Tuesday, 24 May 2016

10 things I learned in 21 months of breastfeeding

Our breastfeeding journey ended shortly after Harry turned 21 months: a huge period of stress meant that my letdown was severely affected and Harry chose to self wean. I still feel conflicted about it - like I should have persevered, or done something to make it better but in actual fact I was a little relieved. Don't get me wrong, I loved feeding Harry - and the bond we share from that is so special, but I was ready to stop. And that's important - breastfeeding is a relationship and both parties have to be happy with it for it to be successful.

I am incredibly proud of my achievement however. I worked so, so hard to establish breastfeeding, and then to eliminate all Harry's allergens from my diet. Obviously it's no more than millions of women all over the world do every day, but for me it was something I wanted to do and something I'm happy I persevered at.

Over the 21 months I fed Harry, I learnt loads - about my body, and about his. It's a shame some of that knowledge isn't on the curriculum in schools as it would have been far more useful to me than trigonometry has ever proven to be (I can assure you my husband is gasping in shock at that statement). I thought I'd collect some of that knowledge here today to pass it on, in the spirit of 'it takes a village to raise a child' It's just this village is virtual.

  1. Breastfeeding is hard. At first. Give it at least 6 weeks to get latch and positioning sorted. Give yourself that time to adjust - it's a whole new skill that you and the baby have to learn, and quickly. After (roughly) six weeks it gets massively easier, and then at three months most people hit their stride. Harry was born in June and by October we were off shields and feeding on demand as, when and where necessary.  
  2. Netflix/ Amazon Prime/ Iplayer/ All 4/ Box sets are your friend. Furnish yourself with plenty and cwtch down for the ride. Personally I skipped over the kind of programmes that teach you things, or that enable self reflection or personal development and went straight for the trash: Vampire diaries, Once upon a Time, Orange is the New Black, Lucifer, The Following, Man in the High Castle, Outlander, Big Bang Theory and Melissa and Joey. Yes, trash. 
  3. I didn't really get on with nursing covers - I always felt it drew attention to what I was doing in a way I didn't really want. However, massive muslins were my friend if I did feel that it was more appropriate to cover up a bit - at least until Harry was about 5 months old and played peekaboo with the vicar at church with it. And yes, he was latched on at the time. 
  4. Nursing clothes - a lot of the time I just popped a vest top under whatever shirt, t-shirt or jumper I wanted to chuck on. That said, I had a few nursing tops - including a beautiful one from Frugi, that really did help with feeding in public and feeling more comfortable. I like stripes, but beware that for some reason people that make nursing clothes thing all breastfeeding mothers are blooming in Breton! 
  5. Advice - now, ironically I guess as I'm giving advice here (well - I prefer to think of it as sharing knowledge) I found it helpful to smile, nod and ignore a lot of the (unsolicited) advice I was given. It's worth remembering that if you're in your thirties like me, our mother's generation were educated by health professionals who were heavily encouraged to push formula. The perception that scientific formula had to be better than breast milk was (and sadly, is) very common. La leche league, NCT and our breastfeeding support workers were where I got good advice from. Midwives, well meaning friends and relatives, people on the bus less so. Do your own research, seek out support. 
  6. Babies have tiny, tiny tummies - in the early days it's the same size as a marble. This means that they need to fill it frequently, as it empties quickly. This is not a sign that your milk isn't good enough, or that you're not producing enough. Babies are supposed to feed all the time. The reason we don't think this is because of the history in the UK of formula, given in too large quantities, stretches baby's tummy. This takes a long time to break down, so they sleep heavily while their body focuses on doing that. If you're formula feeding, which is both a necessary and entirely valid choice (not that you need me to tell you that) for many, many women - please consider looking up paced feeding. 
  7. Your supply increases when your baby makes it. So, in the early days you'll suddenly have a day, pinned to the sofa when baby wants to feed for hours (or for ever). What he's doing is putting in his order for the days to come. Telling your body, he's growing and needs more milk. You then produce milk in larger quantities for him. How amazing is that! So cluster feeds are nothing to do with you not producing enough milk - but your little one's way of ensuring you are. 
  8. Your diet does not have to be perfect - far from it. Eat what you can, when you can. Sure a diet of Dominoes and Macdonalds isn't going to do anyone any favours in the long term, but contrary to what people tell us - it doesn't affect your milk which is actually made from our blood not our digestive system. Drink plenty of fluids, eat regularly and keep on feeding. 
  9. You can have a drink. Now I'm not talking about binge drinking on a Friday night, but if you'd like a glass of wine, or a G&T or a pint of cider you can. There is more alcohol in an orange than in your breastmilk after an alcoholic drink. Drink responsibly - you're caring for a baby after all, and need to ensure you're safe to do so. But a glass of wine with your dinner won't hurt baby. There's also no need after that drink to 'pump and dump' as previously believed. 
  10. It's actually really rare (in my experience) at least that people comment on breastfeeding in public. I've fed in church, on a train, in too many coffee shops and cafes to count, at Wembley stadium, in a Slimming World meeting, at Carfest, on the beach, on Brownie holiday and Guide camp, and in several meetings about redundancy.  No one has ever commented to me, or even in my hearing. The worst thing I ever had was at a friend's wedding when the staff suggested (when I asked if there was anywhere comfortable I could breastfeed) that I used the accessible toilet. No thank you.
  11. OK. I know I said 10, but I forgot about this. Enjoy this time. Now I know that breastfeeding isn't the only way to bond with your baby, but it's one on one time you have together. Time you can't get back - now with a rampaging toddler, who never sits still  - I miss those quiet moments, just drinking Harry in from the top of his head to the tips of his eyelashes to his tiny toes. He used to hold onto my finger while feeding and at that moment, nothing else in life mattered. Nothing. 
Why not pin this post for later?


