“The Power of The First Hour” – inspiring or terrifying?

As my little girl in the photo is coming up to five years old, I thought I’d share again one of the first moments of meeting her and how it still makes me feel now…..

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This is a photo of my first ever feed.  What do you see (apart from the carefully placed ‘x’ to preserve my daughter’s modesty)?  A loving first moment between a new mother and her baby?  Yet another lactivist exposing herself and wanting to show off how great she is?

This photo doesn’t make me feel good.  It makes me cringe.  Not because of my greasy hair, man arms or post baby belly.  Because, knowing what I know now, it is no wonder I had the difficulties I did with breastfeeding.

Save The Children have brought out a document which promotes breastmilk as a superfood, specifically colostrum.  Colostrum is bloody marvellous stuff.  “The most potent immune system booster known to science”.  Of course it is – it comes out of a woman (feminist hippy, get back in your cage!)   They have estimated that 830,000 infant deaths could be avoided if they…

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Tandem feeding without the tie-dye

There are tiny footsteps across the landing and a little hand that needs a lift into his mummy’s bed. In he climbs and they lie down, him in the crook of her arm, her smelling the Johnson’s Baby shampoo off his soft head, listening to the quiet buzz of the house. Quietly, he asks, “back?” and settles down to nurse. Back is his toddler pronunciation of ‘milk’. The baby starts snuffling and sucking her thumb in the basket. “Baby, back,” he says and so she’s lifted out and joins them in the crook of mummy’s other arm. He strokes her little fingers and her copious amount of hair … or pokes her in the eye saying “eyes, mummy!”

Stanley is now two years old and his sister Lucy is four months and I breastfeed them both. If you had talked to the 21 year old me I am sure that I would have had very different ideas and attitudes about tandem breastfeeding. To me, it was something that fitted a certain stereotype and one that I did not seem to fit. I haven’t suddenly gone vegan or started going around barefooted in floaty tie-dye fabrics with flowers in my hair doing yoga, which is what my younger self would have perhaps presumed tandem feeders look like. The younger me would have felt uncomfortable at the thought of breastfeeding for an extended period of time, let alone having two nurslings simultaneously. Tandem feeding was not something that I planned. Rather like a child would say when he’s smashed your favourite ornament: It just happened.

 As I lay in bed this morning I remembered how it was three years ago this week I was injecting drugs into my tummy which ended up in me conceiving Stanley. After the years of waiting to have a baby, I struggled to accept that I was pregnant; that my body would do what it was meant to do. I did know that I was determined to breastfeed. Who knows where my steely determination came from? Perhaps it was wanting to do the ‘natural’ thing after the unnatural conception, or maybe it was down to the fact I knew it would reduce my elevated risk of breast cancer. Whatever the reason, I was stubborn to the point of refusing to give up when the going got unbearably tough. At eight weeks old it was still agony. I suffered from bacterial infections, thrush and bleeding nipples with a baby who wanted feeding every two hours at best. Despite all that, we continued and it got easier. It got so easy that he would latch himself on when I dozed during the night. At six months he was found to be allergic to cows’ milk proteins. This only fuelled my determination to continue feeding him for as long as possible.

We breastfed happily into his second year. I was so incredibly proud that, despite all the challenges we’d faced, my body had grown and nurtured this boy for so long. I was happy to continue to breastfeed him for as long as he needed it and as long as we were both happy to carry on. Aware that he was becoming a toddler and that the baby days were fading, I continued to do what I’d always done: I breastfed my baby just like I had done every day since his birth.

It crossed my mind that if we wanted to have another baby then I would have to stop breastfeeding in order to maximise my chances of a frozen round of IVF being successful. However, we had no immediate plans to have another attempt and I hoped that it wouldn’t later be a choice between breastfeeding and trying to give Stanley a sibling.

One day when Stanley was 15 months old my well-used nipples became sore. I presumed Stanley had become a lazy-feeder or was growing yet more teeth. I was not prepared for the fact that it was because I had somehow rather miraculously become pregnant. After the shock had died down (actually, I still don’t think it has!), I began to wonder about how being pregnant would affect our breastfeeding relationship. I felt saddened at the thought that his breastfeeding may come to an unexpected end, forced by me – either willingly due to me encouraging him to wean, or unwilling due to pregnancy forcing him to self-wean. I decided to go with the flow and to take each day at a time, just as I’d always done. Part of me hoped that he’d self-wean and the decision would not be mine but the other part of me hoped he’d continue for his benefit (there are a number of benefits to longer term breastfeeding.)

He did continue and, as my pregnancy progressed, he became more interested in breastfeeding. At times this was challenging. I wanted to reassure him and allow him to make his own choices but breastfeeding in pregnancy was hard. It was uncomfortable at times, not to mention the bump getting in the way. Sometimes he wouldn’t have looked out of place at tumble tots with the amount of breastfeeding acrobatics that were occurring! However, despite the challenges, nursing him would often allow us to fall asleep together which was often a God-send in late pregnancy. In the last few weeks of my pregnancy we gradually introduced some ‘rules’ for breastfeeding, knowing that soon enough there’d be a newborn in the picture. Stanley readily accepted that he could breastfeed first thing upon waking in the morning and just before bed.

We’d just finished an early morning feed when my waters broke 8 days before my due date. I’ll always treasure that memory of his last feed before having to share with his sibling. Later that day I gave birth to his sister, Lucy, and unlike her brother, she latched on beautifully straight away. The first night we were home I ended up feeding them both at the same time. It was an incredible moment for me. We’d overcome so much just to have one baby and here I was, breastfeeding two!

 I did come across some interesting view points and curious questions when I admitted to continuing breastfeeding in pregnancy. I was asked questions such as “but isn’t it risky in pregnancy?”, “but won’t Stanley take the baby’s milk?” and “how will your body make two different milks?“.

In answer to these questions, the body prioritises the baby in pregnancy and beyond. During pregnancy the breasts return to making colostrum, the antibody-rich first milk that a newborn needs. This means that when the baby is born, in tandem feeding, both baby and toddler receive this ‘liquid gold’ (it also makes for some interesting toddler nappies due to its laxative effects to rid a newborn’s body of meconium!).

I’m fairly open with folk about breastfeeding and I always have been. I’m not so loudly open about tandem feeding. Most people presume that I have long since finished feeding Stanley and I choose whether or not to correct them depending on circumstance. Most of the time I do admit to our continued breastfeeding because it makes me incredibly proud but there are times when I’m rather sheepish about it, after all, I know how I felt about tandem breastfeeding and breastfeeding toddlers before I found myself doing it! I’ve been faced with a range of reactions, mostly a surprised exclamation or expression closely followed by a question about it or a “wow, well done!“. People are naturally curious and I understand why. I guess most people want to know what it’s like.

What is it like?

The Good: It’s wonderful. Exhausting, tiring and tying yet wonderful. When I see their sleepy faces whilst feeding it makes my whole body fill with more love for them than I ever thought possible. I see my two-year-old son look over at his baby sister with curiosity and kindness. He takes her hand, and pats her on the head (he’s not yet mastered the skill of gentle touching just yet!). Sometimes I just wrap my arms around both of my nurslings and wonder how I got so lucky.

