Breastfeeding one year on

It’s funny, but it almost seems like people’s attitudes to hearing that you breastfeed your baby flip overnight from “Well done” to a shudder of disgust on her first birthday. You don’t have to anymore, so why would you? They start to get a little nervous: they always thought you were normal, but are you going to turn out to be an Extended Breastfeeder, and will they have to grin and bear it while you whip your boob out in a cafe and feed your three year old?

I am sitting here at stupid o’clock in the morning, feeding her. This is our last and only feed in the day now. I dropped the late afternoon/early evening feed around her birthday with a sigh of relief, turning my attention back to my non-nursing bras and un-breastfeeding-friendly dresses. But I also feel a bit bad. Dropping the evening feed was my decision, not hers. Sometimes she gets fractious at that time of day and tugs at my top, and I let my gaze guiltily slide away from her. I get up and find her a banana or some bread sticks. I have offered her cow’s milk, but she doesn’t like it. She will take a sip and let it sit in her mouth for a moment. She pulls a face and slowly it comes dribbling back out. She now knows the pink cup does not contain tasty water like the orange one and won’t even try the contents.

She has always been a young lady who knows what she likes. She will try any kind of food once, but if it doesn’t meet with her approval she will offer it back to me, and if I’m not prompt about accepting her gift, she drops it on the floor. Milk was not popular. I am amazed and astounded, really, because as a family we go through litres of the stuff per week. Her brother is a milk evangelist: any little friend he visits who is reportedly a milk-refuser will be eagerly drinking cup-fulls of it by the time the Boy goes home. But he has yet to work his magic on his sister.

She knows what she likes.

She likes Mummy’s milk better.

And why wouldn’t she? It is still the best milk for her. It is still designed just for her. It still tastes a little different every day – and let’s face it: cows eat grass, but Mummy eats lots of chocolate, ergo she produces tastier milk.

My baby is one, and I am still breastfeeding her. It is still good for her. It is still full of things she needs. It is nutritious, it protects against illnesses, it is comforting. Yes, it is comforting. When I sit here at 5 am and she won’t go back to sleep quietly and we are both crying because we are so tired, it is comforting for her and me. Frustration melts away. She feeds and calms down. She tugs on my hair. I lie my head back against the sofa and snore with my mouth open while she feeds. She grins at me and all is well. Then she toddles off, slipping and sliding on the laminate on her pyjama-ed feet, clutching a plastic banana in one hand and a Numberjacks DVD in the other.

My baby is one and I am still breastfeeding her. I’m not embarrassed. I’m proud. I have made it this far from really very difficult beginnings. I so nearly quit so many times when she was tiny, but I persevered and saw it through and managed to give her the best nutrition I had available. It was true that there was pain in the night, but joy came with the morning.

So my baby is one, and is a toddler now, and I am still breastfeeding her. In case you were wondering, the appropriate response is still: “Well done.”

Breastfeeding: Winding down

I thought it was high time for another breastfeeding update. My aim all the way through has been to provide a realistic, truthful picture of breastfeeding that might help prepare a new mother-to-be and her partner for what it is really like. If you would like to read back and find out how my breastfeeding journey started, have a look at:

1) The Truth about Breastfeeding – things I wish I had been told pre-baby.

2) Bleeding nipples. The horror.

3) Update about the breakthrough I had with feeding my daughter

4) A look at breastfeeding 6 months in.

Today’s update was prompted by Thursday night. Thursday night, the Baby slept through from 7pm until 6.30am for the first time ever, and did not wake up for a feed.

This was a moment I had been waiting for ever since she started solids. As babies make the transition to Big People Food, there will come a point where they are so full up with Weetabix and roast dinner that they start to reduce the amount of milk they drink. If you are feeding your baby on demand, you will notice that she asks for fewer feeds, or leave longer gaps between feeds perhaps, thereby dropping one or two. If, like me, you feed your baby at certain times of day, you will notice that those feeds become shorter, your baby gets more distracted and generally doesn’t seem as interested. This is when you can try dropping a feed and seeing if they notice and/or mind.

