Back in April it was cloth nappies, and next week it’s breastfeeding – two things that I am so glad we do as a family and therefore would like to raise awareness of, particularly during the weeks when they are made prominent nationally. That’s why I’m taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt next week, along with lots of other bloggers and companies who are interested in breastfeeding, for National Breastfeeding week.
Each day next week there will be lots of posts published on a particular theme of breastfeeding (e.g. what’s so good about breastfeeding?, breastfeeding beyond the first year). The idea is that as people read these posts, they find the hunt logo on the various websites and can then enter competitions, both small ones and the larger main competition to win a big goody bag of all sorts of breastfeeding-related and general baby stuff – I heard recently that the total value of all the prizes for the hunt is now over £1000!
Through all this reading, the aim of the hunt is to raise awareness of breastfeeding, to get accurate information out there based on real people’s experiences of breastfeeding, and to try and dispel some breastfeeding myths. I try not to take it for granted that I was in the right place at the right time to get fantastic support from knowledgeable people when I was struggling to breastfeed Andrew, and I know that had we lived somewhere different, I may well not have been here writing these posts.
Last year I took part in the hunt and had a lot of fun reading others’ posts about their experiences and entering the competitions. You can read the posts I wrote here…
This year I will be writing again about what’s so good about breastfeeding, the importance of good support, and breastfeeding beyond the first year – I feel these are the closest things to my heart when it comes to breastfeeding. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much for those who have already read these posts. So if you’re interested, watch this space!
To get us in the mood for the upcoming fun, the lovely people at Breastvest have offered both a discount code for this week, the week before the hunt begins, and a prize for me to give away. There aren’t many products that I feel I really need as a breastfeeding mum, though of course it’s sometimes nice to be bought gifts that you wouldn’t otherwise buy yourself if you can make use of them. But one thing I did do for clothing in the early weeks of breastfeeding was wear a vest underneath a flowy top, as I found it worked well to pull the vest down and lift the top up, so not revealing much of me at all (more concern over the post-baby tummy than my chest region actually!) I happened to have some vests that I’d got quite a while before having kids that had extendable straps, but even these were sometimes a squeeze to pull the vest down and not lose its shape after a while. But the Breastvest is a clever design, made with extra long straps that make breastfeeding like I do (or at least did until the weather got warmer and my boys have fed less and less when we’re out) much easier.
Here are a couple of ways that you could get your hands on a Breastvest… If you enter the competition below, you are in with a chance of winning one of these clever vests in your colour and size of choice. Or if you don’t fancy the wait until the end of the competition, why not head over to their website right now, choose a colour and size, and enter BSH25 at the checkout to get a 25% discount on your order. This discount is valid from 12.01am on Monday 17th June 2013 to midnight on Sunday 23rd June 2013. You can keep up to date with their future offers by following them on Facebook and/or Twitter.
You might also be interested to know that for the rest of June, Breastvest are selling limited issue grey breastvests in aid of the Lullaby Trust, which supports grieving parents whose babies have been lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and also provides safe sleeping information. All of the profits from the sale of grey breastvests during June will be donated to them.
See you again soon for more breastfeeding reading 🙂
I can’t quite believe that Joel turned 6 months old this week. It only seems like yesterday that he was a newborn, all squishy, little and quiet (most of the time – honestly, he really didn’t cry much at all). Now he’s much bigger and heavier, can roll across the room faster than the time it takes for me to put a load of washing on, and is starting to make some syllabic sounds as he babbles away. I know I experienced these big changes in the first 6 months of Andrew’s life too, but it still never ceases to amaze me just how much my boys are changing all the time. It’s only when I stop and reflect like this that I am totally wowed by the growth and development of the human body – for me this is a real physical reminder of the amazing creator God who I believe in.
On the whole I am loving my role in life of looking after two little boys. I can’t deny that there have been some hard times – I am human myself after all, and despite my best efforts to be ‘super-mum’, I do have limitations like the possession of only two hands and two eyes (neither in the back of my head) and no super power to avoid the effects of sleep deprivation. But given that there is only a 21 month age gap, so I had two kids under two in my care for 3 months of Joel’s life, I think it’s not bad going that there’s so far only been one occasion when all three of us were in tears at one time (there have been other combinations of one or two of us in tears, mainly the boys).
I can’t claim that this is all my own doing though. I am very blessed to have such a supportive husband who helps out so much with the boys, and it’s a real blessing to both of us that his job is only a 15 minute cycle away so he gets home not long after he finishes at 5pm; things would be a lot harder for me if I didn’t have this help. We also have very supportive parents, and although they don’t live in Cambridge, they come as often as possible to help us; my mum is the most regular visitor every couple of weeks or so for a day, and Tom’s mum usually comes at half-term holidays for several days in a row; our dads have been more weekend visitors with our mums. And looking back over these past 6 months, I can see that Jesus has been with us too, helping me get through some difficult days, even those in which I had little time or space (with the demands of two children being my priority) to talk to him properly in prayer. I don’t think I would have got to where I am now in one piece without Him answering our prayers and the prayers of others on our behalf.
For about the first 3 months, I would say that the hardest part of my role wasn’t looking after a newborn – he slept, fed, slept, fed, and not much else, plus I’d looked after a newborn before – no, the hardest part was looking after a newborn AND a 1year old toddler at the same time – I’d not done that before, and was still learning how best to meet Andrew’s needs that were evolving all the time.
There are not many ways in which these past 6 months have been similar to the first 6 months of Andrew’s life – the only big one that I can think of is the similar amount of sleep that I’ve had. In many ways having my first baby and my second have been very different experiences. It could partly be to do with their different personalities, but I think the main difference has been that I know more about what I’m doing and therefore feel less stressed about what I ‘should’ be doing according to society’s parenting wisdom. I always felt I was fairly laid back with how things went with Andrew, and took a mainly baby-led approach with the various aspects of parenting in the early months, but I have noticed that I’ve been even less worried about how things are going this time, I guess because I’ve seen the positive outcomes of the baby-led approach with Andrew.
One particular aspect of these first 6 months that I’ve been reflecting on, and how different it’s been the second time around is breastfeeding (I already blogged some of these thoughts here). Overall it’s been a much more enjoyable experience this time. In Andrew’s first 6 months I kept on breastfeeding more out of determination than anything else (I am a very determined person!) and my goal was just to get to 6 months; but when I got there, breastfeeding fairly soon became something I enjoyed rather than something I thought was my duty to my baby, and that’s why we carried on (that baby turned toddler still doesn’t think he’s too big for mummy milk!) At 6 months feeding became less about calorific intake and more about the non-nutritional aspects, so I felt less stressed when I (with the help of formula in the SNS) wasn’t the only source of food as he started to eat solids.
This time I have been able to enjoy this longer term perspective right from the start, knowing that even in the difficult times of constant feeding as a baby, it would get better and would all be worth it in the end. Although there was a bit of an issue with his weight (in the GP/health visitor’s eyes) around 2 months, this soon righted itself, and I’ve just realised that I haven’t had him weighed for a couple of months, which has helped, I’m sure, in me feeling less stressed about feeding – he is clearly growing and getting heavier. In fact I think the better experience of breastfeeding, and also having learned how the health system sees breastfeeding compared to my own natural instincts as a mum, have together made the biggest difference to how I’ve felt as a mum of a baby in these past 6 months compared to how I felt last time. And as I said above, I’m sure my prayers, even exhausted and fed up at 2am, have helped.
