Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

Motherhood is so much more than your milk

Hey, you.

You there, with the tiny baby. You there, slogging on in a dream-haze between feed and sleep and feed. You, mama, with this terrifying new position as Centre of the Universe for the baby you made.

You there, crying tears of bone-deep exhaustion into your five-day-old pyjamas.

You warrior woman. You lovely thing. Look at you.

We’re in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, something I’m sure you haven’t missed in all your 3am zombie-scrolling on Twitter. Breastfeeding is something that tends to arouse strong emotions in all of us, and especially in you.

Maybe it came easily and joyously to you, and you’re a passionate advocate for a woman’s right to feed her baby.

Maybe you fought for it tooth and nail, latch by latch, and you’re proud of how far you’ve come.

Maybe you’re trying everything, asking everyone, and it’s still not really working, and your baby isn’t gaining weight, and every visit to the children’s clinic turns your stomach into a hard knot of guilt and fear.

Maybe it never worked, and your baby’s been drinking formula from the start, and you still find yourself assembling the bottles at baby group with an apologetic air.

There is nothing more personal than feeding the baby you made with the body you have. No wonder we take breastfeeding personally. We just can’t not.

Well.

I am here to tell you, 3am zombie-woman, that your worth as a mother is not defined by the milk you make. Your motherhood is in a thousand things. It’s the kisses you squeeze onto chubby cheeks, the way you leap up automatically when you hear a particular I’m very hurt cry, the way they quiet themselves on your chest while you soothe them. It’s the floating turds you scoop out of the bath trying not to throw up, and the sick stains on your shoulders, and the way you heave yourself out of bed for the seventeenth time in a single night. And yes, it’s the gathering up of your baby to your breast as he swallows and swallows in rhythm. Or the scoop-tap-scoop-tap of the formula cup into the bottle you just sterilised yet again, before you plop the teat into your baby’s grateful mouth.

Do you know who doesn’t give a damn whether you make milk or not? Your baby. It’s you they want, just you. Most of being a good mother is making sure you are both healthy and happy, yes, both of you together, and you get to decide exactly how that happens.

If breastfeeding works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Spoiler alert: I can’t tell which of my son’s friends were breastfed or bottle-fed. I haven’t really thought seriously about breastfeeding in a while. My motherhood is now in a thousand different things: toilet trips, time-outs, tantrums, responding to the eight-thousandth ‘MUMMY WATCH THIS’ with a smile in my voice and on my face. I think back to the panic-stricken mother I was, sobbing in cupboards about my inadequate milk supply, and I want to gather her up in a fierce hug and tell her that none of that matters a jot.

I promise you, magnificent pyjamaed thing, that one day soon your motherhood won’t be measured in feeds.

But you know it never was, right? It never was.

This one goes out to all the breastfeeding losers

breastfeeding losers

Do you know, the day my body gave up its milk, four days after deciding to stop breastfeeding Teddy, I felt cleansed.

I didn’t say that to anyone, except Tim. I was ashamed of it. It’s not how you’re supposed to feel. But I did.

Without my inadequate little supply of milk, I was free. Free from the guilt that he needed food I couldn’t give him.

Free from the two-hourly feeling that my body was a failure.

Free from the excruciating pain of his constant latching-on, and the frustration of both of us when he wasn’t satisfied.

Free from the nagging sadness that I wasn’t good enough for this baby I’d grown and given birth to. Our bodies were supposed to be compatible. I was supposed to feed him. I’d had his latch checked, eaten all the right things, gathered him to me every ninety minutes, night and day, for weeks. It didn’t work. I didn’t work. I sat on the sofa, getting angry with everything, Henry climbing up the walls, Teddy arching his back and screeching, stuff everywhere. It was awful.

So I let it go. I started topping him up with formula at four weeks, and it took another three months after that to accept that the little breastmilk he was getting was doing me more harm than good. Me, and therefore him. It was a huge mental leap, accepting that sometimes, the thing you believe in wholeheartedly just isn’t the right thing for you. With Henry, he chose to stop breastfeeding and I just went along with it. With Teddy, I made that decision for both of us, and it was so much harder.

Once he fed from a bottle, everything changed. I was giddy with the freedom of it. I had more energy, more optimism, more peace of mind. I stopped worrying about his weight and his milestones, and started pulling us all into a routine where we enjoyed each other’s company. He is the happiest, chubbiest, healthiest baby you can imagine. He sleeps well, eats well, and is a huge mama’s boy (unlike Henry, who subscribes more to the school of thought where sunshine beams out of Daddy’s every orifice). I’ve never regretted making that decision, even if I’ve regretted the fact that things weren’t different in the first place.

I still feel sad when I read articles about the joys of breastfeeding. I still believe that breastfeeding is the best possible thing for your baby. But I can’t get away from the truth of it, for me, which is: once I stopped breastfeeding Teds, I was free to be his mother.

Sometimes that’s just the way it works out.

 

Happy breastfeeding! You’re never leaving.

Just wait for me to adopt a defensive foetal posture before I say this.

