Feeding your baby is a common topic for new mums. But asking and talking about breastfeeding can be difficult. Unfortunately there still seems to be some stigma attached to breastfeeding and attitudes in society that make it a sensitive subject. Looking back I certainly would have found it reassuring and useful to have talked about breastfeeding more with other mums. Honest, realistic and practical information to prepare me beforehand and for when I was struggling with it. But in general I don’t think that we talk about the details and reality of breastfeeding as openly as we could.
A woman’s breastfeeding experience can be a very emotional one and sadly may have stress, embarrassment, disappointment and judgement in it. I think as new mothers, our confidence in our abilities can easily be tipped by a judging comment. Even if that person hadn’t realised how they sounded or weren’t being intentionally judgemental, they can still have a big impact on you. We can be so hard on ourselves and feel guilty for struggling or not doing what we set out to do. Motherhood is hard enough as it is, without the added pressure of judging ourselves and one another. We are all just trying to do what is best for us and for our baby. We must respect and support each other as much as possible. So for some women, no matter how hard they try, breastfeeding doesn’t last as long as they had hoped, if at all. But each mother’s choice and experience is personal and unique to them and their baby.
So in this blog I have decided to share my breastfeeding journey. But by talking about my breastfeeding experience, I really hope that it doesn’t upset or offend anyone. I’d hate to make anyone feel bad or inferior. I hope that by sharing my breastfeeding challenges and surprises, other mums and mums-to-be find it reassuring or useful. I also hope that I can help promote and encourage breastfeeding. But ultimately, I’m no expert, and what happened and worked for us may not be the case for others. I can only share what I’ve experienced and learnt. For further information on breastfeeding I recommend the book “The food of love: your formula for successful breastfeeding” by Kate Evans. It’s is a really good read. Informative and realistic but also empowering and funny!
My Breastfeeding Journey
- Emotional impact
- Prior knowledge and decision
- Immediately post delivery
- The first 6 weeks – learning a new skill, feeding out and about, how much and how much? hard work, illness, breast problems, nipple confusion
- 2-4 months – bottle refusal, sleep association
- 5+ months – weaning, distractable baby
- 10+ months
Definitely the biggest thing that I have learnt about breastfeeding is the psychological impact of it. I hadn’t thought that I would now have such an emotional bond with it and feel so passionately about breastfeeding. It has certainly been an emotional roller coaster. During my journey I have felt overwhelmed, confused, exhausted, trapped and frustrated. But have also felt huge relief, love, warmth, closeness and pride. Breastfeeding helps protect you from postnatal depression, but that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding itself is not psychologically really hard. At times the fact that I was at lower risk of postnatal depression didn’t comfort me, but instead concerned me. I was already on the edge of coping and losing my mind with breastfeeding, and thought that if I gave up, I was more likely to get depressed?! It was hard knowing which was the lesser of the two evils and there were several occasions when I seriously considered stopping. In particular, at around 3 and a half months, I came very close to stopping breastfeeding altogether. I had been to the hairdressers for the first time after having Evelyn, which was also probably the first time that I had left her for a few hours to do anything for myself. She spent the whole time that I was out crying, which was quite long considering I had a cut and full head of highlights. Evelyn was hungry but refusing the bottle. When I returned home, Rob was exhausted and fed up. I knew something had to change and thought that stopping breastfeeding was it. I planned to stop after the weekend as I wanted to prepare myself psychologically for stopping. However I spent the whole weekend tearful and feeling already sad and guilty about breastfeeding ending. So by the end of the weekend I decided not to stop.
With breastfeeding I may have put a lot of pressure on myself and ran myself into the ground in order to continue. But deep down I knew that it was the right choice for me to continue and now I’m so glad that I did. Although at times I definitely felt guilty for continuing to breastfeeding, as it meant that I was denying my husband and family the bonding experiencing of feeding Evelyn. I also sometimes felt as though I only had myself to blame for how exhausted I was, as I wouldn’t give up breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has definitely pushed me to my limit physically and emotionally. It has tested what I can cope with and what I will fight for. The phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child” couldn’t be more true for supporting a mother to breastfeed their baby. All I can recommend is that we respect the mums choice and support her as much as possible. Be that giving the mum a break by taking the baby for a bit so that she can sleep, making her some food or even doing the dishes or tidying up!