So there we go: I survived the first 6 months of life with 2 kids, and, more to the point, so did they – hooray! Now to carry on with life – looking after a growing baby who’s looking more and more like a little boy rather than a little baby and a toddler whose ability to communicate with me is getting more and more sophisticated.
It occurred to me the other day whilst feeding Joel that I haven’t blogged much about our breastfeeding experience in the first 5 months of his life. Before know it, and before I can cover the kitchen floor in some kind of food-repelling forcefield, he’ll be sampling some big boys’ food, and slowly the amount of milk he will require will decrease. Not that this necessarily means the end of breastfeeding him – I’m happy to carry on until he wants to stop, and his big brother is still going at 26 months. But this has made me look back on these past few months and reflect on what it’s been like breastfeeding my second baby and how it has differed from our experience the first time round.
I think the main reason I haven’t blogged loads about it has been that it has gone much more smoothly. It’s just fallen into place and fitted into our lives in a much more normal way than when Andrew was a baby, so it hasn’t crossed my mind often to blog about it. The two main reasons why it has gone so smoothly this time are: (1) I was much more practically and emotionally prepared for what was to come – I’d done it before and knew what to expect, including knowledge of my hypoplasia and low supply and being prepared with an SNS (or 2!) in the flat; (2) I had a support network already in place for if things got difficult and I needed useful and accurate help – this came in handy when Joel was readmitted to hospital with jaundice, and when I’ve come into contact with health professionals worried about his weight.
I only started blogging when Andrew was nearly a year old, but if I had have had a blog back in his first 6-ish months, I imagine I would have been doing weekly (or more frequent) updates about how breastfeeding was going and how we were finding our way along a very bumpy path. Some days I was very positive and felt like things were going well, and then I’d have bad days when I’d question why on earth I was doing this when it was so hard and I couldn’t see the bigger picture. Of course there have been difficult days when feeding Joel, but overall they are been much fewer and much more manageable than last time.
One of the biggest helps this time is that I am an expert on our SNS! (Read all about what it is here). It took me a while last time to figure out various things about it, such as the fact that powdered formula made up with boiled and cooled water flows more easily through the tubes than the instant formula. Also I wasn’t confident enough to use it when we were out (other than at breastfeeding drop-ins or support groups), so Andrew was used to taking both breast and bottle for usually only one feed a day, and we didn’t go out to that many groups until he was about 5 months anyway – for the first child you can fit in around them much more easily than for the second. But this time, right from the start I’ve been more confident, and as we’ve needed to get out to groups to amuse Andrew, the SNS has come with us (though Joel rarely feeds when we’re out these days, but he did when younger).
This has meant that Joel has never had a bottle. In fact I tried to give him one a few times at around 3 months when I was worried that he was having to work too hard at the SNS and I wanted to compare flow with a bottle, but he refused to take one, no matter how many different things I tried (me/Tom, day/evening, warm/cold, 2 different brands of teat etc.) I think it’s pretty amazing that a baby who has quite a lot of supplement on top of breast milk is behaving like many exclusively breastfed babies do in this respect. And when I eventually did trick him into taking an ounce before he realised and spit out the teat, the flow was about the same rate for bottle and SNS, so my concern was quietened.
On the matter of supplements, how much is he having compared to what Andrew had at this age? The answer is I actually don’t know for sure. I didn’t write down what either of them have had as it’s just one more thing to think about. But it feels like Joel has needed less supplement over the first 5 months than Andrew did, which suggests that I have been able to provide more milk myself this time. The fact that we had to finish off some of Andrew’s feeds with a bottle as he was on a lot of top-up by this age, whereas Joel manages it all in the SNS very comfortably, also suggests that he’s needing less top-up as the second baby.
I should also say here, as an update to my previous post on weight watching, that at his last weigh-in a few weeks ago, Joel had put on a lot of weight and had gone up on the infamous centiles, so the health visitor at the clinic didn’t even say when I had to bring him back next to be weighed – this meant a lot to me, and took a lot of stress away, as we’d always been told to go back either fortnightly or monthly; the ball’s in my court now and I can decide when to next have him weighed.
When I reflect on breastfeeding Joel, I think about how much I learned from doing it before with baby Andrew. The first time around I just had to find my way as we went along, whereas the second time around I feel that Joel is benefitting from things I already know. In other aspects of being a baby, I sometimes feel like Joel is getting a rougher deal being the second child – he’s put down more often than Andrew was and has to share my attention; but then I think about the deal he’s got with breastfeeding, and I realise that he’s experiencing a mummy who is much more on top of things. First and second (and third etc.) children are all going to have different experiences, and that’s not to say that any are worse off than others, they are just different.
So all in all, as we approach the 6-month mark, when our society says that the end of breastfeeding a baby is in sight, I’m feeling very happy with where we are and how well we are doing. Plus I’m looking forward to the next stage when breastfeeding really isn’t all about calorific intake and the non-nutritional aspects like closeness, calming him down, getting him to sleep, immunological protection etc. become even clearer. Stay tuned for more updates as (/if) I remember to write them – I’m aware that I haven’t talked here about Andrew’s nursing at the moment.
This post started life as a paragraph in the essential baby kit list that I recently posted, but it got too big so it warranted its own space. The essential things you need to start breastfeeding are not kit but rather accurate info and helpful support. All the kit you really need is a pair of breasts! There are, however, some bits of kit that you may end up finding useful or they may make life easier once you’ve got going. This post has two parts: first a list of essential info to get breastfeeding off to a good start, based on my experience of having one baby and then doing it better the second time around; and second my take on the bits of kit that you may like to get at some point.
First of all though, as I said in my kit list post, of course I don’t want to assume that everyone will breastfeed, but I would highly recommend at least trying it, based on the info that I know. You may decide for whatever reason to feed formula in bottles right from the start; i personally don’t have experience of exclusive bottle feeding, so I’m not an expert on how much kit you need for that. But I do know what it’s like to supplement with formula from a week old, which did involve bottles with Andrew, though not with Joel (at least he won’t take one at 12 weeks without a lot of persuasion – I do use them to mix up powdered formula sometimes rather than do it directly in the SNS which can be fiddly), so I have some idea of the faff in terms of kit compared to breastfeeding. I can say that if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t go through all this faff!
Tips for getting breastfeeding off to a good start:
Let baby feed as soon as possible after birth: If possible, hold your baby snuggled up to your chest without your top on straight away after birth, so that yours and baby’s skin are touching and they can latch on to your breast as soon as they like. Of course if there have been complications with either of you in the delivery, such as a c-section, or baby needs urgent medical attention, you might not be able to do this. Skin to skin with Daddy is always an option if you are not well enough to do it yourself. I was blessed with two very fast and uncomplicated births, after which I was able to pick my baby up and have him on my tummy/chest immediately afterwards – they both rooted towards my breast within minutes of being born and had their first feed. The soonest possible that first suck is, the better for breastfeeding, but don’t worry if you get separated and the first possible opportunity is later than straight after birth, it’s not a disaster for breastfeeding – just take the first opportunity you have to get your baby latched on for their first feed. Some babies are less good at latching on by themselves than others, so if they don’t seem interested, get help from someone who knows what they are talking about with breastfeeding.