The first feed I wanted to try to drop was the 11pm one. I dreamed of drinking more than one glass of wine of an evening, going to bed early without needing to wake up later for the last feed and perhaps even go to the cinema once in a while.

The Baby, initially reluctant to gain weight, has greeted solid food with enthusiasm and has jumped up a few centiles since she started weaning. For the past month or two she has been eating three full meals a day and her daytime feeds were getting shorter. I decided to stop waking her for the last feed, just to see if she would sleep through. She obviously disagreed with this idea and promptly started waking herself up, not just at 11, but several times throughout the night. I saw this as a sign of her displeasure at my intention to reduce her milk feeds, but now I’m thinking it was just her very first tooth coming through.

So I kept feeding her at night. And on Thursday, she did it herself. She ate her own dinner and half of her brother’s and then slept very deeply all night. We checked a few times just to make sure she was still okay, but she was fine, just sound asleep.

Friday night, she woke up briefly but was happy to be shushed back to sleep without milk.

Saturday night, I cracked open a bottle of wine and poured myself a large glass. Of course, 1AM saw me rocking an inconsolable baby. In the end, I fed her.

I felt a bit of a fool. Or a failure. Or both.

There is no need however. You cannot fail at breastfeeding. Every feed is a gift to your child. There is no rule book. Breastfeeding is a cooperation between you and your baby and how you work together is completely unique. Babies start up breastfeeding and wind it down in a million different ways – they are individuals. 

And for the Baby it has seemed to be a bit of dance from start to finish: one step forward, two steps back. Two forward, one back. Step to the side, one two quick-a-quick.

So sleep, my lovely daughter, and wake, as you wish, as you need, and I will dance with you for these few more short months until breastfeeding is done and you start to forget all about it.

Then, I’m getting wasted.

Baby Led Weaning – a reality check

First of all: in case, like my uncle, you are not up with the jargon and thought Baby-Led Weaning had something to do with special tiny LED lamps, I thought I’d explain the concept a little. Veterans may wish to skip this bit.

Traditionally, babies make the change from being purely fed on milk to eating solid grown-up food by being spoon-fed tiny bits of flavourless mush, through various single-taste purees to slightly more chunky mashed up meals to eventually tucking into a roast dinner with the whole family. Baby-led weaning basically skips all the in between stages that require a blender and moves the baby straight from milk to the roast dinner – and whatever else is on the family menu.

blw

It’s not BLW unless you offer them crazy stuff like olives and artichokes.

The reasons:
1. You want them to learn to chew. Breastfeeding already involves a chewing motion, but spoonfeeding does not. Why get them to unlearn it only to learn it again later?
2. The cautious, gradual method with mush was developed back when babies were weaned a lot earlier. If you start at six months, a baby’s stomach should be ready for many different flavours and types of food. Developmentally, babies are also ready to feed themselves at this point: their main occupation, all day long, is picking things up, putting them in their mouths and chewing on them. You would think this is nature’s way of getting them ready for self-feeding.
3. Food should be fun. With traditional weaning, you often spend a lot of time persuading the baby to open wide and swallow something unfamiliar on trust. With baby-led weaning, meal times start off as play time and the baby is in control of what it wants to put in its mouth and whether to swallow it.

I am now in danger of rehashing the entire book I read on the subject so I will stop here. I posted a little while back on how it worked out with my son, and now that my daughter is three weeks into her adventures with food I thought I’d do a little update on how she is taking to BLW (as the cool kids call it).

After a slow start, where I was a bit disappointed at how little success she was having with grabbing anything off her high chair tray, she has really taken off in the past week. It has all worked out a bit differently to how I was expecting though.

I had expected to be much less anxious and helicoptery with child number 2, having seen my son go from coughing up his first bit of cheese to astounding the waiting staff in the Toby Carvery with his eating – but quite the contrary is the case. It has been so long now since we weaned him that I am at once incredulous at her lack of skills and worried that everything is too hard. I hover over her, put bits of cucumber back in her hand when they fall out, guide her cup and keep adjusting how she is sitting as soon as she starts listing over to one side.