Prior knowledge and decision
Personally, when I was pregnant I always knew that I wanted to give breastfeeding a good go as there’s so many benefits for both baby and mum. Breastmilk gives the baby’s immune system a helping hand and their chance of obesity, certain illnesses and allergies in the future is lower. Breastfeeding helps your womb shrink back down to normal size quicker after birth and it also reduces the risk of post natal depression and certain cancers And illnesses later on in life. It’s a great bonding experience and its a pretty effective tool of helping to soothe a screaming baby. As a doctor, I knew a bit about breastfeeding problems like breast infections (mastitis) and breast abscesses, and other obstacles such as poor latch, tongue tie and low breastmilk supply. But how to actually breastfeed a baby? And what it’s like? I didn’t have a clue! The reality of breastfeeding a newborn was a big shock to me and I have found it a steep learning curve. I’m the type of person who prefers to plan and prepare for situations first, rather than diving straight in. However, with breastfeeding, I certainly felt as though I jumped straight in at the deep end! My practical knowledge was limited as I hadn’t talked about the details and specific of it with other mums, and couldn’t attend my antenatal breastfeeding class as it was scheduled for my due date and Evelyn was born 2 weeks early. When I think back to the early days/weeks/months, I’m amazed at where we are and I feel very fortunate to still be on my breastfeeding journey with Evelyn 10 months down the line. However, it is important to remember that any amount of breastmilk and/or time breastfeeding, be it a day, a month or a year, is still beneficial and is still a huge achievement.
For some women, expressing breastmilk whilst you are pregnant can help start off contractions naturally. However importantly, only try this when you are term i.e. over 37 weeks gestation. So in an attempt to avoid my planned artificial induction of labour, I expressed some breastmilk using a manual breast pump, the day before my scheduled induction at 38 weeks. I was amazed that I managed to express some colostrum, a thick yellow milk, aka liquid gold! Very different to the typical baby milk that we are used to. I expressed such a tiny amount (a few millilitres) that it seemed an insignificant amount, however, newborns have such small stomachs that they only take on a small amount of milk in the beginning. I popped my expressed colostrum into a breastmilk bag and put it in the freezer ready to take into hospital the next day. Unfortunately though, no contractions happened overnight!
Immediately post birth
Soon after Evelyn was born, we tried breastfeeding for the first time. This moment is captured in the photo that I have attached to this blog. I look calm, relaxed and comfortable. However, this was definitely not the case. Firstly, I had forgotten to wear a nursing bra during labour, so I was frantically and awkwardly fumbling around trying to gain access to feed her. That was challenging and stressful enough, let alone actually feeding her! Then I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Luckily I had an amazing midwife during my labour who explained how to attach and position Evelyn for breastfeeding. Let baby come to the nipple, aim for ‘nipple to nose’ to encourage a good latch. Keep baby’s face and head in line with the breast so it’s not turned awkwardly, and aim for baby’s tummy to mummy’s tummy. Minimal areola should be seen. But I was so exhausted from labour and child birth that I don’t think I processed anything the midwife said then. So when she eventually just plonked Evelyn on my nipple to feed, I couldn’t have been more relieved. I then nervously held Evelyn so tightly, nursing her for what seemed like forever (but was actually only 15 minuets per side). It was such a strange experience, a bit of a blur really but it was definitely uncomfortable sensation!
The first 6 weeks – Getting ‘established’
Learning a new skill
I definitely didn’t really know what I was doing in the first few days of breastfeeding. I found it overwhelming and confusing trying to get to grips with this new ‘skill’ and processing the advice when I was already sleep deprived and recovering from a traumatic delivery. The first few days can be so emotionally draining, making learning how to breastfeed exhausting. Positioning can be difficult and awkward, and getting the latch right can be tricky and stressful. Also as it’s common in the early days for breastfeeding to be uncomfortable and sore at the start of each feed, it can be difficult to know whether your pain is normal or not. Ultimately it’s hard to know whether you are doing it right, as it’s something that you’ve never done before.
