Breastfeeding toddlers & beyond: not as weird as you might think – #KBBF2014

The theme for today in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt is “Breastfeeding Beyond a Year”. I still remember the feeling when Andrew, my eldest son, got to his first birthday and was still breastfeeding. At the time I wrote a blog post on it called the not-so-crazy world of toddler breastfeeding. After all the struggles we’d had in the early weeks and months (as I explained in my last KBBF post, I have IGT – insufficient glandular tissue – so can’t exclusively breastfeed a baby), I could hardly believe that we’d got to 12 weeks let alone 12 months. But he was still keen to feed, or nurse would be a better term as it really wasn’t about the food anymore but about the comfort and routine. And I always said that I wanted him to decide when to wean and it wouldn’t be me who would initiate the weaning process. So we carried on beyond the time that most mums I knew were breastfeeding.

Apart from his lack of interest in weaning, there are other good reasons to have carried on nursing a toddler (and now preschooler). I think that it’s helped in the fact that he’s still hardly ever been ill. Nursing has been fundamental in his daily bedtime routine for a long time, along with a bath and reading books. He likes to have that routine and I think it has helped him know that it’s bedtime before he could understand properly what was going on. Nursing has also helped when he’s been upset or tired over the years, to calm him down, though these days he only really has some milk before bed.

 

When Andrew was around 13 months old, I found I was pregnant again. This brought with it all sorts of thoughts and feelings about breastfeeding, for example: I had bad vomiting and nausea throughout the pregnancy and wondered if I had the energy to carry on and how I should initiative weaning in that case; I wondered if Andrew would self-wean anyway, as many do during the pregnancy of a sibling; I wondered if/how it would work out with tandem nursing if he did want to carry on. I wrote about these thoughts at various times in my weekly pregnancy diary blog posts, such as this one.

Well we both made it with the breastfeeding through pregnancy thing, and when Joel was born, we became a tandem nursing family. I had lots of support from my local LLL group, and one leader in particular had gone out of her way to help put me in contact with another LLL leader from elsewhere in the country who had tandem nursed with IGT. She made the good point that the toddler is an excellent breast pump substitute in terms of giving the breasts extra stimulation after the newborn feeds (of course you can’t get the milk back from the toddler though, like you can from a bottle of pumped milk, and give it to the baby, but I never got much from a pump anyway.)

As Andrew was basically down to just having one feed before bedtime, I made sure that Joel had had good feeds himself up to that point, and then he had time with Daddy whilst Andrew and I had milk time. He probably was getting very little actual milk by that point in the day, but as he’d nursed through pregnancy, when milk supply drops naturally even in mums without IGT, he was used to that. He just liked the time with me, and I think the tandem nursing helped him accept Joel into the family, although he was young enough to not really care that much anyway. Sometimes Andrew would ask for milk while I was sitting feeding Joel in the day – an increased interest in nursing can happen with older siblings, even if already weaned, so he wasn’t unusual in this, and would usually be happy with a few sucks from the other side, just to mark his ground more than anything I think. There weren’t many times that I would actually have one feeding from each side at the same time – tandem nursing refers to breastfeeding 2 (or more) children in the same time period, not necessarily precisely simultaneously.

Joel seemed to get more breast milk than Andrew did at the same age – I could tell partly from the fact that he needed less formula supplementation and partly because his poos looked so much more breastfed than Andrew’s ever did pre-solids! Many mums, with and without IGT, report increased milk supply with subsequent children. So even if Andrew was taking a little of the shared supply when Joel was a baby, I was happy that over the span of their nursing years, they were getting their own fair share.

Before I knew it, we somehow managed to get to a whole year of tandem nursing; it dawned on me that I was tandem nursing 2 toddlers, and nowadays a toddler and a preschooler.  Neither of them nurse for very long these days, but both of them still enjoy Mummy milk before bed. I think Andrew is slowly on the stopping straight because he doesn’t ask for it every day now, but I’ve heard that this is how self-weaning at this age can happen – a slow process that you look back on and can’t pin point an exact time that they stopped, the breastfeeds just go down from once a day to once a week to once a month etc. We often joke that at this rate, Joel will stop before Andrew, because he’s probably less interested in it than Andrew was at this age, but who knows! (Only they know.)

I look back now and can’t quite believe that I’m sitting here writing this, given our shaky start in the world of breastfeeding. But I’m glad that we persevered through the hard times to get to this point. When I think about how much breast milk that my boys have had over their nursing lives, it’s probably similar to how much some babies had who were exclusively breastfed for the 6 months that is seen as the ‘standard’ amount of time to breastfeed for. Some people may think that breastfeeding or nursing toddlers is weird, and pre-schoolers even weirder, but it works for us and I’m happy to carry on for as long as they require, which may turn out to be not much longer.

Others who are writing about breastfeeding beyond a year today include….. (please go and visit their blogs too).

Sorry about the mess

Circus Queen

Hex Mum

My thoughts on things

Baking Betsy

And another WAHM like myself taking part in the hunt is

Cherub Chews

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why I Chose to Breastfeed – #KBBF2014

The theme for today in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt is ‘Why I chose to breastfeed’, which I thought was a great title to write to. The so-called ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding are often talked about when people are trying to explain what’s so good about breastfeeding, and indeed there are many reasons why breastfeeding is a good thing. But I think each individual mum who chooses to breastfeed has particular ones among these many reasons that mean something to her personally. So why one mum chooses to breastfeed (or not) is not necessarily the same as the next mum’s reasons, and that’s why a title that acknowledges a personal story is, I feel, very important when it comes to the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding.

