Right now I am breastfeeding my almost 8 month old daughter as I try to get her to sleep. I fed her just half an hour ago before she first fell asleep for the night but she is awake again so boobs are back out and I am sat in a dark room listing to her suckling away, perfectly content.
Then. March 2015. Two years ago I was breastfeeding my boy. My boy who was at the time almost 9 months old. With there being exactly two years and one month to the day between my two children it means I am experiencing a lot of milestones and events at the same time of year with both of them. That, alongside my own ever analytical personality, means I am often comparing my two kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making charts or anything to pick a winner, I am just fascinated (as I have discovered others are too) by how two siblings raised with near enough the same nurture and nature, can be so very different and so very alike simultaneously.
Now. I have been meaning to and desperately wanting to write about our breastfeeding journey’s ever since I up and started writing a blog. I have started and stopped and deleted the drafts countless times because you see breastfeeding is really important to me and I have both so much and also nothing at all to say about it it would seem. I want to do the subject matter justice yet I’m not particularly interested in researching the heck out of it. Those types of articles (the ones telling you the cold hard facts about breastfeeding being the biological norm and about the amazing benefits it can have for both baby and Mum) already exist. I should know, I’ve read and loved them. But for me now, I just want to jot down some musings on breastfeeding as I sit and nurse my girl and think about how I no longer nurse her brother and one day she too will stop feeding from me.
Then. If you would have told me before Aiden was born that I would breastfeed him exclusively (not even one drop of expressed milk in a bottle, I tried a few times but he refused the bottles and expressing was a total nightmare for me) for 14 months, I think it is safe to say I would have been confused. I wouldn’t have thought “oh hell no” or “and why not to three years?” I would have simply had nothing to compare our feeding journey too. I had no family or friends with babies and truth be told, I really had never thought about breastfeeding in any depth at all. I knew I would breastfeed to 6 months because that is what I had seen on leaflets was advised. I was so convinced of this in fact, and made so unaware that there could be any amount of difficulties especially at the start of breastfeeding, that to this day I have never bought any formula. That meant that once I was at home with my baby boy I really had no option but to persevere especially in the middle of the night. This way might not work for everyone (I have a friend who was the opposite, she kept breastfeeding but was much happier in the knowledge that she did have formula in if she wasn’t able to) but it was the best thing for me because I am stubborn so get on with it I did, through tears and blood. Only upon seeking out further reading after Aiden was born did I discover that it is actually advised by the World Health Organisation to breastfeed to two years but this information is only really circulated within breastfeeding groups I found and not considered “normal” by health workers I encounter. It certainly isn’t seen as common practice by the majority of British society even if a large percentage of the World’s population are in fact doing it. My goal then, in the mad crazy haze of navigating through life as a first time Mum was simply to make it to six months. It was more glorious and so much tougher than I expected it to be that by the time I had made it to six months and just about got the hang of it, I wasn’t prepared to stop!
Now. I feed Faye on demand but the thing is she is an extremely laid back baby so for my own peace of mind (and it actually just seems to work out that way most days anyhow) I do feed her roughly the same times each day (nights are a law unto their own but we’ll get on to that) She feeds approximately six times during day time hours (7am – 8pm). Up until recently I fed her before she would have her solid food so she wouldn’t be hungry when eating and would therefore be relaxed and enjoy playing with the food. Turns out though that Faye isn’t like Aiden at all when it comes to breastfeeding. She will happily have very little breast milk and just get on with eating her solid food. It is a genuine struggle most mornings to get her to nurse for more than a few minutes as she is so inquisitive she just wants to see what Aiden is playing with and will then eat a big breakfast of food after I have given up wrestling with her to take some breast milk for 10mins. I nurse her to sleep at nap times unless we are out and about, then she will happily fall asleep in the pram or car without milk. She is also a very very fast eater. My Mum told me this would happen as she said I, as her first child would feed on her all day long, leisurely just hanging out, nursing and sleeping on and off. My little sister came along and she would, as my Mum puts it, ’empty her in a few seconds flat, turn her head away and be done.’ Well Mum is always right because this is exactly what my two were / are like.
