Sunday, 20th May marked the end of my breastfeeding journey with James. We made 19 months, which is quite an achievement. I would have liked to have got to 2 years (as recommended by the World Health Organisation) but I felt the time was right to stop. One of my reasons for breastfeeding for so long was because James will not drink cows milk. His sources of calcium will now be yogurt, cheese in his mashed potato and milk on his Weetabix.
I thought I would look back at our breastfeeding journey…
I desperately wanted to breastfeed James. I have nothing against formula, and James was given formula until my milk came in due to him being a big baby. However, breast milk is free and that would save us a lot of money if we didn’t need to buy formula. I also didn’t like the idea of having to spend time sterilising and making up bottles. To me, it seemed like too much of a faff when I could have breast milk available instantly. Then there are the health benefits; they were just a winner to me.
I feel incredibly lucky that in Lithuania the hospital staff were so supportive of breastfeeding. They put so much time and effort into helping me. There was a time when it looked like James just wouldn’t get his latch right so we were going to try pumping. We were determined though, and on my last day in hospital he got it. I was so happy. Still, just because he got it in hospital didn’t mean he would do it correctly at home. On the way home we stopped off and bought the formula he had been having. Luckily, we didn’t need to use it. I say luckily, partly because the instructions on how to make it up were all in Lithuanian so we would have been relying on Google Translate.
Breastfeeding took up a lot of time in the early days. In the first few weeks, when my husband was on paternity leave and then two weeks holiday, we would both wake up for night feeds. The feeds were long, so we would pass the time watching episodes of Modern Family in the middle of the night, until James had fed back to sleep. I had never felt tiredness like it. I remember one night I was so tired I couldn’t even say the word nappy. I was trying to tell my husband we needed to change James’ nappy, but I just couldn’t say it. This was terrifying. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. Luckily, my husband reassured me and said it was because I was so tired.
Then came the pain. Pain like I had never felt before. It would last for about 30 seconds every time James first latched on. I used to squeeze my husband’s hand to try to focus on something else. This was the hardest part of breastfeeding for me, knowing that every feed was going to be met with excruciating pain. I had spoken to friends and knew it was only going to be temporary, which gave me the determination to get through it. I think it lasted for a couple of weeks and then breastfeeding became a lot easier, as long as my baby was co-operating. We went through times when he would just refuse to feed before bed. I used to put his dummy in his mouth and comfort him with that, then whip it out and breastfeed him. It worked really well.
Most of the things we tried with James in the early days were the result of Google searches. It was becoming difficult to get him to feed back to sleep some nights, so we ditched the middle of the night TV watching, for fear it was disrupting James. My husband went back to work, so needed to sleep more so night feeds were becoming lonely. At about 8 weeks James slept really well, but that only lasted 2 weeks and then it became hell again.
Breastfeeding in public I found quite daunting to begin with. I had a lovely Danish friend who had her second baby a couple of months before I had James, who was a breastfeeding pro. I met her in a coffee shop and breastfed James for the first time in public. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I usually used a breastfeeding cover unless I was with other mums who weren’t. I didn’t want to have to deal with any comments people might make and I found it useful to stop James getting distracted by what was going on around him.
When James was 4 months I moved back to the UK with him (and 2 cats) a week before my husband. I couldn’t be bothered to reassemble his Next to Me crib so started co sleeping with James. Finally, I was getting more sleep. Breastfeeding was easy this way. I didn’t need to worry about him waking up when I transferred him back to the crib and it was easier for me to go back to sleep.
At 6 months we moved James into his own room in his cot. Our bed was creaky and us getting in and out of it was disturbing him. I was worried about moving James and how tired I was going to feel having to go into his room to feed him back to sleep. He would usually wake up between 2 and 4 times a night. I would feed him back to sleep (which sometimes took ages) and then have to transfer him into his cot. He frequently woke up during this transition and I would be back to trying to feed him to sleep. When he was smaller I was sometimes able to rock him back to sleep, but he was too heavy to do that now. For months I was only getting about 4 hours sleep a night. I think my body had just got used to this and learned to function on so little sleep.
At 10 months, the health visitor suggested that I should stop feeding him to sleep and try controlled crying. I got the confidence to give it a go from talking to a friend who had been successful with it. It was a game changer. It was the best thing we did. I had stopped feeding him in the night. I felt so much better and got my evenings back.
From 12 months I think I was only feeding him in the morning and before he had his bath. A couple of months ago I decided to drop the morning feed. It was easy and he didn’t even miss it. His Weetabix and Shreddies are far more exciting than breast milk first thing in the morning.
The final feed to go was the evening feed. To be honest, I was just getting fed up with doing it. He would wriggle and move around so much it was just annoying me. I finally got to the point where I thought I don’t want to do this anymore, so I stopped. On the first day of not breastfeeding him I felt guilty and a little sad. Would he be getting enough calcium from other sources? What will I do when he is ill? Breastfeeding has helped so much when he has been ill in the past. On occasions he has refused all food and water, but would happily have breast milk. However, on the plus side, I now don’t have to ask if any medication I want from the pharmacy can be used when breastfeeding. The answer was usually no. I can finally have Lemsip again!
For everything I have missed about breastfeeding, my friend Emma has a great blog with five things no one tells you about breastfeeding.