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 🙂

Weight watchers

That’s what Tom and I have become…. again. It’s not our own weight that we’ve been watching – neither of us need to do that – it’s our baby’s weight that we’ve been watching. Oh and we’ve also been on nappy watch – you know you’re a new parent when you get so excited about the contents of a wet and/or dirty nappy! These are two of the indicators that a baby is getting enough food and is growing healthily.

We’ve been here before, when Andrew was a baby. He lost a lot of his birth weight (nearly 20%) in the first 6 days of life outside the womb. Although he initially put quite a bit back on when we started supplementing with formula as it took about 2 weeks for my breast milk to ‘come in’, it took him until almost a month old to regain his birth weight. After that his weight crept up very slowly for the next couple of months, only gaining an ounce or 2 a week instead of the average 6 ounces a week. This meant that he wasn’t following the curve that is charted on the growth graphs which come in the little red book that each baby in the country is given at birth, so the health visiting team can record their progress.

If a baby is following the curve of the graph, whether that be at the 98th percentile line or the 2nd percentile line, it’s recommended that you get them weighed about once every month. If they are not following a curve, you’re told to get them weighed more often. Andrew was on weekly weigh-ins until around 2.5 months, because he was creeping up so slowly and was lingering around the bottom of the chart. He never lost weight from one week to the next, but he wasn’t putting it on fast enough to follow the infamous curve.

At the time I found these weekly weigh days very stressful. I felt like there was a lot of pressure from the health visitors at the clinic to get his weight up, and I felt like a bad mum if he hadn’t gained enough each week to satisfy them; I used to dread putting him on the scales and could hardly look at the numbers settling down to give the final answer of a weight as he wriggled and cried at having no clothes on, poor thing. Even though my milk was supplemented with formula, I felt as though I was demand feeding as well as I possibly could, with the help of the SNS, so surely if his weight wasn’t going up according to the charts, that was at least partly just his way of growing, even if it didn’t conform to the curve.

This is what a blank weight chart looks like. This blue one is for boys, and girls get a pink one - nothing like a good old bit of perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Once he started eating solid foods alongside breastfeeding, the story changed. He soon started to climb up the curve much quicker, and suddenly made up for the slow start. We went from fortnightly to monthly weigh-ins, and the last one he had (until recently) was at his 1-year health check, as after that I was completely confident that he was putting weight on and growing well, just by looking at him. Out of interest, I had him weighed one day when the health visitor came round to weigh Joel, and he was just over the 75th percentile line.

Fast forward to now, and here we are with our second baby, weight watching again. Joel lost less weight at birth, and regained his birth weight within the 2 weeks that they like them too. A tick in the good parent box for us. He continued to gain well for about 8 weeks, cue more ticks in the good parent box, though he did drop slightly across the percentile lines on the chart. But the GP we saw for his 7 week check wasn’t concerned about this, as he’d always gained a decent amount each week and hadn’t plateaued off like Andrew had by that age. Once I did get quite annoyed by a comment from a health visitor at the weighing clinic when I put him naked on the scales: “He needs to fill out a bit”…. I’m sorry? “Fill out a bit?” I think you’ll find that’s just the way he is, he’s always been long and slim, and you should take a look at his dad!!

But then Joel got a cold with a horrible cough, and thrush in his mouth, both of which meant he was less bothered about feeding, even though I tried to be proactive and offer him as much as possible all the time. He dropped a couple more percentile lines by the next time we had him weighed, which happened to be at the GP because we went back as his thrush had returned (notoriously difficult to shift in babies). This was a different GP from the one at the 7 week check, and he was more concerned; he mentioned referral to a paediatrician if he didn’t regain some percentiles. But I know my baby, and I know there’s nothing wrong with him – well, other than a bad cold and thrush, and that’s enough to make anyone feel grumpy, not eat as much and lose weight (not that he ever lost WEIGHT, just flipping percentiles!!)

It was like Joel heard what the doc said though, and the next day he hit a massive growth spurt and guzzled milk like there was no tomorrow for a few days. Thankfully for me the milk machine, it settled down again, and by the time he was weighed the following week, he’d stepped up a good amount on the chart. Not sure if I got a tick in the good parent box for that, but I felt like I’d done a good job that week at least. A couple of weigh-ins later, and we’re now back to the normal monthly weigh-ins that all babies should get (if their parents listen to the health visitor); I guess we’ve got enough ticks now.

I feel happier now that we’re under less pressure for the time being, as I don’t want this to overshadow my enjoyment of looking after my boys, which I really love. Often I find myself wondering at what age being tall and slim goes from being undesirable to desirable. According to society, babies are supposed to be chubby and adults are supposed to be slim. And why should all humans grow to the same curve? I never thought biology was that exact. Maybe my babies grow to a more step-like graph that starts off with slower weight gain than the average baby – if they are anything like me, and I believe genetics predisposes them to that, they won’t be “normal”, and what is “normal” anyway – average? Not everyone can be average, there need to be some people at either extreme from which to calculate the average.

I understand that weight can be one indicator that a baby isn’t thriving, but I really wish that our medicalised society would look at the broader picture – my babies have always been very alert and active, reaching all their milestones at least on time if not earlier than average, and have generally been very happy as far as babies go. Plus, remember what I said about nappies up there? No problems in that department at the moment! Surely these things count when assessing if a baby needs medical attention or more artificial infant milk? To be fair, not all health professionals that we have met have clung so rigidly to the chart culture, and Joel’s health visitor has genrally been very positive when she’s come round to see us – it’s more the ship-em-in-ship-em-out clinics that I’ve found so annoying.

Oh and I think we could save ourselves all the stress by just moving to the moon for the first 6 months of my baby’s life – nobody has any weight there. A rather eccentric old physics teacher of mine once told the class that if people wanted to lose weight they should just go to the moon, and that the dieting brand should really be “Mass Watchers” – not as catchy a name, I know, but more physically correct 😉