Because what the internet needs is more wittering about rubbish parenting

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Getting It Off My Chest

OK, OK, I know. You've heard me bleat on about breastfeeding plenty of times already. And people who bang on about breastfeeding can sometimes be a bit boring. But I want to talk about it, one last time, because it became surprisingly important to me. I want to talk about the whole of my experience of breastfeeding, and I want do it before the spectacles get too rose-tinted - already my brain is favouring memories of snuggly newborn cuddles over the ones of a wriggly 8-month-old digging her nails into my skin and exposing my nipple to all and sundry. So indulge me, please.

A warning: this will be long, and tedious, and probably too-much-information. So if you're interested in this kind of thing, grab a cuppa, and pull up a pew. If you're not, bog off and play Draw Something, or whatever else the cool kids are doing these days.

And a disclaimer: As most of you probably know, I am pretty pro-breastfeeding. I would even consider calling myself a lactivist if the term didn't make me feel a bit queasy. So I make no apologies about that, I think breastfeeding's great, and I wish more people did too. But I am aware that not everyone feels that way, I'm aware that it's a sensitive subject for some, and I'm aware that people sometimes get fed up of too much "Breast is Best" nonsense. So I'm not going to talk about "breastfeeding" as a concept. I'm going to talk about me, and my babies, and my experience. I am not qualified to talk about anyone else's. But I know a lot of this might come across a bit "smug breastfeeder", and for that, I apologise.

So that's preliminaries out of the way. Anyone still with me?

I don't recall ever making a decision to breastfeed. To me, it was just how babies are fed. I'm not actually too sure how I arrived at this viewpoint, as although I was breastfed, as was my sister, I obviously don't remember any of that, and of the few babies I'd been around a lot before having my own, at least half of them were bottlefed. But I don't remember ever even considering not breastfeeding, although I knew that circumstances might conspire to make it impossible. So I bought nursing bras and all the other boob-related gubbins (breastfeeding might be free, but there is still a hell of a lot of stuff you can fork out for, should you so wish), and dutifully attended the NHS breastfeeding workshop. I remember thinking at the time "This is really weird". They do some useful things, like show you a DVD and give you plenty of leaflets, but they also show you how to hold your baby to feed. But, as the workshops take place when you're about 34 weeks pregnant, you don't actually have a baby to practise with, so they give you a doll. Which is not quite the same as holding your actual baby. Your actual baby is in your tummy, handily getting completely in the way of all this holding. So I walked out of the workshop thinking "I still don't have the faintest fecking clue what I'm doing", and just hoping that I would figure it out when the baby got here.

And I did. The minute The Baby Who Would Become The Toddler was out and breathing, she was in my arms and at my breast, where she then stayed guzzling for hours so that poor Husband didn't even get to hold his firstborn for ages. Maybe this would be easier than I thought.

And maybe it wouldn't. After that first feed, where I was still high off endorphins or adrenaline or gas and air or whatever, I started thinking more about it, and trying to remember what the DVDs and the books and the midwives had told me. Unfortunately, my baby had not read the same books, and had her own ideas about breastfeeding technique, which seemed to involve flailing about until she got her fist in her mouth and trying to suckle on that instead. I swear they must breed some kind of armless baby somewhere, and then tranquilise them, for the sole purpose of getting them to pose for breastfeeding literature, because real babies are nowhere near that cooperative.

And oh, the pain. I will forever be deeply grateful to the woman who told me that, contrary to official advice, you can be doing it completely right and it can still bloody knack. Without her voice in my head telling me that it would get better, I can't say for certain that there wouldn't have been some throwing in of the towel. So I kept going, and quickly learn to distinguish between the quick toe-curl moment when my nipples went "Oh for crying out loud, is this thing feeding again?", and the actual deep pain which meant that the baby was trying out some kind of interesting new and ineffective latch.

The first few weeks of The Baby Who Would Become The Toddler's life passed in a haze of feeding and crying and feeding and crying. Most of the crying was hers. She was a colicky baby, who wanted feeding a LOT in the evenings. No-one warned me about this. Cluster feeding, the phenomenon whereby you realise that the phrase "You can't possibly be hungry AGAIN" is total fallacy, is an utter bitch and can make you want to throw your precious newborn out of the window. It was too much for me, so I introduced a bottle of expressed milk for one of her evening feeds. I think it saved breastfeeding for me. All of a sudden, I had more than an hour to myself. I could hand her over to someone else and let someone else deal with her. And she started sleeping better at night too. The expressed milk soon turned to formula (I mean I switched it, breastmilk doesn't magically change into formula if you leave it out of the fridge or something), out of sheer laziness on my part. Expressing is tedious, especially because I am a skinflint and wouldn't shell out for a decent electric pump.

I was still having some trouble with getting the latch right, and starting a feed was sometimes a four-handed operation - mine to manouevre the baby into position, Husband's to pin her arms to her sides - and often involved waiting until she let out a cry as it was the only time her mouth would open wide enough. But then, all of a sudden, at about 8 or 9 weeks, as if by magic, it just stopped being hard. It became a case of get-baby-pop-boob-in-mouth-and-feed. Simple as that, it was the easiest thing in the world.

I breastfed TBWWBTT for 6 months, almost to the day. I had always thought I would do 6 months. I think I thought that's how long you were meant to do. I didn't know many people who had done it for longer, so it never occurred to me to consider it. But I was ready to stop. It had stopped being the easist thing in the world, and had become a bit of a battle to get the baby to stop being interested in everything else in the whole world and just feed. And I wanted my body back. It felt like I'd been pregnant or breastfeeding FOREVER, and I was a bit bored of it. So I stopped, and I didn't mind, and the baby didn't seem to mind. She was so greedy that she didn't really care how her milk came, as long as it went in her giant face. And so, breastfeeding stitnt number one - done.

