When all your friends have stopped breastfeeding…

It started happening around six months, the weaning from the breast. It started with comments like: “I don’t know how you can keep doing that” and “Haven’t you had enough?” There were phrases that practically echoed formula ads and that skewed NHS guidelines.

I suppose it started earlier. In the past year only 47.2 per cent of women were found still breastfeeding when their babies were six to eight weeks old. And yes there may be a cultural aversion to breastfeeding, depending on where they live, but I’m sure many of those women would have liked to have continued. In one way or another, they were unsupported, maybe before they had their babies, maybe after and maybe both.

But I didn’t notice people stopping around then. That was when it started with the pumping, the domperidone, the SNS, the breast compressions. That was when I was up and down, feeling like a failure because my breasts were not producing enough milk for my baby to progress beyond static weight gain.

Trapped in my own breastfeeding maze, I did not see bottle feeding mothers. They were invisible to me. All I saw were breastfeeding mothers. I saw them tenderly and easily feed their babies. It stung.

When Talitha was five months old, we finally got to a place where I wasn’t supplementing or pumping in order to feed her. I was ready to join this sisterhood of breastfeeding mothers (of course, I had always been part of it anyway), except most of the mums I knew were stopping. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

So, I found a new reason to go to my local breastfeeding group. I wanted to be around mothers who’d decided to keep going simply because it made sense. When Talitha was eight months old, I trained as breastfeeding peer supporter. This too made sense, to remain in this breastfeeding community while giving back to it. I still thought, I might breastfeed for a year, for no reason other than I was still taking Domperidone and couldn’t believe that if I stopped taking it, my supply would be sufficient to continue.

A month later, I stopped taking it, weaning off it slowly. We continued. Her weight was stable. I saw the future stretch out before me without arbitrary limits. There was freedom in our breastfeeding relationship, for the first time. We could continue as long as we liked. No GP’s power to prescribe would decide for us.

And so, a year came and went. I joined La Leche League and met mothers breastfeeding children far older than mine. It was beautiful. It was normal. And now two years have come and gone. The breastfeeding maze is all faded memory. And the numbers I breastfed alongside fall and fall, which is fine. Every mother makes the decision that’s right for her and her family.

But if it weren’t for these breastfeeding groups I go to, I reckon I’d feel like the last woman standing. I kind of think, though, I didn’t get out of that breastfeeding maze just to stop any old how.

When all your friends have stopped breastfeeding

I’ve written this post for this year’s Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt, celebrating National Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2013. To gather points for a chance to win a grand prize of LOTS of breastfeeding-related products, please enter the Rafflecopter widget below. You can gather more points by checking out some of the other bloggers participating in the hunt this week:

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Top tip for breastfeeding mothers: Relax and Accept

I had a love-hate relationship with the phrase “This too shall pass” when I was doing the new baby thing with Talitha.

Sometimes it was my mantra. I would declare it and draw great strength from it. We would live to see another day. She would not be thirteen and waking me up hourly (or, I really hope she won’t be!). All these biologically normal newborn things that did not fit with my industrialised, isolated lifestyle would settle down, would be survived.

Other times, a more experienced mother would tell me that her crap naps, insane feeding, constant night waking, etc etc etc too would pass and I would collapse inside myself in frustration.

Because looking back on it now, I know the hardest advice in the world to take is “Relax and Accept” but, actually, it’s the best advice for new mothers. Maybe even more so for breastfeeding ones.

Here are a few things breastfeeding mothers would do well to relax and accept:

Night waking happens – it’s actually a good thing
As if the fact that your baby keeps waking up, forcefully making her feeding cues known wasn’t exhausting enough, everyone wants to weigh in on how much your baby should be sleeping: “Is she a GOOD baby? How does she sleep?” It’s usually asked out of concern or lack of something more interesting to say but it is sooo unhelpful. For a start, these questions are rooted in outdated beliefs about how babies should behave – formula fed ones at that.

Evidence now shows us that new babies need to wake a lot at night because their tiny tummies need feeding frequently throughout the day and night, especially since breast milk is so well-digested. Next time someone tells you your four-week-old or even one-year-old should be sleeping through, keep this quote from the Infant Sleep Information Source in mind:

“Generally, though, babies do not sleep all night-every night until they are close to a year old. One study investigating infant sleep duration found that 27% of babies had not regularly slept from 10pm to 6am by the age of 1 year. 13% of babies had not regularly slept through for 5 hours or more by the age of 1 year.”

