Honor’s switch in the last couple of weeks from sleeping through the night to rarely lasting more than an hour without waking has had knock on effects. Not just the obvious – that she is cranky and exhausted, and we are cranky and exhausted, is hardly surprising. But it has been more complicated than this.
When she was around three weeks old, we fell into a rhythm of feeding that worked well for us. Honor is exclusively breastfed, but this has been a mixture of straightforward feeds and expressed breastmilk bottle feeds. This has allowed Adam to also do Honor’s feeds, which was a wonderful chance for them to bond. Although, admittedly, this benefit came about more as a happy accident than by design:
I had always hoped to breastfeed and was delighted when Honor came along that she took to it instantly, with enthusiasm. A little too much enthusiasm, as it turned out, as within a couple of days the process had become agony (and bear in mind I had just gone through childbirth – I know what ‘agony’ feels like) as my body struggled to keep up with Honor’s near constant demand.
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Within a couple of weeks, it had become almost unbearable. I dreaded each feed and the blinding, searing pain that would accompany it. I sought help from my wonderful midwives, who assured me there was nothing wrong with my technique; it was simply that Honor had a ferocious appetite.
I asked them the classic question – the phrase new mums utter at least once a day – “is it normal?”. No one had warned me how much breastfeeding would hurt and there was not even a hint of it in any of the various books I had read during pregnancy.
“It’s perfectly normal to feel some discomfort”, came the disconcerting reply. “Discomfort” does not even come close to describing what I was feeling.
At my wits end and fed up of almost singlehandedly keeping the local pharmacy afloat with the amount of lanolin cream I was getting through, I came so close to giving up on breastfeeding. I was becoming increasingly worried that Honor was not feeding properly and would not be getting enough milk.
This is such an emotive topic for many new mums. In my circle of close mummy friends, at least half the group do not breastfeed. Of those who don’t, not one of them is doing so out of choice; each one of them tried to breastfeed but couldn’t - they simply did not produce enough milk, or any milk, or they developed an infection and had to give up.
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And every single one of them is wracked with guilt about it. They have been led to believe that they have somehow failed their child, despite their gorgeous little babies thriving and contented, with full tummies, now they are bottle-fed.
These women are wonderful mothers, each one of them, who would do anything for their little ones. Yet they feel judged, and often are judged, by the breast is best brigade. If only it were that simple. Surely it’s time we stopped judging mums who rarely make this decision lightly?
I was incredibly lucky because, as I teetered on the brink of giving up, I happened to see a different health visitor who, instead of dismissing my problem as “a little uncomfortable” told me it had been exactly the same for her. And then she offered me a solution.
She told me to forget the recommendation that you shouldn’t express, or mix breast and bottle-feeding until you’ve got breastfeeding fully established (around four or five weeks). She told me to take a break from breastfeeding on one side for 48 hours and instead to express my milk and then bottle-feed it to Honor. Then to switch and do the same on the other side. This way, my body would get the break it needed and be given the chance to catch up with Honor’s demands.
And it worked. The pain didn’t instantly disappear, but it became bearable again, and then gradually over the following week or so, it became less and less. And from then on, I had the best of both worlds. Breastfeeding has become the easiest, most effortless way to feed my baby. Far easier than always having to sterilise bottles or remember to take formula with us wherever we go. But Honor also happily took a bottle, so we could feed her this way too. And it allowed her daddy to give her the bedtime bottle, which became a magical bonding time for them.
But here’s what happened next: Honor decided to stop sleeping through the night and instead would cry at regular intervals to be fed, fed, fed. I would comply, meaning my milk was used up through the night and there would be none to express come morning. With no expressed milk, there was no bottle to give her. A week or so of no bottle followed and now she has lost all interest in taking one.
And so, our happy little best-of-both-worlds situation has ground resolutely to a halt. Along with the broken sleep, we’re now nil-by-bottle. It’s a classic mistake, one we’re not sure quite how we let happen. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Somehow we did let it happen, and now she refuses the bottle completely. But at least, thank goodness, it no longer hurts to breastfeed – then we’d really be in trouble.