Friday, 10 June 2011

My Breastfeeding Journey

Sunday the 5th June was the last time I breastfed my son.  I've run the gamut of emotions since, mostly upset until I developed mastitis and just wanted it all to be over.

It got me thinking about my relationship with breastfeeding, how it's changed me and the journey I've been on.

13 months ago, I gave birth to my son in a waterpool.
I was lucky, although the early stage labour for me was a bit long and more painful than other people find it, the birth was fantastic.  The pool took away much of the pain and I managed only using gas and air.  I even had a natural third stage in the pool as my husband held my son.

It must have been over an hour after he was born that I first breastfed him.  It was a bit longer than ideal perhaps because I fainted after the birth (I have naturally low blood pressure).  Once I recovered, I remember holding him in my arms and him almost immediately finding my nipple and feeding.  I fed him on the left hand side to start with but I know he fed for 45 minutes only stopping once because he lost the nipple but once he found it again it was all back to being happy.

I remember thinking "Great!  This is easy!"

Then it got hard.  The first night I couldn't sleep, I was high on adrenalin and the other babies in the ward were so loud.  Then came the first feed trying to feed him from my right hand side.  Flat refusal.  If I'd not had brilliant support from my birthing centre midwives that could have been enough for me to give up.  As it was, he just wanted to feed in the "rugby hold" under my arm.  I stuck with feeding this way for about two weeks before he finally accepted feeding in a cradle hold on my right.  The midwife explained that they get used to the feel of your body on one side of their face so feeding underarm 'tricks' them into thinking it's the same side they fed from before.

I was fortunate and unlike the rest of the UK NHS, I had a choice on whether to stay in for longer at the birth centre, so I stayed in for 4 days to ensure I had one on one breastfeeding support until my milk came in.  Again, if I'd not had that help, I don't think I would have breastfed longer than those first days. My son fed constantly.  Gone was his initial reluctance.  He didn't sleep for longer than an hour without waking for food and often he wanted to feed for 45 minutes or more.  There is a photo somewhere of the three of us on our sofa after we returned from the birth centre.  I look exhausted but happy.  Again though the midwives helped reassure me, told me that his constant feeding would make me unlikely to get engorged and was likely to calm down around 4-5 days when my milk came in.  They did explain though how he was particularly likely to have noticeable feeding spurts when he went through growth spurts because of his early feeding habits.  So with this knowledge, I knew what to expect, forewarned is forearmed eh?

And we did it.  We coped through the 2 week, 3 week, 6 week, 12 week growth spurts and then 15 weeks came.  Typically he started feeding often (sometimes every hour in the day and often every 90 minutes at night) and I went with it, as you're supposed to.  It didn't stop.  By 17 weeks I was wondering what on earth was going on.  By 19 weeks I took advice from my health visitor and tried baby rice.  By 21 weeks I was trying purees.  Still no joy.  In the end, against what I thought I would do, I did a babywhisperer technique; pick up put down.  It was needed to keep my sanity and our breastfeeding relationship.  This was where I started to feel a bit upset because the 'breastfeeding community' (yes, there is one) is generally very anti any kind of sleep training technique but my husband supported me and it really helped.

The final few months were a piece of cake.  In the end as I'd gradually cut out his morning feed he then became less and less interested in the night time feed.  In all honesty, if he'd not pushed the issue, I'm not sure I would have stopped.  I know babies don't self wean at 13 months and if I'd been offering the breast at other times he would have taken it but he wasn't seeking it out anymore.

So, now I've given up.  I'm a bit sore with the mastitis.  Just hand expressed a couple of ounces to ease the pressure because my boobs are just not getting the message.  But all in all, I'm happy.  Happy I managed to feed him for so long but, I have to admit, happy now that my husband can do the whole bedtime routine.  The interesting thing is my son seems to settle better for my husband as well.  Now why do I feel guilty?  Perhaps just because of that breastfeeding community stuff again.  Breastfeeding 3 year olds is now seen as the aim, not 6 weeks or 6 months or even a year.  Anyway, I need to get over it.  I did a good thing and more than most.

It's my sister's birthday tomorrow and we're going to a spa together.  It's going to be great to spend the whole day out knowing my son will be ok.  It's going to be my little breastfeeding 'well done me' celebration.

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