Ok, I’m ready.

I really dislike breastfeeding.

Bear with me a minute. I know the benefits. I believe in them. That’s why I keep plugging (nippling?) on. But I am not a glorious earth mother overflowing with milk and honey. I have little babies and what I give them doesn’t make them larger. Oh, I dream of thigh rolls, chubby hands and wrists and endless double chins. They never arrive. If you graded my milk on a McDonald’s menu scale, it’d be one crappy lettuce leaf from one of those salads that nobody gets because nobody goes to McDonald’s for salad, do they?

Me and breastfeeding, we have a history, and it’s less of a misty Mills and Boon romance and more a War of the Roses. A couple of years ago I arrived at a doctor’s office with a tiny, jaundiced seven-week-old, and sobbed all over a doctor I’d never met. She was so, so kind. She sent me off to hospital knowing that it would terrify me further – which it did – but did so as gently as possible. They were all lovely, the doctors and midwives and nurses, but they all had to tell me that the only thing wrong with him was that he was hungry. Ravenously hungry. That was why he was ill.

He’d been hungry all this time. I was horrified.

It felt like a stinging failure, then, and so did the remedy they suggested to fatten him up quickly (topping up with formula milk). But despite feeling like I’d fallen at the first fence of motherhood, I started to love the certainty of that bottleful he downed after every feed. BAM, there’s another five ounces. I could see it turning into chub before my eyes. He was full, and happy, and he slept. After a while, I started to wonder why it felt like a failure at all. Why was it a badge of honour, exclusive breastfeeding? If I wasn’t making enough – and clearly I wasn’t – and we were lucky enough to live in a situation where extra food was just hanging around on supermarket shelves, then why on earth was I being advised to sit at home week after week, trying pointlessly to make more while Henry went hungry? Why was it that I told other mothers about his formula as though I were apologising, when secretly I only rejoiced in that double chin?

Two years on, we are back in the Wars of the [boob]Roses. If you gathered together a hundred babies in order of size then Teds, bless his skinny chicken legs, would be second-smallest. I have spent these four weeks feeding him every time he squeaks, on sofas, on beds, hour after midnight hour. I am sore and exhausted and anxious for him. There is something about sitting in mess, wearing half a t-shirt and trying to fill a ravenous boy, that makes me feel like I’ll be tidying and refereeing tantrums and endlessly breastfeeding for the rest of my natural life. He’s holding onto his weight gain for now. For now. I am keeping a steely eye on him, and me.

Because, this time, I know that the reason every health visitor gives me different advice is because every baby is different. I think about that poor girl sobbing in a doctor’s office, and part of me is angry that I ever allowed it to get that far. I do not want to feel like I need to apologise, because there are no tests to pass or fences to leap, with newborns. It’s only important that your baby is fat and happy, and you are sane and happy, and there are more ways than one to make it so. This time I am more inclined to listen to my gut. My gut says, do everything you can to fill that baby up.

I will, because I think we should throw away the badges of honour. I don’t want one. I just want a double chin.

SAM_9982

Lessons I learned from the milk

This has been kind of a hard post to write.

This week, Henry has stopped wanting to feed from me. He was only breastfeeding three times a day anyway. Then one day he didn’t want any in the afternoon. Then I couldn’t get him to have any at night. I’ve been using the pump to keep it going, but that seems silly: if he doesn’t want it, who will?

I am heartbroken. This morning I lay still after he’d refused his 5am half-asleep feed for the first time ever, crushed by the pressure in my chest and what it meant.

Baby-feeding is such an emotional business. It ties in to the very heart of you. Feeding Henry has been a – well, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘farce’, but there it is. It was a catalogue of bad advice and new mother and tiny vomity baby. I am full of ideas for how I can do it better next time. I stopped feeling guilty about feeding him formula quite quickly; I wanted him full, by any means, and it just became part of his routine. But I never, never stopped feeling like a failure for not getting it right the first time.

Well, all of that is nonsense, of course. And now it turns out that food and this boy don’t get on well, because we’re repeating ourselves with solids. He is a spitter and choker and grimacer extraordinaire. Tim and I love food. I don’t understand it.

(Is this the time to confess that when people said ‘my child has a mind of his own’, I used to think it just meant ‘my child runs me ragged, and I don’t control him’? Haha. HA HA HA HA HA. Oh, the humility of parenthood.)

As I listen to health visitors telling me that he shouldn’t still be eating purees and new potatoes are a good idea and why don’t you try finger food (he hates finger food), I can feel the old panic coming back to me. Am I not making him the right food? Am I indulging him too much? But this time, I’m trying to be a little wiser. I’m bearing in mind that babies have phases and stages, that not all babies are the same, and that he will get there in his own time. I’m trying to listen to the reassurance that comes when I am quiet and my mind is at rest.

It says:

he is a baby, but he is a person.

He will not always fit the baby manual, because it wasn’t written about him.

He will continue to surprise you, because he is not you. Nor is he Timothy. You are not the sum total of your parents; why should he be?