And for me, this is a very good question – why did I choose to breastfeed? Well, if you’d have asked me this before my eldest son Andrew was born, when I was pregnant with him, I would have said something along the lines of “I’d like to breastfeed because I know it’s the natural way of feeding a baby, but if I hit problems and it’s too hard, then nevermind, I’ll just bottle feed instead.” Only after he was born and I hit major problems breastfeeding did the determination to carry on arise from somewhere inside me (hormones? natural instinct? back of my brain?).

I’ve told our story in full in previous posts, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The best post to read about how our breastfeeding story started in the first months of Andrew’s life is this one. It turned out that I have IGT (insufficient glandular (breast) tissue) or hypoplasia, and would never produce enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed a baby. It’s estimated that only a tiny percentage of women have IGT, and therefore pro-breastfeeding literature is keen to point out that it is ‘rare’ to be unable to physically produce enough milk to breastfeed. And I think it’s important to point that out, of course, because there are many other reasons why mums might have (or perceive they have) a low milk supply – for example feeding to a schedule (rather than on demand), giving some bottles & skipping some breast feeds, baby isn’t growing the way the charts say they should, breasts don’t leak or feel full once feeding is established etc. etc., when actually things could be done about all of these and the mum could produce enough milk. But for me, it feels disappointing to be among the unlucky few who can’t produce enough milk, even if we try really really hard at doing things to increase our supply (though there is something special about being a ‘rare’ case).

 

However, just because I can’t exclusively breastfeed a baby, doesn’t mean I can’t breastfeed, and between us, Andrew and I figured out how to use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) to allow him to breastfeed as much as possible, whilst getting top ups of formula milk at my breasts. I’ve written more about this ingenious device here. It wasn’t always easy, and combination feeding like this is a bit of a minefield in terms of working out how much supplement to give and managing demand-led feeding alongside scheduled top ups in the early weeks. Many times I wondered why I was bothering to do this, when it would be easier to just give him bottles and give up trying to breastfeed.

So why did I choose to carry on breastfeeding, despite all the struggles? First, sheer determination is something that I’m well known for – once I get my mind set on doing something, I like to see it through, and I didn’t realise just how much I wanted to breastfeed until I started, and then stopping wasn’t something I was going to do without a fight. This is my personality, and I know not everyone is the same, for me it was a very personal choice to continue in this sense. Second, I learned through breastfeeding that it is not simply about getting calories into a baby to nourish them physically, despite how the medical professionals saw it like this whenever we saw them. Breastfeeding is part of my mothering, and I realised that I enjoyed it: I enjoyed being that close to my baby, calming him down when upset, soothing him off to sleep, letting him know that I was there whenever he needed me, and he seemed to like it at my breasts too, even if he wasn’t immediately hungry and just needed the comfort. I wouldn’t have had this amazing mothering tool if I had given up and turned to bottles.

KBB Scav Blue 14

That small baby continued to breast feed, even when he showed interest in solid foods and then took to them very well. In fact, when he got more calories from the solid stuff, the formula top ups went down and eventually he just breast fed alongside solids and water/other drinks. That little baby whom I struggled to establish a breastfeeding relationship with at the start, is now a lively 3.5 year old who still to this day likes some Mummy milk before bedtime, even if just a minute’s worth of sucks. Clearly he doesn’t need the calories in the milk (his appetite for food and drink is healthy!), but clearly he feels the need for the routine and the comfort (and probably the effect of stalling bedtime for another minute or two, he’s a clever chap!), and I’m happy to fulfil that need for as long as he requires it, it’s part of how I parent. I’ve also done the same for his little brother, who is now 19 months old and enjoying breastfeeding before bedtime still, plus the occasional other feed if he’s upset or in the early morning.

As well as the major reasons in my choice that I’ve outlined above, there are several other reasons that I was glad I was breastfeeding, like the antibodies in my milk (both of my boys have hardly been ill at all) and the need to buy less formula which is so expensive and produced by unethical companies. I wish I didn’t have the faff of sterilising the SNS and having to think about how much top up milk (if any) I needed to take out just in case we stayed out longer than I was planning – these are other reasons why I would have loved to exclusively breastfeed, but I didn’t have that choice.

So this is why I chose to carry on breastfeeding, I’m so glad I did – looking back now at how far we’ve come makes all the early struggles worthwhile. I’ll write more about breastfeeding beyond a year, including tandem nursing 2 children, in my next hunt post, so stay tuned 🙂

There are lots of other bloggers taking part in the hunt, so please head over and read some of their posts too. And don’t forget to enter the rafflecopter below to be in with the chance of winning some fab prizes!

Diddle Diddle Dumpling

Keep up with the Jones Family

My baby boy and me

Being Mum

My thoughts on things

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt 2014

I can’t believe another year has passed and it’s nearly time for the annual Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt again. I enjoyed the past two years that I’ve taken part in it, and as breastfeeding still seems to be going strong in our household, I’m glad to be back taking part again this year. You can read my posts from previous years here…

2012

What’s so good about breastfeeding?