In terms of positioning yourself for breastfeeding, sitting comfortably and not putting your back under strain is really important. You spend so much time feeding that it can make a big difference to your experience. I’ve always tried to breastfed in a supportive chair, even at night. And if needed, I would use pillows to support me further. I also always use a semicircular feeding pillow, which takes Evelyn’s weight and keeps her in the same position. In the early months when feeding sessions frequently took an hour, without the pillow, my arms would have dropped off and my back would have been in pieces! I still use the pillow now almost 10 months down the line. Although Evelyn is now much quicker at feeding (10 minutes max), she is now so heavy that the pillow still helps to avoid back ache.
With positioning Evelyn for breastfeeding, I mainly use the ‘cradle’ position. But I have also found the ‘upright’ and ‘biological’ positions helpful for when Evelyn had reflux and for my ‘fast flow’. The ‘side lying’ position has been great for when I was really tired and couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed to feed. I recommend the La Leche League website for some useful, clear and detailed information about different breastfeeding positions (https://www.laleche.org.uk/positioning-attachment/#positions). I also remember a midwife advising me that when positioning the baby during feeding, not to hold the back of their head, instead hold their neck as this allows their head to move about freely. Which may seem obvious but it wasn’t until she then demonstrated by restricting my head movement by holding the back of my head, that I appreciated it. Her point that this was frustrating for baby was well made!
In regards to latch, fortunately we didn’t have any huge issues. But there were times in the early weeks when Evelyn wouldn’t open her mouth wide enough resulting in a poor and painful latch, and her not getting much milk i.e. unhappy baby and unhappy mum. I found that lightly depressing her chin just as she was opening her mouth to latch encouraged her to open it wider and so latch on better. Poor latch can cause nipple soreness and potentially cracked bleeding nipples. I did experience this for a short time in the beginning and found that applying lanolin cream after each feed really helped to relieve and prevent it. I then used the lanolin cream after each feed every day for the first 6 weeks as didn’t have any further issues. Vaseline is a good cheap alternative however.
Another important point in helping to make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable is wearing good nursing bras. I did buy a couple of them in advance whilst I was heavily pregnant, however it’s difficult to get accurately fitted for a nursing bra when you still have a baby in your abdomen pushing on your rib cage! I definitely felt that my rib cage was wider when I was pregnant and after giving birth my body changed quite quickly. I soon realised that the more ‘structured’ nursing bras that I had bought beforehand, were actually quite uncomfortable, not sitting right on my post delivery body and were a pain to gain access to feed from. So initially I just wore my nursing sleep bras during the day. They are so comfortable and easy to gain access from, so at least that was one less thing to worry about! But I soon wanted a proper bra that I could leave the house in. I have found the M&S Seamfree Padded Full Cup Nursing Bras great and still wear them now. As they are non wired, they are really comfortable, almost like you aren’t wearing anything at all! The soft cups and hook and eye fastenings mean that access is easy. Also M&S have a great bra fitting service with changing rooms big enough for the pram. I’d recommend taking breast pads with you to the fitting as you need to factor them in for your cup size. However those bras sit quite high, so I later bought a Viva Flexi Wire Plunge Nursing Bra from Charly M to be able to wear with more styles of tops. Again this bra is comfortable and easy to gain access with. I have also bought and would recommend the high impact nursing sports bra from M&S.
Feeding out and about
It can be embarrassing and nerve wracking breastfeeding in public, especially in the early weeks when you are still getting to grips with it. Getting the position and latch right can be difficult whilst you are trying to keep your modesty. But once you get the hang of breastfeeding, it’s quick, stress free and doesn’t require anything. Two muslin cloths are good to have but not essential (one to pop in the edge of your bra under where baby is feeding, to mop up any dribbled milk, and the other to cover baby and you if you wish). Some women use a sling or carrier to breastfeed out and about, or just to free up their hands in the house. Although I swear by the slings and carriers in general, unfortunately I never got the hang of breastfeeding in them. Initially I felt embarrassed and exposed breastfeeding in public so I would cover Evelyn and myself up. Sadly a lot of women don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public and so they may feed their babies in out of sight in their car or the toilets, or may even avoid it altogether and feed them at home. But there are many breastfeeding friendly and welcoming stores/cafes and places that offer private rooms e.g. mothercare. So as my confidence with breastfeeding grew, and the heatwave hit, I wouldn’t avoid places or bother covering up. Ultimately once baby is latched on and feeding you really can’t see much anyway. And at the end of the day, breastfeeding is natural and women shouldn’t feel ashamed to do it wherever it’s needed. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any negative behaviour from other people when I have breastfed in public. Sadly, on the flip side I’m aware of mothers who have bottle feed formula to their babies in public and received unwelcome and unkind judging comments. Mothers should be left to feed their baby however they choose and whenever they like.