A sleepy moment – he spent the night after the birth feeding and sleeping, next to me the whole time, skin to skin.
Let baby feed whenever they want for however long they want (aka demand feeding): If you take nothing from this post other than this bit of info I’d be a happy bunny! It may seem like baby is feeding all the time, but in the first few days that’s a good thing – baby is sucking to stimulate your milk production and help get your milk to “come in”. If you try and feed to a schedule, or think about timings like ‘he/she only fed 10 minutes ago, he/she can’t be hungry again yet”, then you risk interfering with your body’s natural mechanisms for producing enough milk, and you’ll probably stress yourself out in doing so.
Lots of skin to skin: Holding your baby with both of you unclothed so that your skin is touching is important not only straight after birth but also in the early days and weeks, and beyond in fact. It helps to stimulate your milk production via the hormones that drive it. A few hours after Andrew was born and he’d fallen asleep after his first feed, which was pretty long actually, the midwife dressed and swaddled him because she said he needed to keep warm as his body wasn’t good at regulating temperature yet, So I did what she said and he slept swaddled in the fish tank cot next to my bed all night whilst I lay there staring at him! Since then I learned through getting accurate info based on research from my local La Leche League (LLL) group that lying with baby skin to skin in those hours after birth is better for both of us, because my body heat helps to regulate baby’s body temperature, and it helps stimulate the start of milk production. So after Joel was born, I refused to let them swaddle him (not that they tried this time, maybe having read my birth plan requesting them not to!), and we lay skin to skin all night, during which time he fed and slept in alternation. We also spent a lot of time skin to skin at home, putting a blanket over us snuggled on the sofa. We still spend every afternoon whilst Andrew is napping together skin to skin on the sofa.
If baby seems very sleepy, wake them up: This seems so wrong – let sleeping babies lie, says everyone. But if baby is very sleepy in the early days, they are missing out on enough sucking to stimulate your milk to “come in”, potentially making it slower and not as plentiful. It could be that they had a difficult birth, or are jaundiced, or have some other underlying reason to be sleepy. There are some simple things you can do to encourage them to feed more often (like I did with Joel as he was jaundiced and very sleepy): remove layers of clothing; have skin to skin time with no clothes |(at the risk of me sounding like a broken record!); change the nappy if they’ve fallen asleep at the breast – if they want more it’ll soon wake them up; tickle their feet and cheeks whilst feeding; talk to them; put them down in the middle of the bed.
Limit cuddles with other people in the early days: You’ll probably have a queue of visitors at your door, either at home or in hospital, most of whom will no doubt want to cuddle your new little bundle of cuteness. It’s fine to let them, of course, but be careful that baby actually gets to be with you for the majority of the time and doesn’t spend the day just being passed around Uncle Tom Cobley and all. The best thing that visitors can do is help you in other ways, like bring you hot meals, fill up your drinks bottles, do the washing up, the laundry, clean the bathroom, empty the bins and so on and so on. Your parter can be a real support by kindly pointing this out to visitors for you.
Rest, and don’t try to do too much too soon: I think these days there’s quite a lot of pressure to appear to be super-mum and be back on your feet, out and about doing all the stuff you were doing before baby arrived. But giving birth is one massive ordeal that your body goes through in order to produce said bundle of cuteness, so you need time to recover physically as well as helping your body to get on with the next stage – producing lots of milk. Spending all day in your pyjamas and sitting on the sofa or in bed is totally fine, nothing to feel bad about. If, like me, staying inside the same four walls all day can make you feel cooped up and a bit cabin feverish, a gentle short walk or drive (as the passenger) somewhere calm can help, but don’t go anywhere that you find stressful (for example, supermarkets). The word ‘babymoon’ is worth remembering – treat the first days and even weeks if you can like a honeymoon with your baby, doing nothing but focussing on them and yourself.
Eat and drink enough: Make sure you drink to thirst and eat to hunger. Not drinking enough leads to dehydration, and drinking more than what you feel thirsty for can actually be detrimental to milk production too. I find sports cap bottles of water are handy – no risk of spilling and you can open them with your teeth when you hands are too full to unscrew a bottle top. Eating a good balanced diet is essential, and it’s not a time for dieting to try and shift the ‘baby weight’ – you gained that weight for a reason, and over time, maybe after several months, with breastfeeding it will come off as it is used in making milk. As I was so sick and nauseous throughout my pregnancies, my appetite was limited and I couldn’t keep much down to begin with, so I didn’t put on any weight. But whilst breastfeeding I have found myself ravenously hungry and have definitely consumed more food per day than I ever did in pregnancy and before having kids – I’m sure this is my body’s natural way of saying ‘come on, I need stores of energy to make this milk, and I didn’t get them in pregnancy’. I find that I’m particularly hungry overnight, so I have a box with snacks in next to the bed and I munch through them during night feeds. Some foods, such as oats, are supposedly good for helping milk production, so I eat a lot of porridge, muesli and flapjacks!
Make sure feeding feels comfortable: Breastfeeding should not feel painful. The first few days of having a baby sucking on your nipple can feel a little uncomfortable until you’re used to it, and particularly the first minute or so of a feed can feel uncomfortable to begin with, but if you experience real pain or prolonged discomfort, there’s something wrong. Often this can be fixed by adjusting the latch and baby’s positioning, and sometimes it is due to the baby’s tongue being too anchored to the jaw – this is ‘tongue-tie’ and can be fixed by a simple snip of the ‘frenulum’ holding the tongue to the bottom of the mouth – I blogged about this before. Ask someone who knows about breastfeeding to spend time watching you feed so they can check the latch, and if you suspect tongue-tie (see my previous post on it), find an expert who can assess it, which may mean contacting a private lactation consultant if your GP won’t refer you through the NHS.
If in any doubt, ASK FOR HELP: Don’t hesitate to get help, no matter how small or big you think your concern is – the earlier issues are picked up, the easier it is in general to sort them out, and small issues can quickly spiral into big issues if not dealt with. Although the obvious people to ask may be your midwife team or health visitor, they are often very busy with big caseloads and overcrowded clinics to spend time with you, and they don’t actually get a lot of specialist training on breastfeeding. Local drop-ins and support groups such as those run by LLL and NCT are often better places to get more personal and detailed support. It’s a good idea to look for your local support groups before baby is born, so you can build up a support network before you need it, if you end up needing it, and if you don’t then you can still go along and meet with other breastfeeding mums anyway. It’s much easier to pick up the phone to someone you’ve already met a few times to ask for help when you’re an emotional wreck than it is to phone just a name and number on a leaflet.
Believe in your body: I’m a rare case (always like to be different I do), and unless like me you have a specific reason to doubt your breasts, it is likely that you are physically able to produce enough milk IF ALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN THE EARLY DAYS ARE FAVOURABLE (that’s a big if – see all of the above!) And even if it turns out you can’t produce enough milk for whatever reason, there’s no reason you can’t continue to breastfeed just like we have using the SNS.