Mum-to-mum sharing: at breast supplementation

Breastfeeding support

Small steps add up to a long breastfeeding journey

2013

What I love about breastfeeding

Where to turn when breastfeeding gets tough

When will I stop breastfeeding?

Not only am I blogging about our experience this year, but I’m also taking part as a prize donor – this Sewn Down Purple Lane wet bag that could be used to store cloth breast pads or CSP (or anything else!) is up for grabs as part of the hunt’s prizes. The design woven into the fabric is a chemical diagram of an oxytocin molecule, a very important hormone for breastfeeding and new mums in general.

Oxytocin wet nag for kbbf

I’ll be writing two blog posts over the week of the hunt (Friday 20th to Thursday 26th June) – one on why I chose to breastfeed, and one on my experiences of breastfeeding beyond a year (x2 children). The aim of the hunt is to raise awareness of breastfeeding throughout National Breastfeeding week (the week that the hunt is running). It is NOT about making anyone feel guilty about not breastfeeding – whether a mum chooses to breastfeed or not is her own choice, and one that others shouldn’t judge, everyone has different circumstances, but I believe that this choice should be an informed choice, based on access to correct information on how breastfeeding works and where to turn to find useful and knowledgeable help if things don’t go smoothly. And that is what this hunt is about – lots of mums sharing their own experiences with the view to informing other mums who read them. Mum-to-mum support or peer support is such a big part of many mums’  successful breastfeeding stories.

I’m looking forward to reading lots of other great posts on breastfeeding and hearing all about others’ stories, as well as sharing our own experiences. If you’re interested in breastfeeding, I hope you will join in too.

 

3 year breastfeeding anniversary

It’s been a loooong time since I last wrote a post on breastfeeding. I’ve been meaning to for a while, but other posts and other things in life have pushed it down my priority list. When Andrew turned 3 a few weeks ago, his birthday marked our 3 year breastfeeding anniversary, and that, I thought, deserved a write up of my thoughts.

Breastfeeding has become so much part of our daily family life that I often don’t think about it, it’s just something we do day in, day out. Not that I want to belittle it, actually it means a lot to me, but it’s certainly not something I stress about like I did in the early weeks, and therefore it doesn’t take up much of my brain space day to day. It’s only when I deliberately reflect on how far we’ve come that I realise just what an achievement it is to be sitting here writing this.

If you haven’t read how our story started, you can find it here. At less than a week old, I was having to supplement Andrew with formula, and in my new-parent-world-just-been-turned-upside-down-with-a-newborn state I had no idea how long we’d be able to carry on breastfeeding. Just getting to 3 weeks seemed like an impossible task, let alone 3 years. But we were blessed with good info from knowledgeable people – Cambridge is a great place to have a baby in terms of volunteer support networks in the early weeks – and a supportive family, and week by week we survived and Andrew began to thrive.

I was particularly grateful to have been shown an SNS (supplemental nursing system) by a specialist midwife in the hospital, and to have been given a new one when we ruined the original in the microwave steriliser – it was a local La Leche League (LLL) leader who rallied around at the weekend to find an ex demo one with a retired midwife colleague of hers. Without this, especially in those crucial first weeks of trying to maximise my milk supply, I know we wouldn’t have carried on anywhere near this long.

Once the hardest struggles were over, by around 6 months into his life, I decided to let him wean when he wanted to, and to my surprise, he was keen to continue even when he was well and truly eating solid foods in the later half of his first year. By his first birthday he was usually breastfeeding twice a day – once first thing in the morning and once just before bed.

Just after Andrew turned 1, and we were celebrating a whole year of breastfeeding, I found out I was pregnant again. As my milk supply had never been great, I was convinced that he would self-wean with the inevitable dwindling of milk production in pregnancy. But again he surprised me, and wanted to still feed up until and beyond Joel’s birth.

Breastfeeding was generally much easier the second time around, because I knew what I was expecting and was fully prepared. Or so I thought, until Joel had jaundice and was a very sleepy baby who needed much more encouragement to feed in the early weeks. But at least I knew who to turn to straight away for useful info and help from personal experience. He soon grew out of the sleepiness and has continued to breastfeed until now, over 1 year into his life. Like Andrew at this age, he usually feeds once first thing and once just before bed each day.

So here I am, still breastfeeding a 3 year old and a 15 month old. Andrew now only has about a minute’s worth of sucking before bed, and to be honest I think it’s just another one of his bedtime stalling tactics, knowing he can get an extra few minutes up with me and out of his room. But I said he could self-wean, and that’s what he will do one day, whatever his reasons currently are for continuing to breastfeed. We have joked that Andrew will probably outrun Joel in his breastfeeding stint, mainly because Joel is going through a biting phase (something that Andrew never did), no doubt linked to teething, and some days I wonder if my yelps will put him off for good. Who knows how long the biting or the breastfeeding will go on, but it’s up to him, with some gentle teaching from me that biting really isn’t on.

BM keepsake

As we were approaching Andrew’s third birthday, I did something that I’ve been contemplating for a while: I bought a Breast Milk Keepsake. Claire, fellow mummy blogger with twin boys just a little younger than Andrew, has figured out a way to take pure breast milk and shape it into beads in various shapes then set them in resin to make pendants and other jewellery. All I had to do was provide 30ml of my milk and choose which design I wanted – I went for 2 stars to represent my boys, on a purple background in a 25mm silver pendant. This is the perfect way to represent the achievement that our breastfeeding journey has been, and I am so pleased with the result. I now have something tangible to remember our years of breastfeeding once they eventually wean, and a pretty piece of jewellery to wear that is also meaningful.