You will teach him and love him and watch him change. He will grow until he grows away from you and do all sorts of wonderful things, but he will always and ever be his own self.

He came to you entire, and your job is to help him remember it.

It also says:

he is yours. Enjoy him.

And I do, I do, I do.

Baby vs Food

Emergency, emergency: I am confined to a three metre radius for the next week or so and need things to do that only require the use of one hand, or preferably none.

Henricus Rex – my entirely beloved, ofttimes smelly, but not nearly fat enough baby – once again bombed the weighing test at the clinic yesterday afternoon. Well, not bombed. He was heavier. We were jolly pleased with it, actually, and gave each other high fives – or at least a high five from my end, although he may just have been trying to hide his face from his public nakedness. But according to the special chart of knowledge, it seems that my attempts to gradually wean him off formula milk weren’t gradual enough.

HUNGRY LOOK.

No one ever tells you about the guilt that sideswipes you when you’re not feeding your baby enough. It is deep and instinctive. You can be as logical or pragmatic or easygoing as you like – most of the time, I’m not massively bothered what he’s eating or where he’s sleeping, so long as he’s doing plenty of both and is happy about it – but every now and again, it sneaks up on you from behind, choking your lungs with Eau de Failure. There’s no need to tell me that it’s ok to feed him formula. I know it’s ok. But I don’t always feel that it’s ok, and that, I can tell you, is properly rubbish.

I’m getting pretty tired of these weighing clinics, incidentally – the dramatic look on the health visitor’s face as she sits you down to tell you that he’s wobbled off his percentile line again – and wish I had a set of scales to weigh him myself. We had a go on the kitchen scales once, but it was too cold on his little bottom and not at all baby-shaped, and he wobbled right off again after marking his territory in the usual fashion.

The end result of all this is that if I’m serious about getting him off the formula – and oh, my bank balance and shrivelled washing-up hands are ever so serious about it – then I need to sit still for a week and feed him every time he squeaks. Turns out he squeaks a lot. I’ve spent just one afternoon so far suffering bed sores and boredom, and need something better to distract me than cheffing Facebook.

Suggested box sets I should rent? Any book recommendations? One-handed card tricks? Please send them – Henry is delicious to look at, but he may not be fifty-six hours’ worth of delicious, and I’m not keen to test it.

Maybe I should get myself a crib mobile.

Solving the Sleep Conundrum

Know what it takes to get your baby sleeping where he should be sleeping? A spell in hospital, and a lot more milk.

I had my first – and hopefully last, for a while – introduction to the children’s Accident and Emergency department on Friday. Henry once again failed to weigh anything more than an anorexic gnat, and his jaundice was getting to the point where it looked like he’d been Tangoed. A kind doctor referred us to the hospital, and after a few hours of having his temperature taken and gawping, horrified, at the gurning presenters on CBeebies (is it always like that?!), we were admitted for the weekend. Henry got a snazzy blue and green cot with a motorised mattress, and I got a plastic fold-up daybed and a migraine.

Let me just say that the loveliest doctors and nurses in the world are all sent to the children’s ward. Without exception, everyone we met was wonderful. It wasn’t nice watching them put tiny baby drips into his tiny baby hand, nor waiting for hours to catch a urine sample, standing poised with a pot over the relevant equipment. But they established fairly quickly that there wasn’t anything more wrong with him than a giant appetite we weren’t appeasing. We supplemented his feeds with expressed milk and formula, suppressed his throwing up with anti-reflux medicine, and in no time he was getting pinker by the minute and growing a thoroughly respectable double chin.

We learned several valuable things in Side Room 18. The first was that a stuffed-full-to-the-gills baby will lie happily until he sleeps, sodden with milk, without needing to be rocked or given a dummy.

Bleurgh. Too. Full.

The second was that a wide, flat mattress is not the ideal surface on which to persuade a baby to sleep. Instead, the magnificent night nurse Eunice introduced us to The Nest. Roll up a towel lengthways into a sausage, and place it in a U-shape at the bottom end of a pillow case. Cover the pillow case with a thick blanket and, behold, there’s a little sleep-friendly space for a baby to feel safe in. We also elevated one end of his mattress to encourage his milk to stay down where it belonged. The change was instantaneous. And here I was just rolling up two sets of pajama bottoms at either side of him, and wondering why it didn’t work. THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW OF THIS. The world also needs to award Eunice a Nobel Prize, for which I will be nominating her immediately. And don’t think I won’t, because I will.

Nesting.

The third was that all food in hospital includes either the word ‘mince’ or ‘casserole’, or both, and that consumption of the same will do terrible things to your insides. This is by-the-by, but an important lesson nevertheless.

It is the truth.

Since we were discharged, Hennersly has fed and fed, then lain quite happily in his little half doughnut until he falls asleep by himself. And stays asleep, while I potter around actually doing useful things, or sleeping myself. Not a moment too soon, because I’m spending one hour in every three feeding him, which is no help at all for the eye-bags situation.

Seriously, Eunice? NOBEL PRIZE. I’m not kidding.

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