Tag Archives: breastfeeding

The last feed

I remember the first feed like it was yesterday.

That tiny, alien creature, all purple and waxy white, placed upon my exhausted body as I lay on our bed at home, high on gas and air and the enormity of what I had just achieved. Holding my baby close, the baby that for the past nine months had lived inside me and for the past nine hours had pushed me to the limit, feeling the unfamiliar suckling at my breast.

I had hoped, before he was born, to feed him for a year. When I realised, as his weight began to plummet over his first few days on the outside, that things would not be as straightforward as I’d planned, I hoped that maybe we would make it to six months.

But tongue tie sorted, and after several weeks of learning from scratch how to carry out this most natural of functions, we sailed past that first milestone – and just kept on going.

He fed at least three hourly, night and day, for two years.

It was exhausting, but it felt so right. I was proud to have overcome those initial obstacles, to have figured out how to make breastfeeding work for both of us, to have mastered the art of feeding in the sling – to have written two novels with him nursing there.

I did wonder though, after that second year, whether he would ever stop.

That was my adjusted goal, in line with WHO recommendations: to “continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond”. And then as that new deadline approached I decided to let him lead the way as far as weaning was concerned.

I wasn’t expecting him to go quite so far “beyond”…

We had a few shaky moments, soon after he turned two. However gentle and respectful my parenting aspirations I really, really needed to get some sleep. But then just as I thought I might need to make the decision for us he decided he didn’t need to feed at night any more.

Daytime feeds continued, every three hours.

As we went into the fourth year, that eased off. It would be just twice a day, before his nap and at bedtime. And then just for his nap. And then sometimes not even for that. He would go a day or two or three and I would think perhaps we were done, and then he would ask again for booba and I did not say no.

I often asked him, in those last few months, if there was milk. It was hard to believe that my body could be so adaptable, keeping up a sporadic supply for as and when my boy decided he needed it. But he assured me that there was, and sometimes I still felt the letdown, the rush of oxytocin.

I miss that, a little, now that he has stopped.

I tried to remember to take photographs. It was easy in the early days (once I’d got over the initial insecurities), but my confidence dimmed again as he got older. Our society does not take kindly to the image of a preschooler on the breast, however much a nearly four year old is well within developmental norms to be not quite weaned.

Still, I captured a few. I am glad to have them now: those pictures of the (almost) last feed.


The actual last feed passed unnoticed. I suspect it was a naptime, one afternoon when I snuggled beside him in his bed as he fought against the tiredness permeating his little body. Perhaps it was an afternoon when I dozed off, too: enjoying having my child close, the whirlwind of energy temporarily stilled.

It is a strange feeling, knowing that I won’t nurse my child again. I can already feel a levelling out in the relationships in our family: my husband has been so incredibly supportive of our sustained breastfeeding journey, and part of me is so happy that there is no longer that imbalance in our parental roles.

There is at the heart of it all, though, a sense of loss.

Something happened last night that brought it to the surface, made me realise that we are in the midst of a powerful transition.

Arthur’s cries startled me from sleep at about two in the morning. He very rarely wakes at night nowadays, and it is even rarer that he calls for me. But he was: shouting “Mama!” with increasing urgency. I leapt out of bed and down to his room, and found him kneeling on his new cabin bed peering into the almost darkness.

I searched out his eyes and held him close, his little body shaking. I asked if it had been a bad dream and he nodded, head still nestled in my neck. I wanted to ask what it had been about but I didn’t: I waited.

Moments later he pulled back and looked at me.

“I dreamt you died, mama. I dreamt you died.”

I lifted him out of the bed and we snuggled on his beanbag. His eyes wide open and breathing shallow as he rested his head against my chest, my hand gently stroking his hair and reassuring him that I was very much still there. Every now and then he would ask, “Why did you die, mama?” I didn’t know what to say, so I held him closer.

I felt my breasts fill with milk, but he did not ask to feed and I did not offer.

After a while of lying there I asked if he would like to come and sleep with us or whether he would prefer to go back into his own bed. He stood up and walked across the room, climbing the ladder up to his bed as I hovered close behind. He pulled the covers up to his chin and looked at me, smiling when I said he could come to us at any point if he felt scared.

He closed his eyes and went to sleep and I went back to my own bed and lay there in the almost dark, thinking.

In his world, one where he has been nourished physically and emotionally at the breast for as long as he has been alive, I suppose a piece of his mama has died. I am still here, though, and I can still comfort him.

Things will just always be a little different from here on in.

Why I will not be staying at home to breastfeed my baby


Dear Natali,

I read your article in The Independent today, and to say it made me angry is an understatement. I’ve watched the responses unfold on Twitter, both in support of and against your view that breastfeeding mothers should stay at home with their babies, and have found myself quivering with rage.

