And so this is where it ends… I don’t think the end of a breastfeeding journey is ever easy for any mother. Whether it is at day five because your baby just wont latch, week 12 because you are not producing enough milk, or month 9 when you return to work. There is that very strong, natural sadness about coming to the end of feeding your baby. For some breastfeeding is easy, and for others it is impossible. We have been lucky in our ability to feed well and effectively, but unfortunately some outside circumstances have just meant that at week 16 we are now fully transitioned to formula.
The first few weeks of breastfeeding were intense and difficult. Not only because I was getting used to the idea of a newborn hanging from my nipple on a three hourly cycle. But also because Rupert had a strong tongue tie, which meant that I was feeding him for an hour (20-30 minutes each side) and then pumping whilst he was topped up. I pumped after every feed, day and night for half an hour for two weeks to make sure that my milk both came in and stayed in whilst he struggled to latch. Tongue tie also makes breastfeeding incredibly painful, so it’s like a double whammy from the very beginning. However, once we had his tongue tie cut at 13 days old, the relief was immediate, and we instantly found our way.
Initially during pregnancy, I was swinging more towards combination feeding, if not fully bottle feeding, given my focus on going back to work so soon and also setting up a good sleeping routine which I knew wouldn’t happen unless his tummy was full and he was feeding well. However, he took to the breast super well and by around week 3, one feed was taking just 20 minutes in total. In 5-10 minutes he was done on one side and was thriving on this – rocketing up the percentiles. My milk was clearly working for him, and it was enough to sustain him for a good 3+ hours, which meant that we could also find our groove with our day time sleeps too. At night time, he would need to be woken 4 hourly until he was big enough to go longer, and we never had that cluster feeding or “up all night” scenario – things just seemed to click. He was my little superstar breastfeeder and I was taken back by how “easy” we were finding it.
Then of course in marches silent reflux from 5 weeks onwards. I had already started to see a link between his unsettledness after feeds and my dairy intake, so I gave up dairy when he was five weeks old. I didn’t actually find this too difficult, as there are so many other good alternatives on the market, so this was never too much of an issue for me and not really a reason to stop feeding him. The bigger reason to continue to feed him for me started to become obvious when each time we tried him on formula, his reflux increased and his sleep took a nose dive backwards each time. I was always keen on combination feeding, and although I had plenty of milk – which was enough to do an evening bottle and another bottle in the day if I wanted to go out, I didn’t want to have to rely on my milk supply. Particularly given my pretty much full time return to work from 7 weeks onwards.
As his reflux began to worsen again, I started to notice that he was more settled on the bottle over the breast. My flow was very fast, and he would gulp in air and come off crying, basically being drowned in breastmilk at this point – making his reflux flare up more. At this stage (12 weeks or so), we moved to 4 out of 6 feeds being bottles of expressed milk, with the morning feed and 5pm snack feed being a breastfeed. I loved these feeds, none more so that the first feed of the day where you can snuggle and play, and he would come off and grin at me having had his full nights sleep. It is those little moments that you treasure and hold on to as it starts to become a less frequent part of your day.
However, aside from enjoying breastfeeding and finding it relatively easy, we had to also think about Rupert and his reflux which was flaring up often and for no reason, this included wheezing, congestion and periods at night time where he would struggle to go back to sleep. There was still something bothering him, and after a paediatrician visit I was recommended to cut out Soy and Wheat from my diet as well as dairy. I eat bread like it is going out of fashion, snack all day long (particularly whilst breastfeeding) and had no idea just how many every day food items contain soy. This wasn’t going to be easy but I took on the challenge, and it just became a way of life for a few weeks. It was particularly full on when going out for dinner when the only meal you could eat was basically steak, but other than that it didn’t seem to matter.
Things did improve for him, but we had reached a point really where at 15 weeks of age, it was now time to get some formula into his diet, and I was conscious that there may well still be other things bothering him that I was eating. Aside from giving up those three main groups, I looked into other things that it could be and was faced with a whole list of foods that I would have to cut out and then re-introduce one by one. I met with the paediatrician again and it was at that point that it became obvious to me that Rupert would be better off on a hypoallergenic formula, so that we could really work out what was causing his reflux. I could have tried another medication for him before giving up breastfeeding, but I wasn’t willing to do that if the answer was just that he needed a milk that made his tummy more settled.