In fact, go over to ISIS and breathe in their info on what normal infant sleep looks like. Go on. It’ll do your mental health some good.

Why do I say it’s normal and good that babies wake up a lot? I’ll give you three reasons but I’m sure there are more:
– Night feeds are brilliant for initiating, increasing and maintaining your milk production
– Night waking helps to satisfy a survival instinct to keep the mother close
– Sleeping longer or more deeply than is developmentally normal increases the risk of SIDS

Ah, if we knew this was normal and were able to relax and accept it, maybe we’d spend more time learning to sleep in the day and less time freaking out about our babies’ mixed up days and nights? I don’t know. I hope so.

Babies breastfeed a lot

I really, really, really don’t think most new mothers realise how often newborn babies need to breastfeed, especially since the generation before us were taught to schedule feeds.

It would be great if pregnant women and their partners could get along to a breastfeeding class before having their babies or for pregnant women to visit a breastfeeding group like a La Leche League Meeting. I remember being so surprised to hear that a baby could feed and then want to feed again thirty minutes later when we were at our NCT breastfeeding session. Seeing the belly balls that show how tiny babies’ tummies are at first really helped as well. Still, cluster feeds, growth spurts, these were things I was in the dark about.

I’d really recommend you read Kellymom’s Breastfeeding your newborn – what to expect in the early weeks, Kate Evan’s hilarious and informative comic book The Food of Love and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding to find out all about what normal newborn breastfeeding is like. In fact, that site and those books can also give some insight into all stages of breastfeeding because even when you’re breastfeeding a toddler there’s stuff to relax about and just accept.

Your presence is everything to your baby

As I said in the sleep section, your baby’s survival instinct is to keep you close. That is because human babies are born helpless. They can’t even hold on to their mothers. They are completely dependent. More than that, a mother’s instinct is to be with her baby and often we’re taught, quite strangely, to reject this deep need of ours as if it’s harmful to our babies and to us.

I want to claim back the hours I stressed about my daughter needing to nap on my lap or beside me. All the time I felt she should be feeding less. I wish I’d learned to use a sling sooner than four weeks and diversified my knowledge so I could be confident in carrying my baby. I wish I’d researched safe bed sharing practices sooner so I wouldn’t have beaten myself up trying not to bring her into bed with us and then beaten myself up for bedsharing.

Being close easily gives your baby more opportunities to breastfeed. It’s good for your supply and, believe it or not, good for your sanity. Breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than formula feeding mothers – IF they are sleeping close to their babies. I’m not saying that all breastfeeding mothers need to adopt bedsharing and babywearing but I’m not going to lie to you, they can help.

You do need help

But isn’t this all a bit…much? It’s so much pressure on a mum, new or not. All this waking, all this breastfeeding, all this closeness – it’s bound to overwhelm her and it’s, well, downright unfeminist, dammit. Happy mum, happy baby, right?

Well, I can see where you’re coming from but for many mums, stopping breastfeeding before they’re ready doesn’t make them happy. You know what would make a lot of us happy? Not being alone in this. Not having the additional pressures of cleaning the house and cooking while learning to feed this new baby. Having someone come and play with our older child or maybe hold the baby for a bit (if we ask them to, not getting grabby if we rather they didn’t).

It’s hard for women to relax and accept that they need help though. It’s drummed into us that we’re supposed to be good at all of it. That we’re supposed to be OK as soon as possible. It’s crushing when we discover we’re not. I often ask women who are struggling with breastfeeding (whether it’s because of normal newborn stuff or an actual breastfeeding problem) if there’s any way they can get some help during the day but I know there are often so many things in the way of a mum letting go and saying, “Please, help me.” But I really wish she would. And I really, really wish the response wouldn’t be: “Well, you express (ie potentially introduce breastfeeding risks and do more work) and I’ll give a bottle.”

