Breastfeeding – Follow Up

Let’s start with the good news: 8 weeks in and I’m still breastfeeding.  Who would have thought (least of all myself) that I would hang in there, after my last post on breastfeeding from a bit over one month ago?

When I wrote that last post I was at the end of my strength: tired, worn out, depressed that I didn’t make enough milk and that my poor baby would be starving, annoyed by the constant hour-long feeds, etc.

That post however triggered so much response and I got support, breastfeeding stories very similar to mine, and a lot of good tips.  This all taken together changed my attitude and my breastfeeding style.  Since then my life as a milk supplier has been so much easier and all of us (particularly mummy) have been a lot happier and more chilled.  Jamie has become a rather fat little baby with chubby cheeks and a double chin only on breast milk *proudface*.

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So first of all thank you to all you lovely people out there who bothered to respond and comment, you did make a difference! 🙂

Below find a summary of what I have learned from all the comments, emails and tweets, and who knows, my new-found wisdom might help you too.

1. You are not alone:  Remember, when you sit somewhere in the middle of the night with a baby on your breast in an uncomfortable pose, insanely tired, your back hurting and baby sucking in slow-motion and falling asleep while sucking and crying as soon as you take him off, there are thousands of mothers doing the same this very moment.  Facebooking or tweeting helps to find similarly desperate souls.

2. It gets easier:  Ladies who nursed their baby past 6 week, insisted that it would get so much easier and to be honest I didn’t believe a word.  There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me.  Now however I can confirm – it REALLY gets easier!  Babies suddenly eat less frequent and learn to speed up.   Even James!

3. Dummy, you wonderful thing!  A long long time (well, about 4 weeks) ago I was one of these overly ambitious mums who would never give a dummy to their child.  Well, and then there was the point when I realised that my lovely boy sucked and sucked on my poor and maltreated nipples, not because he was hungry, but just because he liked sucking, basically misusing me as an oversized dummy.

The moment when I ceremoniously unveiled my hidden away emergency dummy and stuffed it into the little one’s mouth will be forever known as the moment when it all got easier.  Thank you dummy! Thank you dummy! I love you dummy! You are the best thing that ever happened to me!

 4. Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding while lying down.  No one (least of all the rather useless midwives I had the misfortune to encounter) tells you when you start your long and winding journey as a breastfeeding mother that the worst part are the nights.  This is not because you are woken up by a hungry desperately crying infant.  Waking up is fine and was not the thing that bothered me.  What however bothered me was the getting the baby out his Moses basket, sitting in an uncomfortable position (by then being fully awake) trying to latch him on, feed and feed and feed for hours (the boredom!) maybe even change the nappy, burping him etc – 1.5 hours would pass easily and it would take me forever to get to sleep again.  By then it would almost be time again for the next feed!

Then some mothers who successfully breastfed their children whispered me their secret: shhhhh it’s co-sleeping.  I will talk about co-sleeping in a separate post, but let me just tell you, having the baby next to you, feeding while are lying down, falling asleep while feeding – makes a happy and rested mum and a happy baby.

5. Evening cluster feeds are normal and 6. Giving formula once in a while (or more often than once in a while) will make your life so much easier. I was so desperate for the first few weeks, as Jamie didn’t seem to be getting enough milk in the evening.  From the day of his birth he, as soon as I had finished an hour-long feed, would be rooting, wanting to eat again.  This this story would repeat itself from around 6 or 7 pm until midnight.  I thought my milk was no good, and may poor baby was starving to death under my bad care.  No one had told me about evening cluster feeds, which are very common.

Breastfeeding purists suggest that you have to suffer through this (forgetting to mention that the more exhausted you are the less milk you produce) as to not reduce your milk supply.  I have introduced a bottle of formula in the evening, whenever Jamie didn’t settle at all on breast milk, and now I actually produce enough milk in the evening to satisfy him about 6 out of 7 times.

Initially I felt bad about giving formula (thank you stupid NCT breastfeeding teacher!) until I realised that most mothers give formula at some point.  It actually is a big advantage if your baby takes a bottle (with either breast milk or formula) as it makes your life easier in the long run.  It’s kind of rubbish if you need to run an errand where you can’t take your baby and baby is refusing the bottle.  Another big advantage of the occasional bottle is that 7. Dad can help out.  It’s so nice to have a whole night of undisturbed sleep once in while with dad taking care of baby.

8. A moderate amount of alcohol doesn’t harm the baby (and makes a relaxed mum).  I am happily drinking my glass of red wine each night since I found out that there is actually very little evidence of alcohol going into breast milk.  The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs considers alcohol compatible with breastfeeding, that is if you consume it in reasonable amounts.

