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

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.

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

The 4-month fussies

I’m writing this at just after 5am, having been awake since just after 4am with a hungry baby. Joel’s pattern for the past week or so seems to have been the following…. he wakes up at around 4am and feeds fairly constantly on and off until about 7am, when he falls asleep for a quick nap, just enough time for me to get Andrew up, have breakfast and do a bit of potty time with him, before Joel wakes up for more feeding until we go out to a group at about 9.30am; he’s then rarely bothered about feeding until we get home at around 12/12.30pm, because he’s so interested in looking at what’s going on; he usually feeds a little whilst Andrew eats lunch, and then once Andrew is napping, Joel feeds very enthusiastically for a couple of hours; he slows down more into the evening, and gets noticeably tired by the time we have tea together at about 6.30pm; he feeds a bit more after bath-time and then is pretty zonked in his Moses basket by about 8.15pm.

I know I can’t complain about sleep, because in this current pattern we do get a good chunk at the start of the night – I go to bed not long after Joel does, no later than 9pm (of course this could all change now I’ve written this!) It’s just quite draining being awake for so many hours before I even start the day looking after a toddler.

I’ve figured out that the reason he feeds so enthusiastically and is so awake from 4am is that this is a time when there is nothing going on. He has become so distractable over the past month, and he is very fussy when feeding if there is anything visually or aurally stimulating surrounding him. I remember this happening around this age with Andrew too, and I remember talking to some of my LLL friends who reassured me that this was normal – they called it the 4 month fussies. This went on until he was eating a good amount of solid food at around 9 months and the amount of milk he needed over a day started to decrease, and his waking up time gradually got later. I’m hoping a similar pattern will emerge with Joel, though of course it might not.

If I try and feed Joel at groups, because he looks like he might want some milk (cued by hands in mouth – though I think this might also be teeth pushing up now), he usually cries and struggles, maybe taking a little milk if he’s hungry enough to battle through the desire to not have his face pushed against me! Sometimes I don’t even bother trying because I feel I get more stressed as he gets stressed, and then it’s a vicious circle of us both getting the other one stressed, that usually ends with me feeling like the whole room of mums are looking at me thinking why on earth is she trying to force feed her baby?! But as often as I feel able to do it, I at least offer him milk in the hope that he might take something. As he’s having less milk than he once did mid-morning and whenever else we might be out and about, he has to make it up another time, and that time seems to be 4am.

'Napping'at 7am, just as I got up to get Andrew sorted with breakfast and potty time.
‘Napping’ at 7am, just as I got up to get Andrew sorted with breakfast and potty time.

As I’ve been sat awake feeding, knowing I’m unlikely to get any more sleep for the night, I’ve been pondering whether I can change anything myself to make the situation any different. My conclusion is that there isn’t much I can or want to do, as things are generally working as they are; they could be better, but they could be much worse. I feel that letting my baby take the lead on these things generally works better than me the mum trying to impose a schedule, and I personally find it less stressful in the long run not to try and battle against what baby wants to do. The hardest part is the fact that Tom and I don’t spend much time together awake and alone! I also can’t commit to going to any meetings in the evening for things I am involved in such as my Editor role for the local NCT branch or groups at church. But others understand my situation and we work around it.

With an active toddler to entertain and have fun with, we need to get out of our small flat, and besides which we’re a generally active family who like to get out and about in the fresh air and meet up with others at groups or cafes or parks. If it means that Joel feeds less when we do go out, then I accept that he will feed more at other times to satisfy his hunger over a 24-hour period. I think we have a good compromise of generally going out in the morning (the exception is Wednesdays when our group is in the afternoon) and coming home in the early afternoon so that Andrew can nap and Joel have a good feeding session, and then often popping out to the park or shops for an hour after nap now that the nights are drawing out. Andrew will nap in his buggy, and we used to stay out for naps quite a bit, but now it’s important that Joel gets some quiet time to feed well, and also I value that time to rest myself having been up so early.

