This is my last of four posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt, and it coincides with this week being National Breastfeeding week. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading posts from me and other bloggers, and have learned something or got something out of what we’ve been writing about. Here are the links to my other three posts, if you missed them or want to read any again.
The theme of this week’s scavenger hunt posts is ‘Breastfeeding beyond the first month’. I thought I’d write about how my view of how long I would breastfeed for and what was a ‘normal’ length of time to breastfeed changed over the course of breastfeeding Andrew. I’ll touch on a few topics, like introducing solids, breastfeeding a toddler, breastfeeding when pregnant, tandem nursing, most of which I’ve blogged about before, so I’ll give some links to previous posts if you want to read my thoughts and experiences on one topic in particular. Hopefully the title of the post will become clear by the end: I didn’t set out on our breastfeeding journey with any idea of how long it would last, but small steps added up over time to make a longer journey than I ever imagined. Let’s start in pregnancy, before I’d even started breastfeeding.
As I diligently read the NHS ‘Pregnancy’ book I was given by the GP on my first antenatal visit (ah those pre-baby days, when I had time to sit down and read), I discovered of course that it was recommended to exclusively breastfeed my baby for 6 months and then wean him/her onto solids. I knew that breastfeeding was a good thing and that it was biologically normal, probably helped by the fact I knew I had been breastfed. But I’d also vaguely heard that it can be hard. So my attitude was something like: ‘I’ll give breastfeeding a go, but if it doesn’t work out, then nevermind, I’m sure we’ll be fine bottle feeding instead’. Clearly nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.
When I gave birth to Andrew, it was as though some sort of hormonal/instinctual switch was flicked in me (or at least that’s the best way I can describe it). Breastfeeding became something that I wanted to do no matter what, despite all the struggles we had. At six days old, seeing Andrew lying on a hospital bed, knowing that breastfeeding had clearly not got off to a good start, it would have been so easy to just give up (you can read more about our story here). But there was something within me that just couldn’t let go of trying to get things back on track (or just onto a track that didn’t really exist at that point!) At 6 days I felt like it would be an amazing achievement to get to just one month. I set myself very small goals to begin with: I’ll try to get through today, then the weekend, then the week after that, and so on. It was hard, and several times I felt totally torn between this feeling of wanting to carry on no matter what, and having to go through all the faff of mixed feeding and constantly fearing ‘weigh-day’ when the health visitor would ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ me (that’s what it felt like).
But the weeks clocked up, and soon turned into months (you know that point when you start forgetting how many weeks old baby is and figure it’s easier to switch to months?) A few weeks before he was 6 months old, he became very interested in the food we were eating, so we started to give him little bits and bobs of things like fruit and veg from our plates/hands. The week before he was 6 months old he started eating something with us regularly at each meal, even if just a little bit to begin with. Very quickly it became clear that he loved food, and had an appetite that clearly came from Daddy’s genes!
At 6 months I looked back at our breastfeeding journey and thought: ‘Wow, how did we ever get here?! That’s it, we’ve made it, and there’s no pressure to carry on!’ But we did carry on, precisely because there was no pressure to! From society’s perspective, breastfeeding Andrew after 6 months stopped being all about food, calories and weight gain (personally I always hung on to the non-calorific benefits of breastfeeding much more than the food side of things), and became something ‘optional’. From our perspective, it felt completely natural to carry on – he didn’t seem to want to stop, and I didn’t want to stop just when I was starting to enjoy it even more. As his solid food consumption increased, his weight stopped creeping up slowly and fluctuating and started following the normal curve nicely, so I no longer felt under pressure from the regular weigh-ins (and soon stopped taking him to be weighed), and my enjoyment of breastfeeding grew and grew. Once I was happy that Andrew was eating a varied and balanced diet, at nearly 11 months, we dropped the formula supplements and he had just breastmilk and food. That’s when breastfeeding really started being all about the immunological benefits and the emotional side of things, the closeness and bonding, that I talked about at the start of this scavenger hunt.