You may need breastfeeding support

The final thing I’d love breastfeeding mothers to relax and accept is that they may need a breastfeeding peer supporter or an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), or a breastfeeding group or a breastfeeding counselor on a helpline – that they may need some extra breastfeeding help. It doesn’t have to be “perfect” right away. You may have difficulties and you can get help. You may not have any big problems but would just benefit from being around other mothers who are likeminded and who have been there. A huge part of why women don’t continue to breastfeed for as long as they’d like is because they lack support.

If you’re pregnant or have a new baby, please look to any of these supporters I’ve mentioned. Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, La Leche League or NCT. If all your friends have stopped breastfeeding and you’re still going, I encourage you to relax and accept that getting plugged into a group of breastfeeding mothers. This path is not meant to be travelled alone.

This post had a giveaway attached, which is why some of the comments are random.


The breastfeeding conference – ABM Conference 2013

I went to a breastfeeding conference on Saturday. It was absolutely the last thing I felt like after a week of moving house and just before second birthday celebrations but oh how I’m glad I went. I’ve come away re-inspired and challenged. It’s made me love women more. Actually it’s made me love men and children too. Perhaps I’m still awash in all that oxytocin from the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) Conference.

Baby led feeding

First, we got to hear from Gill Rapley, the Baby Led Weaning champion. My two-year-old-on-Tuesday is far beyond the stage where purees would make for expected conversation. So I admit that baby led weaning versus spoon feeding is just not something I personally think that much about anymore. Yes, it comes up as a topic in breastfeeding groups I support or attend but I’ve not had much opportunity to think about it in any great depth recently. Yet Rapley made so much sense that it got me fired up about the topic again. Here are some highlights:

– No other mammal does what we do. We puree because we start solids too early.
– Freedom to make choices about food encourages babies to grow into autonomous people.
– Babies with tongue tie can work out for themselves how to manage food around their restrictions.
– Mesh feeders are gross. And weird.

Relactation

Next speaking was a lactation consultant (IBCLC) and adoptive mum who asked a question that comes up now and again but always provokes: Would you prefer to breastfeed with formula milk in your breasts or bottlefeed with breastmilk?

At this point, I look at my notes and realise I barely took any during this session. For one thing, some of the advice for relactation also applies to women trying to increase milk supply so it’s stuff I’m fairly familiar with. Also, her personal story had the room in such grip, the audience was more likely to be crying than scribbling.

Kim (not her real name) adopted her daughter when she was eight-months-old and went on to express for her for eighteen months. The baby wouldn’t latch on to the breast.

Quoting from From Fear to Love: Parenting Difficult Adopted Children, she talked bout the importance of sucking in general and, ideally, sucking at the breast, in making up for lost early babyhood experiences.

Anyway, for a long time it didn’t seem like breastfeeding was going to happen. She put a bottle teat on the breast and used an SNS with water in it when her daughter was almost two, used nipple shields. It sounds like she was giving a lot of stuff a go but nothing was really happening. Finally, her daughter latched on, totally on her own. Kim was so surprised she dared not move in case she broke the spell. A few days later, she was getting milk. When Kim told us that the baby said, “Mummy milk”, the feeling in the room was incredible. She’d taken us into that re-parenting moment with her.

So, going back to her opening question: throw the value of mothering at the breast into the mix and you’ve really got something to think about.
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Ways my toddler shows she loves “mummy milk”

While I was breastfeeding 22-month-old Talitha to sleep last night, she lifted my other breast and offered it to me. Without unlatching, her expressive brows said: “Mummy, you have some.” Of course, I was – shall we say – less than keen. I explained to her that this was something she didn’t have to share.

She has a real thing at the moment about making sure “Talitha has one and mummy has one” of anything she’s enjoying. So, while it was killing that she wanted me to have a suckle of my own nipple, I realised that it meant she must love her “mummy milk”. She loves it enough that she thinks I should have in on it too. It got me thinking of the other ways she shows how pleasurable a thing she thinks this is.

She’s forever asking me to breastfeed stuffed animals, her dolly, babies in books, the cats (I, obviously, don’t honour the last request). When I recommend she breastfeed them herself (again, not the cats), mainly because I don’t have the childlike imagination not to feel silly holding a wooden crab to my breast, she lifts her shirt, positions whatever the object of affection is and beams at me with pride.

