Breastfeeding – the bits no-one tells you about!

thumb_IMG_2834_1024

This is a post I wrote last October. I am still breastfeeding to some degree and Amelia is now just turned 1 year. It amazes me that Looking back to how I felt this time last year I am still breastfeeding! It’s been a long and difficult journey…

Firstly I should say that I don’t regret breastfeeding in the slightest. I have been doing it for almost eight months, which is far longer that I would have imagined I would. But I felt that, even after read the leaflets given out by the midwife or health visitor, I was definitely not expecting it to be as challenging as it has been at times. So here is my fully honest account of Amelia and mine’s breastfeeding journey to date.

1 – The first feed – seemed easier than I thought it might be. The midwife was really helpful at assisting Amelia to latch on and advised me of how I should know if she is properly latched on. I had already been aware of the advice ‘nose to nipple’, which also helped. Amelia didn’t spend all that long on the breast for that first feed. It’s daunting as unlike a bottle where you can see how much your baby has fed, you have no real idea with breastfeeding. What I knew was, initially whilst you are producing the yellowy coloured colostrum, they only need about a teaspoon at a time as the colostrum is so rich and nutrients are concentrated.

2 – Feed number two – We went home the same evening she was born. I wanted to attempt feeding once more prior to discharge as I was not keen to go without being happy and certain that she was feeding ok, and that I was doing the right thing. The midwife watched as Amelia latched on, and advised that I would be able to see if she was feeding as I could watch for her swallowing or listen for it. At this point I asked the midwife how often I should feed her. She advised that Amelia would let me know when she was hungry and not to worry. In hindsight I wish I had read more than just the leaflets offered, as I now know that I should have been expecting to feed every couple of hours.

3 – The first days – seemed easy. I wondered at this stage what all the fuss was about! Amelia was feeding when she wanted to be fed, filling her nappy regularly and sleeping well, especially at night. The midwife visited the day after discharge and rechecked my breastfeeding technique. She was happy.

4 – The first weeks – It was at this point that it started to become tougher. After the first couple of days I noticed that Amelia was becoming jaundiced (a yellowish tinge to the skin with a number of causes). With my ‘doctor’ hat on I was fairly laid back about this. I reason that it had developed later than the first day or two after birth; also Amelia was very well with it and her poo and wee were normal colours. I knew I needed to keep a watch on her, and that at this stage the most likely cause was breastfeeding jaundice. Our midwife was due the next day so I felt comfortable to wait until her visit to discuss it with her. I would however say that if you notice this happening to your baby it is always important to discuss with the midwife/health visitor/GP at the earliest opportunity. As I say there are a number of causes, including a few serious causes, of jaundice in a newborn baby. Babies needs to be checked over, and though it may just involve some monitoring by the midwife on a more frequent basis it is best for them to be seen sooner rather than later. Our midwife agreed that it was likely related to breastfeeding. At this stage she was also due to weight Amelia. She had lost just over 10% of her initial bodyweight. The midwife felt there was unlikely a serious cause for this, and that to some degree the jaundice was probably making her a little drowsier, contributing to her not feeding quite as much. It was also important to feed her lots as the more she would feed the more it would help the jaundice resolve sooner. It was at this point where it became clear that I was not feeding her often enough. I should be feeding her two hourly, with the two-hour mark kicking off from the start of a feed and not from the end of the last feed. The maximum I should go without feeding was six hourly, in order to keep my milk production on track. The more I fed, the more milk would be produced. It was from this point on that I became pretty much house and sofa/bed-bound. I became rigid about timings and feeds. A feed often took 45 minutes to and hour to complete. The time spent between feeds involved toilet breaks, washing and thinking about food for my husband and myself. It was important to drink and eat plenty to further encourage milk production and keep my energy up. This went on for a number of weeks. Leaving the house required some degree of military preparation. I would need to feed just prior to leaving the house and know where I would be ready for the next feed, right on schedule! I did feel at this point like I was losing control of things a little and becoming crazed!