Kit that may be useful once you’ve got going:
The one piece of kit that you do need is a good bra (or 4! – they get dirty with milk and sick pretty quickly). Although it’s not essential that you get nursing bras which open up with a clip to allow you easy access to each breast for feeding, it does make life easier in the early weeks, and you need to get new ones based on your postnatal bra size anyway. The question is when to get fitted. Most sources I read said that you can do this in late pregnancy and just allow for a bit more room in the cup size for when your milk comes in. I did this in pregnancy with Andrew, but then my breasts didn’t actually change much at all due to the hypoplasia and lack of fullness with milk, so they ended up being a bit big. With Joel I waited until he was about a week old to get fitted more accurately. I know I’m unusual though to not have experienced a sudden increase in breast size when the milk comes in. I found that Karen at Boobie Milk has some good tips on her website and blog (she organised the breastfeeding scavenger hunt that I took part in back in June).
I’ve heard that breast pads are often essential for breastfeeding mums particularly in the early weeks once the milk has come in, as many mums are prone to leaks, and pads can be popped in the bra to soak up any excess. Again I never experienced this, and not all mums do. I seem to remember getting some free disposable ones in the various Bounty packs that I was given in pregnancy with Andrew. If you find you get through lots, there are washable ones, and I’ve seen some lovely soft and luxurious looking ones on various cloth nappy websites such as here.
Some mums I know have recommended breastfeedingpillows for easier positioning in the early weeks. These are usually u-shaped or v-shaped, to fit around your body so that you can rest baby on them to get them at the right height and position to latch comfortably. I just used an ordinary cushion in the early days, and soon found that I could just hold my baby without the need for extra support (it did help I guess that neither Andrew nor Joel were that heavy for their age). So I don’t have any particular specialist pillows to recommend myself.
You may see breastfeeding chairs advertised, which are usually a rocking chair in style and often come with a matching footstool. I never even contemplated one of these as we don’t have room for any more furniture in our flat, and they seemed like a lot of money for what they were, though I guess it’s the kind of thing you could get secondhand if you were more inclined to hunt out a bargain one than I was. I’ve found that the sofa we have now is actually very good in terms of height and squishiness for feeding – my knees are high enough as it’s quite low to the ground, and it has a firm back but soft-ish cushions to sit on so I don’t slide down too much. When I was feeding Andrew as a young baby, we had a futon, which was great for height, but for some reason I kept slipping down it and gradually hurting my back; this got a lot better when we swapped the futon for the new sofa.
You may also be aware of breastfeeding covers that look a bit like a short apron, which you hang round your neck and it hangs down over baby, covering you and them whilst they are feeding. I personally think that no mum should feel forced to cover up whilst feeding her baby – would people expect me to cover my toddler and me up when I give him a sandwich when we’re out? However, I do understand that a mum may not feel confident about her own body, or may feel happier covering up rather than not for reasons other than being forced to by other people. In that case I see the benefit of a cover. I’ve never felt I needed one – a positive thing about having hardly any breast tissue (gotta look on the bright side and all that) is that it’s not hard to feed discreetly anyway, but maybe I would feel differently if I was better endowed. I’ve just always worn clothes that help in me feeling happy about myself and how much is visible to others if they are bothered by it.
Talking of clothes, there are special breastfeeding tops available to buy, but I’ve not got any, because I found that certain styles of ordinary top do perfectly well and are generally cheaper or in my wardrobe anyway. There are two basic options: pull up a top and feed from below it, or pull down or unbutton a top from the top and feed from above it. I’ve found the first option to be most successful, but I know plenty of mums who do the second option. For the pull up option, empire line tops work well, which are fitted at the top and then flow down nice and loosely, so they give you lots of fabric to pull up. If you’re particularly worried about exposing a post-natal wobbly tummy, then you can wear a vest underneath – get one with adjustable straps and set them to the longest possible (you may need a bigger size to get enough length on them) so that you can wear it below your breasts to just cover your torso so they are available for feeding without pulling the vest up. This is not so practical in summer though. For the pull down option, tops and shirts that unbutton at the top are good, or something with enough stretch to pull down and go back into shape afterwards so it doesn’t end up sagging and not covering you when not feeding. I love those big flowy cardigans that come down to your thighs and have no buttons, as you can wrap it around yourself and baby, particularly in winter if you have any bare skin exposed to the cold when you’ve pulled your top up with no vest underneath.
Even if you intend to give breastfeeding a go, you may be thinking about the possibility of expressing some of your milk to give in a bottle – maybe your maternity leave is quite short and you want to carry on breastfeeding when back at work, or maybe you’d like your partner or another relative to be able to feed your baby sometimes, such as overnight. I would say that it’s a good idea to wait until your milk supply has been established, so at least 6-8 weeks, before you start introducing expressing as an alternative to baby-led feeding at the breast, because it could interfere with your body’s natural ability to produce enough milk based on your baby demanding all they need by sucking at the breast. However, there may well turn out to be specific reasons why you would express before this age, such as your baby won’t latch properly or they are separated from you due to being in neonatal special care, and you need to express to build up and keep up your supply during the lack of contact with baby.
if you do decide to express for whatever reason, you’ll need the following…
breast pump: If it’s just a small amount of expressing, you can actually be very effective at getting milk out just with your hands, so a pump isn’t necessary. But for whole feeds worth of milk, a pump makes sense. Manual pumps require you to pull a lever by hand over and over again to pump, so again, they’re more for smaller amounts of pumping otherwise they get tiring, but they are cheaper than electric pumps, If you end up doing a fair amount of pumping, you’ll probably think that an electric pump is worth investing in. They range from small portable ones with battery or mains options, to hospital grade ones that you can hire. Some come with one pumping piece, some come with two so you can do two breasts at the same time – useful if you’re pumping with little or no time with baby at the breast. Over time, the effectiveness of the pump decreases, so it may not be worth getting a secondhand one. I was given a secondhand one that hadn’t been used much, and I compared how much I got out with what I got out using a double hospital grade pump that I hired for 2 weeks when Joel was born – there was no difference, so I carried on using the single one I’d been given before Andrew was born, but it could well have been different had the pump been used more. (I pump sometimes to try and increase supply, though I don’t have much time to do it now with a toddler as well, so I mainly do it overnight.)
bottles: Breast pumps come with at least one bottle, attached to the pump via a length of tubing. You’ll probably need to get more than this, because by the time you’ve filled, emptied, washed and sterilised, it’s handy to have a few. I would always buy new bottles. There are a few bottles marketed at being shaped such that they are closer to the shape of a breast and therefore make it easy for the baby to switch between bottle and breast. We have a few of these as well as a few with the more traditional teat shape, and Andrew managed to switch fine between bottle and breast with both sorts, and his latch onto each teat shape didn’t appear to differ. That said, he took a bottle as well as the breast from a week old, whereas an older baby might do one or both of two things: refuse to take a bottle in the first place because they’ve got used to the breast and prefer that (this is what I’m now finding with Joel at 12 weeks); get used to the easier flow of the bottle and start getting fussy at the breast.
steriliser: There are two basic ways of sterilising – steaming in the microwave and bathing in a chemical solution (Milton fluid). I only have experience of the microwave method, but find it pretty easy, and you can pick up secondhand microwave sterilisers at a good price at, for example, nearly new sales or through friends.
Phew, another post to rival my kit list in length! We were discussing amongst a few of us at our breastfeeding support group the other day how hard it is to reach mums when they really need help in the first week of baby’s life – antenatal classes are OK for theoretical info before baby arrives, and support groups are fine if mums having problems make it along, often not in the first week. So even if this post helps just one mum at the time she needs it most, I’d be very happy.