9. Every day you breastfeed is good for the baby but not breastfeeding doesn’t matter either.  Last weekend there was this provocative article in the weekend Observer, asking the question whether breastfeeding really is the best.  Some interesting arguments are made:

“Women who choose to go through the labour of breastfeeding have made a commitment to go the extra mile for the sake of their baby’s health,” says Wolf. “They are likely to be doing all kinds of other things too. Their homes are clean. They wash their hands. They will be reading more, talking more, serving more fruit and vegetables …

“When you look at all of those things and hold them up to the very small differences that researchers find, it could very well all be down to these environmental factors.”

Also, this article comments on the common perception that breastfeeding is free:

One of the greatest lies promoted by breastfeeding advocates is that breastfeeding is free. But it’s not free if you count mother’s labour. For many you could say it has an extraordinary cost and is probably not worth the effort of continuing to do it.”

This article is definitely a refreshing read for a generation that has been brainwashed with pro-breastfeeding propaganda.  I enjoy breastfeeding most of the times now as it makes me feel close to my little James, but at the same time hate the fact that it takes so much time.

Something really has to change how breastfeeding is portrayed in our culture.  Every woman should be able to decide, without being bullied, if she has time and energy for breastfeeding and it should be very clear that breastfeeding is not a measure of how good a mum she is.

I will end this blog post with another extract of the afore-mentioned Observer article, which I found positively shocking.

As part of the Latch On, New York City campaign, formula is to be kept under lock and key on maternity wards. If a parent requests it, a nurse must deliver a lecture on breastfeeding and then document a medical reason for giving out the formula. The Huffington Post reported that mothers would have to “sign the formula out like medication”. “Baby formula is not Budweiser,” protested the Daily News.

 

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Just to see you smile

When baby is first born, he lives in its own little bubble, and there is no communication with the outside world, not even his loving, attention-craving parents. There is no way of knowing what is going on in his little head (if anything at all).

During his first few weeks on earth, he is sleeping most of the time, he cries when he is hungry, and he poops a lot.  You can just about tell if he is comfortable or over-stimulated or unhappy, and you can take an educated guess to whether he enjoys certain things or not.  He doesn’t focus on faces and shows no reaction to people, toys or music.  He is overall a rather boring little fellow.

And suddenly around 5 weeks, there it is, the first real smile! (and I am not talking about the involuntary little smirks he has had since birth, very cute but also very random and just a reflex reaction to for example wind).  Suddenly you are more than rewarded for weeks of confinement at home with sleep deprivation, breast feeding issues and boredom.  It’s an ‘I’m having fun’ smile, or maybe even an ‘I really like this person behind the milkbar’.

I can’t describe this amazing feeling of warmth and fuzziness and happiness when your baby first smiles at you!  It is as if a window has suddenly opened and you have seen a glimpse of the little person he is about to become.  If you have seen one smile you want to see more, and as they are still exceedingly rare, all I have been doing for the past few days is trying to evoke another smile….

I have to say though, it is not quite clear what James is reacting to.  He doesn’t smile back at his parents yet (and believe me, we have tried! my whole face is hurting because I have been smiling so much at him) but he certainly loves to bathe and commonly rewards this with a couple of big smiles. Why he has grinned so sweetly at my ugly brown curtain will however always remain a mystery to me!

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The Male Baby

My child is undoubtedly male.  And I am not saying this for his looks (male-pattern hair loss) or his single-minded focus on the female breast.

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James’ first passport picture looking like a 4 week old criminal. 

When I lie next to him at night I may as well lie next to an obese and middle-aged alcoholic with nasal polyps and bad manners.  How these deep and loud growls, grunts and sighs can come out of this angelic little person weighing just about 4 kg will always remain a mystery to me.  And let’s not even mention his ear-battering snoring, farting and burping.  It provides an endless source of entertainment for us loving parents.

Even if I dressed James in pink ruffles and lace, I would not be able to induce any doubt in his gender. Somehow (worryingly) I can already picture him in his middle age (with the same male-pattern hair loss) sitting in front of the TV in his underwear watching football, scratching his balls and drinking beer from the bottle.

I had no idea that newborns display their gender so clearly.  Or is the loud grunting, growling and snoring a baby thing, and not related to gender?  When I met up recently with some of the new mothers of my antenatal class, the two boys were grunting away, while even the little girls’ burps and winds sounded so much more baby-like and cute.

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James’ first friends. 

What is your experience with male and female babies? And… when do they start being a bit more quiet?

 

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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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Welcome Baby!

Little James was born on the 17/12/12, weighing 3.2 kg. He is exactly 3 weeks today and I am totally besotted with him.