The keepsake arrived on the date that was exactly 3 years since we had to go back into hospital with Andrew and our future of breastfeeding looked bleak. As I held it in my hand and looked back to that day 3 years ago, I couldn’t quite believe how far we’d come and if you’d have said to me then that in 3 years time I’d be holding one of these, I would never have believed you.

Disclaimer: I received no incentive to write about Breast Milk Keepsakes, all opinions expressed are entirely my own and honest

“Paid” to breastfeed – crazy or cost-effective?

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on breastfeeding. I’ve been thinking about writing one now that we’ve somehow got to a point where I’m tandem nursing 2 toddlers, but with everything going on, it’s not actually happened yet. However, something in the news this week has prompted me to write because I’d like to note and share my thoughts on this.

According to the BBC news article that I read at first, a trial scheme is being run in deprived areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire which will offer new mums £200 in shopping vouchers if they breastfeed their baby for 6 months; this is being funded through both government and medical research money. My first thought when I read this was “are they crazy?! is this a joke?!” The very fact that breastfeeding saves you more than £200 in formula milk per baby should be a financial incentive in itself.

And then I thought about it some more, in an attempt to understand it some more, and still came to the conclusion that it was a bad idea. Of course if money was no object to the government, then why not encourage mums to breastfeed with a sum of money, but as funds are limited, I believe this money would be far better spent on NHS resources to support breast-feeding mums in a useful way.

When we had issues breastfeeding, the best help that we got in the local community was from volunteer peer supporters – mums at our local La Leche League (LLL) group who give all their time and energy to help out struggling mums for free, out of the desire to help each mum reach their own breastfeeding goal, whatever that might be. If we’d have relied on overworked midwife and health visitor advice, I am convinced that I would not be sitting here writing this, despite my own determination, because we were given at best no and at worst factually inaccurate advice from health professionals whom we thought we could rely on. If money is to be spent trying to improve breastfeeding rates, this, in my opinion, is where it needs to go – providing more up-to-date and evidence-based training for (and just more!) midwives and health visitors who see these new mums on a regular basis before and after the birth of their baby.

What good will it do to get more mums to start out breastfeeding if there is little means of supporting them if they hit issues? I can imagine a scenario where a mum is encouraged by the financial incentive to give breastfeeding a go when her baby is born, but who then faces a problem which ultimately leads her to give up, because she is not given any support, or is told something that is not helpful, or worse not true, by people that she trusts (maybe a health professional, maybe a family member). The fact that she would then miss out on the £200 could lead to even more of a feeling of failure and guilt that many mums, in my experience, describe when they feel they have had no option but to give up breastfeeding even though they really wanted to.

Having said all this, as I thought about this trial more, and read more commentaries on it, I realised that I am of course looking at it through my middle class eyes. I grew up knowing that breastfeeding is the ‘normal’ way that a human infant is born to be nourished, though I also knew that formula is an option which many mums choose for whatever reason to use instead. I was breastfed, my brother was breastfed (not that I can remember either of those cases!), and my younger cousins were breastfed – I saw them and remember this.  I also did well in a good school, went to university and got 3 degrees, and through this education and my own reading because I’m interested in finding out more, I have understood why breastfeeding is important.

If I had grown up in a family whose babies were all bottle fed by default, hung out with friends whose families all bottle fed their babies, and left school with few qualifications or general interest in reading, then things could well have turned out very differently. This is the situation in the more deprived areas of the UK, where breastfeeding uptake rates are much lower than in better off areas, because new mums just don’t know about the importance of it, and why would they if bottle feeding is the norm where they live? It is in some of these more deprived areas that the trial is taking place, specifically because for mums to succeed in breastfeeding, they’ve got to know that it is even an option in the first place. If these vouchers address the uptake issue then that can’t be a bad thing, although I would still be concerned about the lack of support once they’ve started. According to the Lonely Scribe blog, Derbyshire, one county in which this trial is taking place, already has a strong network of good breastfeeding support available to new mums, so this should not be a concern here.

This blog also points out that the media reporting of this trial hasn’t exactly been to clear – it’s NOT a government  policy that is definitely going to be brought in across the country, rather it is a scientific study by researchers who are trying to assess how a financial incentive might impact public health and therefore whether it would be something the government could consider as they are ultimately in charge of the public health budget in this country. As breastfeeding has significant benefits to child and adult health, breastfeeding rates affect how much money will be needed later in babies’ lives in terms of their health.

As a researcher myself I understand the importance of setting up a study which will provide evidence for or against a certain hypothesis, and waiting for the results of the study before jumping to any conclusions. So that is what I should do with this trial too – wait and see whether it provides any evidence for or against the hypothesis that offering mums money to breastfeed increases breastfeeding rates in specific areas. I’m still not convinced that, even if evidence for this case is shown in the results, it could be generalised to other areas where breastfeeding uptake rates are higher.