The thing that I’m holding onto in all of this is that it won’t last forever. This is the second time we’ve been in this situation and I know now that it will change, albeit not overnight. Yes it’s tiring, and yes the fussing is annoying, but when I stop and think about it, there’s something deeply gratifying about being the centre of someone’s world at 4am. And I know that being the centre of that someone’s world won’t last forever, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts – before I know it he’ll be off out to school and not wanting me to kiss him goodbye at the school gate in case he looks uncool (if cool is still the word that’ll be used for it by then!) With all the distractions around, he’s already no longer that tiny newborn who did nothing but feed and sleep on me all day and night. Time flies!

Breast versus bottle: not a simple dichotomy

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.

This is actually another lunch out that we had recently, but it illustrates my SNS feeding in a cafe. It could also serve as a caption competition.... Tom and I have some very interesting expressions here! (I think Andrew took the photo, with Grandad's help)

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!)

Our adventure in tandem nursing

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!

My boys and I on our adventure

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.

Pregnancy diary: week 31 – breastfeeding update

I thought it was about time that I wrote a pregnancy post with an update about how breastfeeding Andrew is going and my thoughts on how it might go once baby is here. In early pregnancy, I wrote about my thoughts on nursling (self-)weaning. I then wrote a sort of update at 21 weeks, but I hadn’t come to any firm conclusion about how or when I would initiate weaning if Andrew didn’t self-wean. I guess I was trying to leave it as long as possible, to see if Andrew would self-wean, even if right at the last minute. Well he’s still going strong (as strong as he has been for the past 6 months), and feeding for about 20 minutes first thing in the morning and about 20 minutes last thing before bed, plus the occasional feed in the day if he’s upset or grumpy for some reason (for example, teething).

I’ve been reading the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing on and off for a while, so I now have lots of info about breastfeeding a toddler in pregnancy and once the new baby is born. This has been very helpful, but since I know that we’re a special case, given my hypoplasia (insufficient glandular (milk-making) breast tissue), I wasn’t sure that all of the info was completely applicable to us, because it doesn’t specifically mention mums with hypoplasia. So I decided that the best thing would be to get some expert advice, more than is available in books.

Andrew reading up on tandem feeding with the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing 😉

I spoke to the leaders at my local La Leche League (LLL) group where we’ve been going since Andrew was just a few weeks old. They have been an amazing support to us, and I knew they would do everything they could to help us with this situation too. One leader in particular was very helpful. As we talked and she helped to unravel my thoughts by asking me specific questions about what I was thinking, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t against tandem feeding in itself, but what was stopping me from thinking it was possible for us was my hypoplasia and the memory of awful supply issues that I had when Andrew was a baby. (If you’ve not read from the beginning of our breastfeeding journey, you can find it here.) I realised that IF supply wasn’t an issue (a big IF) then I’d have no hesitation in tandem feeding both Andrew and baby – I was up for that. But of course, like I said, it’s a big IF, because it’s likely that supply will be an issue again with baby. My concern would be that Andrew, although he’d help make more milk by feeding (the more he takes the more I make), would also take milk, and I wouldn’t want him to take what would be better drunk by the newborn.

My helpful LLL leader understood what I was telling her, and agreed that it’s an unusual situation to be in – there can’t be many mums out there who have hypolasia and are considering tandem feeding, or are actually tandem feeding. She recognised that our unusual situation went beyond what she had personally read as part of her LLL leader training and experienced with other mums through her role as an LLL leader. So she offered to post our question to the online national forum of LLL leaders, to see if anyone else had experienced a similar situation, either themselves as a breastfeeding mum, or from other mums they had met through their role as leader. What was our question though? Essentially it boiled down to: Is it possible to tandem feed with hypoplasia?