How much and how often?
With breastfeeding you have no idea how much milk the baby is actually getting. How do you know if your milk has ‘come in’? Are they getting enough milk? I certainly didn’t know how often to feed or how long each feeding session should last. Do you feed one side or both during a session? I hadn’t really thought about all the specifics prior to giving birth and actually starting breastfeeding.
I wasn’t really sure if my milk had come in, but gosh did I know it on day 3 when my milk actually came in. Basically I felt like I’d had a boob job overnight! They were both ‘engorged’ – rock solid, sore and leaking! Feeding and pumping definitely helps relieve engorgement. However baby may find it difficult to latch when you are engorged, so expressing a small amount prior can soften the nipple enough to make it easier for baby to latch on. A warm shower or warm flannels applied beforehand also helps soften the breasts prior to the feeding/pumping. On the day that my milk came in, I put Evelyn on the one side to feed and the breast pump on the other side. I didn’t care how I looked as afterwards I felt so much better! During the first 6 weeks whilst your milk supply is getting established and regulated, it is common for the breasts to get full and leak breastmilk. I would frequently change my breast pads i.e. when they got wet, which was usually around each feed. But now fullness and leaking rarely happens so I only change the pads twice a day. I’ve found the lanishon breast pads the most comfortable ones to wear.
I found figuring out when and how often to breastfeed one big guessing game! Because you can’t tell how much milk they take in during a feed, they may have not had enough to fill them up for very long and so need another feed shortly after the last. So I basically just offered Evelyn the breast every time she cried (unless she was crying because of a dirty nappy) and hoped for the best! In order to make and supply baby with enough breastmilk, it is recommended that you should aim to breastfeed around 8-12 times a day, feed ‘on demand’ and let the baby finish feeding them-self rather than you taking them off (by breaking the latch by placing your finger in the corner of their mouth). To monitor if baby is getting enough milk, they should be having regular wet and dirty nappies and settling after feeds. This was the case with Evelyn and she often went into the classic ‘milk coma’, so I assumed she was happy!
At Evelyn’s 72hr weigh in, she had barely lost any weight. I was so relived as it was evidence that the breastfeeding was working and that she was getting enough milk. However at her next weigh in, she had barely gained any more weight and her jaundice was worsening. It is particularly important for babies with jaundice to keep them well hydrated as it helps to flush out the bilirubin. So I panicked and made sure that I fed her as much as possible. This attitude paid off as she quickly gained a lot of weight, in fact she went from the 25th centile to the 91st in just 6 weeks! And despite significantly raised bilirubin (jaundice) levels, she managed to avoid phototherapy treatment. Jaundice is generally quite common in newborns and more so in breastfed babies. It is usually ‘physiological jaundice’, which resolves within a couple of weeks. Evelyn’s jaundice however was ‘breastmilk jaundice’ and lasted around 2 months. This type of jaundice is different to ‘breastfeeding jaundice’, which is due to insufficient milk intake.
I certainly felt as though I fed Evelyn on demand during the first few months. However instead of the usual 8-12 feeds a day, we were frequently up to 15-20 feeds a day. A few times we even got to 30 feeds in a day! I felt as though all I was doing was breastfeeding day and night. We had no routine, it was relentless and chaotic. I wouldn’t be able to plan her feeds and would have to stop whatever I was doing or change my plans if she suddenly needed feeding. It was time consuming and physically draining. All the while I was worried that I was feeding her excessively as I hadn’t realised that this amount of breastfeeding was normal. If I knew to expect this then I would have been less frustrated and stressed out by it. You can’t overfeed a breastfed baby and Evelyn seemed to just always be hungry. At the end of the day, you just have to trust your baby. It really is amazing that they can regulate your milk themselves. They are wanting and needing to feed for what is the right amount for them. Just go with it and ride it out, but it is really hard.