A similar point of view of “wait and see” was expressed in the statement from Anna Burbidge, Chair of LLL Great Britain, on this study. She notes that LLL GB “will be looking with interest at this scheme to see if offering vouchers to mothers who breastfeed as a way of acknowledging the value of breastfeeding to babies, mothers and society, will increase the numbers of babies being breastfed.” If more mums breastfeed, then this would help make breastfeeding the norm, and help create a culture that encourages breastfeeding because it is the norm. So if this study shows that money can help in the areas where increasing numbers of breastfeeding mums is most needed, then great.

Breastfeeding seems to be one of those topics that reveals some very strong feelings in many mums – whether they did or didn’t do it. I’m sure that in the discussion of this voucher trial this week there have been many emotive comments from people’s experiences of breastfeeding, good or bad. My personal conclusion on what I’ve read about the trial is that it sounds ridiculous and far removed from how I myself see and experience breastfeeding, but I look forward to hearing about the results and whether this financial incentive could benefit mums in social circumstances different from mine. I’d be interested to hear what you think too.

A snip of the tongue

P1070088

Ever since we went through the process of getting Andrew’s tongue tie assessed and snipped when he was nearly 10 weeks old, I have been very keen to share our story and spread the word about tongue tie in babies. In my experience, there is not much information about it from prominent sources such as antenatal info packs and classes, midwives and health visitors. I found I had to ask other mums I knew at our local breastfeeding support group, who had also had their baby’s tongue tie checked out, and do my own research online, to find out enough about it to make any decisions. So when I was given the chance to write a feature blog post for Wriggly Rascals on tongue-tie in newborns, I jumped at it…. and you can read it here.

If you’ve had experience of a newborn with tongue tie, please take a few minutes if you can to help out another mum trying to decide what to do about her baby’s tongue tie – here’s a Wriggly Rascals’ survey.

About Wriggly Rascals
Wriggly Rascals was set up by Shona Motherwell, a frustrated mum of twins Mhairi and Archie to get mums together to share pregnancy, baby and toddler advice via quick surveys to get the facts about what other mums do. Our mums pass on loads of great tips to mums who have asked for help. If you would like some advice, get in touch at www.wrigglyrascals.com

 

 

World Breastfeeding Week

It doesn’t seem long since it was the UK Breastfeeding awareness week back in June when I wrote a few posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. Here are the posts I wrote if you missed them or would like another read:

What I love about breastfeeding

Where to turn if breastfeeding gets tough

When will I stop breastfeeding?

According to the World Breastfeeding Week website, this year’s theme is ‘Breastfeeding support: close to mothers’ – to highlight the importance of peer support for breastfeeding mums, which is key in trying to increase the number of mums who continue exclusive breastfeeding beyond the first few weeks after birth; many who hit issues don’t have the information and support to know how to overcome them. This kind of support used to be provided by the extended family, and still is in some cultures, but we no longer all live in the family communities that we did a few generations ago, where grannies, aunties, female cousins etc. would have all been there surrounding the new mum with support, particularly for things like breastfeeding.

I’ve said it before in previous posts, but I’ll say it again: support from other mums who are breastfeeding or have breastfed their children has been essential in our breastfeeding journey. So much so that I don’t think we would still be breastfeeding today if I hadn’t have come across our local La Leche League (LLL) group through going to one of the breastfeeding drop-ins in Cambridge. It would have been very easy for me to give up back when Andrew was tiny, and be part of that statistic of mums who no longer breastfeed after a few weeks. (Fair enough I didn’t manage exclusive breastfeeding anyway, but that’s a different matter and one that I have no control over.) By going along to meet-ups and talking with others about their experiences, I knew that I wasn’t alone and there was always someone I could ask for accurate information based on research, or who would just listen to me if I was having a particularly hard week. That’s the kind of support I needed and was so glad I found.

Having found this support myself, I am always keen to shout out about how important it is to find the support of other breastfeeding mums who know what it means to breastfeed successfully, in case you come across issues. In hindsight I wish I had sought a support group when I was still pregnant with Andrew, and therefore I would have already known where to turn when things got tough, so this is what I now suggest other pregnant mums do too if they are keen to breastfeed.

It’s not the case that everyone will have issues, but even if you don’t then it can’t harm to get to know other new mums too, especially if you are worried about feeling isolated after having a baby. What I like about LLL is that it’s not just about breastfeeding: it’s about mothering in general, and breastfeeding as an important aspect of that. So even if you don’t hit specific breastfeeding issues, it’s still lovely to meet up with other mums who are all different but who share a broadly similar way of parenting their children.

We go along twice a month to the LLL meet-ups that we’ve been going to since Andrew was just 4 weeks old. Now that I’m successfully breastfeeding two boys without any major issues ourselves, I see my role as a supportive one – I chat with other mums and in particular with those who have low milk supply concerns. I have thought about doing some from of peer supporter training myself, but at the moment I don’t feel I would have enough time without dropping one of my other voluntary roles (Editor of the local NCT magazine and Founder of Nappyness library and meet-ups). For now I feel that the less formal support that I can offer at LLL meet-ups is playing an important role in itself.

To draw this post back to a global perspective, World Breastfeeding Week also reminds me that in some ways we are fortunate in this country when it comes to breastfeeding. We may not have the extended family and community support these days, but we do have some fairly strict laws on formula marketing and we have safe drinking water supplies to make up powdered formula. I am glad that formula exists, because without it (or donor breast milk, but that’s a whole other post to write!) my boys wouldn’t be here. But I wish we had been able to get it on prescription as a medical necessity and I do not agree with the motivation behind the multi-national companies who sell it – that is to make as much money as possible, regardless of what that means for babies.