Picture the scene…. A good friend and I meet up for lunch in a busy cafe, we both have small babies, hers just a few weeks older than mine (and my bigger little man is off running around the shopping centre with Daddy having wolfed down his lunch already). Once we’ve ordered and our food arrives, our babies also decide that they are now hungry, so we each set about feeding them. I set up my SNS which contains a couple of ounces of formula and my baby latches on to me and begins to feed, taking in whatever breast milk I am able to produce as well as formula which is necessary to make sure he is getting enough to satisfy is hunger. My friend gets out her bottles of expressed breast milk and her baby latches on to the teat, which is something he had massive difficulty doing on to her breast as a newborn, hence her decision to express her milk and feed it via a bottle.
There we were, both feeding our babies in our own way, both happy, relaxed, feeling like we were doing nothing unusual, just fulfilling our role as mum to our own baby. It struck me how there was a huge irony in this situation: I was feeding formula at the breast and my friend was feeding breast milk with a bottle – it seemed so weird that we’d both ended up at this point, rather than the classic breast milk at the breast and formula milk with a bottle scenario.
On my way home as I was pondering, a question came to mind that appeared in an issue of a breastfeeding magazine that I receive as a member of La Leche Laegue (LLL). It asked whether, if these were the only two options available, I’d rather feed my baby formula (only) at the breast (if that were possible) or breast milk in a bottle. The point was whether the act of feeding at the breast, and the closeness and bonding that comes from this, was more important to me than the properties of breast milk such as the antibodies it contains that formula doesn’t. When I’d first read that, it made me think – which would I prefer, that’s a tough one! I like both bits of breastfeeding, the physical contact and the milk itself.
And actually, although obviously I would have loved to be able to exclusively breastfeed my babies, I’m grateful that the arrangement we’ve come to, through much persevering in the early weeks of Andrew’s life, allows us to have both. For us it’s not just a simple dichotomy like the question in the LLL mag asked, because my babies do get breast milk at the breast, as well as formula. Reflecting again on this after our lunch reminded me to be grateful for what we do have rather than feel annoyed at what we don’t have. My friend and her baby are lucky that he gets all the goodies in breast milk and doesn’t need formula milk which is expensive, produced by ethically unsound companies and at the end of the day isn’t human milk designed for human babies; but my babies and I are lucky that they both latched on brilliantly to my breast within minutes of being born (though Andrew needed some help to be more efficient at sucking by having his tongue tie snipped later at 10 weeks) and have never struggled to stay latched for comfortable breastfeeding.
As my friend said, we are both doing the best we can for our babies given our circumstances. And that is right – although our breastfeeding problems have been very different, we have a lot in common. We have both had feelings of failure in the past, that we had failed at our role as a mum because we were not able to do the ‘normal’ thing of (exclusive) breastfeeding (at the breast). Both of us have suffered, mainly emotional pain for me as it dawned on me that I wasn’t physically able to produce enough milk for my baby and had to figure out how and if I could continue breastfeeding at all, and both physical and emotional pain for my friend who desperately wanted her baby to be able to latch comfortably for more than a minute at a time and urgently sought help from health professionals whose care they were in. We both have the faff of sterilisation and having to remember and gauge how much milk to take out with us.
But both of us have come to realise that we are not failures, and that our decisions on how to feed our babies are in the best interests of our babies considering the experiences we’ve been through, and we are giving them all they need for the best start in life. The same goes for all other mums I know personally, whether they have breastfed (exclusively/ partially/ at the breast/ via bottles) or formula fed; there is a story behind every decision on how each one feeds/fed their baby. When I think about how many mums I know who have breastfed with no major problems, it’s quite a low number given how many started out trying to breastfeed.
Not that I want to put pregnant mums-to-be off, but I think it’s important to be realistic about it, and equally say how important it is to get good support, preferably set up and in place before baby arrives so you know who to turn to if you do encounter issues. Accurate information and knowledge of breastfeeding, as well as sensitive emotional support, are key to overcoming challenges, and we are very blessed that we found it at the right time. Before I had a baby, I thought that feeding one would be a simple black and white decision – breast or bottle – but since I had my first baby, I’ve come to learn that it’s a much greyer picture than that. And my friend and I painted some of that (positive) greyness one lunch time in a busy cafe, where there could well have also been a mum feeding formula milk via a bottle and a mum breastfeeding in the classic way (I didn’t notice, it was too busy and I was more interested in talking to my friend!)
As I was flicking through our Cook with Kids book by Rob Kirby, I came across a recipe for ‘super fit flapjacks’. Instead of just being oats, butter, sugar and syrup, these included various dried fruits and seeds. I didn’t actually have many of the fruit and seeds in the recipe, but it inspired me to make some flapjacks with some of the unusual dried fruit – golden berries and cranberries mix – that I bought recently because it was on offer in the supermarket and the seeds that I had in the cupboard – sesame and caraway.
In a previous baking blog post, I wrote about the fact that caraway seeds are supposed to be a galactagogue – something that stimulates breast-milk production. Oats are also supposed to be a galactagogue, hence the name for the flapjacks that I ended up creating. As well as being good for milk making purposes, flapjacks are in general a good source of energy, particularly with the dried fruit and seeds in, and energy is something I really need at the moment. I find that I get peckish in the night with all the feeding Joel does, so these are great to nibble on in the early hours. The high seed content makes these like a cross between sesame snaps (though softer) and traditional oaty flapjacks.
Even if you’re not trying to induce or increase lactation, these flapjacks are a delicious treat and will keep you going if you’re in need of energy for another reason. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to have a go. It’s very easy and it took Andrew and me about 10 minutes to make plus cooking time.
125g brown sugar
100g dried friut (I used 60g sultanas, 40g mixed cranberries and golden berries)
100g seeds (I used 60g sesame seeds, 40g caraway seeds)
Start by lining a square or rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper.
Put the oats, fruit and seeds in a big bowl, and stir until well mixed.
Melt the sugar, margarine and honey in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water on the hob.
Add the melted ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven at 160ºC (fan) for about 10-15 mins until golden on top.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before cutting into squares, as the flapjack needs to harden as it cools.
Store in an airtight container (next to your bed if you’re me!)
It was the start of December last year that I started this blog – so it’s Happy 1st Birthday to Mixed Bag of All Sorts! I remember distinctly that one of my first posts was about Advent, and what this time of year means to me and to us as a young family as we start new traditions. Well, what a difference a year has made to us as a family – there are now four of us instead of three, and this is the first Christmas that Andrew really has much idea of what’s going on. He was 11 months old last Christmas, so although older than Joel is for his first Christmas, he didn’t really get the concepts of presents, parties and why we were spending time with family and friends.
Last year I wrote about the Peanuts (Snoopy and co.) Advent calendar that tells the story of the first Christmas line by line each day as you open a door, all in rhyming verse. It has survived many Christmas-times from my childhood to the present. My parents gave it to us last year so that we could carry on the family tradition of opening it with Andrew, not that he had much clue what it was then, but this year he’s definitely more interested in listening to stories. Next year Joel will also be more in to this kind of thing.