Within a couple of weeks, I had three very helpful leads as a result of my leader’s post to the national leader forum. One was from a mum who hadn’t had supply issues herself, but who had recently been to a conference for lactation consultants (people whose job it is to support breastfeeding mums), where there had been a paper on insufficient glandular tissue and possible ways of helping increase supply. The main focus of her emails to me was on herbs that act as galactologues (substances that help increase milk supply in breastfeeding mums). She gave me some links to resources on these, including those that are apparently safe to use in pregnancy, because relatively few of them are. I’m not entirely convinced about taking herbs in pregnancy, because Andrew is still feeding now and helping to keep my supply going, and the herbs are pretty expensive to keep taking every day over extended periods. As money will be even tighter once I leave work, I have to weigh up all the pros and cons of dealing with supply issues.

Another email correspondence I had was (indirectly via my LLL leader) with Diana West, author of The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. She’s done some research herself into insufficient glandular tissue, and, as you can tell from the title of the book she wrote, is an expert on supply issues in general. Nothing like going straight to the top lady for advice! Her reply was very to the point: in her opinion it is possible for a mum with hypoplasia to tandem feed, though she would need to take some steps to make sure she is making as much milk as possible, such as taking herbs, expressing and using an at-breast supplementer if supplements are needed for the newborn – all the stuff you can read about in her book, which was relevant to me as a first-time mum breastfeeding just one child; the toddler would also help to boost supply. She said there was no reason that I couldn’t be treated like any other tandem-feeding mum and any other mum with low supply, in terms of the support that my LLL leaders could give me. That was encouraging!

But even more encouraging was to hear from an LLL leader who’s a mum who has personally experienced tandem feeding with hypoplasia. She gave it a go, and it worked out well for her and her children, who have a similar age gap to the one that Andrew and baby will have. She said that she definitely noticed that she had more milk with her second baby, though it’s hard to tell whether this is just the result of having a second child (generally mums have more milk with subsequent babies) or whether the breastfeeding toddler actually helped improve her supply even more than if she hadn’t have been feeding still. She also gave me some tips on herbs that she used, and told me that she always made sure that the newborn fed before the toddler did. Like us, she used a supplemental nursing system (SNS) in the early months for both babies, and she said that with her second baby she stopped using it a lot sooner than with her first, because her supply was better. She said that her toddler acted like her ‘breast pump’, by feeding after the newborn to remove even more milk from the breast so that more would be made for the next newborn feed. One thing that she highlighted, as I often do, is that breastfeeding is not just about food, and that the tandem feeding was a way for her children to bond with each other, and it helped her toddler through the transition of having a new baby in the family.

Bump looks big in this! I think it's because it's a flow-y top though, because I don't think I look so big in a more fitted top. Lots of people are telling me that I look very 'neat' or 'small' for over 30 weeks!

So my assumption that it’s not possible for us to give tandem feeding a go due to the hypoplasia and supply issue has turned out to be wrong. That’s not to say from what I’ve heard from these contacts that it would be easy, but I’m not one to avoid a challenge just because it sounds hard. I would never have continued to breastfeed Andrew if I wasn’t determined, despite how hard it was, to give him as much of my milk as possible, and in the end we’re still going now at 19 months. When I think about how much milk he’s had from me over those 19 months, I bet it’s not actually that far off what some babies get in 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding who are then weaned onto formula. Breastfeeding in early pregnancy was tough too, because I was so sick, but we’ve got through that and I’m feeling much better and glad that I was able to persevere in the hard times when I really didn’t feel like letting Andrew feed.

