Rachel, Zac (4 weeks) & Oscar (3 years 2 months)
"The start of my breastfeeding journey was in 2017 and was horrendous. It was incredibly painful and uncomfortable, I remember often grimacing with the pain of my baby's latch, tears rolling down my face and there being times where the skin was being taken off my nipples. All my baby wanted to do was nurse, seeming to be in discomfort the rest of the time and only stopping if he was asleep. He would fall asleep nursing but wouldn't have had a full or efficient feed and would wake up about 10 to 15 minutes later (that would be a good stretch for him to sleep) - he was too tired to feed efficiently and in too much discomfort/pain to sleep. Nursing felt exhausting to me at that point - I imagined my baby being a mini vampire as it felt like his feeding was sucking all the energy out of me. Probably not helped as I wasn't eating much due to the time and effort spent trying to nurse and the standard lack of autonomy that comes with a newborn.
When people asked how I was finding early motherhood, I would say the feeding was the hard part, as it was constant. When my sister witnessed it, she was shocked, saying she hadn't realised I had actually meant "constant" and thought it would have been like other newborns feeding frequently. I now realise I could say something similar about my current newborn. He feeds constantly when he's awake. The difference is he actually sleeps for chunks of time and spends more time sleeping than feeding (he feeds frequently, not constantly).
I felt like I had a lot of support for breastfeeding, via midwives, health visitors and peers but something just wasn’t right. I thought it was me. I was getting help from someone nearly everyday in the early weeks, lots of different people, giving me different advice (some more helpful than others). Positioning was really difficult and I needed the help of my partner (literally lots of pillows and my partner holding him in position). I had no idea how anyone could possibly ever do this on their own! I couldn’t get the angle right on one side and thought it was my inability to use my left hand. Friends and family were trying to be supportive, with many suggesting giving up breastfeeding if it was that hard. I had tried to prepare myself beforehand, saying if I was not able to, it would not matter (trying to have a "fed is best" mindset) but I just wasn’t ready to let go.
My baby had lost weight and was not putting much back on. We’d started supplementing with formula (using a syringe to avoid nipple confusion) to try and get his weight up. We were told if he didn’t start putting weight on he’d be referred to the hospital. My partner really didn't want that to happen. He obviously wanted the best for our baby and would do everything he could to put the weight on. I felt like we were force feeding him, making me think of foie gras and bringing up all kinds of uncomfortable emotions.
A friend from NCT had got a lactational consultant and we were wondering if it would be worth it. I felt I had had so much input and help already. I really didn’t know what more a lactation consultant could offer. How different could it be to what I was getting already? I was really naive about how much training and expertise it takes to become a lactation consultant and what is involved. I think the dedication is really admirable. So if you are like me and ask, “Can a lactation consultant offer me anything else that could help?” the answer is probably “Yes!”.
At about 5 weeks we got our local lactation consultant, Anita Burden. She looked at our feeding positions, she was able to recognise tightness down one of his sides, making positioning difficult - I was sign posted to the chiro to help rectify this. Anita checked for a tongue tie - something I had been told had been done by the NHS twice, it hadn’t and Anita was able to show it to me before making a referral to get it sorted (she said it looked like a very thick posterior tongue tie paired with a high palette, making a good latch an impossibility). She got me pumping through the night to increase milk supply, which needed to be done within the first 6 weeks (I was never able to get much by pumping). Anita corrected misinformation I had been given. I had been worried he wasn’t getting enough milk, there were signs that concerned me such as not having dirty nappies in the first week, I was told it was normal and felt like I was being neurotic - it wasn’t and I wasn’t! She identified he was doing about 10 sucks to a swallow, not efficient feeding (aiming for about 3 sucks per swallow) and likely he was using more energy through this than he was getting.
These things got sorted and nursing was much easier. When I was told breastfeeding wasn’t supposed to be painful, I hadn’t realise it could be comfortable!
Anita gave advice after our consultation. My baby was really fussy and unhappy. I didn’t think he could be hungry all the time, thought it must be something else. Turns out (so I believe) he was still hungry. It took him until he was 3 months to get to catch up with his projected weight for his birth weight (although I do note that focussing too much on the graphs and projected weights would not have been helpful) and all of a sudden his mood just completely changed. It seemed like he’d just been playing catch up and was finally where he was supposed to be and able to be himself without being in pain!
Before seeing Anita, our baby was not getting enough milk, he had lost weight and was an inefficient feeder, using more energy trying to feed than he was getting. Thanks to Anita, his tongue tie and tightness was sorted, giving him the ability to latch and feed. My experience was normalised, I was given what felt like the right advice, with explanations based in science and evidence (which appeals to me), it just made much more sense and fitted with my experience. I could see the bigger picture. Although it took until he was 3 months for things to be properly on track (which was difficult to understand at the time as I didn’t know he needed to do so much feeding to catch up). I really don’t know what we would have done without that input. I don’t know whether we would have given up or if I would have powered through and added to my little boy’s suffering.
