It has been a while since my last breastfeeding update. The Baby is 6 months old tomorrow, and our rocky start is thankfully a distant memory. I find it almost unimaginable that I was in tears every evening as she was feeding non-stop, in despair at the pain and wanting to give up but also not wanting to give up. I am so glad I persevered.
To continue my mission of Telling the Truth about Breastfeeding – so that new and expectant mothers can feel truly prepared – I thought I’d give you a little snapshot of what it is like six months down the line: the good bits, the tricky bits and the bad bits.
The Tricky Bits
Yes, I am starting with the tricky bits so I can end with the good bits. And I am flagging it up for you so you don’t feel too manipulated.
At this age, babies are getting curious about the world around them, and are more able to act on that curiosity. Feeding my six month old baby currently involves a lot of short bursts, where she feeds for a bit, comes off to have a look around, check out an interesting sound, or just grin at me. She is so wriggly and if her feet are touching anything she starts kicking against it while feeding. I was starting to think that maybe she just wasn’t very hungry, or that she was getting very efficient at feeding and was done after just five minutes, but when her weight gain started to slow I came to realise that I needed to keep encouraging her to continue her feed so she could get to the fatty hind milk, which is the ‘food’. It takes a bit of patience to keep putting her back on the breast and make sure she is actually getting a proper feed, but it has worked and her weight gain is back to normal.
It is also quite common for babies of this age to start waking up in the night again after having slept through. Then you are faced with the question: is he/she hungry? Some parents just know, but personally I always find it hard to gauge. If they were sleeping through and didn’t need milk in the middle of the night then, why would they need it now? Maybe it’s a growth spurt? But after a month of night feeding you start to think that either this is a very long growth spurt or they’re not waking up because they’re hungry. Who knows? I have been feeding the Baby at night again for at least two months now and I am convinced she doesn’t really need to as she is not feeding well in the morning now. But when there is screaming in the middle of the night, it is so much easier to feed them than to apply your brain to other re-settling techniques.
The Bad Bits
A week or two ago, I noticed a very sore, lumpy section on one of my breasts. A blocked duct. This can happen at any stage of breastfeeding, but it happened to me recently so I thought I’d mention it here. It appears that this can happen when your baby is distractible while feeding and you’re not so on the ball about making sure she empties the breast. Milk can get backed up and spill into the breast tissue. If you don’t resolve the blockage early, your body can start fighting the milk as if it is a foreign substance, causing an infection called mastitis. Read more here.
I used a warm flannel on the lumpy bit and resolved to feed the baby any time she woke up in the night to make sure I didn’t leave it too long between feeds. She obligingly woke up every 90 minutes or so in the night. In the daytime I made sure I fed her at least every three hours, but more often if she seemed amenable. Thankfully it resolved itself within a day or two and didn’t become mastitis. Phlew.
The Good Bits
Although going anywhere with a baby and a toddler requires preparation, one thing I never need to worry about is bringing equipment to feed the baby. I love the fact that breastfeeding is portable. This time around I am also more confident about feeding in public. I remember going to a first birthday party when the Toddler was about seven months old and hiding away behind a stack of chairs in a church hall to feed him. With the Baby I don’t worry so much about flashing people. First of all because people aren’t usually watching anyway, and secondly because your nipple is only visible for a second or two before the baby latches on and covers you up with her body. If I know I’m going somewhere unfamiliar where I don’t know the people – say, a crowded train or a wedding – I will make sure I am wearing a tanktop I can pull down under whatever other top I am wearing. I can then lift the top layer up, pull the tanktop down and I won’t have to bare my stomach to all and sundry. If you didn’t grow up in the Netherlands and/or have more deep-seated issues about flashing strangers, I have seen other mothers use muslins or shawls to drape over their shoulder and the baby for complete protection. I tried it myself and could never work it out – the shawl always slipped off my shoulder – but maybe you are more dextrous than I am. You can also buy purposely designed covers, just Google ‘nursing cover’ or ‘breastfeeding scarf’.
The best bit, though, is the wonderful feeling of bliss that comes with holding your baby tight to feed her, one little hand on your chest, the other tickling your side, her eyes closed, the perfect eyelashes resting lightly on her cheek. Last night, when she had had enough, she looked up at me with a big beaming smile, reached up and pulled my glasses off my nose. Then she giggled at her own funny joke. Love it.