Another marked difference to my son’s journey through weaning is that she is already consuming things. I mean: I can see it coming out the other end. She is eating. In fact, she seems to love it. Whereas breastfeeding is often accompanied by crying and pinching and complaints that the milk is too slow, no no too fast!, breakfast, lunch and dinner are met with smiles and silent, hungry nomming. It took my son at least a month before he swallowed anything. I remember it well: we were in a restaurant and he was barely peeping over the table. We gave him a bit of chicken to chew on and a few minutes later we realised it was gone. Not in the bib, not on the floor, it was just gone.

Why is my daughter swallowing food already? Well, baby-led weaners, I guess it’s confession time. Besides the officially approved finger foods that she chews on and spits out, she actually eats Weetabix, porridge and soup. From a spoon. Granted, she holds the spoon herself – but the food is mushy and easy to swallow, and she eats it off a spoon. Hard-core BLW-ers would frown on this. Runny foods are to be served with fruit or steamed vegetables to dip in them. I’m sorry, but to me that seems like avoiding spoons just for the sake of it.

I would like to submit to you for your approval a few BLW Reality Checks, to add as an addendum to an otherwise excellent notion:

1. We grown-ups eat food of all textures, including runny and mushy food, and we eat it with spoons. Your baby can still be in control – just load the spoon for her and let her hold it herself.
2. Babies at six months mayactually be hungry! They may actually want to start eating things. Nothing wrong with providing them with foods that they can easily swallow/digest besides all the other exciting stuff off your plate they might like to explore.
3. The assertion that you will not need to cook separately or differently for your weaning baby with this method, and that you can put your blender away, is not strictly true. There are so many things that we might eat on a daily basis that are not suitable for your baby because they are full of sugar, salt or other things that are best left until they are older, that you will end up doing speci

weetabix

Weetabix joy

al cooking anyway. With my son I tried lots of new recipes, I bought low salt stock cubes, I made him soup, baked special little pasties to fit his tiny hands – I have been known to puree fruit to put on toast as an alternative to jam. Yes, puree. But again: just as spoons are not inherently evil, neither is puree. Also, although your baby can eat at the same time as you, that is not always practical. He might be ready for dinner at 5pm, while your other half doesn’t get home until after bedtime and you would probably like to eat with him/her.
4. Finally, “baby-led” in itself is a little bit of a lie. Just a little bit. I mean, I’m still the one deciding what’s on the menu. She can’t very well send it back and say: “Actually, Mummy, today I would like to try the chicken and butternut squash risotto, hold the mushrooms, and I’ll have tiramisu for after.”

So there it is. Baby number 2 is loving food, but seems happiest on a joint Baby-and-Mummy-Led-Weaning regime. I’ll let you know when she swallows her first steamed vegetable!

A Poem about Milk

I have a lot of work on this week but still wanted to link up with Prose for Thought, so I am cheating a bit and posting a poem I wrote when the Toddler was but two weeks old. I have shared some of the trouble I had breastfeeding my daughter in the beginning, but breastfeeding my son was no walk in the park either. One of the many frustrating things about feeding him in the beginning was that he would seem to be about to latch on and then put his hands in his mouth instead, which is what this poem is about.

Milk

They say it won’t last forever
this fight between you and me
over where the milk comes from.
You say it’s your hands
I say it’s my breasts
and science is on my side.
Also, you’re only two weeks old
and know nothing of
well, anything, just yet.

But after I win this one
there will be more, I’m sure.
There will be: no, no, no shoes
and
i don’t want broccoli
and
please five more minutes
and
everyone’s wearing them.
These too will be easy to win
with “mum knows best”
and science and common sense.

In time, though, there will be other fights,
where you fight with my weapons,
you question my wisdom, my ethics,
my decisions and often, my sense.
I just hope by that time
I can lose graciously
and give you your due where it’s earned.

Until that time, look this way for milk
and put those hands away so I can feed you.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2010.

Prose for Thought

Breastfeeding at 6 months

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.

Breastfeeding update: success!

Having posted about the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding my daughter over the past few months, I feel I must not neglect to update you on – well, perhaps not the happy ending as such, but the happy middle. Or perhaps just the happy. So brace yourself for some more nipple-talk.

