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My Breastfeeding Journey with Maggie

It may seem like a bit of a strange thing to be posting now, when I will likely have a whole new breastfeeding journey starting in the not so distant futurebut I actually only stopped breastfeeding Maggie very recently. It was 100% the right time for us both but there was still a little pang of sadness on my end as I realised we would never share that again. It did make me think back over the 15 months I’d been breastfeeding her and just how much the experience had changed over that time, from a bit of a circus act to something I didn’t think twice about. Whilst I feel a little bit on edge broaching the subject of breastfeeding on here, I know I found others experiences really helpful when I was in the throws of it all and particularly when I was navigating the less than idyllic phases where it just seemed like such hard work.

I’d grown up thinking nothing of breastfeeding as it was common amongst people I knew and no one ever talked about it for me to think it was anything less than a total breeze, I mean it was just so natural right? That bubble was burst when close friends started having babies and suddenly there was a whole lot of chat around how hard breastfeeding actually was. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit shocked but there seemed to be more mums that struggled with it than vice versa. Some stories detailed how insanely painful it had been or low milk supply struggles that lead to guilt and poor mental health. There were tongue ties, demoralising pumping sessions for hours and stressful weigh ins and just like that, I felt completely terrified of breastfeeding!

Having had a load of health issues for most of my life up until a few years ago, I had become very well read on nutrition and what we put into our bodies for health. It became a subject I found fascinating as I saw all of my health issues fade from changing what I ate and drank (I don’t mean dieting by the way, yuck) and having realised that a lot of the problems started when I was under two years, I did quite a bit of thinking about Maggie’s nutrition well before she was born. I saw how impressionable the gut in the first two years of life and how the whole micro biome was still very much developing and being shaped for the rest of your life from those two years.

Looking into it I couldn’t get around the fact that breast milk was best for babies. I know lots of Mum’s can feel a lot of judgement around this issue which totally isn’t my aim by writing this. As I said, I’ve known so many Mum’s who have struggled with it which has lead to negative effects on their mental health and I’m certainly not advocating that as worthy sacrifice. Breast feeding is not the best decision for everyone but I can’t help but feel a bit sad at how our society has totally normalised formula as if it’s actually reasonably nutritious. The NHS ‘breast is best’ agenda doesn’t really help things either as it seems to just put pressure on women without actually going into all the benefits of breastfeeding or in many cases giving them the support they need. The only pearls of wisdom I gleaned from them were that its convenient (which I can safely say is not always the case), cheap, helps you lose weight and builds up the babies immune system. Pretty simplistic if you ask me and not enough to inspire a load of vulnerable, first time Mums to persevere when it’s really tough.

Either way with all my reading and listening around the topic I was convinced it was the route I wanted to take myself and started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to do it when the time came. I looked into all sorts of formulas just in case I did have issues; organic ones, imported ones and I just couldn’t find any bought ones that I would be happy feeding my baby. I felt like if there were many things I wouldn’t consume in the ingredient list myself then it wasn’t comfortable feeding it to my bubba. I found one very long winded home recipe that looked like the best second choice to me but wow, sourcing those ingredients and then making huge batches at a time sounded totally overwhelming to this first time Mama. I was living in fear that I wouldn’t be able to follow up on my conviction which isn’t the best waiting state for anyone.

Thankfully a good pal who had had her fair share of breastfeeding issues in the past gave me a very good book on all the basics of breastfeeding that was so, so helpful to read in advance as well a refer to when I started because lets be honest the one class the NHS will put on for you is very basic, involves in knitted boob and some horrifying, worst case scenarios of mastitis and a warning ‘don’t get it’. This same friend actually let me sit in on her breastfeeding her little girl only a few months younger than Maggie to show me first hand what to do and what not to do. It might sound weird but it was soooo helpful because we’re usually trying to avert our eyes when we see women breastfeeding rather than taking notes. It opened up this whole world of latching, correct hold and winding that I hadn’t really know were a big deal before.

She’s here and this is a doddle!

So come our little lady’s arrival I was ready and knew I was going to give it my very best shot but was a little apprehensive at the same time. The first two days felt like a bit of a breeze as she seemed to latch reasonably well and I was getting lots of input from the midwives whilst recovering. I wondered why people made a big deal about sore and cracked nipples, a naive thought from someone who had only had a baby hanging off hers for two days.