In addition to this calendar, my parents have bought the boys another Advent calendar this year. It’s one that you can fill with your own treats again and again each year. It came with little chocolates for this year, but in future we could put various things in like little toys or pieces of paper telling a story a bit like the Peanuts calendar. The design is quite simple but lovely and effective – a string of 24 mini stockings that you hang up between two hooks on the wall. Ours is hung at Andrew height across our living room window so that he can help us discover what’s in each day’s stocking. When he first saw it he was very interested in it and kept saying ‘socks, socks’! This morning he took out the first chocolates – two mini chocolate Father Christmas figures, and he proceeded to say ‘Father Christmas’ after me with not bad accuracy. We think he understands that it’s only one sock per day, now that we’ve explained to him after Tom caught him fiddling with another stocking after we’d emptied number 1!
In the build up to Christmas, which we are marking as a family with our calendars, I am personally thinking about the first ever Christmas, when Jesus was born into this world. During Advent each year I’m often reminded of a couple of verses from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 6-7. Isaiah was a Prophet who told of Jesus’ birth many years before it actually happened – Jesus is the child referred to by Isaiah in these verses:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
Although I have read and heard this passage many times, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that it really took on a new meaning for me. This Advent, a child has recently been born to us, a son has been given to us; last Advent, the memory of our first child having been born to us was still fresh in my mind, 11 months after the event; and the Advent before that we were anticipating the birth of our first chid in about a month’s time. The experience of our own children being born to us brought it home to me that Jesus was a real person who was born to a real mum and a real dad, just like us. As I sit here feeding Joel, I think of Mary feeding Jesus, and changing his nappies (no Pampers or Huggies around in those days!) – or maybe Joseph helped out with that? I think of Joseph finding a place for them to stay just before the birth and supporting Mary through it, and how that’s similar to Tom’s role of getting me to hospital and being with me for the birth of both our children.
The difference between this family in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and our family is that Jesus, as well as being fully human, was also fully God, just as it says in the Isaiah verses above. And not only is He Mighty God, but also Wonderful Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the person I turn to for help in the most difficult of life’s situations, who is always there for me and always will be, giving me His peace which goes beyond all human understanding.
Baby Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew up; as a man He went on to do what He was born into this world to do – to die on a cross in order to make up for all the wrong things that we do which separate us from God, and if we believe that He did this for us, we can have everlasting life beyond our lives in this world. The ‘us’ referred to in Isaiah’s verse doesn’t just mean Mary and Joseph in a literal sense; it means anyone, at any time and in any place on Earth – Jesus was given as a present to everyone, it’s just up to each and every one of us whether we accept the present.
In all the busyness of Advent – the shopping, the parties, the chocolate eating – why not take some time to think about why this time of year involves all these things. Advent is the anticipation of celebrating Jesus coming into our world many years ago. Have you accepted the present that He came to be? If you’d like to find out more, there’s a great course called Alpha that runs across the country – you can find one near you here.
Now there are only 24 days left to celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year. Can’t wait!
As I didn’t have a blog when Andrew was born, I didn’t write his birth story online. I did, however, write it in his baby journal, but that was in pen and paper (that’ll be a rare thing for him to look back on in years to come!) so I can’t just publish it quickly here. When he was a year old, I wrote a blog post comparing the day of his birthday that year and the day of his birth. In a nutshell (wow that’s restrained of me), here’s how Andrew was born…. My first contraction was around 2pm, and I had mild, not very painful, irregular contractions until about 7.30pm when suddenly my waters broke. We rang the midwife-led Birth Centre and were told to come in for an assessment due to my waters breaking. Suddenly whilst we were in the car the contractions got much stronger and much faster. Once we were at the Birth Centre and they’d established that I was in active labour, they filled the birth pool and I got in some time after 9pm. Not long after I had the urge to push and did that in the pool for a while until the midwife suggested that I wasn’t pushing efficiently in water because it was relaxing me too much and that if I got out baby would come faster – she was right, within minutes of being back on land Andrew arrived, just 3 hours after I felt I was actually in labour.
This time I knew there was a possibility that baby would come even quicker, so we prepared for the eventuality of a home birth just in case, though my preference was to make it to the brand new Birth Centre and hopefully have an actual water birth. Of course there was no guarantee, but I was hoping that this second labour would go as quickly and smoothly as before. At my 38-week midwife appointment, baby was in back-to-back position, so I’d been a little worried that this would mean a longer labour and I’d been doing everything I’d heard of to try and turn baby into a better position. It turns out that either these things worked, or it didn’t matter anyway!
Baby’s due date rather handily fell in the middle of half-term; as Tom’s mum is a teacher, she was happy to come and stay for the week, and we hoped that the arrival would happen some time that week, so that she could take care of Andrew; of course we knew that it might not happen then and we’d need a plan B. The weekend at the start of half term came, and there were no signs of an imminent arrival. We carried on as usual, and showed Grandma the ropes for looking after Andrew, like where to find nappies, what the bathtime and bedtime routine is, and how he likes to be entertained these days. On the Monday morning, we all went together to our usual playgroup, and then Andrew napped, followed by lots of reading with Grandma in the afternoon.
I took advantage of our babysitter and went for a swim. I did 60 lengths of breaststroke – this was one of several natural methods of labour induction (aka old wives’ tales) that I was trying by this point; others include eating copious amounts of pineapple, drinking raspberry leaf tea, eating hot curries and walking lots (which I do anyway). Still no signs though…. until just as I was doing bedtime with Andrew at around 7.15pm. During his usual breastfeed, I felt a few very mild contractions. I mentioned this to Tom just as we were reading a story after Andrew’s milk-time, but I didn’t want to say anything to Grandma yet, just in case it was a false alarm, or if it wasn’t then at least she could go back to her B&B and get some sleep before we might need to ring her to come round during the night.
So Grandma left at about 8.15pm, and I settled down in what had come to be my favourite position over the past two weeks of trying to get baby to turn – kneeling on a bean bag and leaning forward onto the sofa with some cushions to support me under the arms. The contractions continued, so we started to time them; they were already quite regular at about 5-7 minutes apart, but were only about 30-40 seconds long and not very painful, completely copable with just by breathing deeply. At about 9pm (our usual bedtime these days) I said to Tom that he could go to bed if he wanted, to try and get some sleep before anything more dramatic happened. I didn’t want to lie down, but was happy to stay up watching a DVD on my own in the living room. Tom decided he wouldn’t be able to sleep, so we carried on chatting and timing contractions together.
By about 11.30pm, things seemed to be slowing down, as the contractions were coming further apart (about 5-10 minutes). Tom decided to go to bed, and I stayed up. By 12.30am, I was getting a bit fed up, as the contractions didn’t seem to be getting closer together, if anything further apart as there were more 10 minute gaps creeping in, and they still wren’t really that painful, just annoying! I said to myself that I’d give it til 1am, and if things were still the same, I’d also go to bed, to try and rest as much as possible, thinking that this could go on for a while.
Just as I was about to give up and go to bed, I had a stronger contraction and with it my waters broke at 1am. If past experience was anything to go by, I knew that the contractions would now ramp up and things would really get going. So I woke Tom and he rang the Birth Centre, because when your waters break, they automatically want to see and assess you. Tom explained that my contractions had been regular but not too close or painful, and also that my previous labour had been fast after the point of waters breaking. They told us to come in, so Tom rang his mum who was 10 minutes away. Within the time that Tom was on the phone, my contractions did suddenly get much more intense, and I did contemplate whether I wanted to get in the car or stay at home for the birth. But knowing that there would be no traffic so it really was just 10 minutes door to door, and that the Birth Centre looked so amazing, I went for it!