As my daughter refused to feed from the right breast in the first few weeks of her life, I was feeding from the left breast only and expressing from the right to try and keep the milk supply up in the hope she would go back to it eventually. Inevitably, this meant my left breast was getting incredibly overworked, and it wasn’t all that comfortable to begin with, so I ended up with a very sore, bleeding nipple.

A few weeks later thankfully the baby decided the right side was worth another try and she went back to feeding from both breasts. Sadly, the damage was done and I was still in agony on the left side. Besides the pain from the open wound, I developed shooting pains in my breast that continued even if I wasn’t feeding. I was backwards and forwards to the doctor’s about this: to get repeat prescriptions for a gel wound dressing that I wore under my normal breast pad to help the wound heal and to stop it sticking to the pad; then for antibiotics in case it was mastitis; then for thrush cream in case it was thrush; then for the right thrush cream that was suitable for breastfeeding etc.

Finally, I made a big effort to get to our local Mum2Mum breastfeeding support group one Monday. The breastfeeding consultant had a look at my nipple. She thought it looked like contact dermatitis – perhaps something was irritating the sensitive skin? Then all eyes turned to my saviour: the gel pad. It was peeling away from its backing, its consistency compromised by regularly being drenched with milk. “It does that,” I said, defending it weakly.

I chucked it in the bin. I used massive amounts of lanolin on the nipple to stop the wound sticking to my breast pads. Within a week, the wound had closed up, the shooting pains in the breast were mostly gone and the angry red rash around the areola was gone.

Two weeks after I abandoned those wound dressings breastfeeding became, on the whole, comfortable, enjoyable and easy. As it should be. Now, about a month later, I am having a hard time remembering the agony I was in. To anyone who is struggling with feeding their baby, I can recommend finding professional help. Breastfeeding counsellors know more than your GP. Even my doctor defers to them as the experts on the subject. So get help and get comfortable! If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.

I feel on top of the world. I can even do ninja breastfeeding again: like feeding my daughter while walking to the gate for our flight to Nininand, to the slight dismay of my poor mother.

Rated 18: Blood, nipples, pain, teen pregnancy and changing the world

It happened when my son was little as well, but it doesn’t make it any less distressing when you know the reasons and you’ve seen it before: blood on the sheet and on your baby’s sleep suit. She’s 8 weeks old, breastfeeding has improved a lot, but I am still in pain and still bleeding. In fact, just the past week or so, the open wound – sorry! – looks like it is getting bigger again.  And now there is blood in the milk she spits up.

I hate it. I know I went to a fancy dress party when I was pregnant as Bella Swan, but I didn’t really want a vampire baby.

I hate being in pain. I hate worrying about whether and when that nipple will heal, and whether I really will come out the other side like with my son and enjoy breastfeeding.

I hate the thought that I might put people off breastfeeding. If I feed the baby in public, carefully putting aside the wound dressing, wincing as I latch her on, I think: I may be the only person some young pregnant mum-to-be sees breastfeeding in public. What about this picture is going to make her think: “Hey, that doesn’t look too bad, maybe I’ll give it a go!”

Thankfully, my husband is very sensible. He pointed out that no teenage mother was ever going to be swayed to try breastfeeding by seeing me feed in public, pain or not. Not because of me, but because that is not what was holding her back.

“But, but, role models! Don’t they need role models who breastfeed?” I splutter.

“A random stranger feeding a baby in a shopping centre is not a role model,” my husband replies, leaving the rest unsaid. The rest being that if I seriously want to be a role model and inspire teen mums to break the mould and breastfeed, I need to go and get to know some teenagers, build relationships with them that involve mutual trust and respect, preferably before they become Pregnant Teen Mums and while they are still just girls, and maybe then they might think something I believe in might be worth believing in too.

I’m glad he didn’t say all that, though. Because I would have come up with millions of excuses not to, and now I can keep all those embarrassing lies in my head, safely unchallenged and unexamined. Changing the world is far too much like hard work. I’d much rather be inspiring just by feeding my baby in a shopping centre, which I was going to do anyway.