Come a day later I was in a lot of pain and having to brace myself and clench my teeth each time she needed to latch on. I wondered how the wounds would ever heal with only a few hours between feeds and therefore opening those same wounds again! I kept on forgetting how to hold her properly, particularly in the early hours of the morning and Nick would get frustrated at me not supporting her head and I’d end up in floods of tears saying I couldn’t do it and I was rubbish. All the while Maggie would be screaming, impatiently wondering where her drink was. But I knew they were just adjustment problems that would pass and to be honest it was going much better than I’d thought.

Learning this whole breastfeeding lark together

When the milk actually properly came in, I had the shock of my life. Whose rock hard breast implants had suddenly made their way onto my chest?? I read a bit online and people seemed to say that was to be expected but then they got a bit sore and red around the edges. When the midwife came for a home visit and saw my red, burning lady lumps her eyes widened and said I was probably developing mastitis and should act immediately. She recommend a hot and cold compress, massage and cold cabbage leaves (I thought she was joking) along with an appointment with the doctor. I wanted to avoid antibiotics as much as possible so I decided to skip the doctors appointment for now and give her tips a try for a few days which felt like a full time job. I mean breastfeeding a new born feels like a full time job anyway but this added a whole new layer. Hot compress in the microwave then massage, replace with cold compress, chill cabbage leaves and then swap to those, feel like you’re losing the plot and then put new cabbage leaves in the fridge, now it’s time to feed again.

Thankfully all these strange techniques seemed to do the trick and I didn’t develop any fevers and the redness went down. Phew! But I know soooo many mum’s that have had to be hospitalised for mastitis partly because I just don’t think they warn you enough to recognise the very initial symptoms. I was glad to start to get into more of a routine with it all and counting my blessings that I seemed to have a very decent milk supply, maybe even a little too much at times. I can’t help but think the encapsulated placenta tablets I had made might of helped with that or maybe it was that I’m not afraid of having lots and lots of good fats in my diet…I guess I might not know until having another baby for comparison. On that note I thought breastfeeding making you hungry was a bit of an old wives tale but it’s no joke, I was like a dog that couldn’t be satiated! I literally felt the energy being drained out of me each time she fed so I had so many snacks to hand and by my bed for night times. i’d finish a meal and be hungry again a minute later. It was pricey to keep up with my appetite!

I felt very fortunate that she was happy to go for decent stints between feeds and was never a guzzler although even so it still felt like I spent a lot of the day feeding. She was a very sleepy baby in general but that played out in a big way with her feeds. Often she could barely have more than a few sucks without her eyes starting to close so feeds themselves were never efficient shall we say, usually about an hour long. There was a lot of blowing on her face and jiggling her awake to try and keep her going. I would always do a nappy change mid feed, before changing sides to wake her up properly for more milk. Ahhh fond memories of that timing app to see how long she’d been going for and reminding me when she needed the next one. Those days seem so long ago! I would pretty much feed on demand although that mostly fitted in with the 3 hourly routine to begin with snd then she was happy to go 4 hours fairly quickly so I didn’t argue. I remember feeling so relieved when she was weighed after two weeks and had regained her birth weight and more. I felt it was a bit like a seal of approval on my breastfeeding after not really being able to see how much the little one was actually consuming. I do however know so many women who have been made to feel unduly panicked and guilty when their babes don’t regain that weight by the check up. It adds a whole load of stress that us new Mums just don’t need at such a vulnerable time.

Maggie was actually very good in the night and I can’t help but think we won’t get that lucky second time around. She was obviously very needy in the first 5 days, who wouldn’t be after leaving a lovely warm and cosy womb but then soon enough was only feeding around 9.30pm, 12.30am and 4.30am though the night for the rest of the first 2 weeks and very quickly dropping that 12.30am feed until 6 weeks when much to our delight, she started sleeping through from 10pm until around 6am. They can be a bit funny about leaving your baby without feeding through the night at first but she was putting on weight constantly and it seemed wrong too have to wake her up out of a deep sleep to shove a nipple in her mouth.

