No Milk Today – Breastfeeding around the clock

Of course I want to do the best for my fragile tiny offspring, and after having been sufficiently brainwashed by media, midwives and NCT, I was convinced and fully motivated to breastfeed my newborn for at least six months.

It all sounds so lovely – my baby gets a perfect balance of nutrition in my milk, it’s free, it’s the right temperature, it’s always available and it protects the little one who lacks a fully developed immune system from disease.  And, as the NHS website claims, breastfeeding “can give you a great sense of achievement.”

What all the breastfeeding advocates forget to mention (and I was blissfully unaware of) are the Disadvantages of breastfeeding.  Even though they may not outweigh the benefits, I think it would be nice for mums-to-be to know what awaits them.  Media and NCT should, instead of crucifying mothers who decide from the very beginning against breastfeeding, who can’t breastfeed or have/want to give it up, provide an unbiased picture. 

(1) Time

Fortunately Jamie immediately knew how to latch onto my breast (eat was basically the first thing he did after leaving my warm and comfy uterus) and since then, all I have been doing is breastfeeding.  I had no idea, I mean absolutely no conception, of how much time breastfeeding takes.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s practical (no need to sterilise bottles, mix formula etc) and finally there is some point to having breasts.  It’s also nice for once in my life to have the curves of a glamour model.  But let me do following calculation: for the first few weeks you should feed your hungry one at least every 3 hours (and feeds are counted from when you start feeding, not when you stop…) and a feed takes around 1 to 1.5 hours (I’m not sure if Jamie is particularly slow or if this is normal? Sometimes I suspect he is using me as an oversized pacifier).

This means (optimistically) 8 hours a day (or pessimistically  12 hours a day) are spent sitting somewhere in a rather uncomfortable position not being able to move with a baby attached to your breast.  I have gone through 2 entire series of Grey’s Anatomy and am halfway through The Good Wife and Borgen (re Borgen – a political drama with subtitles needs at least some kind of concentration and can’t be done during night feeds) in little more than 2 weeks.  I find it impossible to use the computer or read a book while breastfeeding as only one of my hands is free and if I fail to have remote control, mobile and a drink in immediate distance I have to go without until the baby is finally content. There is certainly a hole in the market there for a baby holding device while feeding, I’d pay a handsome sum for this.

(2) Lack of Sleep

When you bottle-feed, at least some feeds can be done by partner, grandmother or, depending on the degree of desperation, the cleaner or the delivery man.  With breast milk you are stuck.  With a constantly hungry baby, I have not been able to express more than half a feed during an entire day (and using a breast pump is a very degrading experience).  A tired mum means reduced milk production which leads to…

(3) Baby is not getting enough milk

I have not felt much of the NHS advertised “sense of achievemnt” but I have experienced a lot of self doubt and sense of failure.  Imagine baby attached to your breast for 3 hours (usually in the middle of the night), switching it from one breast to the other, and baby is still crying of hunger (and does this funny little thing when he searches for milk with gaping mouth in the air, your partner’s chest, your ear, his hand, the duvet etc).  I have lived through this every evening since Jamie was born and I don’t know whether he is abnormally hungry at night or I produce less milk in the evenings   After agonising sleepless nights and feeling like a horrible mother, I have started adding a bottle of formula at night.  Now he sleeps better and I sleep better – Thank you Aptamil (and screw you, breast-milk-only lobby!)

(4) Breast Problems

Fortunately I was spared (thus far) cracked nipples, mastitis, blocked milk ducts etc – all painful and inconvenient possible side effects of breast feeding.

(5) Alcohol

Still no more than half a glass of wine for the breastfeeding mother, and believe me, I could do with a nice little intoxication!

I am still breastfeeding even though my initial enthusiasm has been replaced by boredom and a deep sense of lack of achievement (unless you would count watching TV dramas for 12 hours a day as achievement).  When Jamie is still going strong after 1.5 hours at 3:30 am, I glance yearningly at the formula, knowing that a formula feed would last pleasant 10 minutes and would result in a content and sleepy baby.

Jamie, I love you very much, but I’m slowly but surely losing the will to live here!

