Breastfeeding Just Gets Better

Thanks for hopping on over from Baby Foote, here is my contribution for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt Day 1, ‘The Start of My Journey’. Sponsors today include Boobie Milk with a £50 voucher, Cherub Chews who are offering a breastfeeding necklace and Loveyush who are offering a breastfeeding scarf for our Grand Prize winner. Over £700 worth of goodies are up for grabs entries via the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

Breastfeeding Just Gets Better

Before I had my Baby last October I knew I was going to breastfeed. My Mum had done it, my sisters all breastfed, I just knew it was how I was going to feed my baby. I took heed of advice given “get lots of box-sets in, you’ll be stuck feeding for hours on end”. I had my nipple cream ready to go and had attended a local breastfeeding group so I knew where to go and who to speak to if I was struggling. I felt fully prepared for what was to come.

Fortunately for me when my baby arrived she was also happy to breastfeed without much issue. Her latch was good, she knew what she was doing, I was lubing the nips frequently, husband had mastered cutting up my meals and feeding them to me, so it all seemed relatively easy. That was until she got colic.

At just over two weeks old something changed in my baby. At almost every feed, after about 10 minutes she would start to crease up and windmill her little arms and legs as if in pain. She would then scream and scream sometimes for hours at a time. It was heartbreaking, distressing and wearing, for both of us. At six weeks old she got her first cold and with that came her first nursing strike. Around this time (I think linked to her cold) she would only feed while lying on her left side, so I had to learn the rugby hold, I don’t think I ever really mastered that one though! After a couple of days she returned to breastfeeding but now, to make matters worse, she became almost angry and highly distressed (expressed by yet more intense screaming) if I ever offered her a feed and she didn’t want it, which was a lot! I became anxious and temporarily obsessed about encouraging her to feed. Techniques trialled to get her to feed included lying down, standing up, feeding while walking, feeding while she slept, bottles, husband giving bottles, at that point I would have fed her upside down on a trapeze if she would take my milk! I felt completely and utterly rejected by my own baby, that paired with the constant screaming meant that I just hated breastfeeding, and at times my baby too.

I continued to breastfeed, in part because my baby refused the bottle, but I also couldn’t handle the fuss of sterilising bottles and offering milk that seemed to go to waste. I found the support of my own Mum crucial for surviving the difficult times, her experience meant that she was able to offer me the best advice I was ever given which was simply,  “have faith in the Baby”. She encouraged me to trust that my Baby would feed when she was hungry and to relax more when she declined feeds. Teaching myself to relax and have faith in my baby’s ability to monitor her own intake of food has been one of the most beneficial changes I have made as a parent.

I first noticed a change in our relationship to breastfeeding when my baby was about 10 weeks, she paused one day in the middle of the feed and looked at my face in such a way it suggested she was thinking “wow, have you been attached to this boob the whole time?!”, then she gave me the biggest grin, it was a beautiful moment. The 10 minute feeds reduced to 7 minutes (I never did get to put my feet up and enjoy box sets) and with a little more time the colic went away. My baby continued to berate me for daring to offer feeds when she wasn’t hungry until she was about 5 months old.

I have found that as the months have passed the experience of breastfeeding has become increasingly enjoyable for us both. When Baby learned to sit up independantly she could sit upright in my lap to feed which she much preferred. As she has come to understand language I can ask her if she wants milk and she can let me know if she does or not before I shove my gargantuan boob in her face. When she comes off from a feed I ask “have you finished?” and she has the ability to decide herself if she wants to latch back on or not. I no longer feel anxious that she will have a melt down in public if I offer her a feed. We have so many more tender moments when we breastfeed now, as she runs her fingers through my hair and touches my nose. I think we both just generally feel more relaxed, and feeding IS easy now, so convenient and enjoyable.

At almost 10 months, I am so glad that I continued to breastfeed, through the colic, the screaming and the three nursing strikes. It’s not always perfect, I’d prefer not to have to get up to feed twice a night and I must have exposed my nipples to hundreds of people by now as she pops on and off for feeds in the day. But you know what, I really don’t mind, it won’t last forever but my memories of this journey will.

Following on from my journey, please do hop over to #PositiveAboutBF to see how her journey began and be in with more chances to enter the grand prize draw. Remember you need to earn 50 points to be eligible, full details can be found on the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Site.

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The Parenting Experiment

Before I entered the world of parenthood I was blissfully unaware of the stark truths that lay behind the parenting door.  I believed (as parents want you to) that parents know what they are doing.  Perhaps they have a strong passion or inclination toward a particular form of parenting, but generally (I believed) natural instinct kicks in and we follow those to produce a happy well-rounded little person.  So confident was I about this, that when my Husband asked me when I was 5 months pregnant “after we have the baby, what’s the plan?”, I laughed in his face.  What a ridiculous question I thought!  Isn’t it obvious?!  We simply raise said baby…  Yes, that is the plan.