I never experienced hourly wakings in the night to feed (aside from the first night with her) but even so it felt like such a palava to make sure her latch was right and all of that jazz that it was hard to do it all without the light on and therefore without waking Nick up so I would always head upstairs to her nursery, where I could also change her halfway through the feed. It was the right thing to do because Nick didn’t have the option of napping when Maggie napped through the day but it made the night feeds feel a lot more of a tiring event that I would fight, desperately not wanting to leave the bed! Perhaps this time I’ll feel more confident and well versed in breastfeeding that I might be able to pull her over to me in the night and never leave the bed. Considering I had it easy, I know how tired I was, so hats off to those Mamas that are up multiple times through each night until their babies are well over 6 months. I quite frankly would have expired long before that. Perhaps this time around I might feel more confident to just pull her over to me from the bed nest to feed.

Things were fine and I was adjusting to living in a puddle of milk because no one warned me about leaking…ALL THE TIME! I was always reaching across only to realise there was a warm, wet patch on my jumper. If I was late for a feed or my breast pad shifted ever so slightly, there was no telling the flood that could kick into action. It was kind of hilarious and I sort of couldn’t imagine ever being able to go to sleep without wearing a bra and a crop to bed.

Oh hello thrush!

After about 5 weeks I was starting to feel ok about breastfeeding. I began expressing as I had a few work dates I needed to prepare to be away from her for, she took to a bottle instantly (a massive answer to prayer) and she generally seemed healthy and happy. We were both getting better at it but then out of nowhere she started screaming at feeds, sometimes even rejecting me completely. It made me really sad as feeding had been such a peaceful time and I was used to it soothing her and making everything in the world right again but not now. I noticed I was getting shooting pains in my boobs after feeding which I didn’t think seemed normal and consulting oh wise Google I realised that it probably wasn’t and…hold on, what was this I was reading about breastfeeding thrush?? I thought thrush was something resigned to the lady garden!

I booked an doctors appointment and whilst it wasn’t actually painful to feed and Maggie didn’t seem to have a white coating over her tongue, the doctor thought there could be no other explanation for the post-feed shooting pains and Maggie then screaming to boot. And so commenced a season of feeding that was certainly not lacking in theatre! I was given some drops to put on Maggie’s tongue before feeding and then post feed I was given a cream that I had to coat my nipples with and then was advised to let them air dry. Yes we had a giant crane with some sleezebag builder staring in through our two story high glass windows all day long, while I was walking around with my knockers out while the cream dried. I had to vigorously wash my hands after doing anything that involved my milk and only with really hot water, dried only on tissue so it could be thrown away. I could only use muslins or the feeding pillow cover for one feed before it needed to be washed on a hot wash. The same with all our towels or tea towels. You can imagine my joy at the providential timing of our washing machine breaking down for the first time since we’d been in the flat that very week! It was out of action for about two weeks so we had both Granny and Grandma taking loads of washing home to bring back on their next visit like a batchellor laundry service. Suddenly feeding out in public seemed like more of a faff than I cared for so I tried to limit it for a while. Air drying my nipples in a shopping centre somehow didn’t sound appealing.

I bought probiotics for Maggie to have in expressed milk and then I was taking my own specifically for Candida, not to mention cutting out as much sugar as I could, even fruit to limit the yeast growth. Man it was intense and felt like a lifetime for it to pass but much to my relief it did.

The teeth kick in

I had a brief time where breastfeeding was straightforward and then at 2.5 months Maggie started early bird teething! I didn’t even know bubba’s could start that early but all the symptoms were very clear and on top of that feeding became a real pain once again. She started screaming at feeds again. Sometimes she’d be ok for a while and then the pain would overtake her and she’s lose the plot! At first I wondered if the dreaded thrush had returned but I soon realised the pain was related to her teeth. Feeding became something I dreaded, particularly in public just because I was fearful she’d start screaming the place down. I didn’t think I’d be the kind of Mum that cared so much what other people thought but I was, terrified that people would think I couldn’t take care of her properly. I’d felt like I was doing ok with all this breastfeeding stuff and suddenly it knocked my confidence even though it wasn’t really anything to do with me. I just felt incapable of carrying out one of my primary functions for her. There were many times when we would have to give up and give her a bottle of my milk as it was easier to suck and there I’d be in the corner pumping the milk that she should have been drinking.

This phase lasted a surprisingly long time, maybe even as long as 3 months. I longed too be like those other Mum’s that made it all look easy and I hated that I got frustrated with her when she’d be fussy about it. I developed various things to help like jiggling her bum while she fed so that she felt soothed by the rocking. I mean the whole thing must have looked ridiculous!