Having spent the last 8 years really supporting my new mummy clients and being that person to tell them that it is ok to give up breastfeeding if they need to, and that formula is not as bad as everyone makes out, I ultimately missed having a Heidi in my life who could help me along the way at this point. Of course, I had the support of my husband to make the decision, as well as friends and we had done super well to get to where we did, but that very last push eventually came from the paediatrician who suggested that really there was no longer a benefit to Rupert and that he had gotten all he really needed from me by this point. The truth was he would be better off without my breastmilk now.
So this was it then, the transition to formula and dropping my milk supply happened over a period of a week or so, and as I write this I am still pumping a small amount of milk off in the morning and evening but it is getting less and less each time and becoming very watery in consistency. I have spent a good few days feeling completely emotional about the whole process. There have been tears and quite a few of them. It feels so unnatural to make myself stop producing milk, and strange that I was in such a great position that I had plenty of calorific milk to give him. But it just wasn’t to be any longer. My priority is his comfort, knowing what he is happy and content on, and making sure that we give his stomach the best start rather than bombarding it with white stuff that he possibly just can’t handle.
I decided that we would have a last official feed, rather than be tempted to keep having the odd mini feed which might otherwise just confuse both him and my body as to when we were to actually stop. He woke up yesterday morning, and I lay on the bed with him and undressed him so we were skin to skin. I played the music that I had played during my labour, and our early feeding sessions together in those first two emotional weeks when all you do is feed and cry! He fed, I cried. We took some photos. I remembered all of those moments where we struggled to get him latching, and the raw pain not just physically but emotionally of the whole induction/tongue tie/newborn experience.
Then we sat up, he smiled, we text Daddy to let him know and then we got on with our day. Starting with dancing around the kitchen to Girls Aloud on the radio, with a wash of relief that the decision had been made and that we were now free to move on. And move on we did… Today is his first day of being fully on nutramigen and he seems to be doing great. He has gone back to sleeping better, he is less refluxy, and I have more time on my hands now that I am not pumping three times a day. We have consistency, and a plan, and everyone knows I like a good plan!
The last week has not been easy, nor has it felt at all natural to give up something that came to us both so easily. There have been many tearful discussions with my husband, with me doubting my reasoning for giving up. I could sit and cry for the baby who didn’t have allergies, or reflux, and who was happy to breastfeed much longer. I could sit and look through all of my photos of us feeding together and wish it was still happening. There are lots of ways in which I could get sucked in to feeling negative about this experience. When I saw a client yesterday with a 10 month old who was still exclusively breastfeeding, my heart did a little tug as she continued to tell me about their feeding habits. The giving up process is tough, perhaps even tougher when you are surrounded by hundreds of other mums who are breastfeeding in front of you. But perhaps not when you also have an incredible amount of experience with so many clients who you have helped come to terms with not being able to breastfeed at all in the past, or making that transition to formula for whatever reason it has been and therefore knowing that you have been lucky to get this far.
Will I try again with baby number two (if we are lucky enough to have)? Yes absolutely. Babies are all different. If Rupert had taken 45+ minutes to feed each time, I would probably have stopped a while back as I wouldn’t have been able to fit everything into my day with being back at work too. My next baby might be on the boob for hours and we might decide that it is just not for us. But for now…
I am grateful for the experience we have shared together.
Happy that I was able to provide Rupert with four months of breastmilk.
Relieved that it was mostly an easy experience for us
EXCITED that we are now able to move forward knowing that his tummy is comfortable, I am not in someway poisoning him with some unknown food that he might be reacting to and
PROUD PROUD PROUD that I stuck at it and we got to the bottom of it
No matter what decision you make with breastfeeding, or what reasoning is behind it, it will never be easy, but knowing you did you best for your baby is all anyone ever really needs to know. Your decision is the right decision, and you make it based on what fits and works best for you and your baby. So here’s to all mummies out there, both breastfeeding, bottle feeding and combination feeding. You are doing an excellent job. Be Proud!