The journey wasn’t very comfortable because I didn’t want to be sat down at all, but rather kneeling or standing, so I was relieved to get there (at 1.30am) and be shown into a room by a very friendly midwifery nurse. As she was doing the routine checks (like blood pressure, urine, foetal heart rate), or rather trying to do them as I kept needing her to stop for another contraction, it soon became clear to the nurse that she needed to fetch a midwife.
As soon as the midwife arrived, she took one look at me, felt baby’s position, checked the heart rate, and got out the delivery kit next to me as I was kneeling down on the floor with my arms over the bed. I remember asking to go in the pool, but her response was that baby was nearly here so there was no time to fill it. The next thing I knew I was pushing and could feel that baby really was very nearly here! At 2.08am, just over half an hour after we arrived, an hour since labour really started, and after only a few pushes, Joel was delivered. He let out a big cry as I sat backwards still on my knees and was able to pick him up myself and put him straight on my tummy. When the cord stopped pulsing, the midwife clamped and cut it, and I moved to sitting on the bed holding Joel still on my tummy. He lunged across to my right breast and had a good first feed, just minutes after birth. Meanwhile the midwife took care of helping me deliver the placenta; I was checked for tearing and blood loss, both of which were fine, so I didn’t need to have the injection to help deliver the placenta quickly and minimise blood loss (this had made me vomit several times after Andrew’s birth).
After Joel had been weighed and given vitamin K once he’d latched off from his first feed, the midwife left us to it and we sat marvelling at the new addition to our family as he continued to feed and feed. As I looked over at the snazzy clock with time and date on, it struck me that he’d actually arrived on his due date! I never thought we’d be part of that rare statistic. From googling I see that the percentage of babies born on due date is somewhere between 2% and 5%, depending on the source – the most reputable one for the UK that I could find was the NCT website.
Throughout the night, Joel slept and fed in alternation, and I sat there just looking at him – the lovely mood lighting with changing colours was amazing, as I could see him perfectly but the light wasn’t too bright. Tom was allowed to stay the night in our room in the new Birth Centre, which he hadn’t been allowed to in the old one; he slept a bit – I guess he didn’t have the hormonal high that I had which stopped me sleeping after the birth.
In the morning, Andrew came to meet his little brother, complete with Grandma, Granny and Grandad in tow. He seemed very impressed with the ‘beh-beh’, though was also highly fascinated with the birth ball in the room and rolled it around giggling loudly. Joel has his neo-natal checks and once all the paperwork was done, we were allowed to go home, less than 12 hours after we turned up!
Overall, I’m very thankful that I was once again blessed with a fast labour and all went ‘to plan’. I still didn’t get to have a water birth, and it doesn’t look like I ever will – even if we do decide to have another child, which isn’t that likely at the moment, then it’s unlikely I’d have time to get a pool filled if labour was even faster! I’m also so glad that we made it to the new Birth Centre – it was lovely, even though we didn’t make use of many facilities like the pool in the room because it all happened so fast.
Throughout pregnancy with Joel, I was convinced that Andrew would self-wean from breastfeeding at some point. My milk supply had never been great, but I thought the dwindling in pregnancy would be enough to put him off for good. But as he still wanted it right up until the night Joel was born – I actually had my first contractions whist feeding Andrew before his bedtime – I thought that it showed how breastfeeding wasn’t about the volume of milk for him, but rather the comfort that he gets from cuddling up to me and sucking. Not that I had anything against tandem (two children of different ages simultaneously) feeding, but I was concerned that this wouldn’t be possible for us due to my insufficient glandular (breast) tissue or IGT. However, through my local La Leche League (LLL) group, I found out that it’s not out of the question to tandem feed with IGT – I wrote about this here.
So I set to and read bits from the LLL book Adventures in Tandem Nursing. If Andrew was going to carry on, I needed some info on how to meet the needs of both a baby and a toddler at the same time. This task seemed like something for a super-mum, and I certainly didn’t feel that I was a super-mum, but the book helped me see that it was more normal than I once thought. As Andrew has continued to breastfeed since Joel’s birth, I thought I’d share on here the beginnings of our adventure in tandem nursing, particularly as I have no idea how long this adventure will last. Andrew still seems quite keen at the moment, but you never know how a toddler’s mind can change from one day to the next!
Right up until the night Joel was born, Andrew was still breastfeeding twice a day, once first thing and once before bed, for about 20 minutes on average each time, plus the odd bit here and there in the day if he was upset/tired/grumpy and I needed to calm him down. We were only in the Birth Centre for less than 12 hours, so he only missed the feed first thing in the morning on the day of the birth (which was in the early hours), when Grandma got him up instead of me. The first few mornings and evenings he continued as he had done, but Joel fed first each time and then Andrew fed whilst Daddy held Joel, who slept between feeds anyway, in normal newborn fashion.
Unfortunately we had to go back into hospital when Joel was 3 days old because he had pretty bad jaundice and needed light treatment. So Andrew missed out on the bedtime feed on the one night that we were in, and the morning feed the following morning. Joel responded well to treatment and recovered very quickly, so the doctors were happy that he was well enough to go home on the second evening. The ward staff were very busy though, and asked if we wanted to stay in another night (suggesting that we might like to get onto a 3-hourly feeding routine before we left!), I guess because doing the discharge paperwork would take a while. But I played the toddler card and said that I wanted to get home to put my elder child to bed (I didn’t mention breastfeeding him, but that was part of it). They saw my point and agreed to send the paperwork later in the post. One of the hardest things for me about going back into hospital was leaving and missing Andrew; I was very emotional on the first day and night, partly because it was hard to see Joel on the lights and not be able to cuddle or feed him, but also because I felt bad about not being there for Andrew as I always had been. The hormones probably were also not helping then!
When we got home, Joel was having top-ups via the SNS, and due to his sleepiness from the jaundice he was taking a long time to feed, as he’d feed for a bit, fall asleep, so I had to wake him up and re-latch him, several times over. This meant that more often than not he was feeding at the times when Andrew woke up and went to bed. So what we did was Joel had one side, and after he switched to the other, Andrew fed from the first side. We’ve carried on like this until now. It’s through this arrangement that I’ve ended up having one on each side simultaneously – totally tandem nursing!
At nearly 4 weeks into our adventure, I’ve noticed that Andrew’s nursing pattern has changed. He no longer has one main feed at the start of the day and one main feed at the end, but rather lots of smaller ones throughout the day when it’s just the 3 of us together. As I am feeding Joel for quite long stretches (up to an hour) every couple of hours, when that’s happening at home (as opposed to out at a group) and I’m sitting on the sofa, Andrew keeps coming to me and asking for milk – he’ll feed for a few minutes, then go back to watching his DVD or reading a book or playing with toys, and come back to me a bit later for some more, and so it goes on until Joel has finished. Andrew seems less bothered about lots of time with me just before bed than he used to, but overall I reckon on days when it’s just us, he’s feeding for a similar amount of time as before, just in short and sweet stints. When Tom or others are around, he’ll generally have a longer feed again before bed rather than more in the day.