You can probably guess that my thoughts are now not so focussed on the necessity of weaning. My current thinking on breastfeeding is that I’m happy to let Andrew continue, if he wants to, and see where we end up. If he self-weans before baby arrives, that’s fine; there’s still plenty of time, given that weaning in pregnancy can be quite abrupt, and who knows what he’ll be like next week even if he’s going strong now. Or if he’s still feeding when baby arrives, that’s fine too. As he is pretty predictable in his feeding pattern (i.e. twice a day for main feeds and occasionally other small ones), it should be fairly easy to judge when to offer the newborn the breast before allowing Andrew to feed. If the newborn is anything like Andrew was, for which of course there is no guarantee, then he/she will feed most of the day on and off anyway, inter-dispersed with lots of activity and alertness; it would be harder if he/she is a sleepy baby, as I would then need to be more watchful as to when he/she needs to feed, especially in relation to Andrew. Or if Andrew decides to self-wean once the newborn is here – maybe because there’s less milk for him? – then that’s fine too. If breastfeeding helps him to accept the new baby and not feel jealous or like I’ve got less time for him, then I’m definitely up for tandem feeding as a means of meeting the needs of both my children.

It’s a nice feeling knowing that I have so much more info and support for breastfeeding already in place this time. At 31 weeks of pregnancy with Andrew, I had barely even thought about reading up on breastfeeding and was just getting round to booking my place at an antenatal breastfeeding workshop, which in the end was OK, but didn’t give me any info other than the textbook case, which of course we turned out not to be. I look back and wish I’d been more aware and able to get more info and support antenatally with Andrew, but it’s one of those things that is easy to say with hindsight, and Tom has reminded me that we did our best with the info and knowledge we had at the time, and that’s all we could do. At least this time we have been given another chance to learn from our first experience.

That’s all for now, except to say that this week saw Tom and I celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. It’s amazing to think how much has happened in those four years, and I can’t believe that there are now nearly 4 of us instead of the 2 who started a journey together on our wedding day four years ago. Andrew is definitely a mixture of the 2 of us – I love looking at him and thinking of how he has bits from me and bits from Tom. I’m looking forward to discovering in what ways the new baby is another mixture of the two of us 🙂

 

Breastfeeding support: accurate info, practical help, listening ears

I am absolutely convinced that every mum needs support if she is going to reach her breastfeeding goals. Breastfeeding involves many factors (physical, hormonal, emotional, social, psychological etc.) that come together to create the unique journey of a breastfeeding pair comprised of mum and baby; the same mum can even have a completely different experience with two (or more) different children. Sometimes these factors create a very favourable situation, making the breastfeeding journey relatively straightforward, but in other cases these factors cause issues that make the journey a very difficult one.

The mums who do have a difficult time obviously need support, and I’ll come on to where you can find this in a moment. But even those who have no major issues need a certain amount of (perhaps subtle, in the background) support in the form of, for example, a helpful partner and/or family who understand why breastfeeding is important and how it works. As a society, we can all give moral support to all breastfeeding mums by making them feel welcome and normal in public places, not making them feel self-conscious and like they have to hide away. This is one of the most fundamental ways of supporting breastfeeding mums in general.

But on an individual level, what if you do encounter problems? What can you do about it, and where can you go to get support? The first thing to remember is that you are not alone – many mums experience issues ranging from relatively minor/temporary/easily fixable problems to more overwhelming/long term/unbearable problems. The second thing to remember is that there are sources of support out there, even though you might have to be quite pro-active in searching them out at a time when you’re already feeling exhausted. Our experience of breastfeeding could have been a lot worse and a lot shorter if we had not been lucky enough to find the right support at (more or less) the right time. I see breastfeeding support as encompassing three different aspects: accurate information, practical help, and listening to emotions.

Well done, you've found another scavenger hunt logo! Keep reading for more tips, blog links and chances to win some cool breastfeeding-related prizes!