What I’ve learned thus far (almost 8 months in), is that ‘plans’ and ‘children’ do not mix.  The reality of this hit me first during labour.  In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth I was advised to create a ‘birthing plan’.  I carefully took my time over this, trying not to be too specific so that I wouldn’t be shocked when those ‘plans’ didn’t quite happen.  Well, I may as well have used that plan to mop up my waters, it would have been more useful.  The only person that looked at that plan was my Husband for about 30 seconds before it became apparent that this ‘plan’ wasn’t ever going to materialise.  Goodbye low lighting, goodbye classical music, hello about 20 odd people up my bloody chuff!  I’m only glad I didn’t laminate the thing, so it could mock my pre-birth naivety.

Upon bringing my little bundle of tiny fresh baby home I realised that I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing.  So focussed was I on pushing her out that I hadn’t really considered ‘what next’.  The natural instinct wasn’t quite at its strongest following labour, childbirth and a whole 11 hours post birth of wide awake and feeding baby.  What became really apparent to me and my Husband at this point was that we were basically making it up as we went along.  How often should she feed? Does she need a bath? Is she supposed to be able to lift her head like that?!  Why the hell is she pooping black stuff???  We didn’t know, we were too tired to read about it, and all knowledge we had previously had slipped away in a sleep deprived oblivion.  And so it began, the parenting experiment!

An Experiment in Action
An Experiment in Action

The experimentation is an ongoing joy, and covers pretty much all babying areas:-

  • Crying – Yeah, babies do this a lot!  All you can do is try out various different things in the hope that one of them stops said baby from crying.  Clean nappy, check. Not too hot/cold, check. Full up, check.  Being cuddled, check.  That’s the basic checks done, let me tell you this, sometimes those things can all be accounted for and your baby will still cry.  Sorry.
  • Sleep – Things that may guide your baby to sleep may include some,all or none of the following; feeding, rocking, pacing, singing, putting them down, picking them up, going out in the car/sling/pushchair, allowing naps, preventing naps, music, white noise, silence.  Through much desperate experimentation we discovered Lady Gaga (see previous post), and after she hit 4 months we learned that she actually would nap, but only if we put her down.  Phew.
  • Feeding – Do you breastfeed?  Can you breastfeed?  Can baby?  Is formula the best way for you? Or combination feeding?  Would a formula feed make your baby sleep longer at night (for us not a chance in hell)?  Would a dream feed bring you a more peaceful night? How much, how often, who best to do it…?  More recently we’ve had the joys of weaning too, though this is more openly a big experiment it has still caused stress in other ways and prompted previous rants!

The more I talk to other parents about this the more I realise that it is all just one big experiment.  None of us know what the frig we’re doing!  NO ONE EVER HAS!  Parental knowledge is a ruse, an illusion, a hoax!  Sure you can read a book, seek advice, but even the application of these to your own child, in your own setting is one massive experiment, and all too often a failed one.  That’s why there are so many books out there and so much unsolicited advice!

So here I am, still at the beginning of my parenting journey and the experiments have only just began.  I have decided to just embrace this venture, perhaps if I ever have another I will have some kind of clue what the hell is happening (unlikely).  I shall willingly accept that just giving something a go to ‘see what happens’ is OK, it’s more than OK, it’s what we’re all bloody doing anyway.

Is She Good? – Not a helpful question for a new parent

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since having a baby is “is she good?”. I find this question both confusing and annoying, even though I know it’s rarely asked with any malice. This question was particularly difficult for me in the early months, and here’s why.

From the ages of about 2 weeks to 4.5 months my baby cried, a lot! At first it was due to wind/colic, but even when we got on top of that she continued to scream most of the time. She wouldn’t be comforted by feeding, she only ever breastfed for hunger (and still does) and if I dared offer her a feed when she wasn’t hungry she would scream as if I was trying to murder her. I was lucky that she napped in the day but she just would not sleep in the evenings, often not going to sleep until 2am or 3am. The only things that stopped her crying was The Ohio State Marching Band soundtrack and Lady Gaga (I will love Gaga forever for giving me a break from endless screaming). The music alone wasn’t quite enough though, oh no, if we wanted her to sleep we had to pace and dance around for a looooooong time. Great for initial post baby weight loss (cake counteracted this), but terrible for my mental state. My baby seemed to hate everything we did and everywhere we went, she hated the car and the car seat, her baby bouncer, the pram, the sling, being put down and being cuddled. It almost seemed that she hated life itself and that she hated me.

I experienced some dark times in those early months. I found the hardest time of day was gone midnight when my husband had gone to bed, in those hours I felt so alone and helpless. I didn’t like my baby much at times, in fact, sometimes I hated her. Then I hated myself for feeling that way toward my baby. I can now understand how people come to shake their baby, something before having one I just couldn’t fathom. Sometimes I just had to put her down and walk away for both of us to calm down. I would have a cold glass of water, take some deep breaths, count slowly to 10, prep myself and get back to it, trying to remain as calm and soothing as I could muster. I wondered at times if I had Post Natal Depression, but really I think the way I felt was a normal response to sleep deprivation, having to deal with a screaming baby and having no idea what the hell I was doing.