Look Mummy-11.jpgJamie on day 0 and on day 21

I have spent the last few weeks staring at his little face, for hours and hours on end.  I had no idea that newborns have such a plethora of facial expressions!  (If you don’t have children you may think I am a little crazy, at least that’s what I’d have thought until the seminal 17/12…)

There is the questioning face, the turtle face with wrinkled forehead and chin pushed out, the surprised face, the old toothless bold woman face, the grumpy old man face, the pursed lips face, the peaceful and content face, the secret little smile face (usually associated with massive poops), the ‘how many fingers can I fit into my mouth’ face, the one eye open, one eye closed face – I could go on forever!

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Yes, I have transformed from a reasonably intelligent woman with a PhD, a career and a range of interests to a victim of baby brain.  I can’t even read the newspaper, am not able to hold a conversation (unless it concerns Jamie of course) and when I’m not breastfeeding I take pictures of his cute little face.

Believe me, I’m having the best time 🙂

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The Questionable Joy of NCT Antenatal Classes or Ignorance is Bliss

Pregnant: 39 weeks + 2 days
Status: Fat. Ungainly. Tired. Up-to-date with all recent TV programmes. Compulsively knitting.

How it all began

The father of my unborn was, after he had spoken to some know-it-all people, recent parents I think, adamant that I should attend an antenatal class. He insisted on how good it would be for me to meet some other women in the same situation and that I would have other yummy mummies to hang out with after my baby is born. (Which I interpreted as having some other women to talk baby stuff with and not annoy him with details about the ‘birth story’, the infant’s digestion or breast-feeding problems).

I protested and I protested more. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrible than sitting in a room with a group of other misshapen females complaining about pregnancy ailments with a tree hugging NCT midwife telling us a lot of biased rubbish about home birth, evil pain medication, homeopathy, the joy of washable nappies and similar topics (pregnancy yoga had already been more than enough for me).  But of course father in spe knew better and lecture was followed by lecture.

Finally, worn down, I looked up NCT antental classes in our area.  For all readers outside the UK and people who don’t have children yet – NCT stands for National Childbirth Trust  and is the UK’s biggest charity for parents.  Classes (5 evenings) cost a mere £350 – a lot of money just to meet some other pregnant ladies I have to say…

Sweet Revenge

When I realised that you can’t even book these antenatal classes for one person and that your partner joining you is absolutely required (poor single mothers out there!), I smiled a devious smile.  I decided that it would be very good for my boyfriend to meet men in a similar situation to him and that he clearly would be thrilled to hear everything there was to know about different stages of labour and all the unpleasant details that come with it. Oh sweet revenge! So there we go, NCT class booked and I just couldn’t wait to spend 5 evenings from 6 to 9:30 listening to a lot of things I never wanted to know.  Faking illness, impending labour and prenatal depression didn’t help, my boyfriend just didn’t know any mercy.  ‘Now we have paid’, he said, ‘now we go!’

The NCT Class

Retrospectively, I have to say that it could have been worse.  Sarah, the midwife who held the classes was pleasantly down to earth and surprisingly objective, in addition to having a hilarious dry sense of humour.  Believe me, humour is what you need when you stare at diagrams showing a biiiiig baby head in the process of coming out of a very small opening. Even though I am a doctor and have learned medical basics about birth and babies during my time at university, nothing could have prepared me for the grisly details of the birth process.  Is ignorance bliss? I may think so…

Honestly?

There were only a few moments when I felt slightly irritated, one of them was the recommendation of homeopathy during pregnancy and birth.  As a firm believer in evidence based medicine, I know that homeopathy has never been shown to be superior to a placebo.  Apparently raspberry leaf tea helps to induce labour (Yeah right!) and acupuncture would really persuade your baby if it’s in breech position.  And there was all this advice about crawling on the floor, I can’t remember what this was for, but my boyfriend still thinks that I should definitely do it for his entertainment (bastard he is!)  But as I said, a very small amount of rubbish only.

There was one moment though my boyfriend almost walked out and this was when the discussion turned to what babies can hear while they are still in utero. Sarah suggested that the dads-to-be may want to read a goodnight story to the mum’s belly so that the baby gets used to the dad’s voice.  While I found this to be a rather good idea as it would absolutely make my day, my boyfriend thought otherwise. Not even my suggestion that he could read the Herald Tribune or, if he really wants, porn to the little one could placate him.

