Plus, there were no local midwives on call that evening so should I go into labour, they’d be no home birth. Bollocks.
Well, after several thousand years of stop-start labour, I was only 2 cm dilated and desperately wanted someone to put me out my misery. Despite that though, I DID manage to have a water birth (climbed in 2 seconds before he popped out – I was that determined to have SOMETHING on my f’ing birth plan) and so it all began once more.
Despite trying not to be anxious, and thinking I wasn’t, looking back I was definitely anxious. I kept latching him on not really believing that he was feeding properly and even though he seemed fine, I wasn’t convinced.
I was released from hospital quite quickly, much to my delight and high on the adrenaline of actually pushing him out my v-hole, I made plans to visit relatives hundreds of miles away. Despite only being a few days old, I thought I could handle it and it would only be a few days. Slowly, my sitting-bolt-upright-whilst -folding-my-nipple-and-pushing-it-in method didn’t work. The boy became increasingly frustrated, as did I and he stopped asking for feeds, preferring to sleep instead. It started to take 2 hours to latch him on. Fortunately my husband and family were around to keep my little girl entertained, but I was having to lock myself away in a relative’s bedroom, with a screaming baby, whilst I cried and became angry just desperately wanting to feed my baby so I looked like I knew what I was doing. He seemed to have a teeny, tiny mouth with no real desire to latch, preferring me to just drip it into his mouth. “Bloody lazy boy”, everyone said.
After one particular night, the boy had slept 8 hours without a feed and showed no signs of feeding. I phoned a helpline who gave me some lovely, calm advice. They told me that if he didn’t latch on, that I should give him a bottle due to his newborn age and risk of dehydration. I can’t actually remember whether I expressed or gave him formula but I remember caring a lot less than I did with my first. It was just about feeding, not about how or what.
Two weeks past and some days I felt I had it cracked with 24 hours of brilliant feeds but then the next day it would all turn to crap again. My husband was due to return to work and I felt that I just wouldn’t be able to maintain this level of difficulty latching once he’d returned to work as my little girl would also need my attention. So, I rocked up at my local bosom buddy group, the same one that sorted me out with my first and told them, if they didn’t get the boy latched on today, then it was game over. I was turning to the dark side. After an hour or so of poking and prodding to get the boy to wake up, they told me that when the baby looks like they’re dreaming and fluttering their eyes, that it is in fact a feeding cue, so to just try and latch him on without him waking. They helped me get him into the laid back boobing position so I was more slouched on the chair, his tummy was on me and his feet were on my lap. This was so he could use his stepping reflex to push up towards my nip, which in turn made him open his mouth wider and bang. On. Latched.
They warned me that once his appetite started to return, he may cluster feed for a few days. Yep, he certainly did and I wasn’t engorged like last time. I felt like I hardly had any milk compared to my hard, pulsating bosoms post baby #1. So I tried to feed and feed and feed but the other option was calling me. Feeling less desperate to not let anything other than boob juice pass his lips, I topped up with formula. He didn’t die. That made it easier.
Slowly we started to become in sync with one another. We both got better at it and I was less anxious about co-sleeping so I moved the husband out the marital bed and the boy and I slept entwined, blissfully sleeping and feeding. The boy always seemed to have horrendous snot issues at night though and would often wake up with a start and scream. He would also cough and cough so he would either sleep upright on me or on several pillows (despite the advice against pillows). I would douse them liberally with Olbas oil, like holy water, and became paranoid that the house wasn’t clean enough, that the dust was aggravating his airways. I took him to the doctors who diagnosed viral asthma and gave me an inhaler to use at night. He was four months old. I needed more sleep, not less and trying to hold a spacer over his face, maintaining a tight seal and spraying mist into his lungs at 3am was not my idea of more sleep.
Fortunately, I started chatting to one of the other mums at boob group who suggested looking into dairy intolerance. Dairy intolerance? But I’m breastfeeding? Surely that can’t be right? She sent me the link to the KellyMom website and sure enough, it described my boy. So I cut out dairy and it was pretty much instant. No snot rattle. No coughing. No waking up like a fire alarm.
I went back to work sooner than I’d hoped but the boy took to bottles ok which was a massive relief after the bottle disasters with baby #1. That too was probably down to getting advice on how to introduce a bottle properly as opposed to trying one, baby rejecting it, buying another, baby rejecting it and so on and so on.
The down side to this was that he started to chew the teats once he’d finished and so transferred that habit to my nipples. It happened a number of times over a few months where he damaged my nipples so badly that I couldn’t feed and would express and decant until they healed. I became more and more anxious about the biting and if I missed a feed because I couldn’t express at work or I was too busy dealing with the girl, my supply dramatically decreased and would take days of pumping and feeding to get it back up again – that increased the biting. So the last time he bit me was around ten months and I decided then that I was close enough to the twelve month mark. I would express and decant permanently and then wean just like the girl did. The only problem being is that the boy couldn’t have dairy. And despite expressing three to four times a day, sometimes 12 ozs a time, I couldn’t keep up with his demand. He was a milk fiend.
Around 11 months, I’d gone from expressing 12 ozs a session to 2 ozs. I think stress played a big part in this. I started taking Domperidone which was a life saver. I was able to pump enough milk to sate the boy’s ridiculous milky appetite and could keep going until I could wean him onto an adequate dairy alternative. I finally stopped expressing around 14 months and the boy spontaneously grew out of his dairy intolerance a couple of months after that. I hated making the decision to stop expressing because it was entirely mine. I’m still in denial about it now and tell people I’m breastfeeding. Seriously annoying that I’m also putting on weight again as I can’t maintain my one-cake-a-day-to-reward-myself habit now I’m not burning off the 500 or so calories.
Thanks to the ladies at boob group, I decided to train as a peer support worker myself and this is what I have learned:
- Although it is not recommended to pump like you’re supplying milk for the local orphanage (like I did the first time round), it can help to boost supply in the first 6 weeks when it is important to establish your milk supply. Had I known this, I would have definitely kept on feeding as opposed to topping up and I would have also expressed more when he was sleeping 6-8 hours at a time in the early days.
- Giving formula in the first few weeks can lead to food intolerance due to changes it makes to the gut. Had I known this, I wouldn’t have been so lazy and boobed more or expressed more which would have helped my supply and may have avoided his dairy intolerance.
- Had I known that leaving him to chew his bottles when he’s finished a feed would have led to my own nipples being chewed off, then I would have used a cattle prod to make sure he didn’t do it again.
- Feeding cues – there are lots of them and baby doesn’t always need to be ‘awake’ to feed. Had I known this I wouldn’t have wasted so much time videoing the boy ‘dreaming’ and actually tried latching him on.
- The laid back feeding position and the importance of the feet. The stepping reflex has a remarkable affect on the baby’s ability to latch and can sometimes be the key to enabling a problem-free boobing experience. Had I known this, I wouldn’t have spent so many stressful hours trying to reduce the size of my nipple by pinching it into varying experimental shapes to fit his tiny mouth.
Despite the difficulties, I loved boobing my children and have some wonderful memories of milky cuddles. It will be something I will always cherish and be proud I persevered.