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.”

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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!