When I’m feeding Lucy and he’s playing he’ll often come over and look and smile and say “back” (he can’t say milk’) and “baby”. He doesn’t show any jealousy towards her. In fact, at times, he has told me to feed her when she’s crying! Sometimes he’ll sit next to me with a book about tractors and we’ll read together while she feeds. It is my experience that continuing to breastfeed Stanley has aided his bond with his sister. He’s already learning to share and this sharing of mummy is allowing him to still have that very close contact with me and also his sibling.

The Bad: Breastfeeding in pregnancy is hard. At times I experienced an intense irritation of it. I didn’t want to be touched and often felt a bit mauled (this breastfeeding aversion is common in in pregnancy and sometimes afterwards too). I rode the storm and it did go away. It was also sore and the bump got in the way. I also worried a little at the rather intense bashing the bump took during acrobatic breastfeeding sessions!

It can also be hard once the baby is there. Sometimes my bigger one sees me feeding my littler one and sometimes he wants milk too. Saying “no” to a toddler, whatever the reason, is often met with a tantrum! Distraction works well (often, ashamedly in the form of a biscuit here!).

The Future: Since we put Stanley into a big boy bed we also used it as an opportunity to stop the bed time feed which he readily accepted so he tends to just feed in the morning, usually at the crack of dawn as is his new getting-up time. In the morning I’m often engorged (Lucy’s an amazing sleeper of a baby!) and so Stanley feeding actually helps lessen the painful engorgement. I think it will be a while before he willingly gives up this feed. It is our moment together and is most certainly preferable to his very early wake ups! I look at him and I see the baby he still is but also the boy that he is becoming and it makes my heart swell. I know that these days where he is a babe in my arms nursing at my breast are limited and I intend to treasure these rare moments of peace where we’re back where we started and where we are meant to be. 

If you’re thinking about, or facing the prospect of tandem feeding, then there isn’t a vast array of obvious support available. It’s rare to find breastfed toddlers never mind tandem feeders! I was recommended a book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing” by Hilary Fowler though I have to say I haven’t actually read it myself. The best advice, though, comes from those who have been there. I was lucky enough to be able to find like-minded individuals through studying for a breastfeeding peer support course provided by my local infant nutrition team. Us tandem feeders are out there – you just need to look and ask! It won’t always be the tie-dye that gives us away.

 

Time goes so fast

I’m still nursing my 27mo daughter. Before she arrived, I hoped I would be able to breastfeed – my mum passed away before I got pregnant, but I know she breastfed me and my brothers and always spoke positively of it. However I didn’t want to set my heart on something I couldn’t guarantee would be possible.

I was lucky enough to have a very healthy baby who latched like a trooper immediately. After a few hurdles (regressing to a sloppy latch initially, two months of agonising nipple thrush, some oversupply issues), our BFing relationship became happily established and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I was lucky enough to be running my own business and so took her with me to work and fed her in the shop. She was a very relaxed and easy newborn.

Time ticked on and around 6 months my easy newborn ‘woke up’ and became much more challenging! She really, really suffered with teething (including an ear infection for nearly every tooth) and struggled to calm down when emotional and distressed. BFing soothed her so amazingly well that it never crossed my mind to stop, and soon 6 months turned into 9, then 12. Time goes so fast when you are dealing with the day to day of a small person. People kept asking if she had weaned yet as she hadn’t really taken to solids and suggested it was a factor but I just knew she wasn’t really ready. Sure enough a few months later she started eating solids like a trooper. She has always looked older than her actual age, so I went through a phase of feeling incredibly self-conscious and yes, embarrassed that I was still feeding my ‘big girl’. I didn’t really know any other mums extended (or longer-term, as I like to think) breastfeeding, but was fortunate enough to have several extremely supportive online groups who helped me trust my instinct that it was NOT a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ thing to do.

Canines and molars came along, sleep regressions came and went, and I struggled with late-onset PND. My cuddly baby was turning into a wildly independent, confident toddler who adored nursery and socialising and could hardly spare the time to hug me. Around 14 months we settled into a happy routine of one feed on waking and sometimes if she struggled to settle during the night.  As she got older and more independent, I started to treasure the moments of ‘booby cuddles’ we had together more and more, as I never knew when they would end, but assumed it would be soon.

When I got pregnant, the questions started again – was she weaned, wouldn’t it make her jealous of the new baby, etc? I felt under a lot of pressure to wean her especially during the intensely stressful and emotional times of 1st trimester, but it just didn’t feel right. I perfectly accept that it is not for everyone, but for me I cannot hold a child who is screaming in pain and tiredness from a molar cutting or a relentless cough (and yes, we do give her calpol etc too), and know I have something within my grasp that will sooth her better than anything else and not use it. For better or worse that is why we are still going at 27 months, with me 4 months pregnant. I feel like my milk has largely gone now, and her feeds are briefer and rarer than ever, but she still knows that if she needs it at night, she can snuggle down in my arms and have a quick feed.

I’m lucky that my husband and family are unquestioningly supportive (and if they don’t completely agree with it in principle, they keep that opinion to themselves). I don’t talk about longer-term breastfeeding openly among my extended group of friends because I felt some assumptions were made about me as a person who EBF and didn’t wean at the ‘standard’ 3-6 months (ie that I disapproved of FF, which has never been the case), and I feel it is such an emotive subject that everyone brings their own agendas to, I would rather not go there. However I do occasionally post the odd positive-about-longer-term-BFing blog or article in the hope that my friends who are in, or coming up to a similar point with their babies, know they can talk to me about it.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

To be quite honest, I never really thought I would breastfeed. Ever. I don’t really know why. Maybe it was because I had always had hyper-sensitive nipples and the thought of a baby sucking on them was akin to a horror vision. Or maybe it was because everyone I knew with a baby was bottle feeding. I didn’t even know I had been breastfed for a while, because mum always talked about the different flavours in formula you used to get back than. So my mind was, in a way, pre-programmed to bottle feed.

And then I weed in a plastic cup, put a stick in it and watched two blue lines appear. My whole world changed. Hubby and I were ecstatic.

The further along in the pregnancy I got, the more I felt I didn’t have a clue about how to feed a baby. As explained before, bottle feeding seemed to be the natural thing to do. I should also add that I’m not originally from the UK. My husband and his family (English) had strong view points about bottle feeding and I found myself under quite some pressure to breastfeed. All the leaflets and information handed out in the antenatal classes and at midwives’ appointments were about breastfeeding – bottle feeding was only mentioned as an after thought. Not one word about the fact that some women cannot breastfeed, for whatever medical reason (neither of my sister-in-laws could with their first borns), or do not want to breastfeed, for perfectly valid reasons. Not one word about there sometimes NOT being a choice, and all these implications of you being judged as a mum already, before the little one is even finished baking. I felt that this was an extremely intimate business everyone else should keep their nose out of. That included family members, as well as health professionals.