In many countries across the globe, formula is promoted much more ruthlessly than here and the mums who buy it often have to use contaminated drinking water to make it up and/or water it down because it’s expensive. It would be much better for their babies if they were breastfed and the mums had the support needed to do that. For these reasons I believe it’s important to raise awareness of breastfeeding on a global level during this week.

I don’t think that this post will make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, but as breastfeeding is a topic close to my heart, I can’t not write my thoughts down for this global awareness week.

Just one more thing to add is that Breastvest, who I ran a competition with during the national awareness week in June, are running some offers again this week. They’re selling off all their limited edition colours for £10 each to make way for the Autumn/winter 2013/2014 shades, and they have a 20% off promotion code: WBW20. If you’re interested, why not head over and take a look!

When will I stop breastfeeding? – #KBBF2013

I don’t know the answer to this, only my boys do. From early on in Andrew’s life, I said that I wanted him to self-wean rather than me leading. In general I’ve taken a very baby-led approach to parenting, letting them settle into their own rhythms and not setting a routine – though Joel has had to conform a bit more than Andrew did, as his older brother’s pattern (that was drawn on a blank slate) was already set, but he seems to have been easy-going enough to cope with this. Breastfeeding is one aspect of my parenting, and an important one at that.

When I said that I would let Andrew self-wean, I didn’t think for one moment that he would still be enjoying mummy milk at nearly two and a half years old. I assumed that as my supply had been so rubbish in the first 6 months of his life, he would soon give up on me and that would be it. But as he quickly took to solid food, breastfeeding became something he did for comfort, not calories, and therefore it didn’t seem to matter to him that there wasn’t a huge amount. I then thought that he would self-wean during my pregnancy with Joel, again thinking that if my supply had been so rubbish before, then it would be even worse as the hormones caused it to dwindle in preparation for the new baby. I wrote a fair amount about this in my pregnancy diary posts every week on the blog (for example here and here). But he carried on, and it is still important for him now, nearly 8 months into his baby brother’s life.

My boys and I on our tandem nursing adventure
My boys and I on our tandem nursing adventure

Andrew doesn’t have loads of milk, and some days it’s more than others, but before bed every night he will have a cuddle and some mummy milk and then Daddy will read a story and say a prayer with him before leaving him in bed to drop off to sleep, which he is very good at. I think this regularity helps him unwind and know that it’s bedtime, and if it’s been a busy day, it’s one time that I know we can reconnect and talk about how the day has been for us.

Joel is now at the stage where solid food is taking up more and more of his daily calorie intake, which seems to be quite a lot as he’s also crawling everywhere so needs lots of energy. He too has taken to solid food well, and the amount of formula that I need to supplement with has gone down drastically in the past month or so. He’s feeding less in the daytime, and has most of his milk intake 5am-7am and 7pm-8pm, as well as a few small feeds here and there in the day alongside his solid food.

As with Andrew, I will let Joel decide himself when he wants to stop breastfeeding. There are some days when Tom (my husband) and I joke that at this rate Andrew will be feeding longer than Joel, mainly because Joel is in that stage of feeding quite a bit less now that he’s on solids so it doesn’t feel like I’m constantly feeding him any more and there is a big difference in how that feels to me.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottom of this post.

When I look back at how breastfeeding started with Andrew, it’s hard to believe that we’ve ended up where we are – I have two boys who have healthy appetites and are still enjoying mummy milk. How on earth we ended up here I wonder with amazement, things could have turned out so differently. Before Andrew was born I had no idea that it was even possible to breastfeed a toddler, let alone through another pregnancy, and it didn’t even enter my head why anyone would want to do that. I guess if we hadn’t have hit problems and therefore found help through LLL, I might not have even learned that I don’t *have* to wean my baby at 6 months when they start eating more than milk, like all the prominent books and advertising would have us believe.

Everyone has their own breastfeeding goals, and what is right for one family is not the same as what is right for another family. Different mums and babies are ready to wean from breastfeeding at all sorts of different times and for different reasons. This is just our story. At one point I said I would be glad to get to 6 weeks, then I said I’d be glad to get to 6 months, then to 1 year, then through pregnancy, then to 6 months of another baby, then to whenever they both want to stop. My goals have shifted as I’ve lived with one and then two nurselings. I hope that anyone reading this is able to achieve their own breastfeeding goal, whatever that might be.

There’s still more time to enter the main competition of the scavenger hunt, with more than £1000 worth of prizes in the kitty. Just fill in the rafflecopter below! You can read more posts about breaastfeeding at the following blogs…

The Brick Castle

In the Playroom

Pea Musings

Faded Seaside Mama

Let’s Walk Together for a While

And here’s a company where you can find all sorts of baby things, not just breastfeeding stuff (I love their babywearing items for example)

Natural Nursery

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Where to turn if breastfeeding gets tough – #KBBF2013

As I’ve written before, I probably wouldn’t be here writing these posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt if it wasn’t for the support of several people. I know I am pretty determined, so that also plays a role in why I was stubborn enough to plough on in the face of adversity, but I know that it could have turned out so differently had I not met the right people at the right time. I’m going to focus in this post on the people who gave me specific breastfeeding support, but I can’t forget to mention the strong support of my husband Tom and our families, who were very encouraging and helped out with so many things in the early weeks after the birth of both my boys so that I could concentrate on feeding; without them I would have found things much harder than they already were.