The obvious place you might think to look for support would be your midwife and/or health visitor. In our experience they were mixed in how helpful they were, and I know that this very much depends on the individuals and how much breastfeeding-specific training they have had and how recently they completed it. I gave birth in a midwife-led birth centre, and it was a very positive and empowering (as is currently the buzz word in birthing) experience. I cannot fault the support of the midwives there to get breastfeeding off to a good start: they allowed me to have a completely natural birth with no pain relief except a pool; Andrew was delivered straight onto my tummy and breastfed almost straight away by latching on of his own accord; we were not hurried onto the post-natal bay and were allowed lots of skin-to-skin time; they checked on us a lot during the night after he was born, constantly asking if I needed help with feeding, and even suggested I wake him after he’d slept so long without a feed – this was really important to stimulate my milk supply.

But we were only in hospital for about 12 hours after the birth. The problems came when I went home and we were in the care of my community midwife. She was (unfortunately) on annual leave during Andrew’s first week. Of course everyone needs a holiday and I’m not complaining about that, but when we rang her team because we were concerned that feeding wasn’t going well, we did not get the support we needed. Later that week he was admitted to hospital with dehydration and significant weight loss, and I felt let down by the community midwife team care.

When we came out of hospital the second time, and I was trying my hardest to give breastfeeding a go as well as continuing the formula supplements that the paediatricians had started, my community midwife told me that I should only keep him on the breast for 20 minutes at a time every three hours and then top-up with a bottle, to give my breasts time to ‘fill up’ again. At the time I believed her, but having read more about how breastfeeding works from La Leche League (LLL) resources, I know that this is rubbish! Breast milk is constantly being produced as soon as some leaves the breast – it’s more like a continuous stream than a bucket you have to fill, then empty, and then wait for it to fill again before taking any more out. Our health visitor wasn’t much better – with her it wasn’t so much the inaccuracy of her advice rather the lack of her visits. She came a couple of times, checked I was in a fit state to look after my baby, and then left us to get on with it. I could have made the effort to ring her, but by that time I had started to get support from my local LLL group and thought that was much more worthwhile than keeping in touch with a busy health visitor – these mums had time for me whenever I wanted advice (more on this in a moment).

However, the most crucial support we received in the first week was from the infant feeding specialist midwife at the hospital when we were on the paediatric ward. Looking back, it was, ironically, good that we went back into hospital. She introduced us to the SNS (at-breast supplementer that I talked about in my last post). Without this way of supplementing, with Andrew still getting as much breast milk as I was able to produce, I don’t think we’d still be breastfeeding today. This midwife’s support was helpful and, most importantly, she gave us accurate information.

So the moral of the story with health professionals is, in our experience, don’t be afraid to question their authority and seek a second opinion – in many cases their training on breastfeeding is very basic and often out-dated because it does not feature prominently in current training (even for midwives and health visitors). If you’re anything other than a perfect textbook case, you might find they give, out of ignorance, inaccurate or downright misleading information.

As I just mentioned, I got amazing support from my local LLL group. This is an international organisation represented in many countries across the world. In Great Britain there are groups who meet in various cities, towns and villages across the country. The mission of LLL is ‘to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.’ This is exactly what I found when I went to my first coffee morning, after I was lucky enough to meet one of the volunteer leaders at a breastfeeding drop-in clinic who encouraged me to come along as she knew I was struggling.

A flyer for our local LLL group, with lists of meeting and coffee morning dates inside, hanging on our notice board so I know where to meet each week 🙂

From what I’ve heard said by others, breastfeeding support organisations like this and others (e.g. NCT) in the UK can be seen as an exclusive group of well-off ladies who bang on about ‘breast is best’ and look down on those who feed their babies formula without persevering through difficulties. In my experience, nothing is further from the truth! I took formula (in the SNS) to meetings and was not shunned; I’ve seen mums take bottles to meetings and were not shunned. In fact it is mums like me that are made to feel particularly welcome, because mums at LLL meetings who have overcome problems themselves know exactly how it feels to be under all the different pressures and prejudices associated with how you feed your baby. All these mums wanted to do was help me in how I chose to feed my baby, by giving me accurate information, practical help and a genuinely interested listening ear when I was in floods of tears. At no point did I think that I would have been thought less of in that group for bottle feeding Andrew. Now they are some of my most respected mummy friends. I always look forward to seeing them once a week for continued support now that we’ve overcome our initial breastfeeding struggles and are into the toddler feeding stage, which comes with its own difficulties, such as the judgement from others that it’s not normal (it is normal – I’ll write more about this next week).