Of course, now that she can speak, this adds a whole new dimension to the experience. When she’s finished her wake up feed, she pulls my top down to cover my breasts, blowing kisses and saying, “Bye bye, milky” in much the same way that she would say, “Bye bye, Daddy.” At times, she even pops off mid feed to smile up at me and say “Yummy!” or “Nice!”
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Making my peace with formula

I cleared the last couple of baby bottles out of my kitchen cupboard today. My supplemental nursing system (SNS) went to the breastfeeding group some weeks ago as a demo aid for mothers struggling with milk production. These pieces of kit powerfully remind me that I cannot claim to have exclusively breastfed my daughter.

Big deal, you might say, especially since I’m still breastfeeding her now at 22 months. How dare I feel any regret when so many don’t manage to breastfeed at all? Well, OK. I’m being real here. There’s nothing wrong with what I feel.

Every time I learn something more about breast milk and breastfeeding and about formula, I wish I had been able to avoid supplementing with artificial milk.

I don’t get defensive when I hear about how different these substances are or when I come across something which suggests risks for my daughter having been mixed fed.

I do get a little peeved when someone who doesn’t know our whole story suggests that we could have managed without formula. But it’s just that – they haven’t walked where we have.

They don’t necessarily know about the long days and nights spent literally passing her from breast to breast, the tension in her body, the static weight gain then loss, the abnormal nappy count, all of the signs in my eight-week-old’s face and body that I now look back on and think: “Of course, she was desperately hungry!”

Not having enough milk is one of the top concerns that most first time breastfeeding mothers have. It’s often not actually a problem. Newborns often feed and wake more frequently than our formula culture leads us to expect and not necessarily on a regular schedule.

But sometimes, there is a genuine supply issue as I experienced due Talitha’s late-diagnosed tongue-tie. The first rule of dealing with low milk production is to feed the baby. Mine was too weak and too hungry to work properly at the breast, so I see the wisdom in this. So began the routine of using breast compressions, taking Domperidone, pumping after feeds and supplementing using an SNS to give her the extra milk at the breast.

The reality was that for this to work, I needed more milk than I was able to immediately pump. A friend with a baby of a similar age offered me her milk but after thinking about it, I chose to supplement my own milk with formula. It was a difficult decision to make and I’m not sure I would turn down milksharing if I could go back and do it again. I made the most confident choice I could with the information I had at the time.

I am certain that I supplemented with formula for longer than I had to. When my supply recovered, Talitha gained too much weight and I was able to completely drop all supplements of expressed milk and formula in one fell swoop with no ill effect. I should have been keeping a closer eye on what was happening but the fact is that I’d lost my trust in my ability to produce milk. I stopped supplementing when she was five months old but I think I could have stopped a month sooner.

I only discovered later while reading the book Making More Milk what an effect the whole experience had had on my sense of self. I’d felt inadequate and been consumed with both guilt and directionless anger.

In that state, if someone had said to me that it needed to be all or nothing, that could have pushed me to stop breastfeeding altogether. Instead, the lactation consultant who helped me emphasised that every breastfeed is valuable, even if it’s just one a day.

In fact, she recently wrote a post, “Formula: friend or foe”, which really captured my experience. We shouldn’t have needed formula, and I’m still angry about the circumstances that led us to use it, but it was one of the tools that allowed us to continue.

At eight weeks, I filled my SNS and prayed that I’d be able to breastfeed until six months. I reached six months and wondered if a year might be possible. Talitha turns two in June. We’re still going.


Moments when you’re thankful to be breastfeeding your toddler


It’s past the six-month, twelve-month, eighteen-month, two-year or whatever mark people around you thought you’d stop at. You’re still breastfeeding your toddler and they can’t understand why. Maybe it’s because they’re not the ones there to enjoy these moments.

You’re thankful to still be breastfeeding your toddler when:

Your toddler’s sick and can’t keep anything else down
We’ve been through this a couple of times and each time I’ve been so grateful that I can give Talitha the most easily digested food, human milk.

One of her bugs didn’t allow her to keep even that down, though. Still, it was a relief that the breast could comfort her and that even if she was throwing up, she was still getting something from my milk.

She threw up yesterday and though it was a one-time thing – so, not viral I don’t think – she was only interested in fruit and crackers. Of course she wanted to up her feeds, which meant that I wasn’t worried she was going hungry or likely to get dehydrated.