When we went back into hospital with Andrew at 6 days old because he was dehydrated as my milk hadn’t come in (and the community midwife team hadn’t had the staff to come and see us between day 2 and day 6, despite our phone calls for help), we were visited on the ward by the maternity hospital’s infant feeding specialist midwife. She was fantastic, and knew just what to say to me and how to listen to me, clearly an emotional wreck, feeling like I’d failed as a mum in less than a week of being put in charge of a baby. She assessed us both and how he was feeding, and she suggested some things we could do – I didn’t feel like she was pressurising me to carry on breastfeeding him, but was offering support if I did want to. It was this midwife who first introduced us to the SNS, which was key in our breastfeeding journey. I will never forget just how important the information she gave us and her ability to listen to my concerns were to us.

After that I started going to the weekly breastfeeding drop-in clinic not far from our home. This is run by volunteer health visitors and breastfeeding peer supporters like La Leche League (LLL) trained mums. Cambridge is probably quite unusual to have a regular drop-in like this almost every day of the week, and anyone is welcome to attend for support. Half the appeal is just to be able to sit down and have a hot drink made for you and have a chat with other mums who are also not finding it all plain sailing. Again, the ability of the supporters to just listen and let you tell them exactly what’s going on is amazing, and the information they give is accurate because they have a special interest in breastfeeding. I found that my assigned postnatal community midwife and health visitor knew very little about breastfeeding, because this is such a small part of their training unless they do more on their own initiative; I had some what turned out to be very inaccurate advice from my midwife, which could have been a lot worse if I hadn’t had access to more accurate info elsewhere.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.

It was through the regular drop-in that I got to know a lovely lady who is one of the LLL leaders in Cambridge. She encouraged me to go along to a meeting where I could meet more mums who could offer me support and friendship. So I went along to our first meeting when Andrew was 4 weeks old, not sure what to expect, and we’ve been going pretty much every fortnight for the last nearly 2 and a half years! Before I went I wondered whether I would feel odd in the group as I wasn’t able to excessively breastfeed, but I was soon welcomed into the group and never felt embarrassed that I had to take formula along in my SNS – they were happy to help and it didn’t matter one bit that we had a more unusual breastfeeding story, as everyone in the room had a different story. There was also no pressure to breastfeed at all, they were just there for me if I wanted to persevere, it was my choice.

Now we are very much involved in the group: I’m on the committee, we go to every meeting that we can, and I have been able to chat with other mums who are going through issues similar to what we have experienced and give them some support too. This is exactly what LLL is about – mum-to-mum support. Apart from my milk supply issues, we’ve also had experience of breastfeeding through pregnancy and tandem breastfeeding (I’ll talk about these more in my next hunt post), both of which I’ve been able to share with other mums who are thinking of having another baby. Although I’ve often wished that I didn’t have IGT and had a ‘why me?’ attitude for much of the first half year of Andrew’s life, I have now come to see that I can turn this into something positive by offering other mums support based on our difficult experiences – it’s only because we had issues that we sought support and ended up getting involved with LLL, so if it hadn’t have been for our problems, I might well have not had the opportunity to do this.

invention

It was also through LLL that Andrew’s tongue tie got spotted. One of the leaders noticed his tongue was a little anchored when he smiled at her, and as she wasn’t an expert, she said that it might be worth getting it checked out my someone who specialises in tongue tie snipping. I tried to ask two GPs at our surgery if they could refer us to the nearest hospital with a specialist, but they didn’t want to know (I wrote about this here). So we decided to pay for a Lactation Consultant to come and assess him. She said that he did have a posterior tongue tie, which was quite hard to spot, so she snipped it and things did improve for us as Andrew started to gain more weight from that week on. But it wasn’t just the tongue tie snipping that was good – she spent about 3 hours one-to-one with me talking through all sorts of things to do with our breastfeeding story so far, going into so much detail both in the questions she asked me and the info she gave me. Of course that’s her job and that’s what we paid her to do; I just wish this level of help was available for free on the NHS.

I wouldn’t wish our breastfeeding situation on anyone, I’d far rather not have the faff of topping up with formula, but I do hope that through my writing about it other mums will be encouraged to seek support in places that will really help. Local drop-ins are usually advertised in places like health visitor clinics (or asking your health visitor), maternity hospital postnatal packs, NCT newsletters and children’s centres. Organisations such as LLL, NCT and ABM have details of local groups on their websites. Lactation Consultants are listed by area on the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website. You might find that your own midwife, health visitor and GP are more helpful and knowledgeable than ours were – it depends how personally interested they are in breast-feeding. I hope this has been informative, and I’m always open to questions about my supply issues, use of an SNS, feeding in pregnancy and tandem feeding.

Today, as well as the main competition with over £1000 worth of goodies in the prize kitty, I have a competition running to win 5 pairs of washable breast pads hand made by the lovely Leah at I Sew Green. Leah is a work at home mum trying to make the world a greener place to be by making all those things you normally throw away. She has some lovely breast pads, cloth sanitary products and cloth nappy-related products that you can see through her Facebook page. To enter both competitions, follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.

And finally, why not pop over to some other blogs and companies who are participating in the hunt….