When Andrew was 9 months old, I returned to work part-time (2.5 days a week). I had thought that this might impact on our breastfeeding relationship, as I was unable to express much at all, so he had 2 full days at the childminder’s without access to any breastmilk. But by the time we started this new routine, he was feeding less in the day – avoiding distraction from interesting toys/people/sounds etc. at groups and other outings has never been Andrew’s strong point! So it ended up that he would just feed more in the mornings and evenings before and after my work, and the other 5 days a week he’d feed whenever he liked (i.e. not when we were out and about anyway). After a couple of months of settling into this, I looked back and saw that breastfeeding had not been affected by my returning to work after all.
As Andrew turned 1 year old, I suddenly realised that I had somehow made it into the group of mums who breastfeed their toddler! How did that happen?! I blogged about this at the time; I described how I had been a little disturbed at my first ever LLL meeting to see mums breastfeeding their walking, talking children, but soon came to realise that this was just my naive perspective warped by society and that it was in fact normal. At 12 months he was generally still having a good long feed first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, plus smaller feeds in the day if he was upset or very tired. It was at that point that Tom and I decided that it wouldn’t be too crazy if we happened to have another baby, though we thought it would take longer than a few weeks, especially since my body hadn’t given me much sign that it was ready!
Suddenly I wasn’t just one of those crazy toddler breastfeeders, but I was a crazy pregnant toddler breastfeeder! (Society’s labels, not mine.) As Andrew was down to 2 main feeds a day, I thought that quite likely he would self-wean as my milk supply (which was never brilliant) started to change and decline as pregnancy progressed. I first blogged about my thoughts on nursling (self-)weaning in pregnancy as part of my pregnancy diary in week 15. Ironically, Andrew decided he wanted to breastfeed even more than the 2 main feeds during the first trimester of this pregnancy. Just when I was feeling awful from all the nausea and vomiting, he started to ask for long feeds in the afternoon. This might have been because there were fewer distractions than normal, because I was too sick to go out so just lay on the sofa and let him play around me in the living room; it could also have been due to the molar teething. Whatever it was, he gradually dropped those long afternoon feeds again, and is now back to the 2 main feeds per day. I’m not quite sure how I got through those early weeks of pregnancy and breastfeeding, because they were truly difficult – all I wanted to do was curl up and forget about the world, but also didn’t want to let my nursling down.
Again, I find myself wondering how on earth I managed the achievement of breastfeeding a 17-month old toddler whilst being 22 weeks pregnant. This was definitely not in my plan, neither when Andrew was born nor when we ended up back in hospital on day 6. But as each day, week and month went by, my view on what was normal and best for us as a family changed quite dramatically. It wasn’t so much dramatic steps, rather a gradual evolution in my thoughts and actions which, when I look back over several months, show a dramatic change.
My current dilemma is what to do about weaning Andrew. I’ve blogged about this a bit recently, though not come to any firm conclusions yet. Unfortunately due to my low milk supply with Andrew, caused by my hypoplasia (and his tongue-tie), I’m unlikely to have enough milk for 2, so tandem nursing is not going to be an option for us. But letting Andrew feed as long as possible in pregnancy will give my supply the best possible chance for the newborn. If anyone has any advice on this, I’m all ears, and I’m going to discuss it more with my lovely LLL friends soon.
In my experience, I found it incredibly helpful to set very short-term goals, and move forward in our breastfeeding journey with steps which were tiny at first and then got bigger as time went on. I hope this post has shown that it is possible to overcome difficulties and concerns by just taking things a day at a time, and then look back to see how far you’ve come once you’re out of the hardest bit of a particular tricky situation.
Why not hop over to some other blogs and read about other mums’ experiences of breastfeeding beyond the first month? There are some links below, and more on the main website, where you can also find out more about the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2012. Don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize – do it now because it closes tomorrow night!
Radical Ramblings – Stick With It!
Diary of a First Child – Breastfeeding Beyond the First Two Years
Fi Peacock – Breastfeeding: Beyond Good
Mummy is a Gadget Geek – Breastfeeding Bigger Babies
Tea with Felicity – Breastfeeding Toddlers
Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths – Breastfeeding Beyond the First Month
My Thoughts on Things – After the First Month