When I was pregnant this time, I said to someone in a fairly joking fashion that I had very few new experiences left; birth by a roadside, on my bathroom floor or by forceps being three of the only obstetric things left on my to (not) do list that I could think of. I also said that maybe sometime I’d have to consider being some form of reactionary, bad-ass breastfeeding counsellor, having done nearly all forms of baby feeding too, mostly with irreverence. I’m well known for pointing out that my children increase in allergies in direct relation to the having had more breast milk 🙄 and I’ve always tried really hard, after beating myself up over Fran’s almost fully formula babyhood, to approach breast feeding from a ‘breast is best so long as it isn’t at the expense of sanity’ stance.
Fran, having been born with a cleft lip and palate, was not able to be breastfed. It does work for cleft babies occasionally, more so now perhaps I think as some babies get given little temporary bridges to pull their mouth together, but for Fran who had a very wide cleft, it was utterly unworkable. Various midwives tried to help and I did persist with it, but it never worked. I borrowed a double breast pump from the hospital and expressed for 13 weeks; inexperience meant I didn’t really understand how often I needed to do that, so my supply was never brilliant but she had about 40% breast milk for that time. I even had a wedding dress with pumping flaps in it. She’s my healthiest child and I’ve always felt I did the best I could in the circumstances.
Maddy was very different. I was desperate to make it work but again I had no experience and failed to get adequate support. She had a very narrow and high palate and ripped my nipples to shreds, regularly throwing up my blood in her milk. On reflection I think I could have fixed this but I didn’t know how. I lasted till she was 6 months by mixed feeding, with one formula bottle feed a day. It kept me sane, meant I could go to work in the evenings and reduced pain levels to a minimum.
Amelie however was a dream to feed, latching on quickly and always feeding cleanly and well, without the need to suck endlessly either. I was delighted to finally have it all work so well and we went on swimmingly till she was 8 months, when I was hospitalised with tonsillitis. She’d been eating solids for a while, the recommendations being 4 months on at the time, and Max managed to keep her going on milky baby rice, bringing her in for feeds as well. It was never quite the same after that though and ended fairly abruptly at 10 months ish when she looked up at me, smirked and bit half my nipple off. We stopped.
Josie was another milk monster, just as easy to feed as Amelie but with the added dimension of thinking she should be permanently attached. She was deliciously placid but unlatched for the first time at around 17 weeks 😆 She continued to feed until she was 2 and 1/2, which had not been my intention but it just seemed to work out that way. We missed the obvious weaning slot when she considered it due to some emotional turmoil and then it just carried on. As she went into toddlerhood we developed fairly established rules between us, mostly that she had a morning and afternoon feed, which accompanied a nap on my bed. She and I just to hum tunes to each other in little grunts – it was lovely and I’ve always been glad we shared that. It was always on offer if she was hurt or upset but we rarely fed outside the house and when she stopped and weaned it was all on her own terms. Weaning happened 5 days before a holiday where I expected to hare an airmattress and sleeping bag with her; I assumed the close proximity would restart night feeding, but she never even asked.
It was with Amelie, Josie and then Freddie that my friendship circles altered to be mainly populated by people who were committed breast feeders. I have no doubt it was that companionship that helped me to achieve better results. Breast feeding needs support so much.
One thing I learned with Freddie was how to express properly. I could do so little for him that making sure he had all my milk seemed very important. In his 11 days I was able to give him all my own milk, battling a 9 day supply drop (which I think might just be my body and what it does) with lots of two hourly pumping, eating well and drinking masses – an essential anyway in a hot Special Care Unit. I worked so hard to make sure there was enough for him to always have milk from me through his feeding tube – and it helped after his death to know that I had done that for him. He had plenty of milk backed up when he died – and I’ve always been so sad that it must have been thrown away.
And now Benedict. If I had only ever had Amelie and Josie I would have thought breast feeding was an easy thing, but Ben has shown me again that it is not always simple. With jaundice making him sleepy from the outset and 37 week ‘term’ status meaning he is less awake and short of energy, we’ve been really struggling against low supply and not being able to wake him up to feed, a circle of negative feedback making it harder and harder to achieve. Without all my previous experiences, I would definitely have turned to formula and a bottle. As it is, thanks to advice to syringe milk into him, I think we’ve turned it round. He’s waking more and feeding better. My lazy little boy likes syringe feeding though and went on full strike yesterday, refusing to latch at all. Yet again friends came to the rescue, suggesting skin to skin which he liked and which allowed me to see that his small and easily tired little mouth and my large and (in the words of a gp) well used nipple (!) had contrived to make an initially excellent latch go very badly wrong. Last night and today we’ve done feeding fro above, my nipple hovering over him until he’s well attached and can turn to the side and, remembering the experiences of another 37weeker mum, I started to make him such my finger while I syringed. Those things have been todays magic fix – who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Preparing for a baby is not about the retail experience of buying in stuff, it is about understanding that it changes by the minute and that you rarely get quite what you expect. 6 babies have given us 6 very different stories in every aspect of their early life – birth, health, feeding, death. To have 6 different experience of even breastfeeding is an eye-opener to me now I look back on it, while in the middle of the whirlpool of yet another experience. It’s an illustration of what parenthood is about – and for me, also an illustration of how much sharing experiences with others and listening to the experiences of other parents can help to get a good result for the whole family.
Medela have a tv programme this evening on Preparing for a Baby on Tuesday 07th February 2012 at 7.30pm and Sunday 12th February 2012 at 6.00pm. They have a Facebook page for more information. Medea have also given me a tube of their breast cream to give away so please drop a yes please in the comments box if you want to be in the draw. I’ll be trying out the other tube and seeing how it compares to the other two brands I have used over the years.
I’m fascinated to hear other experiences of breastfeeding different babies from mums. Drop me a comment or a link to a post and tell me about it 🙂