Our breastfeeding journey

I have been thinking about writing this post since my early days of breastfeeding and wish I had at least started writing notes as some of it is now blurry but at the same time, it has all passed in the blink of an eye.

It could have been only a few days ago when I felt the elation of Seb latching on for the first time and I can remember the eyeball-aching night feeding sessions like they were last night. Wait a minute….one of them was last night!

But in actual fact our breastfeeding journey has lasted 395 days and whilst I would in fact be happy to continue for longer, we are in our final few days…if not finished altogether (poor lad didn’t get much milk at all last night, learning the milk bar is closed is a tough lesson!).

I think its important to point out that this is my journey that I am sharing and it is my experience only – I am not an expert or a professional, nor do I advocate for one way of feeding over another. I really strongly believe that whichever way, bottle, breast or expressed it doesn’t matter as long as the baby is being fed and the mum/caregiver is happy.

I hope my story offers some encouragement or hope for new mums or mums who are maybe struggling. And that goes either way – to breast or bottle feed.

For me, breastfeeding has been a wonderful, wonderful journey that I have loved and it has played a big part of my motherhood journey, but I better start from the beginning.

When I was pregnant I did a bit of reading up about breastfeeding, asked all my mum friends about their journeys and there was a session as part of my NCT class. I quickly realised a few things; one being that no two babies had the same journey. And I say babies and not mums as one friend of mine who has three children had three very different feeding journeys; her first happily combined fed, her second refused anything but the breast and her third wouldn’t take to breastfeeding at all and only took a bottle.

The other thing I learned was I was likely to be in for a rough time. In fact I got a bit scared. I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding as there are so many benefits but also prepared myself for bottle feeding if it didn’t go to plan. More details in this post here but I bought bottles, ready made formula and sterilising equipment in advance so I would be all set if needed.

I was lucky that breastfeeding actually came easily for Seb and I. We had a great start and didn’t encounter the problems that I know a lot of people do. To be honest, this really surprised me. I think there were a few things that helped with this, but also I also think that that is just how it goes sometimes.

I started preparing whilst I was still pregnant. I’d read that expressing colostrum was good to do in the third trimester (more info about benefits and how to here) so did that. Each day after a shower I would spend five or ten minutes listening to my hypnobirthing tracks expressing into an egg cup (!),  sucking it up into a little syringes then freezing it. I wonder if this might have helped things go well for us?

I had a very calm, straight forward birth and Seb came into the world at 00:23. You can read my birth story here. After the placenta and stitches etc I lay down with Seb and he did the rooting thing that I had read about (oh nature is just so magical) and by 3am he had latched on without a problem. I had been really worried about tongue tie after hearing of so many cases and had already asked the midwife to check and she had given him the all clear. He had a feed, Will and I staring in wonder as he made the cutest little sucking noises and then he fell asleep. I was hopeful we were off the the right start.

Our first ever feed! 

Later that morning we were moved from our gorgeous birthing room to a ward and whilst I can’t remember the exact details, we seemed to have no problem feeding. He was sick at one point and actually I was quite amazed to see how much colostrum (you normally have colostrum – the thick yellow stuff that is packed with nutrients and goodness – for a few days before your actual milk comes in) came up – it actually reassured me that it was going in to him without a problem.

I had a really great experience in the hospital in that two or three times a midwife came to check how we were doing with feeding and they were attentive, supportive and reassuring. Each one gave me a little hint or tip and left me feeling like I was winning. Sadly, I know that this isn’t the experience for everyone for one reason or another and I think it is such a shame when new mums don’t get this as it really is helpful.

We were discharged that afternoon and when we got home I started to get to grips with how to do it on my own – basically I just whipped my whole top and bra off as I found it was easier to get him latched on without having anything in the way. As the days/weeks went by Seb and I became better and didn’t need to do this!

The next day, so when he was only one day old a midwife came in and helped again – in fact whenever I saw a midwife or health visitor I would ask them to watch me feeding him so I could make sure things were still being done correctly. I wasn’t shy at all like I thought I might be at showing off my boobs! I guess after childbirth you just have to let go and honesty my baby was more important than my modesty! Then that afternoon I noticed my boobs had gone rock hard and were so tender/sore  (sorry if this is TMI!). I wondered what the hell was going on and when I went to feed Seb I could hear him take big watery gulps…my milk had come in already! I was SO amazed. Again…nature – wow!