I felt pressure was added, because I felt my husband expected me to be the same mum that his had been to him. Expectations of others, but I guess mostly of my own making were weighing down on my shoulders before the little one even was born. And as I was sitting in pregnancy yoga, listening to the birth stories of the “goddesses” who had come to class to show off their babies, popping on their newborns in front of everybody as if it was the easiest thing in the world, in crept the ultimate fear that I was not carved out to be a good mother after all.

What really, really irritated me and does to this day is how patronising the information provided was. “If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a bad mother. If it hurts, you’re not doing it right.” (Poopage squared.)

I decided that I would give breastfeeding a go. I was convinced I would end up giving the little one formula though.

Then I was in hospital, all alone with my little shrivelly newborn after hubby had to go home. No midwife, no nurse there to advise on breastfeeding, they were short staffed. All I knew was “tummy to tummy, nose to nipple”. And it worked, despite it being toe-curling. In comes the night shift midwife and tells me off. “You’re not doing it right.” Heard that so often after that from health visitors, nurses, doctors, midwives, breast support group volunteers.

Because what happened after that first “you’re not doing it right” was that I panicked. I had just given birth, something I never thought I would survive because I am a wuss, and I was so happy and proud looking at that little bundle. Feeling like I had done something really right. And that comment burst that bubble, made me feel like a loser, a bad mother, and we hadn’t even left the hospital yet. So I tensed up, got nervous. And my girlie felt that and reacted to it.

So I  tried out their advice. Even got my husband to look at my boob sideways to tell me if the latch looked anything like in the brochure they had handed out in the hospital. I tried out all the positions, all the tips and tricks, whilst desperately thinking: “I hope my baby won’t starve because I can’t do this right”. Oh, how I wanted to give the little one the bottle! I remember lots of tears, breakdowns, sore, cracked, bloody nipples, dread of the next feed, engorged breasts, sitting on the couch with the breast pump to give my nipples a break, more tears, awful arguments with the hubby, because he dared to suggest to take the baby off the boob and latch her on again, because that had been the professional advice.

And quite honestly, I would not have persevered without my husband. I can tell you he had to endure many, many tantrums. Tears streaming down my face because my nipples were so, so sore and the little one had decided now was a good time to bite down on them with her gums or to pinch them – and he supported me. He consoled me. He was sweet, understanding, driving-me-up-the-wall-understanding actually. He offered to go make a bottle, but I wanted to NOT give up.  And I cannot tell you why.

Breastfeeding hurt, for me. For a long time. We’re talking months. No tongue tie (much to the dismay of the volunteer at the breast feeding support group), just me being absolutely shaken in my confidence. Almost four weeks into the boob drama I went back to what I had done in the first hours, when my girly and I had been alone. And it worked! I think it hurt, for one because there are only a gazillion nerve ends in your nipples, and for another, I had always had extremely sensitive nipples.

I did give my milk-monster the odd bottle (either expressed or formula), simply because sometimes my nipples were so sore (hello growth spurt) and I had had another meltdown that I just needed a break. And she still latched on fine. Things eventually became easier. And after a few months my nipples became “iron nipples”.

The maximum I initially thought I could bring myself to endure was 3 months. I stopped breastfeeding when the little bear was 10 months old. I actually was a bit sad when I looked down at my baby, breastfeeding her for the last time, but I knew the time was right, she was ready to move forward.

Throughout these ten months I was criticised for breastfeeding my child at all. I was criticised for daring to give her formula and not just exclusively breastfeeding. I was criticised and ridiculed for breastfeeding for “that long”. And not by strangers. Oh no. By family members and friends. All of them mothers themselves. People who should have the most insight and understanding were the harshest critics, had the strongest opinions, trying to impress them onto a new mum. Well thanks a bunch for the support, dudettes.

I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed. And it was the way of feeding my girlie that worked best for the both of us – and that really is the only thing that counts.

 

Toxic milk

I don’t often delete comments. In fact, I’ve only done it once before. Recently, that increased to two. The comment in question was in reply to a lady who mentioned she was feeding her four year old.  It read that she should be ashamed that she is *still* feeding her daughter as the toxins from her breast milk would likely cause autism and she hoped that her daughter turned out ok.

This angered me on many levels. Numero uno: she was only commenting to give unsolicited bollocky advice and not to say how great my blog is. Numero duex: for those that know, my boy has autism; I have found approximately several hundred reasons to blame myself for this and didn’t need another one.

It isn’t the first time I have heard about ‘toxins’ in breast milk and my own tits and teeth research showed up articles on the presence of mercury in boob juice which directly correlates to the number of fillings one has (nowt to be concerned about. Read here for more info). So what toxins are found in nipple-knocker-glories? Well….

A study looked at breast milk from two areas of America, North Carolina (5 samples from a milk bank) and inner-city Baltimore (8 samples from 3 non-smoking women collected over 3 days).  They were analysing for volatile organic compounds, like chemicals found in petrol and refrigerators.  MTBE (an additive used in unleaded petrol), chloroform (by-product from water disinfection processes), benzene (pollutant from anything that smokes) and toluene (car pollution, paints, adhesives and thinners), were all found in small amounts in the breast milk.

A simulated test, looking at exposure to an infant from a breastfeeding mother that may work in a paint shop or dry cleaners, for example, demonstrated that “perchloroethylene (dry cleaning chemical), bromochloroethane (was used in fire extinguishers but not any more), and 1,4-dioxane (in everything that foams) exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency non-cancer drinking water ingestion rates for children.”

During a 20-30 year period, organochlorine compounds were measured in human milk from women in Stockholm. It showed that a large proportion of the volatile compounds had significantly decreased over that time. However, PBDEs (used as a flame retardant in building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, airplanes, plastics, and textiles) doubled in a five year period, demonstrating a direct correlation with the increase in environmental contamination from pollution.

Fifteen breast milk samples collected from women living in the city of Taranto, in Southern Italy, between 2008 and 2009, were tested for a number of chemical by-products that may be polluting the atmosphere. Four of these samples showed dioxin weekly intake values 10-40 times higher than is recommended by the WHO.

Do these studies make me want to beat myself with a stick and move my family to an oxygen tent in Frieburg, Germany (apparently, it’s very clean there)? Not really.  In fact, it makes me just emit a ‘meh’ sound with a slight shoulder shrug.

The first study was a very small sample and not really representative of a general population. It also found that inhalation exceeded the ingestion amount by 25-135 fold, meaning regardless of how a baby is being fed, an infant will be inhaling far more rubbish from the atmosphere. I suppose that does make Frieburg slightly more appealing.

The second study was a simulated study. No milk was actually analysed and, again, it doesn’t really apply to the general female population. However, it is perhaps something that women that do work in hazardous conditions should consider? More research is needed to look into whether the precautions taken to protect employees from harmful chemicals are enough to stop any contamination to their breast milk. If it isn’t, than the precautions aren’t good enough full stop.

The Stockholm study was concluded in 1997. In 2001, The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was signed by 50 UN states and became effective from May 2004. It’s aim is to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants. No further long term studies into PBDEs in breast milk have been conducted since 1997, so although we can’t assume it has automatically improved with the environmental treaty, looking at the data from the same study which showed a significant decrease in other compounds when other measures were brought into practice, it is not a stupid assumption to think that The Stockholm Convention has improved matters with all things mammary and milky.

