I downloaded Timehop for Facebook recently, hoping it would jog my memory about my daughter’s early days.
In fact, it appears I never really wrote much before I had a blog to put it all in. However, today’s festive status, posted at 2.44am, was about being up breastfeeding.
It’s definitely true that most of the baby stage is wiped from your memory.
When my little girl reached around 8 or 9 months, suddenly life became easier, more predictable, and I looked back on all the smiling photos of her as a newborn (because you don’t tend to take photos of them in full meltdown mode or at three am when you’ve been up since four the previous morning and they just WILL NOT SLEEP) and thought yes, I could do that again.
That’s how they get you.
However, one thing I will never forget is the breastfeeding journey.
I have vivid memories of mentally writing this blog post and now, just two short years and another baby later, I’m actually getting around to it.
If you’ve never had a baby and never been pregnant then it’s very likely that the breastfeeding debate has entirely passed you by.
It’s not until you find yourself in the late stages of pregnancy that suddenly you are faced with questions about how you’re going to feed the baby. Quite probably it’s something you’ve never thought about before.
For me, personally, I just assumed I would breastfeed.
Breast is best and all that, but above all else it’s free and you don’t have to go to the trouble of making up bottles. Cheap and lazy; certainly something I can get on board with.
Like many expectant parents, I attended NCT and NHS antenatal classes.
I consider myself a realist (although others may say cynic) who never really had any intention of pushing out my baby drug-free in a padding pool whilst listening to Enya (and I ended up having a breech baby and an elective section, so it’s probably a good thing) however when they told me that breastfeeding was entirely natural process that 99% of women could physically do and it should be pain free, for my sins I did believe them.
We were lucky; I was in recovery after my section and my baby latched on immediately and continued to feed every few hours. Friends had struggled, their babies did not want to feed. Some persevered, stayed in hospital for extended periods and cracked it, some tried nipple shields, some made the switch to formula.
In my notes, they commented that she was feeding every time they came into the room.
For the first few days I thought I had it licked.
And then, my word, the pain.
After a few days, each latch was excruciating, made me wince and quite often sob. My husband was sent out to the late night Sainsbury’s to buy formula (which I was ultimately too stubborn to use).
I tried shields, I tried pumping. I went to a breastfeeding counsellor to get my latch assessed.
Turns out, everything was fine.
It’s just that taking a body part that you rarely use and subjecting it to two hourly torture takes a while to get used to. And NOBODY thought to mention this. I was on the verge of giving up, when I joined an online support group. Second time mums were urging the newbies to stick with it.
Bite your lip, count down from ten as they latch and, little by little, it gets easier, they said. And I did. And it did.
I don’t know what the midwives have against informing first time mums that breastfeeding can and does hurt for a lot of mums, perhaps they think it will put them off of trying, however in a matter of weeks the pain disappears and the process gets a lot easier to the point where you can quite happily look at Facebook with a cup of tea whilst feeding your baby – another pro.
I can’t help but think of the countless women out there, struggling, without the support I had, and ultimately giving up believing they’re doing it wrong, costing themselves a fortune in formula and the ability to waste hours on the internet in the process.
There is nothing wrong with formula feeding if that’s what you choose to do, but for many mums (in my albeit limited experience), believing that you have failed to breastfeed is an awful, all-consuming feeling.
Both of my babies have struggled to gain weight due to reflux and if your baby is not thriving, it’s miserable. I’ve been there.
The other thing that they neglect to tell you is that it’s all on you.
I mean, you probably were aware that your husband or partner can’t learn to lactate, but even if you manage to express a bottle (and I never could, although I had friends that were like dairy cows) and persuade someone else to wake up with your baby and feed it to them (presuming they don’t reject the bottle outright of course) it doesn’t mean you’ll get a good night’s sleep because you’ll wake up looking like Dolly Parton, possibly in a bit (or a lot) of pain from engorgement, most likely in a puddle of milk.
Meanwhile, babies that have been formula fed since birth are probably sleeping through the night by now, allowing their well rested mums to bake cookies and make homemade baby sensory equipment. Or that’s what it starts to feel like.
Despite the problems I had feeding my daughter, and having to supplement with formula once a day, we managed to feed until eight months when she decided she didn’t want to any more. It was genuinely a sad day.
I was determined to feed my son, and naively assumed it would be easier the second time around.
However the pain was there again, appearing after just a few days just as before.
This time though, I knew what was coming. I counted down from ten each time he latched and told myself that it would get easier, and quite quickly it did.
It’s not been a smooth ride; around eight weeks he stopped gaining weight and has been on a variety of medicines for his reflux. We’ve used formula occasionally. I’ve been vomited on more times than I can count. I’ve done each and every night feed again, and I’ve flashed the whole of Costa more than once in a sleep deprived haze.
And while I’m talking of sleep deprivation…
Sleeping through the night seems to be the holy grail of babydom. Along with self settling, it’s something that complete strangers feel the need to question you about. Babies need to feed little and often, their tummies are small and breastmilk is so easily digested that it sometimes feels like before you’ve finished one feed they’re already rooting around for the next.
I won’t lie. Formula helped my daughter to sleep. She was a constant feeder throughout the night – it soothed her reflux. A bottle before bed became her nighttime routine.
I thought I’d try the same with my son and, when he would actually take it and keep it down, it made no difference at all. At almost six months he wakes hourly, seemingly through discomfort rather than hunger, and so it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference where the milk comes from.
He is a certified shit sleeper.
However, I’m confident that this is my last baby and as he lies here next to me, where my husband used to sleep before the baby decided he wanted the space, quietly snoring little snuffling snorts and looking all cute and angelic, I feel glad I have had the chance to do this.
When I’m feeding him, and his little razor sharp claws are scratching my boob, my face, trying to grab my tongue, he’s latching and unlatching showing my nipple to the world and blowing raspberries getting milk all over me, I try to remember that it’s not forever.
One day, possibly quite soon, it will be my last feed and when that day comes, I know I’ll feel very sad.