As I write this I can’t believe I’ve made it to 18 months breastfeeding my son Oscar. I never ever considered we’d still be breastfeeding at this stage, though to be honest, if you’d asked me in the early days, I wasn’t convinced we’d even make it to 3 months! From very early on I got stuck in a cycle of pumping milk and giving top-up bottles of expressed milk, and then formula. The breastfeeding ‘top-up trap’ was real and it was relentless, until finally, we made a change.
I started expressing milk straight away
I went to the antenatal sessions, knew how important that first skin to skin and latch was, knew all the benefits of breastfeeding. Naively, I thought it would be as easy as putting baby on my chest and baby would just know what to do. And that’s what we did, and it seemed to be going ok. Oscar’s first night in the world, he got taken to SCBU with an infection and I was told I couldn’t nurse him directly until his bloods had normalised. Instead, I hand expressed colostrum to feed him. This was our first hurdle, and in hindsight, I wish I’d questioned it, fought it more. One of many things I look back at and wish I’d done differently.
I was told I couldn’t nurse him directly until his bloods had normalised. Instead, I hand expressed colostrum to feed him.
I made sure to get our latch checked
A friend had recommended I get my latch checked at every opportunity whilst we were in hospital, and that’s what I did. I think I showed my boobs to every midwife and supporter on the ward (dignity out the window!), and all reassured things looked good.
On day 10, our community midwife sent us back to hospital because of a rash, and because Oscar had lost just over 8% of his birth weight. We were unnecessarily advised to start topping him up with expressed milk at that stage…and so began months of stress and anguish heightened by weekly, then fortnightly, weigh-ins and constant pressure to express enough to top him up.
I wasn’t a great pumper, and combined with the stress, my output wasn’t great. After tearful days and nights, I accepted that we ‘needed’ to introduce formula to supplement the top ups. I fell in to the ‘top up trap’ and it only exacerbated the issues we were having.
I fell in to the ‘top up trap’ and it only exacerbated the issues we were having
My confidence was knocked to the extreme
It turns out Oscar had a high palate, small jaw and tongue tie, which the hospital advised against cutting because it was posterior (a bit of a controversial one).
After 5 months of dropping centiles and eventually falling below the 0.4th and the constant demoralising feeling of failure, I decided to trial a dairy-free diet to help his eczema. Suddenly Oscar started gaining weight really well, and he was eventually diagnosed with CMPA.
Though the weight issues seemed behind us, those first 6 months of being attached to either a baby or a breast pump (I have 4!), topping up, episodes of bottle preference and nursing strikes knocked my confidence to the extreme. I found it impossible to cut out the top-ups, so insecure that I would ever be ‘enough’. I continued to express several times a day in addition to feeding on demand, and Oscar having top-up bottles. We continued to weigh him regularly at home, just in case. It was a rough schedule.
I continued to express several times a day in addition to feeding on demand, and Oscar having top-up bottles.
Our journey was rough and I never expected to last this long
Oscar is now tracking the 70th centile, and I have finally stopped expressing, and what a relief that feels. We continue to breastfeed on demand – sometimes this is morning and bedtime, sometimes it’s several times in between and several overnight feeds – it is totally led by Oscar. Our journey has been rough, but I can honestly say, since around 13 months, breastfeeding has been easy and so worth it. It involves acrobatics and a pretty shallow latch, but for the most part it is easy. I never expected to be nursing an 18-month-old, but it works for us, so for now, I’m going with it.
We continue to breastfeed on demand – sometimes this is morning and bedtime, sometimes it’s several times in between and several overnight feeds – it is totally led by Oscar.
If I get another opportunity, I would do things so differently as I am so much better informed now. I am passionate about Mum having the information and support they need and hope one day to be able to train as a breastfeeding peer supporter.
These are the things I wish I had known
This is my advice to any new Mum’s who may find themselves in a similar situation:
– Cluster feeding is NORMAL!
– Ensure any feeding plans come with advice and support to get off of that plan.
– You are never alone. Reach out for specialist breastfeeding support.
– Expressing is not an essential part of breastfeeding, but if it does become part of your journey, get support – it’s such a learning curve of its own. (On a pumping note – what you pump is not an indication of your supply).
-Take each day at a time, each feed at a time if necessary – a good friend once told me “the sun will always come up”, and that got me through many a long night!