Then. I kept a baby diary of Aiden’s first two years, and do the same with Faye. It is great for looking back on things that you swear you will never forget but of course you do. I thought I would remember Aiden’s breastfeeding patterns forever but it turns out I have selective memory! When I looked back to see what Aiden was doing nursing wise at 9 months I was shocked to discover he was only feeding 3 times a day and was breastfeeding never or just once at night. I have been feeding Faye so often because I felt like I did it with Aiden and she is still looking so little only it seems I was wrong about how often Aiden nursed. Aiden did always however nurse for VERY long sittings. I could watch entire films during one feed. I am not exaggerating here. The shortest a feed would be was 45 mins and they frequently were easyly 1.5 hours long. Absolutely glorious for watching box sets initially but once he passed a few months old, he too was inquisitive and would whip his head round at the sound of the TV, often still attached to me! Aiden’s morning feed was his biggest. He absolutely loved breastfeeding when he woke up and l often had half my breakfast whilst sat nursing otherwise I’d be starved before we sat down at the table. It was actually the morning feed that was the last to go when normally it is the before bed feed people drop last. With Aiden being the only child whilst I was breastfeeding him we had the great luxury of being able to let his feeds dictate our days. If he wanted to sit and feed for hours on end all day long and never leave the house we could do that, and frequently did! Pyjama days were very popular.
Now. Pyjama days are long gone and reserved for sick days and the night time. Talking of night time, let’s address that big fat sleepy elephant in the corner. So people always say ‘breastfed babies don’t sleep as well.’ They say they wake up more frequently and need fed more than formula fed babies as ‘formula milk fills them up more.’ There is, I think some truth and also some nonsense in this, and either which way I would still always prefer to breastfeed (even when people advise me constantly to ‘top them up’ before bed with baby rice and formula. I don’t care if your baby sleeps 14 hours and brings you breakfast in bed, that is not going to happen here folks!) Having never had a baby on formula, I couldn’t possibly comment conclusively but I can say that my friends who formula fed were still up with their babies at night so you do the maths. Faye when she was born bucked the trend of breastfed babies waking as she did in fact sleep 5 hours straight since day one. That increased to 8 hours and then right through 12 hour night by 6 weeks. It was like a bloomin’ dream I tells ya! But as we all know too well, no need to get too comfortable with it as suddenly at 5 months her sleep went from absolutely amazing to pretty shocking. She is now 8 months and seems to only just be coming out the other end of awful sleep. We are nowhere near back to great or even good nights yet, but things are on the up and up. She now normally goes to bed asleep on the breast at 8pm. Then she without fail wakes 40 minutes later as she comes out of her sleep cycle. Up untill this last week I would just nursing her back to sleep, she would wake and we would go round and round. It was the easiest option. No screaming you see so I was happy she wouldn’t wake her brother up. I was however becoming increasingly aware that it was frustrating me as I had no time of an evening to myself, and it was stopping Faye from just putting herself back to sleep as I would rush in. So now I wait a little as she stirs. If she is not going back asleep I go in and cuddle and rock and shush her back to sleep. There can be some hell ish screams (none have yet woken Aiden though!) but they usually stop after 15 minutes. She then also seems to sleep better. Almost like she thinks well it is pointless waking if this is all I get. Any time she wakes after midnight though I feed her because I am to tired to try the other method. I am fine with this and usually it is just once that she wakes now. I think sometimes you can work yourself into thinking things will be horrendous and so they become that way. Think positive and tell your baby the positives they will achieve and they often do. I’m probably just sleep deprived and crazy but I told Faye my plan for better sleep and she seems to be trying it out!
Then. As a newborn Aiden’s night’s were not. They simply were not night’s. We didn’t use our brains as we were so new to it all so we had him downstairs, lights, TV, radio, all on and us wondering why this tiny human wouldn’t sleep. It took me and two weeks before I read about creating a night and day environment and then it was like oh my days how stupid are we. Aiden therefore didn’t sleep in lovely big chunks like Faye did for quite some time. And even worse, when Aiden woke at night he would be up for a good 1.5 hours at least every time. We had to train him to self sooth by being there next to him as he screamed and screamed, offering cuddles and comfort but not breast milk all the time. It was tough going. I couldn’t take it. I would always ‘cave’. Keith was happy to leave him crying in sort of 10 minute intervals if he knew he was changed and had water etc. I couldn’t. I think I cried more than Aiden. But after a while Aiden stared sleeping. He has slept pretty wonderfully ever since. He didn’t starve. He wasn’t left to cry it out. It was tough. But they do change. I need to remember on trying night’s with Faye that things get better.