Nevertheless I soon discovered a few things which helped to consolidate her feeding a bit. I would always offer each breast during a feeding session to improve the chance that she would take a good amount of breastmilk at each session. She would frequently fall asleep after feeding from one side, so I would wake her up in order to feed on the other side. I would also do this at night as well, even if it meant changing her nappy to wake her back up, as she would then sleep for longer afterwards. Breast compressions during feeding sessions (basically squeezing the breast after baby pauses during feeding) also helped ‘fill her up’ more. However sometimes despite my best efforts, I would still end up feeding Evelyn for hours on end, on off constantly during the day or night. This was usually during ‘cluster feeding’ session and were usually due to growth spurts or developmental leap.
I kept a breastfeeding diary to keep track of things as it’s surprisingly how poor your memory gets after having a baby! Both Rob and I were so tired in the early weeks that we barely knew what day it was let alone when or which side I had fed from. We also recorded her wet and dirty nappies in the beginning for the same reason. I actually ended up keeping my breastfeeding diary until fairly recently, which I know may seem a bit excessive, but it helped me to keep track of sides so that I didn’t end up feeding from the same side each time and ending up engorged and lopsided!
Breastfeeding is physically demanding of your body. It certainly makes you very thirsty and hungry. You require an extra 700ml of water a day and impressively, you can burn up to 500 calories a day breastfeeding! However, I probably would have easily consume that amount of extra calories. Bananas and Mr Kipling Bakewell tarts and Viennese whirls were my go-to snacks in the early weeks. I would always make sure that I had a water bottle with me when I was feeding, and would aim to drink at least half of the bottle during that time. I’d eat regularly and always try to have healthy(ish) snacks to hand. I used to get particularly hungry from the night feeds so frequently needed an early morning snack.
A few days after I gave birth to Evelyn, I developed an infection in my episiotomy wound and subsequently became septic from a womb infection. During this time I had high fevers which made breastfeeding sessions even harder. Both Evelyn and I would get boiling and sweaty despite the fact that it was snowing outside, I needed to drink even more water to try and compensate for my temperature. I was physically exhausted from fighting the infection whilst trying to produce enough breastmilk for a hungry newborn. I had several course of different antibiotics, and specifically Metronidazole, can alter the taste of your breastmilk (to a metallic taste) and may put the baby off it. Luckily I didn’t notice a huge difference in her preference to the change in taste. Although I was in a lot of pain with the infection, options for painkillers are limited with breastfeeding, notably ibuprofen is contraindicated. As my infection worsened, I needed to be admitted to hospital for intravenous antibiotics. I was worried about being separated from Evelyn and the impact this would have on breastfeeding. Thankfully though I was readmitted to the postnatal ward which meant that Evelyn could come to hospital with me. I would have been devastated if I had to be apart from her.
At around 6 weeks, I developed a ductal breast thrush infection. This was most likely due to the amount of antibiotics that I had for my episiotomy and womb infections. A thrush infection can be quite difficult to diagnosis and it took me a little while to realise I had it. The thrush caused me sharp shooting and stabbing pains in both breasts during feeding which didn’t improve with changing feeding positions and the pain continued for a while after feeding. Any pain that arises after a pain free period of breastfeeding should alert concern and pain that continues after the first minute of breastfeeding is usually abnormal. Thrush can also cause a burning and itching sensation in the nipples and the nipple may be red, shiny and swollen. In the baby, thrush can cause a white coating to develop on their tongue and make feeding uncomfortable for them. Evelyn found it difficult to latch on and I’d hear a clicking sound when she fed, and she would get upset and fussy feeding and generally became much more gassy. Both mum and baby need to be treated for the thrush, even if one doesn’t have any signs or symptoms. As otherwise you will just pass the thrush back and forth to each other not clearing it. For the baby it’s usually a liquid antifungal medication, and for mum, antifungal cream to apply to the nipple and potentially oral antifungal tablets. It is particularly important to wash your hands frequently and to wash your bras and tops at high temperatures in order to kill the yeast. Aim t keep nipples as dry as possible and change breast pads very frequently to prevent the thrush from thriving. The La Leche League website has some very useful information about thrush infection and also many other breastfeeding issues (https://www.laleche.org.uk/nipple-pain/).