The start of my journey taught me a lot, including the importance of listening to your instinct and about getting the right help rather than any help; something that can be really difficult if you don’t know how to access it!
As Oscar got older, he was able to get on and off easily, practically doing acrobatics while nursing! I couldn't have imagined that in the early days.
I never intended to breastfeed for an extended time. There just didn't seem to be a reason to stop (except, perhaps, other's expectations) and to stop I would need to intervene, make the decision, impose those boundaries etc. That all seems harder to do when I don't know why I'm doing it and felt more distressing for everyone involved than letting it continue. I didn't really know how to stop and thought it would be easier if Oscar just stopped when he was ready. At 18 months, it did seem worth it to stop the night feeds (4 per night on a good night, many more in a bad night), with my partner staying with Oscar overnight, so I could start sleeping. I did need persuading but actually, that really was worth it and Oscar's sleep improved, still having regular wakening but less frequent. As our journey continued we went down to almost 2 feeds a day (bedtime and morning). We would be out during the day or I would be at work, so it was a natural progression.
When Oscar was 2 years old, I became pregnant with our second. Again, I thought he might stop by himself and had never planned to tandem feed but felt like things would work out. I struggled during the pregnancy, having no energy and not getting out as much as we usually did or interacting as much as I usually would. Breastfeeding was actually something that helped with that connection, however the frequency increased a lot as there was more time on the sofa. There were times I felt an aversion and a bit touched out. The nipple twiddling was one thing I really could not stand, and started enforcing that boundary, much to Oscar's annoyance! I do feel it is important to listen to your body and emotions, so I will put limits in but still found breastfeeding a useful tool for comforting, calming and connecting, especially when I didn't have the energy or brain power to do it in another way.
During the pregnancy, there would be times when Oscar would say I didn't have milk, sometimes going from one "baboo" to the other. Sometimes that would satisfy him and others he started asking for a bottle of milk, which he hadn't used very often or in quite a while (as I wasn't able to express much, Oscar had formula from a bottle when my partner was giving me a break or when I started back at work). His current preference is soya milk and seemed to find this comforting from a bottle but he was still nursing everyday. During lockdown, the frequency of nursing increased again. I think it was us being in the house and, as I was tired with the pregnancy, I would lie down which would be an automatic cue for him!
I was aware of pros and cons of tandem feeding and didn't actively encourage or discourage it. I felt it could be useful for the transition but if I dried up and he stopped that was fine and would take some strain off when the baby came. Anyway, Oscar never even came close to stopping! We had lots of conversations about the baby and "baboo" and how feeding would work and what the baby might need.
So the second baby came along a month after Oscar turned 3 years old. I was concerned about establishing breastfeeding after our previous experience. The midwife (Erika, Wessex Independent Midwives) checked thoroughly for a tongue tie and there wasn't one! The baby latched perfectly and has done ever since. I couldn't believe how easy he was to latch, position and for breastfeeding to be established. From the first experience, I hadn't realised that was even possible!
With help from Oscar, my milk came in quickly, which meant the baby was thriving and always getting enough, so was content rather than fussy. Having them both on at the same time stops Oscar trying to nipple twiddle (which I think is where most of my aversion comes from) and Oscar helps prevent things like engorgement.
It has been really nice to continue that connection with Oscar and have that time for the 3 of us, where Oscar is very much still central. He has been very patient with baby Zack, he loves "his baby". Oscar has never tried to stop baby Zack nursing or be prioritised (although has been understandably upset if I've said he needs to wait rather than doing them both at the same time). Even when Oscar expressed his frustration that Zack was on "baboo", he wanted him to stay, rather than Zack going to Dad and Oscar having time and baboo with just him and me. Oscar has also asked for Zack to be there at bedtime and it's much easier to nurse them both and let them drift off to sleep.
It's not all perfect, there are times where I'm feeling it's a bit much and have asked Oscar not to climb on me and he can have baboo later. This is especially on some of these extremely hot days we've been having. It is hot enough with Zack being more thirsty and on me constantly, nevermind adding in a 3 year old - way too hot and sweaty! The other drawback is there's probably even less autonomy than feeding just a newborn. To me the lack of autonomy is one of the most difficult aspects of the early days of a primary caregiver with a newborn.
It is still early days, and sometimes juggling the tandem feeding has been tricky but I really do think it has been better than not having it as a tool. It has allowed Oscar and I to continue our bond (let's face it, with a newborn I'm not playing with him as much or doing other activities I'd like to be doing with him) and bring Zack into it in a way that has seems gentle and Oscar has been very much involved and had choices (e.g. who was having which baboo, whether we have just "mummy and Oscar" time or if baby is there too), this seems to have really helped him and feel recognised for and develop his role as "big brother".
Zack's breastfeeding journey and the tandem journey is still pretty new (only 4 weeks), so who knows how it will turn out. I haven't made any plans, just seeing how it goes. I didn't expect to be nursing Oscar for so long and don't really advertise it or feed Oscar in public but it actually does make life easier for the moment. I very much believe each family is different and you do what works for you. This definitely is something that works for us but not at all what I would have expected before the boys came along!"