I should mention that I would have long given up without the excellent book “What to expect when you are breastfeeding and what if you can’t” – this is a must-read for every new mum!

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16 Responses to No Milk Today – Breastfeeding around the clock

  1. CJ says:

    Firstly, well done, what they also fail to stress is that you have already given him a lot of the quoted benefits just by doing it for a few weeks. I have to say I agree that the picture painted is rather rose tinted, my main complaint when starting up was that my baby has never looked like the one they show you the video of in NCT classes, she really struggled to latch initially and there has always been a fair amount of arm and leg flailing to make things even more challenging. Also I was not prepared for the fact I would need both hands (and ideally some extra help) to get her positioned right to start with, the day I worked out how to hold her and my phone was a momentous one.

    However, I can assure you that the pay off does come, eventually. 1-1.5 hours per feed was normal for us to start with but she got gradually quicker so feeds were around 45 min each from 6 weeks then achieved a sudden acceleration in feeding between weeks 8 and 10 so a feed was done in 20 min. Then you can really start enjoying the fact that you don’t have to cart around bottles with you, or even know how long you’re going to be out as you can just stop for a feed wherever you are.

    The early evening cluster feeding is quite normal but incredibly frustrating when you’re hungry/tired/just want to get on with things. It also eases up but not til the growth spurts are over ( at 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 6 weeks if I remember correctly). Some of the searching for milk in the night might be more to do with comfort sucking, if you haven’t tried it already you could see if giving him your little finger to suck helps calm him. Also, have you tried feeding on your side whilst lying in bed? That saved my sanity in the early days because I could at least doze. I can’t see any problem with adding a bottle at night though, you definitely need your sleep too. Unfortunately parenting seems fraught with people who think their way is the only way and compromise is not an option. Ignore them.

    Re Alcohol, the only reason I persevered with pumping was so that I could have the odd G&T in the evening!

    • Ute says:

      @CJ – haha, yes babies don’t latch on that easily, do they? They should the video in the NCT class, where the newborn immediately crawled up the mother’s belly instinctively finding the nipple and sucking away. I have to admit that I tried it and totally failed! Jamie, whenever he is close to my nipple, decides that his own hand tastes much better and it’s almost impossible to control his arms while stuffing the nipple into his mouth.
      I shall believe you that things will get better and try to hang in there for a bit longer. Also, I will try to start feeding lying on the side, my back has gotten really sore from all the sitting up and balancing baby on the lap.
      We should meet for lunch soon by the way 🙂 xx

  2. I totally agree that breastfeeding is somewhat oversold by the world at large. It is a tricky business that loads of my friends had major problems with. I remember the long nights sitting in the dark breastfeeding in the middle of the night looking up every little thing I was panicking about on babycentre. However, here is the good news:
    – it gets much much quicker. Pretty soon Jamie will be draining your boob in 20 minutes flat!
    – you really don’t have to sit, stuck to your chair whilst they feed. I remember doing this, staring longingly across at the remote control on the coffee table. Now I look back, I think why didn’t I just get up and get it. Finn wouldn’t have cared, and he would have gone right back to suckling away as soon as I sat back down. By the time I stopped breastfeeding I was standing up feeding and walking around (that was the only way Finn would feed when he was 6 months old. Needless to say, before too long I moved to the bottle).
    – you could totally try feeding in bed. After the first few weeks I was so fed up at the lack of sleep due to my nocturnal baby that I just thought ‘sod it’ and started co-sleeping. I know the NCT would shake their head in despair, but it was brilliant. I didn’t have to get out of bed for hours at a time, and I could just doze whilst he fed. We ended up co-sleeping and we had absolutely no problem getting him out of our bed when the time came (though other friends had more of a problem admittedly).
    – alcohol wise, as far as I know there is very little evidence that any alcohol goes through your milk into the baby. In my opinion, it’s fine to cut yourself a break and have the occasional a glass of wine.

    I have to admit though that I was really happy to get onto bottles. You do get your life back when papa bear can get in on the feeding.

    Good luck. Jamie is gorgeous.