With a blocked breast duct I would usually first notice a sharp pain or ache in my breast, which when I then felt in that area, there was a tender lump. I found that a blocked duct usually occurred if I was particularly run down or had gone a long time between feeding sessions – a downside to baby finally sleeping a bit longer stretches at night! Wearing well fitted bras and feeding regularly will help reduce the risk of a blocked duct. Gentle massage of the lump whilst feeding usually sorted it out straight away. Sometimes I would need to try a different feeding position in order to help clear the blocked duct (aim for a position where baby’s chin is pointing towards the lump). If a blocked breast duct is not dealt with promptly, it can quickly develop into mastitis. Particularly if nipples are cracked and bleeding as his is a route for bacteria to enter. Mastitis is a severe bacterial breast infection of which women can become very unwell and may need hospital admission. Fortunately I never went on to develop mastitis. The experience that some women go through with mastitis can be terrible – fevers, hallucinations, and sepsis. If you develop mastitis it is important to continue breastfeeding as it will help. However it can be such a difficult and testing time, that some women may end up stopping breastfeeding altogether if they get mastitis.
At around 3 weeks old, Evelyn developed some strange behaviour prior to feeding. As I tried to get her to latch on, she would open her mouth wide and shake her head at the nipple. She would do this for about 10-30 seconds crying during it but eventually would latch on and feed. It caused me a lot of frustration and stress. I didn’t know what or why she was doing it. Nobody seemed to know what it was and it was from searching the internet that I realised that it was in fact nipple confusion. From when Evelyn was a few weeks old we started giving a bottle of formula in the evenings, in order to give me a break and get some sleep in before my ‘night shift’ started, and to allow Rob the opportunity to feed Evelyn. I knew not to give bottles too frequently when you are trying to establish breastfeeding, as it could impact on how much milk you make. Also introducing a dummy too early could also impact it. But I hadn’t appreciated how significant the impact could be on the baby’s ability to actually breastfeed. So when she started this behaviour I panicked. I didn’t want our breastfeeding relationship to be jeopardised, so we reigned in the bottles a little more and offered them a few times a weeks instead of every night. This did help her nipple confusion and she eventually went back to normal behaviour prior to feeding.
It was always a challenge to give Evelyn a bottle. She would fuss, kick and scream, often only taking an ounce or two. But she would usually at least take some milk. However from 8 weeks old she started to flat out refuse the bottle from anyone. We tried lots of different teats and bottles to great expense (Tommee Tippee, Avent, Minbie). Tried expressed milk vs formula. Different breastfeeding positions, locations and people with me around vs not in the house. We tried different times of the day, we tried when she was calm and not starving and also when she should definitely be hungry enough and should give in. Sometimes we preserved for hours and other times we only tried for short periods so not to stress her out. But nothing worked, and at 12 weeks old on a hot day in June, she refused milk from a bottle for 9 hours. Prior to bottle refusal becoming a problem for us, I hadn’t even realised that it was a thing. I thought that babies would always take the bottle and it’s their ability and willingness to breastfeed that you have to worry about. I found it really hard to keep pushing the bottle when each experience was so draining and traumatic, we tried most days but she clearly preferred breastfeeding and hated the bottle so much. I knew it would be good for all of us if she could take the bottle but I struggled with forcing her to take it, often with no success. Bottle refusal brought me very close to stopping breastfeeding altogether, in the hope that going cold turkey would force Evelyn to take the bottle. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but at times I felt trapped by the bottle refusal. Feeding was solely down to me and I couldn’t do anything or have a break because of it. Evelyn now still doesn’t take the bottle, and although I had hoped that she would take milk from a sippy cup, this is yet to happen. And because she can now fill up on solid food and water she can manage quite a long time without milk. I think that some babies are happy to take milk from different methods but other babies are just pretty stubborn!