Circus Queen

Diary of a First Child

The Secret Life of Kate

Oh So Amelia

Hinckley Yummy Mummy

Breast Milk Keepsakes

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What I love about breastfeeding – #KBBF2013

It’s the start of National Breastfeeding week, and that means the start of the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt! You can find out more about the hunt in general and where to find more posts from participating bloggers on the main hunt website. The idea is that you read blog posts to find out more about breastfeeding, and there you will also find ways to enter individual competitions as well as the main prize draw in which you can win lots of breastfeeding-related and general baby goodies.

For my first post I’m writing on the theme of the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding, or, as I prefer to think of it, simply what I love about breastfeeding. Breast milk from mum is the normal food that human babies are biologically designed to eat for the first months of their life, so it makes sense to think of this as the norm and instead what might be the ‘disadvantages’ of formula milk which comes from a cow (or soya bean).

For those of you who haven’t followed my breastfeeding journey until now (there are plenty of older posts on the blog in the ‘bump and breastfeeding bits’ if you’d like to read about it), I have actually had to supplement my own milk with formula milk for both my boys as babies, more for my first (Andrew, 28 months) than my second (Joel, 7 months). This is because I have hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) in my breasts to make enough milk for a baby before they eat solid food. This was diagnosed my a Lactation Consultant, and is not just to do with size but rather shape of breast too. I have still managed to breastfeed though, mainly with the help of an at-breast supplementer (the SNS) – Joel, although he has had a fair amount of formula over the past 7 months, refuses to take a bottle (like many exclusively breastfed babies) and has had all his intake of milk directly at the breast. I’ve written about this before in various posts (if you search ‘SNS’ on the blog they will come up).

First time........ Second time
Andrew……Joel

There are many things I love about breastfeeding, all of which have encouraged me to carry on in the face of struggles with IGT and the faff of having to supplement. Before I had Andrew, I only thought of breastfeeding as a way to feed a baby, to get calories into them so that they grow. Of course this is a part of it, but for me the things I love about breastfeeding are the non-nutritive bits!

As I sit here and type, I have a baby snuggled up to me, half asleep, half sucking, all cosy and content. This is a lovely feeling, and I feel as though I have a very close bond with my two boys which has been formed over time whilst feeding them. Even when I was struggling, I couldn’t imagine not having a baby sucking fro me for much of the day (it’s a great excuse to rest on the sofa when you’re shattered!) My toddler still doesn’t think he is too old for Mummy milk, and I love the time that he takes to snuggle up to me before bedtime because we can reconnect after a busy day during which he is very independent. Even though I spent a lot of time feeding his newborn brother in the early months, the fact that he could still have some Mummy milk meant that neither he nor I missed out on some quality time together when there was a new person in the mix. And I’m sure that tandem feeding (not often at exactly the same time) has helped build a bond between the two brothers so far.

One thing I didn’t expect to get through having kids was better quality sleep. For most of my adult life before children, I wasn’t the best sleeper – it only took a small (or big) amount of stress such as worrying about my studies, exams or work and I would have sleepless nights, lying in bed awake for ages and not finding it at all easy to drop off. Of course my boys have had me up in the night many times, but the difference is that when my head does hit the pillow I’m out for the count until I’m next woken up. We know that the hormones released when a mum breastfeeds help her to get off to sleep, and I am convinced that this has been responsible for such a big shift in my sleep.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.

It is noticeable how little my boys have been ill. They’ve had minor colds like we all do, but they’ve rarely had temperatures – I think we’re only on our second bottle of paracetamol and ibuprofen suspensions in nearly 2 and a half years of having children. We’ve hardly ever needed to go to the doctor with them, and when we did it was more to be cautious with little ones and they didn’t feel there was much they could do. We do mix with lots of other children as we go to lots of groups, and Andrew went to a childminder for 11 months when I went back to work part-time before having Joel. Breast milk has antibodies which I as mum produce that then get passed on to them as they feed. These help their own developing immune systems to fight infections quickly and effectively. No matter what claims formula milks make about what they contain, they cannot contain this living stuff! The way I look at our situation is that I’m providing the immunological help and the formula is providing the extra calories that I cannot physically produce enough of.

There are also some longer term reasons why breastfeeding is good for both me and my boys, which are nice to think of even if they aren’t tangible on a daily basis. The more I breastfeed, the lower my risk of developing breast and cervical cancers. Breastfed babies tend to have higher IQs than formula fed babies, are less likely to develop allergies, and are less likely to become obese. Of course this is a generalisation over a whole population – my husband Tom was bottle fed and has always been a tall beanpole despite having a large appetite, probably because he is very active and as a family we are very active too, which will no doubt influence our boys’ weights.

These are the main reasons why I love breastfeeding. There are others that I can think of, but the fact that I’ve had to supplement with formula means that I haven’t been able to enjoy all of them. For example, breastfeeding is convenient as there is no faff of sterilising and making up milk and getting it to the right temperature – you just latch baby on and away you go, which means it’s easy to go out without having to think about how much milk to take.

I’ll be back with another post on Tuesday, but for now I’ll leave you to read some posts by others and have a go at entering the main competition below. Don’t forget you can also still be in with a chance of winning a Breastvest here.

Life with Pink Princesses

In the Playroom

My Thoughts on Things

The Secret Life of Kate

Life, Love and Living with Boys

Pixie Pants Cloth Nappies

a Rafflecopter giveaway