The final study was the most recent, published this year. It was a small sample taken from women living in Taranto. Taranto is a large commercial port with well developed steel and iron foundaries, oil refineries, chemical works and food processing factories. I’m not sure what the autism rates are like in Taranto, but I can’t remember seeing any headlines about it. Again, a baby, regardless of how it is being fed, will unfortunately be inhaling the detritus being hosed into the atmosphere, and Taranto is not your normal suburban town.

A headline that made the rags recently was ‘Pollution Linked to Autism’. Scary stuff. WebMD then printed an article which cited expert opinion on the research which basically says, pollution may be a risk factor involved in autism for those living in polluted areas of the world, but it is by no means a cause.

Another hypothesise is that the growth factor IGF, abundant in breastmilk, is a possible autism suppressor and future treatment. However, the wonderful *inserts sarcasm* Dr Mercola has reported that we are consuming too much IGF as it is abundant in other food sources which is potentially causing us to be more autistic. *Scratches head*

From what I know about autism, it is a 50,000 piece puzzle of which we have only managed to create a third of the picture. Many pieces are still missing and we can continue to speculate, hypothesise and cogitate: vaccinations, too much TV, heavy metals, smoking, pollution, formula feeding, breast feeding, laughing too much, not enough tickles, watching Mary Poppins too often (I seriously thought Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent may have turned my boy a bit wrong in the head).

After all I have read on this subject, it is, at least, one less stick I won’t be beating myself with.

Infant feeding: the problem with calling it choice

Hands up who likes the term ‘feeding choice’?

I don’t.

Bottle feeding mums defend their ‘choices’ when in actual fact many would argue there wasn’t much choice in it at all. How they came to feed their little ones was more of a baby/life-led decision, made when they felt at their most broken; a series of events that called for a series of options when all the best laid plans had turned to shit, forever to be stereotyped because of their feeding outcome.

It doesn’t just work that way for the decanters either. There are those that feed their children beyond two years of age. They get pigeon-holed and stereotyped too. Just today, I read a comment from a mother whose GP had remarked it ‘odd’ she was still feeding her two year old. I have had someone comment on this blog about feeding children beyond a certain age increases the risk of autism because of the toxins in hooter juice. I have had friends being told they’re giving their children mental problems. We do that anyway, regardless of how long they boob-fed for.

So, let’s sum this up; if you bottle feed, you’re lazy, irresponsible, selfish, uneducated and your children will be fat, wheezy, thick and covered in warts and boils. If you breastfeed beyond two years of age, you’re lazy, irresponsible, selfish, uneducated and your children will be mentally deranged autistic perverts. No hope either way by my reckoning.

Over the next few blogs, I will be looking into the research surrounding feeding beyond two years of age and would like to share a couple stories with you; from mums that are boobing their kids beyond the age of two. Even if you think this isn’t a subject for you, please stick around because hopefully you’ll see it isn’t militant lactivists putting their narcissistic needs before their child’s. They are mothers being baby/life-led, just like everyone else.

Let us start with this:

“I had a very bad start bringing my boy into the world. I suffered a huge haemorrhage and my heart stopped.  I underwent a lot of treatment resulting in memory loss, dislocated hips, the list goes on …

My partner, unknown to me, actually listened when I was pregnant. He spent the first 3 days of our son’s life battling with staff to not give him a bottle as I spent my time fighting in ICU to be his mummy.

An off duty nurse, who came from nowhere,  started holding my son to me, helping me feed him when I was not awake.  When I awoke, the first thing they did was take me to a room and latch him on again;  my arms and legs were elevated and in these strange contraptions that were blown up and down to help my circulation.  I had been given so much blood I looked like the Michelin man!

Anyway my son fed and kept feeding and loved it. Because of our start, I feel so blessed to have been able to breast feed and now he is going to be 2 in April! I have gotten to the point where I am just going to rely on talking to him about it when he understands a bit more; that it’s time to stop but for now it’s all that settles him… He doesn’t sleep through ever at all everrrrr! And the only thing that’s settles is the boob. I have tried everything believe me!

He doesn’t feed in the day, although he asks if he falls over or feels tired. It’s just a night night bedtime thing now.

Last week a friend of mine posted a picture of her breast feeding her newborn child on Instagram.  She is a very well known artist and has 100s of followers. She had nothing but likes and good wishes. I wrote a message saying that it was a beautiful picture and she was doing an amazing  job. She then replied to me tagging my name to the message and said what an amazing job I had done and she hopes she will be able to feed for as long as me …

I then received a horrid message under a photograph of my son on my Instagram from a complete stranger saying “omg jeez, you’re not seriously saying you still breastfeed a mature infant? That’s completely disgusting and vile and you shouldn’t be a parent” …. It gets worse …..

I got emails saying I am affecting my son mentally and I am vile woman, doing it only for myself and I need help.  Then I got this message, “breastfeeding is for nutrition and bonding, yes, but at two years old, a child would have and should have formed a bond already. I feel sorry for your child that is sucking on his mother’s breast when he’s a mature infant just to please your needs. He will develop complexes in later life. I find this really appalling.”

I reported and blocked them and have had just one email since.

It has completely affected me. It is like someone who has no idea who I am has completely shattered me .

I have always suffered with lack of confidence. Becoming a mother was terrifying for me as I don’t want my son to become anxious like me. I want him to be happy and confident and healthy. That’s all I ever want for him. He can do anything and I will always support him. But now I feel like everything I have done so far is because I have been selfish and because of our start, perhaps I haven’t been able to let go and everything that he struggles with now is in effect due to me not letting go? I have no idea what I am doing now.

I know my son is happy and healthy. He won’t drink from a bottle. He won’t even have my milk in a bottle or cup. Just wants to breast feed the whole way and I am ok with it. So why is that a problem I have no idea? I didn’t think I would breast feed at all let alone for 2 years.

It’s such a head job being a mum and everyone has different opinions and I just wish I had enough confidence to be strong in my own opinions.  I don’t know why I am still breast feeding. I don’t know why my child doesn’t sleep. But deep down, I feel my son is comforted by me and I him and we have a bond. He will make his own decision when the time is right for him .

I don’t want to be doing this when he’s 4 but I’d like to think all this hard work came to a lovely end when we both talked to each other about it and I want that to remain a constant throughout his entire life. I am his mum and his point of call for anything he needs.

If you are a longer-term boober and would like to offer support to this mummy, then please get in touch, either by commenting below or by emailing evidencebasedtitsandteeth@gmail.com.

If you have your own feeding stereotype-busting story you want to tell, then please get in touch.

My milk brings all the boys to the yard
My milk brings all the boys to the yard

 

Keep an open mind

Before I had my children I like to think I kept an open mind regarding breast feeding. When I was pregnant with my first baby, Max, I bought both bottles and breast pads; a feeding bra and a breast pump, formula and breast milk storage bags – I was prepared for whatever the feeding fairies threw at me!

