It’s National Breastfeeding Week, which seems like as good a time as any to share my breastfeeding story. It’s been a journey with a great start, a few bumps in the middle, and an ending I was not prepared for.
The first feed
Tall Boy took to breastfeeding straight away. He just knew what to do. Please don’t let this put you off reading further. I’ve heard many breastfeeding stories, from blogs I’ve read to experiences of friends, that start very differently. I do know that we were really lucky to have such a good beginning and I’ve never taken it for granted.
The first time I breastfed Tall Boy I was coming to terms with the idea of having a two foot long baby draped across my chest. I knew he was going to be big but I was not prepared for him to be quite so big. At 10lb 3oz he never felt tiny and new. I remember the midwife telling me to tickle his feet to encourage him to keep feeding and wondering how I was supposed to reach them with a cannula in my hand, attached to a drip, when they were miles away!
A large glass of water
But even when feeding goes well, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Breastfeeding is draining and when you are the only person able to feed your baby it’s a responsibility that can, at times, feel like a burden.
The early days involved hunkering down with a large glass of water and plenty of snacks, whatever time of day or night. I had no idea that breastfeeding would make me so hungry, so thirsty, and so generally exhausted. I could almost feel the energy being sapped from my body. I fell asleep during several night feeds, waking up to check that Tall Boy was still eating before I dozed off again. I realised eventually that he was probably sleeping too, being prompted to suckle by the sense of me coming round. On those occasions he scored himself extra snuggles, and luckily our unplanned co-sleeping didn’t see either of us come to any harm.
As much as I found breastfeeding draining, it was a great way to reset the clock on whatever had gone before. Whether Tall Boy was hungry, cranky, or tired, I could guarantee that sitting down to feed him would calm him down almost instantly and he would forget whatever was bothering him. In the best case scenario, he’d fall asleep.
Bumps in the road
After feeding on demand for a week or so (possibly longer but my memories of the earliest days are blurry and lost to sleep deprivation) Tall Boy’s poo turned green. A somewhat crazed Google (of which there were so many I eventually had to leave my phone downstairs to make sure I couldn’t Google the latest problem as I was drifting off to sleep) made me worried that he wasn’t getting enough hind milk so I tried to follow advice to start his next feed on the breast he’d finished the last feed on.
Around the same time, I started to experience sore, lumpy areas in my breasts. Actually, I’m not sure I’d described them as lumpy. They were hard and hot in patches. A helpful late night phone call to the breastfeeding helpline, which I probably should have turned to instead of Google in the first place, informed me that the fore milk / hind milk advice had changed and that green poo could just be because it was passing through Tall Boy’s system too quickly. The lovely lady on the phone also explained that the lumps were caused by Tall Boy asking for more milk than he was actually taking. She didn’t say so explicitly but the conclusion I reached whilst processing the call later was that it would probably do both of us good to try and stretch out his feeds. From then on I aimed to feed Tall Boy 2 hours after he finished his last feed. With some distraction he generally accepted this and on the occasions when nothing else worked, I was happy to feed him. It didn’t take long for his poo, and my boobs, to return to normal.
We muddled along like this for a long time and I was in the main, much more comfortable. (It wasn’t the last time that I experienced lumps but I learned to massage them while I was feeding or expressing and they’d go away after a feed or two.)
Feeding every 2 hours
We went on holiday to Malta when Tall Boy was almost 3 months old. Breastfeeding made the holiday feel more straightforward than having to worry about sterilising bottles in a hotel room. By then I was pretty confident with feeding. I fed him on takeoff and landing, which I slightly mistimed and ended up walking off the plane still feeding him. During that holiday I fed Tall Boy in every place you could imagine. On rickety bus journeys that took much longer than we’d hoped, by the hotel pool, looking out over the sea, and even walking through passport control on the way home (another badly timed feed, due in part to the strange layout of the airport).
The heat however, made Tall Boy want to eat every 2 hours day and night. Before then we were lucky to get pretty long stretches of night sleep but the regular, nocturnal mealtimes continued on our return and lasted well in to his 7th month, even though he was starting to replace some daytime milk feeds with solids. I was convinced he was just waking up for food because he would settle down so easily afterwards. With hindsight, I think he’d fallen in to a pattern.
Expressing and unwanted advice
Once Tall Boy was in a good bedtime routine I finally found time to express. I had no hope during his daytime naps because those were all spent in the car or pushchair at that time, which meant I was always out when he was sleeping.
Some people seem to take to it easily and get loads of milk. I could spend an hour and come away with only half a bottle. I persevered simply because my freezer stash was my ticket to freedom.