Now. On to one of my favourite things about breastfeeding. Feeding outside on the go. It is so so convenient I could just package it up and sell it! People often say that formula feeding is a ‘lazy option’ but heavens I don’t know how new patents can cope with all the preparation and sterilisation that it involves. I remember being out with a friend and her newborn who formula fed and the lunch was running late. The stress it caused about milk made at at home needing to be chucked and then asking the cafe to heat and cool new milk. Whilst her boy let the world know he wanted his lunch too, I just latched my boy on and we were sorted. How do people prepare a bottle when baby wakes and is crying in the middle of the night? Nope, breastfeeding is by far the easier option in that regard I think. Faye now doesn’t like feeding for very long when we are out and about so bonus points for that to as it makes our adventures very easy indeed. I love that my milk is always the right temperature no matter what.
Then. Initially with Aiden I suffered from a lack of confidence so did use a cover when feeding outside. It was a hot Summer and it was an absolute nightmare. Both me and Aiden were sticky and uncomfortable. I cared too much what others thought and thought everyone was staring (truth be told noone really gave us a second glance). This worry only lasted a few weeks though and then I came to the realisation that my baby needed fed and I needed to get out of the house so I didn’t go mad. We didn’t like using a cover. So no more cover and just a few more stares from folk. Covers can be a great confidence booster to some people and that is great, we just weren’t some of those people. By the end of our breastfeeding journey I could feed Aiden with no skin showing just by wearing clothes in a certain way. I was always strangely proud when someone thought we were just cuddling and would be cooing over him and then go ‘oh I didn’t realise you were feeding him!’
Now. Faye is a big fan of being out and about. Unfortunately she gets so so easyly distracted now that feeding her outside has suddenly actually become quite stressful. Initially I would sweat the small stuff but I am more relaxed now so trying to find a work-around. With a toddler as well as a baby, we simply have to get out and about as much as possible. Add breastfeeding into the mixand it is getting more and more to be the something I am most proud off that I do get out on my own with the two kids when a Keith is working away.
Now and then I think about breastfeeding. I think about as Faye is my last child, this will be my last breastfeeding relationship. How much longer will I be able to nurse her? Can I match the 14 months I fed her brother for? Like I say, I am stubborn and I am also a stickler for trying to treat my two kids equally so I am pretty confident we will manage it.
I started writing this draft of this post a week ago, and ever within that short time so many things have once again changed with my baby girl and our breastfeeding relationship. At the beginning of the week I would feed Faye to sleep and she would without fail wake 40 mins later. I would then feed her back to sleep and rinse and repeat for the next few hours. Now I don’t feed her after that initial bedtime feed until the next day (so any time after midnight basically) and she is getting better and better at simply not waking or self soothing back to sleep. As she consumes more solid food daily she is wanting even less breast milk and is happy to take water with ever meal and between feeds. This means she can if needed be get looked after by someone else whilst I do the shopping etc or even (and this is only because it was recently my birthday!) go and get a massage. I think what I am trying to say is with babies, and with children in general, things are changing constantly. There is little rhyme or reason, and that which does exist will change just as you think you have mastered it. Parents need to be less tough on themselves. I will always have ‘Mum guilt’ and I will always be driven to do the best for my children, but to do that you need to also make sure you are ok. Breastfeeding only works when it is working for the Mother and the child and I think that my 14 months with Aiden was the perfect length for us. With that in mind I know however long I feed Faye for will be the perfect length for us also. Support breastfeeding Mum’s that you know. Support formula feeding Mum’s you know. Support parents. Heck support people who aren’t parents. If everyone was just that little bit nicer to one another and less judgmental about the choices we make or are made for us, the world would be such a better place. In the end isn’t that the resin we make the choices we do with our children? So their world will be the best we can make for them.