I did worry at times especially in those early days that he wasn’t getting enough milk but every midwife, health visitor and breast feeding support worker that I spoke to gave me loads of reassurance that as long as he was having regular wet nappies and he was putting weight on that I needed to trust my body. There is a very clever demand and supply system in place that and that your baby and body communicate to sort out exactly what they need!  I know this is something so many people struggle with trusting that there is enough and all I can say is I am glad I trusted it when I started to doubt myself.

After a week when he was weighed I was told to expect him to have lost some of his birth weight which is completely normal … but I was delighted that not only had he not lost any weight but he had put a couple of pounds on! Even the midwife was impressed and it gave me so much confidence. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt like I was actually doing it! I was successfully breastfeeding my baby.

Those sleepy post-feed cuddles – the best!

As I said, I was really, really lucky that I had such a smooth ride. I didn’t encounter any real pain or soreness – just for the first few weeks when he first latch on it was a bit toe curling as the milk let down, but then it would be absolutely fine for the rest of the feed, and then after a while even that initial bit went away.

I know this isn’t the journey for many people. I had a number of friends who had babies within a few weeks of me and we were in regular contact discussing the ups and downs. I would say I had one of the easiest breast-feeding journeys in those early weeks and to hear of the difficulty others were having was hard. But what was worse was hearing how the pain, guilt and sadness associated with difficulty breastfeeding was playing such a big part of their early motherhood journey.

As new mums we put so much pressure on ourselves to do it a certain way and if that doesn’t go to plan it can be hard to reroute. Maybe it is easy for me to say as I didn’t have the same issues but I think it is just as important if not more so that mums can look back on their early days with happiness and not guilt and so whatever feeding method allows this I think that’s the best.

I wanted to get out and about quite quickly and remember my first public breast feeding session so clearly. I think it was day five and we had had to go to the hospital to have a hearing check up as one ear had been blocked on the day he had been born. We went for brunch afterwards and I remember being so worried that I was going to squirt or flash someone but it all went without a hitch if not a fair amount of fumbling but I got better and better every time. I didn’t hesitate to feed anywhere and everywhere – I have fed on park benches, in shops, on the street, in cafes, in waiting rooms, in the car, in front of friends, my in-laws, my dad…you name it, we have done it.

Our first public feed

Never once did I get even so much as a half funny side glance. In fact I almost wanted one so I could have a good old rant at that person about the right to feed a baby…but I never got the chance!

In fact the only time I was ever questioned about breastfeeding was my own family?! Not so much in a really judgmental way, but there were a few questions over the months about when would I be stopping and wouldn’t a bottle be better to help him sleep longer/get me more rest etc I just stayed really neutral and nodded and agreed and then carried on doing exactly my own thing.

I had always planned on introducing a bottle so Will and friends/family could be involved and so I started expressing milk. I used an Elvie pump and pumped after a couple of feeds. I think we waited about six weeks to introduce the bottle as I was told earlier might cause nipple confusion. Seb didn’t like the first type of bottle I tried so gave a different one a go (Mam bottles) and he took to it really well after a couple of goes.

For a long time I simply fed on demand or offered the boob whenever I thought it had been a bit of time – if was about every 2-3 hours for a long time.

I loved using the Bella Moon for really relaxing feeds

I also went to a breastfeeding support group about every other week – I found it so reassuring to get Seb weighed but also I loved the supportive and friendly environment. I loved speaking to other new mums and hearing their stories and getting their advice and support. As Seb got older and wasn’t the youngest in the room I was amazed to find that I was able to offer newer mums my advice, experience and support. I really feel for all the new mums in these Covid times that can’t utilise these groups as I really found them invaluable and I love it when I occasionally bump in to one of the ladies at that group now.

Now if you are starting to think I had it all really easy, things did get a little trickier for me. At about six to  eight weeks old (maybe even sooner but I have forgotten the exact timings now) Seb started to become really uncomfortable at night, trying to sleep but writhing and groaning obviously in pain. We pretty much became certain that he had silent reflux which would also explain why he wouldn’t sleep much in the day and hated his pram/lying down.

Heidi from The Parent and Baby Coach recommended I cut out dairy and for a while I reduced it and saw a bit of a difference. However at about ten/twelve weeks old I cut it out completely and it made all the difference. He started to sleep better at night and that was game changing for me.