Breastfeeding – as portrayed by NCT

For the session on breast-feeding, another lady came in to teach us everything about the benefits of mother’s milk and that we were basically harming our offspring should we, for whatever reason, not breast-feed.  She also spammed me with emails on this topic, I felt like falling victim to a religious extremist!  I disliked her so much for her militant views and I am sure that a lot of mothers-to-be that had a session with her and then would not manage to breast feed, would blame themselves terribly for failing and not doing the best for their children.  She suggested by the way that we should breast feed until the child is six. Well…

Even though breast milk may be superior to formula milk, I honestly don’t think that it makes a huge amount of difference. I’ve been breastfed only for a few weeks and I have developed normally and am hardly ever ill. In fact almost no-one was breastfeeding their babes in the UK during the late 1960/ early 1970, and as far as I can tell these poor adults, so maltreated as babies, seem to be doing pretty well today…

As a conclusion, we did meet some very lovely people at the NCT class and we even had a couple of outings – imagine a table of 7 heavily pregnant ladies (drinking water) with their scared partners (drinking spirits like water) sharing their bliss, fears and sorrows interrupted by pee breaks in 10 minutes intervals. Pregnancy not a disease? You must be joking!

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When I knitted a Baby Boy Cardigan with Matching Hat (and was very proud of myself)

Pregnant: 38 weeks + 3 days
Status: Not bad, particularly if I compare myself to the pregnant ladies that I met at my antenatal class.  They all complain about massively swollen feet and hands and that they can’t fit into their shoes anymore.  This is an unpleasantness that has bypassed me thus far.  Thank god!

As I outlined in my previous post, I am in a state of nesting.  Part of this is my almost uncontrollable urge to create – which includes baking cakes (which no one in my household eats), and of course knitting.

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I am rather proud of this lovely cardigan that I have knitted using Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino (£5.5 per ball from John Lewis), which is a lovely soft yarn and I enjoyed knitting with it.  It can be washed at 30 degrees, runs a substantial 125 m/50g and comes in beautiful colours.  I followed a Debbie Bliss instruction from her book Blankets, Bears and Booties.

I made a few mistakes (it is rather challenging to knit a cardigan, and every kind of distraction, particularly when watching (the highly recommended) The Bridge with subtitles at the same time, can be detrimental) – so one front part is about 1 cm (2 stripes) shorter than the other and the arm pieces had to be forced into the armholes, but I think I did well in hiding these errors…  And it’s the small imperfections that make a piece like this truly personal, right?

I love the softness of the wool, the stripes and the cute little buttons I got from John Lewis too and that fit so well with the colours of the yarn.

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I am rather too lazy to give you the pattern for the cardigan – it’s a loooooong instruction! If you like to have it though, just let me know, I take a photo of the instruction and send it to you.

I just about manage the instructions for knitting the baby hat, which is not by Debbie Bliss but my mum.

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Baby Hat

Here the instructions for the hat which I reckon is for a 3-9 months old (my baby is not born yet, so I can’t try it on the living object but I compared it to the 6 months baby hats that I bought).  As you can fold the lowermost part and its stretchy it may actually work from 0-12 months.

This is the instruction for a stripy pattern, but of course it can be adapted to almost everything you want, as it is a brilliant base pattern and super easy and very fast!

Wool: I had leftover wool from the cardigan, Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in ecru (A) and sky (B)

Needles: 5 short needles (3.25)

Pattern: 

  • Cast on 20 stitches on each of the 4 needles with (A), use the 5th to knit – so you basically knit in a circle and you don’t need to sew the parts together later.
  • K1, P1 until you have completed one full circle
  • Switch to (B) – don’t cut off (A) but leave hanging on the inside.
  • K1 P1 for 7 more rows then switch back to (A), loosely leading the thread at the inside of the hat.
  • K only for about 10 cm from cast-on edge alternating 2 rows of (A) and 2 rows of (B)
  • After roughly 10 cm, start decreasing:
  • (How to decrease: I use the ‘slip stich over method’ – explained here on YouTube)
  • Decrease stitch 10 (by slipping over 9) and stitch 20 (by slipping over 19) on EACH needle, then K two rows (you have reduced number of stitches by 8 in total)
  • repeat this 2 more times (decreasing 9 and 18 in the next row, and 8 and 16 in the row after etc) in each third row.
  • Then decrease (after the same method) in every second row – repeat 3 times – you should now have 8 stitches on each needle.
  • Now decrease 2 stitches in every row, doing this for 2 rows in total, until you have 4 stitches per needle.
  • Cut off yarn, leaving a longish thread.  With a large sewing needle, thread through the remaining 12 stitches, remove the knitting needles, and pull together, closing the top of the hat.
  • Sew the loose ends.
  • If you want, add a funky/ cute button at the front.
Makes sense?  If not please let me know, I am not exactly a knitting pattern writer, as you  may have noticed… 

 

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