    • Ute says:

      @Becci – Yes, I have these baby centre/mumsnet sessions as well. It’s rather amazing how many things one can possibly look up in the long nights of breastfeeding! I wonder what people did before internet on mobile phones?
      I definitely have to try the co-sleeping, sounds so much more pleasant than the alternative. The problem really is when I feed sitting up fetching baby from cot etc, I wake up totally and it takes me forever to get back to sleep, and then the next feed starts. 20 minutes feeds are my ultimate goal, sounds like paradise!
      You are right, it is a bit silly to just sit without moving all the way through the feed, as the baby really doesn’t care. Thanks 🙂
      By the way, Finn is a lovely name and he is supercute! xx

  3. Carrie says:

    Iona survived a bottle of formula every night! I simply couldn’t make enough. So don’t worry…and after all jamie’s dad was 100% formula! Then again…but as it applies to me too I won’t go there! Really middle of the night make dad do the formula bottle!

    • Ute says:

      @Carrie – it seems a lot of breastfeeding mothers give that bottle at night. I wish someone had told me before! (would have saved me a lot of stress). Very funny that Stu was formula raised, that explains everything 😉

  4. Clo says:

    Not easy is it! Mine is 4 weeks old and in the full swing of evening cluster feeds. I feel like i haven’t left the sofa in hours!
    The little finger trick works wonders at helping baby to calm down enough for me to get comfortable, reposition, eat, drink etc.
    Don’t feel guilty about an evening formula feed, do whatever feels right for you and your baby.

    • Clarissa says:

      Sounds really tiring and it is super hard work at the beginning. Having your first baby is such a shock. You are glued to this little being night and day. I agree it does get easier as they get older.
      One thing I would like to add is all of the Mums I have known who have had some difficulty feeding, have taken their babies for a session of cranial osteopathy. It’s far less dramatic than it sounds.
      One Mum was feeding her 6 month old every hour with lots of tears and struggling ( him and her!) after one session of CO he was sorted. I highly recommend. My baby was born extremely prem so I used one of those bastard motherfucking breast pumps for 6 months without ever really breast feeding as he was too sick. On reflection it was the best thing I could give him, but at the time it took me to the edge of sanity. I felt like a huge cow..I am glad I did it though.
      One of the best things a fellow parent ( a Daddy) once told me was that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, so any feelings during those months and months of waking up every hour/two hours of wanting to give up were more than justified. Sleep deprivation and a huge change to your life and freedom is genuinely difficult.
      To save my own sanity I put Zebedee in my bed and fed him laying down. By the time he came home ( six months in NICU) he was bottle fed and my milk had dried up. That was a truly sad day I must say. The bottles and sterilising gear is a major pain in the bottom…I wish I could have stuck him in a sling and fed him as I wandered about ‘trying’ to do things.
      Sounds like you are doing a grand job Ute, hope it gets better soon. He is such a sweet little pixie. X

      • Clarissa says:

        I just asked a few friends and they all seem to say, stick with it, it will get easier. Jamie may not be latching properly so seek your midwife / BF councillor to check his latch. If you get mastitis or blocked duct keep breastfeeding and have warm baths and massage around the duct in circular movements. Dark green savoy cabbage leaves on your boobs inside your bra are a miracle soothing cure..don’t knock it until you try it! It totally works.
        If you want to speak to a BF councillor today my friend is one and is happy to chat to you, let me know.
        Never suffer in silence. Oh and I totally drank a fat glass of red wine each night, after the feed, my midwife told me I had to! X

    • Ute says:

      @Clo – you know, it already helps to know you are not alone. When I am stuck on my sofa, I know you are sitting on yours, feeling probably as sleep-deprived and mildly annoyed as me 🙂 I have introduced a dummy yesterday which already made life quite a bit easier I have to say.