When I was pregnant with The Littl'un, I was weirdly excited about the prospect of breastfeeding again. I had spent far too much of the intervening period in the world of internet parenting forums, where there is a far higher proportion of very vocal breastfeeding advocates than one normally encounters in day-to-day life (especially if one has a habit of avoiding baby groups and such things, which I totally do). The reading I did made me realise that I didn't really appreciate just how lucky I was to have had such a good experience. And it had been good, no matter how much I might have whinged about it at the time. I heard stories about people running into huge problems, or running into smaller problems but getting no support with them, and I was determined that if I was to be so lucky again as to get on well with feeding, I was going to relax and enjoy it. I knew it would be the last time I would be doing it, I knew how fast the time would fly, I knew what was normal and what wasn't and I knew I had loads of helpful friends and family who were right there if I needed them. I also knew how much I hated faffing around with bottles, and how incapable I was of making one up without spilling formula powder all over my kitchen worktops.

So along came The Littl'un. Out she popped, and I put her on my tummy. I'd seen this fantastic video of what they call "The Breast Crawl", where a newborn baby blindly scooches its way up its mother's body and latches itself on. It was fascinating, and with my new-found earth-mother aspirations, I wanted to have a go. Me being me, though, I got impatient after about 3 minutes, and picked her up. Ah well.

I found feeding The Littl'un much much easier than the first time, at least in the early days. My tiny and frazzled brain could not cope with the idea of keeping track of when she fed for and how long, so I didn't look at the clock and just fed her when she seemed to want feeding. She fed a lot, I think, but it didn't seem to get to me as much as it had before. Possibly because in the chaos that is life with a toddler, it was very nice to have an excuse to have frequent sit-downs. The Toddler ended up watching a lot more CBeebies than I might have liked during this period, but she seemed entirely happy with this arrangement. Feeding still hurt sometimes, especially as I sometimes got bored of the repeated attempts to get a decent latch and just let her do it wrong, but I knew it wouldn't hurt forever. And, weirdly, one of the things that made feeding a bit nicer this time, was my investment in some milk collection shells. Yes, in amongst all the breastfeeding paraphernalia available, are wondrous little things that you put over the boob you're not feeding from to catch the leaks. In theory, that is what breastpads are for, but I found them woefully inadequate. How we can put a man on the moon and create the iPhone, but not come up with a breastpad that will actually stay where it's put is totally beyond me. Anyway, my breast shells were my new favourite thing. Having to change your top and bra three times a day because you've leaked milk all over yourself makes you feel really manky, and I enjoyed not doing that. Although once, I forgot I had a shell on, was all ready to leave the house, but then dropped something (which I do a LOT), bent down to get it, and spilled the entire thing all over myself. Felt a bit silly.

So a lot of it was easier. But some things were pretty hard. Toddler jealousy, for one. Trying to feed a baby whilst your firstborn is tugging at your arm saying "No! No! Baby down!" isn't particularly fun. And Toddler mischief wasn't fun either. She would wait until I just had The Littl'un latched, and then do something stunningly dangerous, or destructive, or messy, and I would often have to plonk a protesting baby down, or watch in despair while she just got on with it. Night feeds were hard too. I never had to do one past about 8 weeks with The Toddler, so having to do one, or two, or three, was a bit of a shock to the system.

But I think the main thing I struggled with this time was how dependent The Littl'un was on me. Although she had taken to a bottle well when she was tiny, once we had worked out a routine of sorts which allowed me to go to yoga every Monday without her needing a feed, I got lazy (again, do you sense a recurring theme with many of my posts?) and couldn't be bothered to express (Husband making cow references at me possibly didn't help my motivation), so she stopped having bottles. Which meant she pretty much had to be with me all the time. I didn't mind that particularly, I quite like her, she's nice. But it did mean that ALL the feeding was my responsibility. I had to plan my whole day, down to my caffeine and wine intake, around when she might fancy some milk. It started to feel oppressive, and when coupled with the very distracted phase where The Littl'un would feed for about two seconds then look around at random strangers, pretty lights etc, I started to enjoy it less and less, and that's when I started to think about stopping, and to whinge about it at length on here.

But despite all of that, I did really love breastfeeding, both times. There was so much to like about it. Not having to cart half a branch of Boots around with me when I went out (just the 7 million packets of raisins and crayons that are required to keep The Toddler happy). Justifying spending money on cake by reasoning that I hadn't spent it on formula. Sleepy, milk-drunk faces. Seeing my babies grow and thinking "My milk did that". Hot Milk bras. Eating many Pringles and telling myself that I needed 500 extra calories a day. Snuggly cuddles with a baby who's thrown her arm over my boob as if to say "MINE".

And now I'm done. I don't breastfeed anymore, and I never will again. It makes me a bit sad to think that, even though I didn't actually feel sad to stop. I don't really know why, after all, it's only feeding a child, and I still do that, and apparently you have to keep doing that in one way or another until they leave home. But it meant a lot to me anyway, and now it's finished.

Ah well, onwards and upwards. I have some nice memories (and some less nice ones) and have gained plenty of what I shall loosely call wisdom which I can blither on about whenever I find an interested and captive audience. And so, until I next find myself in front of such an audience, I shall shut up. Thanks for reading, if you got this far (I think you might deserve some kind of medal for endurance if you did). And if you are at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey, then good luck, and enjoy. And remember to empty your milk collection shells.

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