It was related to this that I encountered the most unhelpful advice from a health visitor; at least it was the most unhelpful advice I have received personally – I’ve heard tales of worse!
I took Tall Boy to get weighed and, as you do, I chatted to the health visitor while I was undressing and redressing him. I think she asked if I was managing to get any time to myself and I triumphantly told her that I had just started attending a pilates class one evening a week. For some reason (I probably volunteered this information), I also told her that Tall Boy was still feeding roughly every 2 hours throughout the night but he’d sleep for a bit longer when he first went down and I was using this time to express.
Apparently late evening isn’t a good time to express. I was told that I should be doing it first thing in the morning (erm, first thing in the morning is surely whatever time your baby wakes up asking for food), or between 12 and 3am. And where the ‘unhelpful’ comes in, as if this wasn’t enough, she told me this in almost the same breath as telling me I should be prioritising my own sleep!
I felt pretty rubbish about it for a short while, until I decided to ignore the advice I hadn’t asked for. The only thing that changed was, I stopped chatting to health visitors.
Reducing the night feeds
Tall Boy eventually reduced his night feeds once we moved him in to his own room. I’ve never been a rigid follower of the ‘rules’ but the one thing that kept him in our room till he was about 8 months old was the ease of feeding him at night. I would lift him out of his travel cot (the moses basket long since outgrown), feed him in our bed, put him down, then go back to sleep.
In the end we moved him in to his nursery because he just seemed too old to stay in our room. The change had an unexpected benefit. Being a little more awake for night feeds made me realise that he wasn’t taking much milk at all and gave me the confidence to try and settle him without it. It was time for Tall Dad to get involved in wake-ups for the first time since Tall Boy was very small.
I have heard horror stories of babies biting once their teeth come through, so I was thankful that Tall Boy’s were quite late and that he continued to feed well.
More recently however, something has changed. His teeth are grazing my nipples.
It was one side at first and I was able to soothe it with Lansinoh (thank goodness I kept the tube I’d only used a few times right at the beginning). Gradually the little marks have become open wounds that he irritates each time he feeds.
Luckily we have been cutting down milk feeds from about 10 months, so Tall Boy was only having milk 3 times a day by the time feeding became painful; once in the morning, once before bed, and once when he woke in the night.
The overnight feeds are the worst. I think it’s because he’s sleepy and latches less well, and probably also because everything is harder to deal with in the middle of the night. There have been a few nights where I’ve almost cried from the pain, willing him to stop eating as quickly as possible, and breaking his latch as soon as he shows the slightest sign of having finished.
For the first time since I started I feel like I can’t carry on much longer. I know lots of women find breastfeeding painful at the start but, until now, I’ve always been able to deal with a painful latch by breaking it with my finger and correcting it.
We’re coping with a compromise at the moment. After the most painful night we switched Tall Boy to cows milk in the mornings. So far that’s going well and my supply has adjusted pretty quickly. I’m going to wait a few more days and then it’s time to work on either the bedtime or overnight, neither of which I’m expecting to be easy. I’m managing the pain by varying Tall Boy’s feeding position so he’s not scraping the same skin each time, and one less feed gives me more time to heal as well.
An ending I wasn’t prepared for
I’d always planned to stop breastfeeding when Tall Boy reached a year, but as his first birthday drew closer I accepted that I would need to allow a little time to wean him fully on to cows milk and wean my boobs off the feeds. That’s the thing about breastfeeding; the complex balance between supply and demand means you can’t just stop when you’ve had enough.
After breastfeeding going so well for Tall Boy and me, I did not anticipate having to deal with all the issues I escaped at the beginning when we were 11 months in. And, alongside the soreness, my body is going through a strange period of readjustment that has seen me with all kinds of skin problems and left me feeling pretty drained all over again.
It’s too late to switch to formula and I’m reluctant to express instead because, whilst it’s not painful, it’s time consuming, I don’t want to stimulate my supply, and if I’m honest, it makes me feel like a cow.
At this point, I am torn between wanting to stop, right now, and not wanting to give up what has been a really lovely time with my baby. I feel sad that our last feed, when it comes, will probably be uncomfortable and leave me wounded.
But Tall Boy, mummy needs to reclaim her boobs…as soon as she possibly can. We can still have snuggly cuddles at bedtime and fingers crossed you will go to sleep eventually.
If anyone has any tips for weaning Tall Boy off the bedtime and last night feed, please do share them in the comments. For all that’s written about establishing breastfeeding, the advice I’ve read about stopping doesn’t seem that helpful.