Around the same time Seb dropped down a percentile line in weight. I had to go to the breastfeeding clinic and doctors for a weekly weigh in for a while as we assessed what was happening. He was still feeding well and regularly and whilst they weren’t too worried they wanted to make sure it didn’t go any further down.

The main lady at the BF clinic suggested I top up one feed with expressed milk so that night I tried it. I had a stock of milk in the freezer and so after his bedtime boob feed (I always gave him both boobs) I gave him a bottle. He gulped down about 3 or 4 oz and I was so surprised.

I got in the routine of doing that every night at 7pm and he would normally go to 12pm or 1am until his next feed. Before I went to bed at 9:30ish I would express and get a good haul for the next evening. I kept this up until about 11 month old and it varied how much he would take – at about five months old before we started weaning he would take both boobs and a full bottle of expressed milk. He even started sleeping through the night for a while but this only lasted about a month before he started to have a wake up at about 3/4am again.

Luckily it worked and after a few weeks of this Seb started to creep back up the percentiles and all was good again.

Oh god, this is the longest post ever – I didn’t realise I had so much to share/say on this subject! But there is more to come! Ha ha! If you are still reading, I salute you!

Now that I was pumping for serious, I moved to a Medela double pump (we actually bought ours second hand from Ebay) that my friend lent me and I bought one after a while as it was so good. The Elvie was great for on the go but for me definitely slower to get the amount I needed every day.

It was at this time that my real big struggle with breastfeeding came. Now I was feeding and pumping and not eating dairy I started to lose weight. I have a very quick metabolism and a big appetite which I know is lucky ordinarily however when you are a new mum and are home alone with the baby all day long it is hard to find the time to eat all the time. You need all the extra calories when you are breastfeeding – I think 500 more everyday – and I found this so hard without being able to have a chunk of cheese/chocolate/any of the good fattening stuff. I really just wished that my close friends/family lived nearby so they could help me/feed me! But sadly they are all miles away and I was pretty much on my own.

I was SO exhausted all of the time. I could barely get up the stairs and needed to get fresh air for my mental health but physically struggled to carry Seb in a carrier or even push his pushchair. At times I just cried with the physical (not mental) feeling of emptiness, that my stomach was eating itself I was so hungry and I couldn’t eat enough. I became so gaunt, all my clothes hung off me even my knickers and I just had no energy.

I think this was the biggest struggle of my first year of motherhood.

I really wanted to keep breastfeeding but started considering a formula as I really felt I couldn’t go on. Cue weaning, discovering Seb had a dairy allergy and so having to try a dairy free formula. I think maybe I need another post to go in to the whole dairy allergy thing but needless to say he didn’t take to it after being so used to delicious sweet breast milk (dairy free formula is famously pretty disgusting) and I had to carry on breastfeeding.

Fast forward a few months and as Seb took to eating and started to feed less from me I started to put a little weight back on. I’m still on the rather thin side but not quite as lacking in energy as I was!

So where are we now. As Seb ate more and more real food and drank less from me my milk supply started to reduce…and I started to get less when I pumped. At about 11 months old I stopped pumping at gave Seb a coconut milk top up after breastfeeding before bed, then at one year old cut out the morning breast feed for a bottle of coconut milk.

In the last week I have stopped offering the boob at all – He still tries to get it sometimes but I just offer water, a snack or simply distract him which works. The only time that doesn’t work is he has started to wake occasionally in the night and nothing will settle him except boob. I think it is teething that is waking him, and I try to offer water, cuddle or even send Will in but in cases like last night he was crying on and off for the best part of an hour and a half and in the end I caved and gave him a boob. I could hear a few swallows but mainly I think there isn’t any milk and it is just his comfort. I am hoping he naturally moves away from this in the coming weeks!

So about 13 months in and our breastfeeding journey has come to an end. I feel so emotional to say goodbye to that special part of motherhood but also so pleased and proud we made it so far.

We had our own ups and downs and I am sure if we have another baby that feeding story will be just as individual as that baby itself.

I think this is my longest post I have ever written but I hope if you have read this far it is because you need to hear that it is OK to breast feed, that it is ok to bottle feed, that sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is hard and all of that is absolutely perfectly fine and normal.

Happy motherhood!

The sweetest moments during feeding