It’s great that Andrew wants to, and feels that he can ask to, feed when I’m feeding Joel, because I feel bad about the fact that I’m spending less time focussed on Andrew these days, though I know that this is an inevitable part of having a second child, and at least by letting Andrew in on our milky cuddles, he knows that I’m still there for him too, whenever he needs me. I think this is important for him and means a lot to him – to know that I haven’t forgotten about him. When my 2 boys are nursing at the same time, I look down at them and think what a lovely way it is for them to bond; Andrew is very affectionate towards Joel when they’re nursing together, and often strokes his head and comes off and kisses him.
Overall I’d say that tandem nursing is so far a very positive experience. I do have to say though that I still have the feeling like I did in pregnancy that feeding Andrew is less pleasurable for me than it once was. It’s hard for me to put into words what I feel – it’s not painful or annoying, it’s just a strange feeling that having him suck from me is not the same as Joel sucking. Maybe it’s his size, maybe it’s because he moves around and therefore his latch sometimes leaves a lot to be desired (although at least I can ask him to come off and do it better!) I thought this feeling was mainly to do with feeding during pregnancy, but obviously it’s not the case now. Apparently this happens to other mums who nurse toddlers though, so I’m not alone. But I always said I would let him choose when he wants to stop, so I’m happy to carry on, despite the strange feeling, until that might be – I’ll let you know when I see any signs of him giving up completely.
2 weeks ago about now we were not long home after a less than 12-hour stay at the local Birth Centre. Time has flown by, although strangely it doesn’t seem to me to have gone as fast as Andrew’s first 2 weeks did. For Tom, though, it has gone faster, and this afternoon is his first afternoon back at work – handily his first day back is a Tuesday and he only works a half day, so we are being broken in gently to his return to work. Andrew is napping, so I won’t notice Tom’s absence fully until tomorrow, when I’ll have to ‘go solo’ with 2 little ones all day – eek!
So what’s happened already in 2 weeks since Joel’s birth? Well we had a trip back into hospital when he was 3 days old, because he was quite highly jaundiced. As we’d had to do this with Andrew too at 6 days old, though his problem was dehydration not jaundice, we kind of knew what to expect and were not quite so shocked. One of the hardest parts for me going back in was being away from Andrew for 2 days and one night (except a couple of visits to the ward), but I knew it was the best place for Joel to be and I couldn’t be there for both my boys at the same time. I also felt better this time knowing that his jaundice was nothing to do with my milk supply (which the dehydration had been) – it would have happened regardless of how he’d been fed.
We didn’t know it at the time, but apparently they take jaundice very seriously in Cambridgeshire these days, as there have been a couple of cases that were missed early and the babies developed serious complications from it. Jaundice is caused by a build-up of a substance called bilirubin in the body which is deposited in tissues such as the skin, gums and whites of the eyes and gives them a yellowish colour. In a newborn it is as a result of many red blood cells being broken down in one go – the baby needed these extra cells in the womb as there was less oxygen available than in the real world, and after birth the extra ones are broken down and excreted from the body. If a baby’s liver can’t do this fast enough (because it’s still not mature enough), the bilirubin level can get very high, and if it gets too high this can lead to it being deposited in the brain tissue and causing complications like deafness and cerebral palsy.
Joel’s bilirubin level wasn’t allowed to get that high, as he was treated with phototherapy and food. Phototherapy is basically like a sun bed that he lay on with blue lights underneath him and blue lights over the top of him. The light helps to break down the bilirubin so it can be excreted. He lay there with no clothes on, except he had to wear a cute little eye patch to stop the lights damaging his eyes – he hated it though and kept pulling it off whenever he woke up! Initially he was allowed to feed on demand from me and therefore spend some time away from the lights, but then his bilirubin level increased again and the doctors decided that he needed to be constantly on the lights, so they fitted a naso-gastric tube and fed him vast amounts of formula through it. Having milk is also effective in treating jaundice, because it makes baby poo it out and that’s how the bilirubin is excreted; breast milk is more effective than formula at this, but at 3 days old, even if I was normal and didn’t have insufficient glandular breast tissue to exclusively breastfeed a baby, my milk wouldn’t have already ‘come in’ and be there in vast quantities. (You know you’re a parent when you don’t bat an eyelid at writing the word ‘poo’ in a blog post!)
The good thing is that Joel responded well to the lights and milk treatment and after 12 hours on the lights he was allowed to breastfeed on demand again and was well enough to get out of hospital after just one overnight stay. I think it helped our case when I explained to the doctors that I was willing to supplement with formula given my previous breastfeeding experience. Plus they saw me using the SNS (supplemental nursing system) that I’d taken in with us in case we needed it, and could see that Joel was feeding well with it.
The hardest thing since coming out of hospital the second time has been how sleepy Joel is. This is a common side effect of jaundice, and I’ve been told that jaundiced babies sometimes take a few weeks to really wake up. But even before we went back into hospital, Joel seemed like a much more chilled out baby than Andrew was, so it could partly just be his personality too. You might be wondering why sleepy means hard?! Surely that’s a good thing, right?! Well not if you want to establish a good breast milk supply and in particular if you have supply issues anyway like I do. I’m having to wake him up for feeds, especially overnight when it’s the best time to stimulate my supply when the hormone prolactin is highest. I’m often feeding him in just his nappy so he’s nice and cool so less likely to drift off to sleep, and he’s next to my skin to help stimulate milk production. I also find myself tickling his feet and changing his nappy during feeds to try and wake him up. This is such a culture shock for me having fed Andrew as a baby who was always so active, awake and keen to tell me when he was hungry.
But he’s already showing a few signs of being less sleepy and I feel like I have much more knowledge and support with breastfeeding this time, so I’m working hard doing everything I can to get things off to a good start. I’m expressing after feeds (though not getting loads out, as I’ve never managed to get loads out with a breast pump – by hand I get more), taking a herbal supplement that is supposed to boost milk supply, eating lots of oats (porridge, flapjacks etc.), drinking fennel tea, resting when I can and, of course, using the SNS to top Joel up with formula so that he gets as much from me as possible. All this effort seemed worth it this morning when he was weighed and his weight had gone up to beyond his birth weight! Hooray! This means a lot to me because Andrew took ages to put weight on in the early weeks and weight was a constant worry for us.
Talking of Andrew, I can’t leave him out of this post. He has been a star in welcoming his little brother to our family. He’s been dishing out lots of kisses of his own accord to Joel (and us) and has carried on as normal being his happy little self, except he doesn’t seem so little any more! As I’ve spent much of the last 2 weeks holding Joel, whenever I have held Andrew for a moment, he feels and looks absolutely massive to me. Of course so far Andrew has had at least Tom around and often another person or more as we’ve had lots of help from family visiting, so the real test of how he copes with having to share my attention will come in the next week. But I’m optimistic from the signs so far.
It’s been nice to sit and write something (the skill of one-handed typing whilst feeding is like riding a bike – never forgotten), though I feel that my head is still quite all over the place and this post is more muddled in thought than usual. I thought it would be good to share our experience of jaundice, as it’s something I’d heard of but didn’t realise was so common and often required such hardcore treatment – about 60% of babies get it, and I can’t help but wonder how many mums of jaundiced babies end up giving up breastfeeding because their supply never really gets going before the formula is introduced and baby is so sleepy that they don’t feed enough. I did also write Joel’s birth story 2 days afterwards so I didn’t forget anything, but it’s still in rather note form and needs some editing to make it publishable; I’ll post it when I get round to it. Anyway, I’d better get back to some more resting on the sofa whilst Andrew is napping and Joel is feeding 🙂