A half birthday

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.

Joel a few hours after birth
Joel a few hours after birth

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.

1 month.......2 month.......3 months
1 month…………………………………….2 months……………………………………3 months

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.

4 months.................5 months
4 months…………………………………………………………..5 months

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.

6 months
6 months

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.

Breastfeeding the second time around

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.

First time........ Second time
First time…….. Second 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.

My matching boys :)
My matching boys 🙂