This moment alone is enough to make me think it’s a pretty good idea to continue to breastfeed children while their immune systems are immature.

Your child has lost it with that tantrum

I know I probably haven’t seen anything yet in this department since she’s not yet two and we haven’t yet encountered the total mentalness I hear three can be (take a look at this hilarious post 46 Reasons My Three Year Old Might be Freaking Out).

That said, we have had some pretty intense tantrums round these parts. I’m getting better at figuring out what I’m doing with them but quite a lot of the time, cuddle and boob quick enough can either stop one from going full-blown or can bring her back to me once she’s calmed down a little. Sometimes it even does the calming.

You discover the benefits of natural child spacing

My brother and I are very close in age. We’re fourteen months apart. Growing up I liked that age gap. I think, really, I just liked (well, like) my brother. And now that I have my own child I think: my poor mother.

We were never going to have children that close, seeing as my cycles didn’t even return until seventeen months postpartum. Lactational amenorrhea is an amazing thing. I raged against it when I got broody while Talitha was much younger but further along this journey I appreciate that by continuing to breastfeed, she’s helping my body to take the time to fully recover from the huge task of giving birth. My body is also making sure that it meets the needs of the baby I already have before prioritising the needs of another that’s so far a figment of my imagination. Well done, baby and body!

You want to sleep
Thankfully, Talitha still breastfeeds to sleep (most of the time, anyway). This allows us to have easy, calm naptimes. If I feel like it, I can stay with her and grab some sleep too. We still bedshare so if she stirs at night I can flop a boob out and seconds later, we’re all asleep again. In fact, I’m often tempted to tell people she sleeps through. What I really mean is, I feel like I do.

Your child goes through food fads

I keep hearing it’s a phase but we’re over six months into Talitha’s extremely fussy eating and it only seems to be getting marginally better. I continue to offer her a broad range of foods so I feel I’m doing my part. Knowing that she has access to the breast to fill in any nutritional gaps really sets my mind at ease.

You’ve been apart all day and need to reconnect
Talitha’s started going to a childminder one day a week. It’s a long day because I still don’t drive yet and the childminder lives a fair way away by bus. So Laurence drops and picks her up before and after work.

It’s quite a long separation for both of us but she makes up for it by feeding as soon as we get home and checking in with lots of feeds the next day. When I was taking the bus to go pick her up, I’d have to factor time sitting on the sofa at the childminder’s to feed her as soon as she saw me because it was the first thing she wanted to do!

This is just another indicator to me that her emotional need to be mothered in this way, though gradually fading, is still strong. It’s such an easy way to meet that need – a sweet one too.

So, mothers breastfeeding toddlers, what moments make you thankful that you’re still breastfeeding them?


The power of the first hour: breastfeeding saves lives

Photo by Save the Children UK: thanks to the generosity of Save the Children supporters and health workers, Watta’s mum, Comfort, had access to all the emergency supplies and information about breastfeeding she needed during Watta’s fragile first hour.

The baby is born. In that first hour, his mother brings him to her breast and he drinks liquid gold.

Colostrum, that first milk, can mean life or death. Its components are highly concentrated to coat his intestines – protecting against germs and foreign protein – welcome beneficial bacteria and get that first stool moving out.*

But what if the mother is robbed of the opportunity to give it to him? What if her baby is one out of three born without a skilled birth attendant? What if this means she doesn’t receive breastfeeding support she needs?

What if cultural tradition misinforms her that her lifesaving colostrum is dirty?

What if her husband or mother-in-law makes the decision about how she feeds her baby?

What if she is hindered by knowing she’ll have to return to work when her baby is two days old?

What if she is visited by a “milk nurse”, employed by a formula company, who insinuates that although “breast is best”, actually, her baby will grow up with everything he needs from the tin in this leaflet?

What if she does have health care but her midwife hasn’t received adequate breastfeeding training and has been given formula samples to hand out?

What if she doesn’t have clean water and sterilising equipment to make up the bottle? What if she doesn’t know how important that is?

What if she can’t afford formula and ends up diluting it to stretch it?

What if she gives her tiny baby coffee or butter?

What if this means she won’t breastfeed her baby in that first hour? Or the first six months? Or into the second year?

And what if this means he will die?
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