My mum is a devout breast feeder – she even breast fed her adopted daughter, no less than 4 years after her previous biological child was born (yes, really!). She couldn’t understand why I’d prepared for both eventualities. “But breast feeding babies is the most natural thing in the world!” she would lament whist looking at my freshly purchased box of bottles like it was an unexploded bomb. “So is making babies” would be my retort, “but that doesn’t mean I want to do it every few hours, in front of all and sundry!” We agreed to disagree. But the truth was, the idea of having a baby drink milk from my breasts was more than a little disturbing. One night in my late pregnancy whilst lying in bed, I thought my husband had dribbled on my side of the bed in his sleep. Alas, to my utter horror, after waking him up to yell at him, I realised it was in fact milk, coming out of me! I was mortified! My point is, I believe having a baby changes everything, not just in a can’t-go-down-the-pub-anymore way, but in the way you see yourself, the world and everything in between. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the momentous shift in perceptions, any more than you can prepare for the way it changes every minute detail of your day-to-day life. Basically, I didn’t know how I would feel once the baby was born and I stayed true to my pre-marriage commitment phobic life – I decided to wait and see.

It’s at this stage I need to write a quick paragraph about my labour. I realised that this is when my feeding story actually began, but when I started to write about the labour, it took on a life of its own in a hundred-page biopic that could rival ‘war and peace’ (I evidently have some labour-related PTSD issues!) So, as succinctly as I can manage, here are some things you need to know about my labour that led me to my feeding conclusion.

My midwife was evil. I had a very long, pain-relief free, end-stage labour due to Max being back-to-back, or, to use its (oddly) proper name, face-to-pubes. I tore like an old sock (grade 3, surgery required to put me back together). Evil midwife grossly mismanaged my placenta delivery, wrenching it so hard from me I screamed – note: she wrapped it twice around her hand before pulling so hard with both hands that she visibly shook. I had a postpartum haemorrhage (undoubtedly caused by said evil midwife’s wrenching of my placenta). After removing my placenta said evil midwife sat in the corner of the room, with her back to me, blissfully unaware that I was bleeding to death.

Once the crash team eventually burst into the room, the doctor had to pummel insanely hard on my uterus to make it contract (he pressed so hard his entire forearm disappeared into my copious post-baby rolls of spare skin). This didn’t work so I had various drugs pumped into me intravenously into each arm. When calculating my blood-loss (‘only’ four pints) they missed the whole ‘slab’ of congealed jelly blood that I’d unknowingly been sat on, and the pools of it on the floor, and the stream of it that my mum had caught on her jeans as it was running off the bed! So subsequently I was not bestowed a blood transfusion. Instead I was gifted with severe anaemia, a hideous two night stay in hospital (more on that little gem later!) and a catheter, which I point blank refused to have, to which evil midwife told me “not to be so silly” and without consent, inserted anyway. I think you’re pretty much up to speed from here, and so I will continue with my feeding story.

As I was saying, I didn’t know how I’d feel once I’d had my baby, but when the midwife handed him to me for the first time, and he was all snuggled up on my chest, skin-to-skin, under my men’s XXL t-shirt purchased especially for the occasion, it was (urgh, most over-used phrase relating to breast feeding on earth coming up) the most natural thing in the world, to latch him on. So I did. Simple. The end. Sadly not though. That last bit was true. I did latch him on and he fed beautifully and I was insanely proud to be doing something that just hours before I’d been so sceptical about. But this is when my labour story and feeding story become entwined.

When I eventually got to the ward and I began giving Max another feed I encountered the most excruciating pain of my life. Forget labour pains, this was far worse. In my ignorance I had not known that when you breastfed, your uterus contracts. And my poor, battered and bruised uterus that had received the pounding of its life just a few hours previously was having a serious workout! I held Max to me, while writhing in pain; through tear-filled eyes I looked down at my toes, twisted and curled in agony. It was everything I could do not to wrench Max off me and fling him down the bed. I know, harsh, but when you burn yourself you drop the saucepan, you don’t hold it even tighter.

Right then my natural instincts couldn’t have cared less about breast is best, they were just screaming out to stop the pain. So I did. Not fling him down the bed. But I did take him off my breast. And of course he was not happy with that arrangement. So I tried again. Maybe this time it would be better I thought. But then and every subsequent time it wasn’t. I was sobbing by this point, in both pain and anguish. I called the midwife. It was still the small hours of my first night. When a midwife appeared and I said I was struggling with feeding, without a word, no introduction or anything, she marched over, grabbed my nipple in one hand, Max’s head in the other, and merged the two together. She then turned tail and left. I continued sobbing miserably. That was the entire extent of my breast feeding support. The next day, I found another midwife and told her about the pain I felt when I fed. Her solution – to bottle feed of course! So, in order to settle a very unhappy baby and give my uterus a break I reluctantly agreed to a bottle. And, what can I say, it achieved both goals. Happy baby, happy mummy. And yet, I was only happy with it as a temporary measure, I wasn’t ready to give up breast feeding yet, this was purely a short-term thing, I told myself. My remaining time in hospital followed in the same suit as my labour; I won’t go into details here but it was a miserable affair, I was treated appallingly and I was so elated when I finally got to go home.

Once home I decided it was time to try again with feeding. My uterus had settled down and was much less painful, however, I know this sounds incredibly naïve but I genuinely had no idea that I wouldn’t start producing milk until five days after giving birth. It was just logical – you have a baby, you have milk; I still can’t get my head around Mother Nature’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to milk production. But anyway, I kept trying with breastfeeding whenever Max demanded a feed, very important I learned, for getting that lovely stuff to arrive in your breasts. But when it got too much and he was screaming hungry in the small hours I caved, and gave him a bottle. Maybe it was a catch 22 in that by giving him bottles I was delaying my milk arriving, who knows.

It was now my first night home, Max was 3 days old and we were settling down for another sleepless night when I was gripped by yet another stabbing pain across my middle. I was stood up at the time and was literally doubled-over in pain. Ok, so this is new, I thought. This wasn’t my uterus and I didn’t have Max latched on either. And this pain did not let up. It got worse and worse as the night wore on. I cried so hard, I was so angry at yet more pain and when my husband took Max to give him a bottle I cried even more. “I just want to look after my baby”! I sobbed, broken hearted at what felt like yet another failing as a mother.