The cloud lifts

And then that phase ended and I was totally elated! Suddenly feeding was straight forward and I entered into this precious time when I actually enjoyed it. I realised that I’d never felt that before and I’d never seen it as a bonding experience like some people talk of it. It made me sad that only at around 5 months was I feeling that connection and I was even looking forward to those kinds of close snuggles. She was also way more efficient, so feeds were much shorter. Sometimes I’d even wish they were a bit longer as I was enjoying it! I had been in a good rhythm of expressing first thing before feeding her each morning so I was adding a bottle of my own milk to the supply in our freezer each day for future necessity. It was a well oiled machine at that point!

Before we knew it she was 6 months old and it was time for weaning to begin. It was a very gradual process but that meant I started dropping feeds over time and feeds felt like shots rather than long leisurely cocktails. It was also at this time that she decided that her journey with bottles was over. almost overnight this little diva was having none of it which thankfully coincided with her weaning! Maybe that was even why, but at least food was adoption for when I was out and someone else was looking after her. She seemed to suddenly love breastfeeding way more which was fine as it was a total doddle by then. She would have found her way on to my nipple even if she had to walk over from the other side of the room. It’s funny how it’s such a learning experience for both of you.

I was keen to continue breastfeeding until at least one year and very happy yo continue beyond if I could and so that’s what I did, despite her becoming more an more distracted when feeding, which was a pretty annoying. I ended up feeding her in a different room to everyone else a lot of the time so she’d actually focus rather than chatting and making eyes with them all. I took her lead and could tell when she was ready to drop a feed. It was clear when she wasn’t so interested anymore and more interested in actual food in that time slot. As the whole thing was a really gradual process I never really had that uncomfortable phase where my boobs feel like they’re going to burst. I just carried on watching for her cues to drop feeds and then by the time I fell pregnant when Maggie was 14 months I was down to three feeds. Morning, bedtime and one movable one in the day, which I was only really keeping to help when her teeth were really giving her pain.

Our journey comes to an end

 Pretty much as soon as I found out I was pregnant I dropped the day feed as I knew she didn’t really care that much and I was right. Then as time progressed and I felt worse and worse with all the glorious first trimester nausea, the bedtime feed seemed like the next obvious one to cut. Now done after a few sucks and requesting her water instead, I could see there’d be no tears bidding farewell to this one. She had already gone without the bedtime feed whenever I was out and Nick was putting her to bed anyway as bottles never made it back on the menu for Maggie.

I’d read that around four months pregnant your milk tends to dry up a little and whilst it was possible to push through, I really had no intention of tandem feeding so it seemed logical to stop pre-16 weeks. Come Christmas break, we were heading home, I was feeling pretty grim and Maggie had already had a night with the parents where she’d skipped her morning feed so I guess I just thought, ‘why not carry on?’ Why not, indeed! She really didn’t care at all and the only adjustment was her being keener for breakfast sooner. I was still feeling so sick in the mornings that I wasn’t at all emotional about the ending of this era, I was just over the moon to have one less thing to exert myself for.

It was only a few weeks later that I mourned our breastfeeding journey coming to an end. What an up and down 16 months! I think about how tricky a lot of the first six months were and yet am in awe of how the human body is able to keep a small human alive on it’s milk alone. That’s kind of mind blowing! For the majority of that 16 months I really enjoyed breastfeeding and it really was as the NHS says ‘convenient’ in the end. I even got to experience the bond and closeness that I hadn’t previously. I realise I had a relatively easy ride compared to many others and yet it still felt tearfully hard at times. Other times were completely comical, cue my story of expressing in a conference room in order to relieve my boobs from bursting from a twelve hour work day, eight weeks into breastfeeding, only to forget the bottle to pump into, creatively stepping in with my clean canteen water bottle and consequently spilling the entirety of the contents onto the conference room floor. You can only laugh at moments like these!

I feel like 9/10 of all the mamas I know have had their struggles with breastfeeding so it’s likely not going to be a total breeze for the majority but I’m so glad that I persevered and slightly tired out by the thought I’ll be kicking off another breastfeeding journey in the not too distant future. Those babies just take and take don’t they?!

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