Helen - family-friends-food said...

I agree wholeheartedly with all of this!! I ended up feeding my daughter for just over 4 years - mostly because it was easier to carry on than to stop! Even when she was bigger, we used to nurse anywhere, never used a cover, and I only ever got positive comments.

I also learned that breastfeeding is the most effective weight-loss programme ever! I know it doesn't work for everyone but I was eating about 5 meals a day, cake, snacks, you name it, and the weight just fell off. At one point I went to see my GP just to check it really was the breastfeeding and not something more sinister. Even now, I'm about 7 kg lighter than I was before I got pregnant.

One thing I would add to your list though is that if it really isn't working in the beginning, seek help sooner rather than later, and as you say, go to La Leche League or a qualified IBCLC rather than your midwife or GP. It's easier to sort problems before they get really embedded, or before you're so sore that you can't bear to carry on even with the promise of improvement. My local LLL was brilliant, and I made some great friends there too :-)

Hooray for breastfeeding!

Hannah said...

Hey {waves}
I've come over from the FB 30+ group and love your blog. What an adorable little boy you have and congratulations for breastfeeding for 21 months. I managed 8 weeks which was expressed due to our (then) little girl not being strong enough to feed directly from me. I've really enjoyed your post and hope new mums take note as every point was valid xx

Lucy Allen said...

Lovely post Penny, lovely to hear your experience. I b'fed both mine to 3.5 when they self-weaned and loved our time when I could pass on all the good antibodies. I agree with all your tips too!

Kerry Edwards said...

Great advice Penelope! I hope I'll be able to put it into practise when I have kids :)

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dotado unus said...

Lovely post, very informative, well expressed and courteous of your readers.
I'll try to write more like this.

Munchies and Munchkins said...

Gorgeous post, my boobs just twinged a little. I miss breastfeeding so much more than I imagined. We stopped at 13 months when Chloe was being so sick and we could not figure out what was going on so we had to eliminate everything pretty much and start from scratch. I really wish we had found a way to continue although at that point I needed to start on anti depressants and had put it off due to feeding so I guess for the best. Will share xx

Emily Why said...

I breastfed for 2 years. A couple of things I'd like to comment. One, at a certain point it is no longer feeding. The breasts become pacifiers and your toddler (at this point! ) doesn't really gain any nutritional value. Not that that matters really. The other thing is more a question to other mothers. Did you breast feed after inoculations? I did every time my daughter had shots and she immediately stopped crying and didn't have any ill effects later. No offense to anyone who doesn't believe in inoculations.
Also want to mention that my girl didn't get sick until she was 4 years old. Other than teething fevers, no colds, no flu, no ear infections. And I firmly believe that it was due to nursing.

Charlotte Clempson said...

Amazing post penny and agree with everything bit of it. Well done xx

Ceri Gillett said...

I love to hear about great BF journeys. Does that sound weird? lol but mine was not so good and I felt so guilty about it for so long. However hindsight is a great thing, i can see now that I totally tried to jump back into normal life too quick. I should have been in bed for 12 weeks ha ha

Longwell Kort said...

You can always find this place packed on a weekend night and sometimes they host parties that you can't get into, but other than that happening every once in a while this is the place to be. The seattle venues have nice upstairs and down stairs area.


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