Having had his appendix burst as a child my husband feared the worst and called a doctor. He’d wanted to call an ambulance but I begged him not to; I was devastated at the thought of ever going back to hospital. I was exhausted. I’d had no sleep on the ward, I was still severely anaemic, the stitches on the patchwork quilt that was my nether regions were giving me serious gip and it looked like I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night either! The doctor arrived and examined me; he tested my urine and concluded that I had a nasty urinary tract infection. At this point I was enraged; this was the exact reason why I had refused a catheter! As a former employee of the NHS I knew that they were responsible for the majority of hospital acquired infections and not least UTI’s. And then came more bad news; he had to prescribe me both broad spectrum antibiotics and a powerful, targeted one too, ‘Metronidazole’ – in his words “nasty stuff”. I could not breast feed. Except, this news didn’t come as bad news at all. Relief flooded me; I could stop agonising over breast feeding; I had a valid, bona fide reason to not do it. The hideous mismanagement of my labour, the haemorrhage, the anaemia and the bruised uterus weren’t enough to justify quitting, but this, this changed everything. This put my baby at risk, this wasn’t about my own pain or discomfort, this was about Max; I needn’t feel guilty for quitting anymore! The doctor explained I could pump to keep my supply up and then try again after, but ‘hell no!’ was my main thought to this, I’d had enough! I knew I was quitting; throwing in the towel, giving up, whatever you want to call it, I was fully aware that I was choosing to not breastfeed because quite simply, it had become too hard.

Two days later, ironically, I got my Dolly Partons! Milk seemed to ooze from every pore, but I just ignored it; strapped them up tight against my chest and carried on, to be honest, without a flicker of emotion, with no regrets. I was done with breast feeding.

The end.

Nope, sorry, there is still more to come!

I was on the antibiotics for 10 days, my breasts were back to normal, in both size and milk production and Max was very happy having his bottles of formula milk. And I loved it too; true to his (later discovered) personality, Max loved routine, and he fed regular as clockwork, 3 ounces, 3 hourly; I knew exactly how much he was getting and how often, and his weight echoed this – he stayed perfectly on his 50th centile line. As a new mum, all of these things were incredibly reassuring and I knew I’d made the right choice in giving Max formula. Or so I thought. Some time later, when Max was about three weeks old, I woke in the night in a cold sweat. I was consumed with one, single thought – I need to breast feed my baby! I cannot explain where it had come from, but I was feverish, in a blind panic, how could I have been so stupid, how could I have not breastfed my baby!? I threw myself out of bed and not having a clue what else to do in the middle of the night, I ran a bath. When I was letting my milk dry up, having a bath had always made it flow out of me, it hadn’t done that for a while but it was worth a try until I could speak to the health visitor the next morning. I sat in the bath squeezing my nipples, trying in desperation to get something for my trouble but nothing came. I wanted to run back to bed, jump on my husband and start making another baby, just so that I could breastfeed. It was like a temporary insanity had come over me, I was possessed by the realisation that I may have missed my chance.

As soon as it was light I woke my husband to tell him me and Max were all packed and ready to go to my mums – if anyone knew how to turn back the clock on this one, it was her. My husband was surprised but supportive, as he always is of my many hare-brained ideas. Once at my mums she was brilliant, having breastfed all six of her children (the adopted one being the sixth), she really knew her stuff. In her breastfeeding heyday she produced so much milk that the local hospital sent round a special van to collect it for the NICU babies.

Our first objective was to find out how long the nasty antibiotic could stay in my system. For some reason, this proved to be no easy task. It seemed that as soon as you mentioned breast feeding to health professionals, they got an image of law suits, poisoned babies, death, disease and all horrors flash before their eyes and no-one was prepared to commit to when it would be safe. And so, not wanting to pose any risk to Max, for now all I was armed with on my mission was one, rather pathetic manual pump I had bought oh-so many moons ago when I had lived in blissful ignorance of all that had befouled me over the previous three weeks. So I pumped, and pumped until my hand was blistered and my nipples were raw. After about two hours I had produced about half an ounce of a very thick, creamy looking substance. It certainly bore no resemblance to the almost transparent, watery stuff I had previously produced, and yet I had never felt more proud of anything in my life. I decided based on various responses that when I was a full two weeks clear of antibiotics I would try latching Max on again. I’d like to reiterate for the benefit of people who feel that breast feeding should be about what’s best for the baby, how content Max was on formula. He was getting predictable, regular feeds, his weight was very steady and healthy and he was showing no signs of having a compromised immune system from not receiving the ‘benefit’ of my milk. In a nutshell, the only voice screaming about breast feeding was my own, and I was very aware (and felt dutifully guilty) that I was doing this purely to fulfil my own needs.

I did promise myself (and Max too) that I would not do anything that might upset him, his weight or routine. So just before he was due a feed I would make his bottle ready but then latch him on to me. I was so proud of him for happily switching from a nice, easy rubber teat with a plentiful supply behind it, to pulling with all his mite for very little in return on my withered mammary glands. At first I just kept him on a few minutes each side and would then give him his bottle straight after. Gradually I increased the time he was on me, and my guilt over doing it for selfish reasons diminished when he showed how happy and content he was on the breast; often he would doze off, something he had never done with a bottle, and it was wonderful that he was able to do that.

Over the weeks that followed, I barely left the house, days were spent either with Max latched on or with me hocked up to my newly purchased electric pump. Everything I did I saw as an opportunity to get my flow up – I ate like a horse, I drank gallons of water and languished in hot baths, squeezing my nipples throughout. I would always still give Max a bottle after every feed from me, because I knew in my heart of hearts, I was not up to full capacity, but what I did notice over time was that I never needed to increase the amount of formula I gave him. When I first started out he was on 3 ounces and that stayed the same, so whatever else he needed, he was getting from me. His weight remained beautifully on his ‘line’ and I think we were both overjoyed to be getting the best of both worlds.

I’d always thought my perceptions would change after my baby was born, I saw the birth as the defining point in this shift, but actually what happened was my baby was born, my perception changed and then a series of events happened to change my view of breastfeeding one way, then another and then another. I breastfed my second baby 100%, with a minor exception during the miserable five days it took for my milk to come in again, and I feel no shame in admitting that. Formula is not poison. This sounds like I’m joking, but honestly, I do genuinely believe that some people actually think this is the case. It is made by very clever boffins and is packed full of essential vitamins and minerals and I object strongly to the idea that by formula feeding my baby I was harming him in some way.

There are many benefits to formula feeding, and there is no reason why it should be frowned upon. Equally, I no longer find the idea of breast feeding disturbing. It is a beautiful thing and of course is brilliant for babies’ health and immunity, and establishes a bond too. On the whole I do not like the idea of extremes. To say ‘breast is best’ is a bit too extreme for me. Likewise, to not even entertain the idea of breastfeeding is also too extreme. Despite everything I went through with Max and then Poppie who followed, and despite saying ‘having a baby changes your perception on everything’, I am sticking to my pre-baby guns: you have to just wait and see how you feel and do what you think is right for you and your baby at any given time. And always keep an open mind. The end. I promise, this time!

I chose formula

I chose to formula feed my baby. From birth.

There, I said it. Possibly one of the most debated parenting decisions there is! I know this debate often sparks up very strong opinions and debates, but I felt I needed to be honest and finally explain my choice.

Before I had Alice, I was completely convinced and decided on breastfeeding. So much so, that I didn’t even purchase any bottles or formula or even sterilizing equipment. I knew, no matter what, that I was going to breastfeed for at least 6 weeks. So my decision not to was nothing to do with me being selfish, or being a bad mother and not giving my baby what was best. I had read the material, listened to midwives and I completely understood and agreed with the benefits of breastfeeding. I wanted what was best, and I knew that breast was it!