So the moral of the story with breastfeeding support groups is don’t be afraid to go – whatever your circumstances, your age, your income, your background, your breastfeeding journey (or lack of) so far, there will be other mums who would feel privileged to be able to help you in the way you need it most to meet your breastfeeding goals. It’s not just LLL groups (that’s what I had access to here in Cambridge); there are all sorts of other local groups run by mums for mums. Other organisations with such groups are the NCT and the ABM. Children’s Centres are a good place to look for these groups, as many of them meet there, or have links with the centres who put their leaflets/posters out. A google search would probably bring up a few hits in your local area. Or your midwife or health visitor might be only too pleased to pass on information about such groups if they are rushed off their feet with a huge caseload!

Last, but not least, I could not write a post about breastfeeding support without giving pride of place to Daddy and grandparents. I definitely could not have got through the hard times without Tom, my amazing husband. He has done everything possible to support me whilst breastfeeding, including practical help like making sure I had drink and food in the early weeks when I was constantly feeding, and emotional support by being my person to cry on at any time of day or night (he got very wet in the early weeks!) and making it clear to me every step of the way that he would be behind me 110% with whatever decision I made about feeding, whether I chose to persevere with breastfeeding or switch to bottle feeding. He never pressurised me either way, and has found many ways to help me and bond with Andrew without doing the feeding, for example bath time has always been Daddy and Andrew time. He understands how breastfeeding works (mainly from how much I rabbit on about what I’ve read about breastfeeding!) and is happy that I still feed Andrew now at 16 months – he knows it’s a natural thing because he sees on a daily basis how much Andrew and I get out of it. He also knows that I am now very passionate about sharing our experience of breastfeeding and supporting others, and doesn’t complain when I talk at him about it in the evening after a hard day at work 😉 Basically, Daddy is the best! He’s the most important source of support that I had and still have for breastfeeding.

Daddy with Andrew (aged 6 months)

But if your baby’s dad isn’t around for whatever reason, there’s no reason why you can’t have another person, for example your mum or another family member or close friend, to be that rock of support. I am also blessed to have very supportive parents who have been behind my decision to breastfeed despite tough struggles every step of the way. I guess they know me so well that they know there’s no point getting in the way when I’m determined to do something. In the early days and weeks they helped by doing lots of practical stuff for us, like housework, shopping and cooking, and they still do these things when they come to visit every few weeks on average. They too understand how breastfeeding works – it helps that my mum breastfed my brother and me at a time when there was much less support for it than there is now. This was particularly important in the early days: they weren’t the kind of family members who would come round and insist on constantly cuddling baby and questioning when I knew he wanted feeding; instead they of course enjoyed cuddles, but respected that I was the primary person who Andrew needed access to, to stimulate my milk supply and feed him as much as necessary. They knew that doing the housework themselves was more helpful than taking Andrew off my hands so that I could do it. Having people around you who understand these things is very important. Support is only helpful if it’s the right kind of support.

Granny and Grandad with Andrew (aged 14 months)

I hope that this post based on our experience of support for breastfeeding has been informative. Why not hop over to some other blogs and read about other sources of support that mums have found helpful? There are some links below, and more on the main website, where you can also find out more about the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2012. Don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize.

Breastfeeding in England – Breastfeeding support groups

Mama Geek – Breastfeeding Support – Why it’s important and where to find it!

My gorgeous boys – Breastfeeding: Where to get support

Breast 4 babies – Ten Things My Midwife or Health Visitor Never Told Me About Breastfeeding

Diary of the Milkshake Mummy –  Together everyone achieves more

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