  5. Anastasia says:

    Hey! I can completely identify with how you feel! Remember I said that I spend the first couple of months in my rocking chair? 😉 this is what i meant! For a while, I felt that i was just “food”.
    But you get a hang of it. Get one of those wrap around things so that you can feed Jamie while making one of your Ottelenghi masterpieces. (Actually, speaking of cooking, I think you are doing much better than I did already!). And make sure you always have a snack and a drink nearby. Oh, and speaking of drinking, I was on a wine binge in those early days. There is indeed no evidence that alcohol can get through breast milk (you have to be truly intoxicated for this to happen) and more importantly, surely it is better for everyone if I am relaxed? 😉
    We also moved to co-sleeping pretty soon. My dear husband couldn’t bear the snoring baby in the room so I moved into a different bedroom and slept with Joshua feeding him pretty much non-stop during the night turning from one side to the other. And that way I was able to get a decent rest. I do believe it is ok to do that for those first few months and it didn’t cause any sleeping problems in the long term.
    Personally, I think it is pretty rare for a woman not to have enough milk. Having said that, you are probably right and Jamie is using you as a pacifier. In which case, just give him one! It has certainly helped us. Like you said, expressing is a really degrading and frustrating experience. I never managed to get more than a few drops after having pumped myself for hours (I think my son drank it all) and pumping was actually more painful than breastfeeding itself. I could only manage to express a decent amount once Joshua started missing an occasional feed, which was kind of annoying anyway because I would be very uncomfortable pumping in the middle of the night instead of sleeping- defies the whole point doesn’t it? But like one of the victims of NHS propaganda, I was reluctant to switch to formula. I remember thinking- “if I can only do it until he is 6 weeks, then I can stop”, then it was 8, then 12, then 4 months. And then.. It got easier! So much easier I couldn’t believe it! I was fast efficient and satisfying for everyone. The bedtime feed became 20 mins of pure relaxation and heaven with my boy stroking me while he drank his milk.
    At 6 months I started combination feeding as I went back to work so during the day Joshua would have a bottle and then breast in the morning and before bed. So breastfeeding became even more special in those days. I felt really sad when I had to stop at 12 months but it was time to move on 🙂
    I agree there is too much unnecessary hype and pressure being put on new mum about breastfeeding because in the end of the day it really doesn’t matter as long as the baby is loved and well cared of. But well done you!

    • Ute says:

      @Anastasia – thank you so much for your comment. Yes when you told me about the initial difficulties, I had NO IDEA what to expect. Things are already looking better as I have now started feeding lying down (Jamie sleeps much better and calmer next to me which is an added bonus) and yesterday I have finally succumbed to the dummy. Yeah!!! Now he’s happily sucking away while I have even managed to write a blog post. Happy days 🙂
      Jamie is so noisy too when he sleeps! Incredible, all the grunting, and snoring – you think these noises must come from a 100 kilo man, not a 4 kilo baby. I’m sleeping in the nursery too 🙂
      I shall definitely endure 6 weeks and maybe even longer – if it really gets that easy I should probably hang in there!

      • Anastasia says:

        Dummies are goooood 🙂 I remember I was really anti-dummies before having Joshua. I was worried it would be difficult to get rid off and I would end up with one of those overgrown kids walking around with a dummy in his mouth. I was devising a plan on how the dummy would magically disappear. Dummy fairy? Baby rabbit needed it more? But it was no problem whatsoever. At 11 months it was simply gone 🙂

        Actually, after reading your blog I started thinking and remembering my breastfeeding experience, and I realised I lied to you… The feeds were 20mins by about 3.5 months, by 4.5 they were more like 5 on each breast. I remember worrying that this was too fast and maybe there is nothing there but actually my son just became a very efficient eater 😀
        It will get better very very soon 🙂

  6. Astrid Sabaini says:

    je schneller du den kleinen mann überzeugen kannst, dass auch aus der milchflasche was gutes herauskommt, desto besser… adrian verweigert fläschchen seit eineinhalb jahren standhaft (ich hab es zugegebenermaßen in den letzten monaten nicht mehr probiert) und ich freu mich unendlich aufs abstillen. natürlich ist es praktisch, wenn frau immer ein jauserl für den kleinen dabei hat, aber das geht ja trotzdem. schnuller waren eine große hilfe – bis er sie dann in die hand nehmen konnte, dann waren sie zu schade zum in-den-mund-stecken. dessen ungeachtet: nimm jede erleichterung in anspruch, die du kriegen kannst und freu dich, dass es die möglichkeit gibt. junge mütter, die freiwillig sehr viel für ihre kinder leiden sind nicht zwingendermaßen bessere mütter, aber sehr leicht grantigere mütter – und es wäre doch echt schade um die zeit 🙂

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