The birth did not go to plan (does anyones?!) It was a very quick labour. When Alice was born, she was not breathing and needed resuscitation. So she was whisked away to the other side of the room where I couldn’t even see her. Meanwhile, my placenta decided to get stuck and I was at risk of haemorrhaging. For my own safety I was taken through to surgery immediately after giving birth, where I underwent an hour of surgery which left me emotionally shattered. I was wheeled back into the room where I had given birth. I could not feel anything from my chest down, I felt utterly exhausted and I hadn’t even seen my baby.

Alice was handed to me. It was horrible. I couldn’t hold her properly so she was propped up on a pillow. I looked at her. She looked at me. I felt… nothing. Not the over whelming love you are supposed to. Not even happiness that my baby was here. I didn’t understand where she had come from. She just didn’t feel like mine at all. So when the midwife said she needed feeding and was I going to breastfeed, I answered without any hesitation. No.

Alice needed feeding and I was handed a bottle. But I couldn’t do it, and so she was handed to Dave instead. I had to stay in hospital overnight and Dave had to leave. I was left on my own with a baby I didn’t think was mine, utterly exhausted and without knowing what I was going to do.

Luckily I had the most amazing midwife who stayed with me nearly all night. With her support and kindness, I began to bond with Alice. I fed her from a bottle, looking into her eyes and by the end of the night I was utterly smitten. It was as though a fog had lifted and finally I could see my baby! Focussing on feeding her the bottles, remembering how long they had been opened and how much I had given her really helped me to focus on looking after Alice and to stop worrying about any negative thoughts I was having.

When I got her home, we were bottle feeding. That was it. It sounds ridiculous, but the routine of making up a bottle made me feel more in control of things. I guess because I had not bonded with Alice straight away, I felt like my motherly instincts hadn’t kicked in. Breastfeeding is incredibly natural, and when you don’t feel any emotional connection to your baby it is very hard to in envision doing it. The bottle made me feel like a mum. Like I was in control of looking after Alice and there was no pressure on us.

As the trauma of the birth faded away and I spent time with Alice in our home environment, I really began to feel that emotional connection. 3 weeks after she was born, I remember looking at her and thinking, “I wish I could breastfeed you now”. Of course, it was too late by then.

Do I regret not breastfeeding? Absolutely not. I wrote down everything I was feeling at the time (I’m obsessed with keeping diaries!), and reading it back, I was in no fit state to breastfeed. I was emotional, traumatised and struggling to come to terms with having a newborn. It was not right for me.

One question I can predict I will be asked is: What about what’s right for your baby? It shouldn’t matter how you feel, it’s all about what is in your babies best interest.
The thing is, when I had Alice, I couldn’t quite believe she was mine. As I didn’t see her for an hour after she was born, I didn’t get that emotional connection straight away. It sounds terrible but, I was thinking about myself! I was totally overwhelmed and felt completely under prepared for what had happened. I just wanted to go home. That was it! The birth was nothing like I had predicted. And I couldn’t predict my feelings. I had no idea I would feel the way i did after having her, so I could only react to it as it happened. I wasn’t thinking straight and I just had to do what felt right at the time. Which is why I stand by my decision.

I do not regret formula feeding Alice. It was what was right for me, and for her, at the time I made my decision. However, if I ever have anymore children, I would love to breastfeed as I really do believe it is what is best for your baby.

How you feed your baby is down to you, and it makes me sad that parents are made to feel guilty for whatever choice they decide to make.

formula

 

Exclusively fed at the breast.

“Everyone can breastfeed” we’re constantly told, so when Breastfeeding didn’t come quite so naturally, or how I expected, it was totally heartbreaking.

With my first I didn’t try as hard as I wished.  With my second, I made sure I did all in my power at that time to keep at it. Unfortunately it ended up with him dehydrated on day 5 and on came the formula pushing. I tried pumping around the clock with a hospital grade pump but I was lucky if I got 5ml a time. In the end baby started refusing to feed and he was exclusively formula fed.

With my 3rd I was a bit more prepared. I had my suspicions that I have insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) so I got an SNS (supplemental nursing system) ready for if the need to supplement came again, as I knew no matter what, I was going to breastfeed!

After an amazing home water birth my second son Xander was born. Things started going the way they had in the past with feeding.  No engorged or full breasts, barely any swallowing at the breast and baby becoming more and more frustrated. A Lactation Consultant diagnosed my suspicions – I do have IGT, a condition which makes it impossible for me to make enough milk for my baby.  Finally I had an answer why trying all I could with breastfeeding never worked out.

I was so upset that no matter what, I wouldn’t be able to provide my baby with all the wonderful benefits of breastmilk…or would I? I reached out on a lovely helpful group I’m in and there it was suggested I ask on Human Milk for Human Babies to see if anyone could help. I did and I was instantly offered several batches of breastmilk. I travelled around and met some fantastic women, so selfless and kind, it touched my heart and after a bit I knew I needed to keep trying.

The Medela SNS which I started out with was really tricky to use to begin with; it gets easier the more you use it though but I actually switched to using lact-aids, which is the same principle as the SNS but more user friendly. It only has 1 tube which is attached to a bag where the milk goes. It can be used at night for easy laid down feeding, unlike the SNS which has to remain upright.
lactaid

Along the way a couple of the lovely donors offered to keep providing as much milk as they could for my baby. Xander is now 3 months old and still exclusively fed at the breast and I feel so privileged that we have a handful of on-going amazing milk donor mummies who supply us with their amazing breastmilk . If it wasn’t for HM4HB he wouldn’t be exclusively breastmilk fed. It’s such an amazing page and it has made me very grateful for donor mums and also very passionate about wanting milk sharing normalized. I have friends that say they had no idea they could donate in such a way and would if they’d known.
outabout

I was slightly nervous when I first accepted our first lot of donor milk, but for me, it’s all about informed choice. I researched the risks of anything nasty passing through the milk and felt the risk very small, and now even smaller knowing the mamas selfless and kind enough to donate milk. Seeing my baby thrive off breastmilk and getting to know some of our donors has reaffirmed for me that this was absolutely the right choice for us. My other half is very supportive – he’s got to be – he’s the driver!

Facing my ‘what ifs’ – Part Two

If you missed Part One, you can read it here first.

Finding out I was expecting Ed was a shock.  We were not planning another child and after my last birth experience, I was in no rush to ever do it again!

Ed was to be born by planned C-Section and I asked to be sterilised at the same time.  I spent almost the whole pregnancy focussing (fearing) the C-Section and thought very little about anything else.  I had no set plans on how I wanted to feed Ed – breastfeeding hadn’t worked for us before so I assumed it wouldn’t again.  I would at least give it a go.  I packed nursing nighties, bras and breast pads in my hospital bag but also had a sterilised bottles and formula ready to use at home.

Ed was born by C-Section, and I was sterilised as planned, at 39 weeks.  It was not plain sailing due to a large amount of scar tissue from the last C-Section and I was very sore, swollen and bruised afterwards, but nothing compared to last time!