I’ll talk about our sleep journey in more detail in a separate blog post, but in terms of breastfeeding, it can easily become a sleep association. A sleep association is something that is needed to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep. When Evelyn was younger she used to l fall asleep after most breastfeeds, so it quickly became the norm as to how we would get her to sleep. From around 8 weeks old, babies sleep cycles began to mature to 30-45 minutes in the day and eventually to 2 hours at night. Prior to 8 weeks old feeding to sleep wasn’t a problem, yet after this, when the ‘newborn sleepiness’ had wore off and her sleep cycles matured, it did become a problem. Evelyn had developed a strong sleep association with breastfeeding. By the dreaded 4 month sleep regression, the sleep association caused real problems and made life pretty challenging. I struggled a lot with Evelyn’s dependency on breastfeeding to sleep and I ended up being the only one who could get her to sleep. I was exhausted and had no break. By 4 and a half months, I got to breaking point. I came very close to ending breastfeeding altogether, as it seemed like the only way to get rid of the sleep association. However I didn’t want to have to choose between breastfeeding or being able to sleep myself. I had became so passionate about breastfeeding that I wanted to do everything I could to continue it. Both breastfeeding and sleep were equally as important to me, I didn’t want to sacrifice either. A friend told me about the little ones sleep programme and since then we haven’t looked back. It was a complete game changer. Following the programme for both sleep and feeding and doing one of their self settling methods, has helped to get rid of Evelyn’s feed to sleep association and has given me back much needed structure, sleep and sanity!
But it’s worth also mentioning co-sleeping as this is commonly done with breastfeeding. It is a controversial subject and people have quite strong opinions about it. I won’t go into much detail about it, but I recommend visiting the Lullaby trust website for further information about it (https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/co-sleeping/). In general, I chose not to co-sleep, but we have it done it for short periods out of sheer desperation to make life easier. But co-sleeping would cause me to have such a stiff and sore back that it was unsustainable.
I will talk about weaning in more detail in a separate blog post. But in terms of weaning and breastfeeding, from around 5 months old, Evelyn started to wake more at night to breastfeed. She had just started to sleep for longer periods at night (around 10 hours) but began to wake 4 hourly at night for milk. This was a sign to me that she needed more than milk in her diet and she continued to wake more at night until she was taking a good amount of solids, about a month into weaning. I followed the little ones feeding programme for when and how to wean Evelyn onto solids. I offered milk first before solids and slowly decreased the frequency of breastfeeds in a day and she took on more solids. During this time Evelyn naturally became less interesting in breastfeeding as frequently anyway. The introduction of solid food has been another game changer in our breastfeeding journey. It has enabled me to have a break and leave Evelyn for longer periods of time, and it’s allowed Rob and other family members the opportunity to feed her. It’s important to say that if you continue to breastfeed your baby after 6 months of age, they require multivitamin drops. Prior to 6 months old breastfeed babies need vitamin D drops only. In contrast, formula fed babies don’t need any supplements as it is all added into the formula already.
A distractible baby
From around 5 months old, Evelyn started to get distracted whilst breastfeeding. If there was anything else going on whilst she was feeding, she would pull off and stop to look around. It didn’t have to be anything interesting to get her attention, everyday noises like the doorbell or light switch would be reason enough for her to stop to look. She would also notice and play with anything that she could reach…my bra straps, my clothes, my hair, my mouth! It soon became very frustrating, as it was a challenge to keep her focused enough to feed properly. It got to the point that we needed to be in a darkened quiet room with no interruptions for her to feed. This restriction was more of an issue before weaning as she was still feeding frequently throughout the day, but now at almost 10 months old, she only feeds 3 times a day, all in her bedroom (first thing in morning, straight after her lunch nap and just before bed), so keeping distractions to a minimum is relatively easy. Another common thing which puts people off breastfeeding older babies is the appearance of teeth. Evelyn currently has 7 teeth, and on the whole it hasn’t been a problem. Generally if the baby is latched on properly their tongue covers their lower teeth, making it impossible to bite you without biting their own tongue. So if biting does occur, it’s usually when the baby isn’t latched on properly or if they are ‘messing around’ and not actually feeding.
So what keeps me breastfeeding now, 10 months down the line? I think that my approach and attitude to breastfeeding is a bit like with exercising. And that’s not because breastfeeding is a good workout and I’d often use it as an excuse for not doing any exercise! But as with exercising, breastfeeding is hard, challenging and sometimes you’d wish that you didn’t have to do it yourself! But overall I feel better and good for doing it and for continuing to do it. Although there are still challenges, and no doubt returning to work will be a big one for us, the benefits of breastfeeding make all the hard times worth while and keep me going for as long as possible.