I remember one horrible day when I was determined to get to my baby yoga class, just so I could spend time with other adults, that my baby screamed at the top of her lungs the whole morning and the whole journey over. As I parked up and went to pick her out from the car she was still screaming screaming screaming, so I snapped and I shouted at her “WHY WON’T YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!”. There was a very brief pause before she began to cry again, this time a traumatised, distressed cry, obviously terrified that her normally warm and calm Mummy had turned into a shouty monster. The shame washed over me and all I could do was cry. My yoga teacher and the other Mums in the group that day were amazingly supportive, and helped to build me up a little. My Mum and my Husband were also wonderfully reassuring around this time, I’m not sure without my family and friends if I would have coped at all. I have certainly learnt that a decent support network is key to surviving when you have a new baby.

As you can see, I wasn’t in the best of places in the early months of motherhood. So you can see why when friends or strangers asked me “is she good?”, that I struggled to think of an appropriate reply. Strangers don’t want to hear that you think your baby may hate you, and most of the time I didn’t want to share that at 1am the night before I had seriously considered abandoning my baby in the garden just to give me some peace and space. Often when I was asked this question my baby would be in full blown cute mode (she was absolutely adorable for about 15% of the day) and I would mutter an awkward reply while a oidig eye contact, stating that she can be very cute but she can also be a bit difficult sometimes too… I had a weird sense that I had to be a bit honest about it even though all too often the conversation stopped there anyway. The question caused a horrible moment of self reflection, a reminder of the difficulties, forcing me to decide if I was going to label my baby as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, thinking then to what that meant about me as a mother. Really I think it’s a bloody stupid question. A ridiculous, unhelpful, thoughtless question. There, I said it!

My baby daughter and I found our way through that time and thankfully it didn’t take all that long (although it felt forever at the time). I learned her quirks as she learned mine, and we found our ways of communicating and understanding each other. I also discovered Baby Einstein (see previous post) and the Jumparoo! Now I am out of that hazy, self-deprecating mist I can see that the question isn’t a piercing one, it is not really demanding that you confess your baby’s dastardly deeds, or a request of a list of their saintly acts. It’s simply asking, “how are you finding motherhood?”, which is perhaps a much more pertinent question. One could answer honestly without making a judgement on their parental ability or their babies tendencies toward ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I know had I been asked THAT question, my reply would be “a bit of a shock actually”, and I would have felt comfortable that I was being honest without sounding like a terrible person.

So today I am making a polite request of you, if you see a new Mum (or Dad) and you want to make light conversation, please don’t ask if the baby is good, please just ask something as simple as “How are you?”, where the question is far less loaded.  Many Thanks.

Feeding and Weaning My Baby – A Rant

I’m going to have a mini* rant, and I apologise in advance because it will probably annoy people but I’ve got to get it off my chest.
I feel a bit sad that I don’t feel I can express my pride for breastfeeding without it being perceived as some kind of attack on those who formula feed. I have breastfed my baby for over 7 months now and it has been really frickin hard work at times, but I’ve managed to work through that and I am pleased that I have and that I have managed to meet my baby’s needs with just my body. Please know that my pride in succeeding in this is not a judgment on other people who have not been able to do this.

I feel pressure from some family and friends to stop breastfeeding now. I’m often asked when I’m going to stop (I haven’t planned any of this so I don’t know), and I can tell there is a suggestion in that question, that it should be soon. That if I keep breastfeeding past 6 months that it’s a bit gross, I’m being a hippy, my baby will get too attached. I don’t feel like I hear the question “how long are you going to formula feed” to other mums?  I have also felt pressure on how I should be introducing food. I have felt the stares in my Mummy group as I fed her a purée, with comments such as “she’s probably wondering why you’re feeding her toothpaste”. It was said in jest, but I could tell everyone was horrified that I wasn’t giving her bits of cucumber and rice cake.

Why oh why is our society so passionate and judgemental about how we feed our babies in general?! Why can a Mum not follow her instincts, or do what she has to do due to limited other options, without others smugly commenting?! I honestly don’t care how you feed your baby, as long as you are both happy with it. Why can’t people just be happy to let me and my decisions pass without a judgmental comment?

So…without having to explain my decision or reasoning I tell you this. I breastfeed my 7 month old and I am proud that I have achieved this! I will breastfeed until I so feel that I should stop or my baby decides to stop. I introduced food to my baby in the form of purée initially. I then gave her some finger foods for breakfast when I felt she was ready.  She now eats a mixture of purée and finger foods at almost every meal.  She has water with every meal too.

Dinner Time
Wow, I feel better for that. Perhaps this could be a thread that you just unashamedly share how you feed/dress/carry your baby.

*mini rant is now giant. Sorry again