Around 2 hours after his birth, I was finally able to give Ed a proper cuddle and attempt our first breastfeed.  He latched on perfectly straight away and stayed there for quite some time. It was lovely! “Ahhh, this is easy!” I thought. Of course, once the spinal block wore off, it was a completely different story.

Holding Ed was painful which in turn made latching on difficult and painful.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and the advice of “hold him like a rugby call, head in one hand, wait for him to scream and shove it in” just wasn’t working for us.

After about 24 hours of what felt like constant failed attempts, tiredness got the better of me and I asked if I could have one formula feed.  The midwife was very enthusiastic and came back minutes later with hands filled with little milk bottles telling me to ring when I needed more.  She would be more then happy to fetch them.  Being over tired and feeling vulnerable, I convinced myself that it must be in my notes that I’m rubbish at breastfeeding and this was her way of telling me so just like that, we made the switch to formula.

When I saw the midwife at home for the first time 3 days later, she asked how I was feeding Ed.  After explaining what had happened and how disappointed I was with myself, she said it wasn’t too late to try again if I wanted to.  But I felt like I would be messing Ed around too much so carried on with formula.

At 9 days, I had exactly the same conversation with my health visitor but again, I said no because of the same reason.

As the days went on, I was feeling more disappointed with myself for not trying harder and missing that last chance to really experience breastfeeding.

I have followed EBT&T from the beginning and something in one of the earlier blogs stood out for me and played on my mind. “…so what makes 90% of women give up before their time. Was it lack of support, lack of knowledge or lack of confidence?…” Well, I think it was all of those things for me.  Whilst ultimately I blamed my own willpower, I did feel the hospital were very busy and couldn’t spend the time supporting my needs and attempts to breastfeed.  I was incredibly clueless with all things breastfeeding related and I have stupidly low self confidence.  I couldn’t help but wonder why I had let myself become one of those 90% so easily and what if I had tried a bit harder?  Maybe held out a couple more hours? Or days? Sleep might have helped? Or if I’d made it through the first week? Would it have gotten easier? What if we were still going now? At 3 weeks old, would Ed and I both have gotten the hang of it?

I think that sparked something in me.  I spent a couple more days wondering the ‘what ifs’ and eventually told my husband about how I was feeling (I had kept quiet until now for fear of sounding completely bonkers).  He asked me in his usual, casual way, “well is it too late?”

Oh! Is it? Isn’t it? I didn’t know!

I spent a few hours on Google, reading articles, blogs, Q&A pages about relactating and discovered that yes, it was possible to relactate after 3.5 weeks but this was all based on mothers who stopped after months of breastfeeding, not 24 hours!  Nothing I read explained how to relactate, just it was possible.  I didn’t know if I should use a pump, and build up a supply before trying, or plonk him on a boob and hope for the best! Whether to carry on with formula feeds or to stop them or do both and which to offer first!

A quick shout out for help on Facebook lead me to the wonderful ladies at the local support group and within a few hours, on a Sunday afternoon, I was given advice, an action plan, a double electric pump and all the support I needed to have a second chance.

I waited until Ed had had a formula feed before attempting our ‘first’ breastfeed so that he wasn’t hungry or grumpy.  I propped myself up on the bed and laid with him on me as I was shown, and let him find his way.  Initially, he poked himself in the eye with my nipple and looked at me as if to say, “is this right, Mum?” I was slightly horrified and for a split second thought that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea but then Ed latched on, and stayed on.  HOOORAY! He probably only got a couple of drops of milk but he was so calm and peaceful.  It felt wonderful!

After that I started the very tiring routine of pumping 3 hourly, day and night.  Offering boob, offering bottle, offering boob again, pumping, pumping and more pumping!  I started taking Domperidone to help increase my milk supply and also used a supplementary nursing system for a while so Ed could have positive feedback from latching on and feeling full at the breast.  We did lots of skin to skin during formula feeds, holding Ed close so he could bob between bottle and boob.  It was very hard.  Extremely hard and exhausting and I think I must have said I was giving up 100 times in those first few weeks. But I didn’t. Not this time.  I carried on pumping, even though I barely got a dribble out,  I carried on offering Ed a breastfeed even though sometimes he screamed at the sight of a boob!  I carried on through cracked nipples and burning pain.  Carried on through upset tummies and a household of chicken pox.  All the things that would have stopped me any other time.  Eventually, I started noticing Ed was taking less and less formula.  The hard work was paying off!  Formula feeds become top ups, top ups became less frequent and for one glorious week, he stopped bottles altogether.

I had been weighing Ed weekly to keep a close eye on him (with the previous midwife’s voice, “enough is enough, you’re starving your baby” still ringing in my ears 2 babies later).  Unfortunately, he was very static, but lost weight on his formula free week.  He needed top ups to gain weight but even then would gain one week and lose the next.  Seeing little or no weight gain put me very much on the edge and I probably would have made the switch back to formula had Ed let me (by this point, he was rather fond of his booby milk!).  I noticed the more I worried and stressed about top ups (I began to see them as my failing), the more Ed fussed during feeds. When we decided that it wouldn’t matter if the main source of food was formula and my boobs were the top ups – “Ed-led feeding” – I learnt to relax and when I made my peace with the top ups, he started to settle on just two small bottles a day.  I also kept in close contact with the local health team who reassured me that, yes, Ed’s weight fluctuated, but he looked healthy and happy.

6 months became my magic number.  If we could get to 6 months, formula could be replaced with solids, Ed would gain more weight and things would be easier.

Ed is almost 8 months now.  I still take Domperidone.  He still breastfeeds every 2-3 hours through the day, and sometimes during the night!  He has 3 solid meals a day, plus snacks, and around 5oz of formula – sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes none at all – Ed-led feeding!  His weight gains are still very small but he is happy and healthy and I’m happy to continue being Ed-led, giving him whichever type of feed, whenever he wants it.

I have no new ‘magic number’ and instead plan to follow Ed’s lead all the way, stopping when he’s ready.  We still struggle at times, especially with a sleepless night, but I know the local breastfeeding support group are always on hand to offer help, support, even a shoulder to cry on! If it wasn’t for them, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today and I’m so grateful to have been given a second chance.

I don’t know why I felt so differently this time or what kept me going through the difficult times.  It wasn’t the health benefits or convenience of ‘having milk on tap’.  I have no problem with formula feeding having had four formula fed, healthy babies.  Our bonds are no different.  I used to think breastfeeding was the easier option, but know differently now!  Both are equally difficult in very different ways.  Whatever the reasons, I love it now, especially when halfway through a feed, his little hand reaches out looking for mine.  It takes me back to that first time when it was so calm and peaceful and makes me fall in love with him all over again.

 

*Wipes snot and tears away* 

This woman’s strength, courage, tenacity and just utter brilliance has truly inspired me.  Thanks to her bravery in facing her ‘what ifs’, she has also become an inspiration for other local mums struggling in those early stages, because when they’re feeling like they’re failing due to having to introduce formula or top up because of weight, we say with confidence, “don’t worry about a thing, do whatever you have to do to get the baby’s birth weight back up, it’s not all or nothing because we know a lady….”