5 – Expressing – I was keen to express milk so that my husband could have some involvement in feeding Amelia, and allow me to have a little longer at night between feeds. Again, I really didn’t imagine this was a tough process. Surely you attach the pump and away you go. I started pumping fairly soon after Amelia’s birth. There is a lot to read out there on expressing. A lot advises to hold off pumping for a few weeks, whereas some information suggests it can also help with improving milk supply. I was really disheartened by pumping. Initially I was managing just 30mls at a time. Some websites were suggesting the best thing to do was to pump after each feed. If I included this in to the length of time it took to feed, plus the amount of time it took to take it apart, wash it, sterilise it and put it back together I was in the world of feeding and little else. The lowest point came when I spilt a small amount of the milk I had just expressed. I had been careful until this point to save every drop as ‘every drop counted’. My husband burst into laughter – a risky strategy in my books – and I burst into tears. He helpfully explained that I was literally crying over spilt milk. What had become of my normal, rational self? I was using a Tommee Tippee electric pump. It was not the most comfortable pump. I had been given it by a friend, so had felt I had not needed to do much research on pumps. It was during the times I was frantically trying to pump myself dry that I would Google things such as ‘why am I not producing enough milk’, ‘improving expressing, ‘best breast pumps’ and ‘how much breast milk does my baby need’. It was here I came across the Medela swing breast pump and lots of reviews said it was great, much better that the Tommy Tippee one, etc. It was also where I came across www.kellymom.com This website was a great resource and source of comfort for me regarding breastfeeding. It had really straightforward advice. I invested in a Medela swing pump. From this point on expressing improved – I was expressing more milk in a more comfortable way and quicker than previously. It was also much quicker and easier to clean and take apart/reconstruct. It was quieter, and sounded less like I was a cow being milked by an industrial sized pump, which helped my self-esteem!

6 – Breastfeeding doesn’t equal good sleep – Breast milk and formula have different proteins in them. Generally, formula tends to be ‘heavier’ and fills a baby for longer than breast milk. Hence breastfed babies need to be fed more regularly than formula fed babies. It also means they don’t tend to sleep through the night as quickly as formula fed babies. A potential benefit to this is that there seems to be a protective effect of breastfeeding against cot death. They think it’s partly related to the frequency with which breastfed babies and mothers wake during the night. However, when you’re awake several times at night it makes you really tired and frustrated at times. This is where I found the expressing became helpful – it allowed my husband, or one of my (very kind!) sisters, to give some of the night feeds to allow a great stretch of uninterrupted sleep. I always made sure to pump within six hours of the last feed. Even if I didn’t want to my breasts would let me know by becoming engorged and uncomfortable if I didn’t express sooner than this. It took six months to get Amelia to sleep through. Don’t get me wrong – I know other breastfeeding mums who have managed to achieve this a lot sooner but it’s better to be prepared for less sleep!

7 – Breastfeeding in public. This was not the part I was most looking forward to. I am not a prude but I am also not in any way and extrovert or someone that likes to draw attention to myself when out and about. So I was nervous about feeding her in public. Especially when you read lots of stories about people asking you to feed elsewhere, or making a big deal of it. However, I would rather her not scream the place down than worry about exposing myself in public. After some internet searches I found some really good breastfeeding tops and a dress that allowed me to feed discreetly, which made me feel more comfortable.

8 – The older they get, the harder it becomes again. Though it takes them much less time to actually take a feed, the process seems to lengthen out again as they become so nosy! It’s better now but there was a period where trying to feed Amelia out of the house was tough work, as she would become distracted trying to stare at people and what was going on around us. Try doing that on a busy train! It leads to her trying to reveal my breast to anyone nearby, and both of us becoming covered in squirting milk that she should be drinking!

9 – Your breast becomes a comforter. There have been many times when I have ‘fed’ Amelia. It has been clear that she is not bothered about the milk but the comfort she gest from suckling. With experience you can tell quite clearly when they are actually feeding versus just having a comfort suckle. This does not always make it easy on you. The other point here is that the little one becomes reliant on you and no one else for his or her feeds. Amelia began refusing milk from a bottle around 3.5 – 4 months old. Just like that she was not interested in anything but mummy’s breast. It was a tough period adjusting to this. It kind of also means that my breast has become other peoples concern. Now I regularly get ‘do you think she could be hungry’ ‘do you want to try feeding her’, etc. This can be come exceptionally frustrating when you know that she has fed well and she just wants some comfort. It is also frustrating when all you’d like is to have some time to yourself that doesn’t involve being someone else’s food source.

10 – Leading me on to when do you stop feeding? Amelia is now well underway with weaning, though she is still getting most of her nutrition from milk until she is 1 year old. When it was really tough at the beginning I was happy to just get to her first set of injections and then quit. By the time they came around breastfeeding had just become ‘easy’. So my timeline changed that I would be happy to continue until she was weaning. Now we are at 8 months and I really don’t know how it’ll end. I kind of have an exit strategy, which is slowly transitioning. She is starting nursery soon. My aim is that she will transition to bottles for her two daytime feeds and then slowly I will wean her off her morning breastfeed on to the bottle, and finally the bedtime feed. I am now looking forward to a time where she is not reliant on me for her milk.

Breastfeeding has been a wonderful bonding experience for the two of us. It has saved money, been much easier to go out not worrying about whether we have bottles and milk at the ready. It has not been easy for something that is such a natural process. I am glad of the experience. I just wasn’t prepared for it! So I hope that you find this account honest and helpful, and it allows you to persist with breastfeeding if you are struggling!

 

Please share your tips and advice or personal experiences of your struggles with breast-feeding