Perhaps next time I do, I should wear a sign round my neck:

“I know it looks like I’m in pain and not enjoying this. I am and I’m not. But it will get better soon and in the meantime this is still the best thing for my baby. It’s great and give it a go, really.”

Do you think that would do the trick?  

Cats post-baby

I have to admit that my relationship with Fat Cat in particular has become a little more fraught – since my son was born, but certainly since baby number two has appeared on the scene.

My main complaints:
1. He makes a mockery of my authority in front of the Toddler, by refusing to do as he is told. Usually this is: “Get off the table, cat. This is people-food, not cat-food.” The Toddler then gleefully joins in the Cat Reprimanding: “No, Pike. Not tafel. Mensen. Not cat. Tout poes.” [No, Spike. Not table. People. Not cat. Naughty cat.] Fat Cat just continues to sit on the table, staring at our breakfast in the hope that we will eventually share, and as I am usually feeding the baby at the time I don’t have a free hand to follow through on my cat-discipline.

2. TMI, I am sure, but my left nipple is rather badly injured from early breastfeeding issues. To aid with the healing I wear a special wound dressing thing as well as a regular breast pad. While feeding I carefully put this gel pad to one side, away from toddlers. Fat Cat will jump onto the arm of the sofa and put a big old paw on top of it. GRAAAARGH!

3. When the baby is not in it (thank goodness), he jumps into the moses basket and makes it a comfy bed, leaving it coated in cat fur.

4. My feeding pillow is an inflatable travel one. While I am feeding the baby, he will frequently come up to me and lovingly stick a claw into the pillow. It now has a slow puncture.

5. When Fat Cat feels it is dinner time (which is any time after about 3pm), he gets very aggressively affectionate towards anyone who might feed him. The Toddler does not have a finely honed sense of when it is safe to pet Fat Cat and when there might be claws, so this time of day is rather stressful for busy Mummies who are breastfeeding and also trying to keep their toddler safe.

You see a pattern, I am sure: cats and toddlers are just hard to manage while breastfeeding. All in all, I find it so much easier to feed Fat Cat and then encourage (chuck) him out of the house until dinner time. And then perhaps after dinner until bedtime.

Thankfully, my husband sticks up for the poor cat and gives him lots of love and attention in the evenings.

The Truth about Breastfeeding

This is what I would have wanted government and NHS, Breasfeeding Network and NCT, midwives and friends to say before my son was born:

Breastmilk is amazing. It tastes different every time, depending on what you have eaten. It contains all sorts of vital antibodies and nutrients, especially tailored to your baby. It changes as your baby grows up, adjusting to his or her needs at every stage. You can keep it at room temperature for up to 6 hours, because of its antibacterial properties. It is free. It is always at the right temperature. It doesn’t require any preparation or washing up. Babies and mothers were designed for breastfeeding, it is your baby’s natural source of food, it is what breasts are for.

It is natural, but not easy.

You will struggle in the beginning. You and your baby are both beginners. You have to learn to latch the baby on properly, and when you make mistakes, which is natural when you are learning a new skill, it will hurt and you may end up with very sore, even damaged and bleeding nipples for a while. This could sort itself out within a week or so, or it could take a month or two or three or more.You will probably have times when you are stressed beyond belief by feeding your baby. You might be in pain, worried about whether the baby is getting enough, dreading every feed.

All this will pass. It will. It won’t feel like it, but it will. Your baby’s mouth is only small, but it will grow and then latching on will be easier. You will both learn how to do it, and it will become second nature until you can feed while walking around and drinking a glass of water. It will be easier, hopefully painless and it will become something special between you and your baby, as well as just being an excellent portable source of food for him or her.

So persevere, because it is so worth it, and Get. Help. There is plenty of free support out there. Make use of it. Go to support groups and baby cafes. Meeting with experts and other mums going through the same thing helps keep you going.
This is the true story of breastfeeding. The smiling, idyllic pictures are only half of that story and raise expectations that are not usually met. If you want women to try breastfeeding and keep at it, they need to hear how hard it can be, but also that they will get through it and that there is help to be found.