I imagine you thought, with public breastfeeding a hot topic in recent weeks, that it might be a handy way to garner publicity for your forthcoming novel.

And I’m sure you’d tell me to lighten up, to not take your words so seriously. You tweeted after all that your intention was to be ‘tongue in cheek’, to be funny.

The problem I have though is not only that your words contain only the barest hint of humour, but that also the issue of breastfeeding – public or otherwise – really is no laughing matter in this country.

I wonder if you stopped to think for a moment about the realities we are facing. That despite the NHS recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months, only 1% of British babies are exclusively breastfed for that long (with only 34% still breastfed at all at that stage). Not forgetting the WHO recommendation that babies are breastfed for at least two years. I can count on one hand the amount of mothers I know who fall into this category, and I have no doubt many eyebrows would have been raised if I had been breastfeeding my (very well behaved) 23-month-old over afternoon tea at Claridges.

But I would have done, because I know my rights and I know what’s best for me and my son. I have, to date, breastfed him in a number of establishments you would I’m sure have denied us access to – backstage at gigs, fancy restaurants and yes, swanky hotels. I have yet to be challenged, and I hope if I was I would have the courage to stand my ground.

The thing is though that there are many, many mothers who would not feel the same way. Numerous women who would read your article and nod sadly, convinced that their desire to breastfeed their child is not compatible with any kind of social life, concerned that they would be subjected to the judgemental gaze and comments of people like you. I have come across many cases where it is precisely this that leads women to choose bottle over breast, leading them in turn to miss out on the myriad of physical and emotional benefits breastfeeding offers them and their baby.

You say that you are qualified to pass your judgement – indeed are an ‘expert’ – by dint of having once breastfed yourself, but that doesn’t wash I’m afraid. Much as homophobia is still unacceptable when it comes from the mouth of someone whose ‘best friends are gay’, you don’t get to tell breastfeeding mothers to stay at home just because that is where you felt most comfortable.

You refer derisively to the fact that the breastfeeding mother whose mistreatment you were responding to burst into tears when told to cover up by staff at Claridges. This surprised me, as surely being a mother of two yourself you remember the cauldron of hormones of the early months? Or maybe you don’t. Having read this and some of your other articles it’s clear that you practise detachment parenting almost religiously.

It’s sad, really. Almost a reason to feel sorry for you. Apart from the fact you’ve chosen to express your views so publicly in a supposedly respectable newspaper.

The Independent of course has a case to answer here too. In a society where bare breasts are fine as long as they’re being used to sell something and yet establishments from local cafes to world-class hotels openly discriminate against breastfeeding mothers despite this being against the law, it is a travesty that a newspaper that prides itself on its liberal views can give yours air.

But it is you whose words made me so very angry. On the blog you contribute to you proudly refer to yourself as a Selfish Mother. And sure, there are times when us mums need to put ourselves first. But to be so selfish as to advocate denying mothers the right to leave the house and to contribute to the incredibly damaging dialogue that denies women the freedom to choose the best start for their babies? That, I’m afraid, is a step too far.

Yours sincerely,


Linking up with Sara at Mum Turned Mom for her prompt: ‘I read the news today…’


Why we cannot afford to get complacent about our right to breastfeed our babies


A storm erupted on social media yesterday which reminded me that we still have a long way to go before society fully accepts that it is perfectly normal and natural for babies to be fed from a woman’s breasts.

As I’m writing this, my toddler is nursing in the sling. It’s easy to get complacent in my own little corner of the universe – to forget that there are still many people who would look on what I’m doing as disgusting. Sure there are reminders now and again. The woman called a ‘slut’ by an elderly couple for breastfeeding her child in a coffee shop in London. The nursing mother subjected to abuse by teenagers on a local bus route. But it’s relatively easy to dismiss these as little pockets of ignorance – important to stand up against, yes, but situations that arose in the heat of the moment.

And then yesterday it emerged that a popular ‘family friendly’ cafe in leafy Surrey had decided it was appropriate to display this sign on their front door:

Tillings breastfeeding notice

I, like many others, was gobsmacked. I mean – what were they thinking? A woman’s right to breastfeed her child – and indeed that child’s right to be nourished and nurtured – is entrenched in law. It is illegal in this country to tell a woman she cannot breastfeed her child, or indeed to discriminate against her in any way for that reason.

But here is an established business telling its clientele, openly and publicly, that they have the right to tell breastfeeding mothers to feed in the toilet.

This is wrong on so many levels. There is the fundamental idiocy of suggesting that it is in any way appropriate for a baby to eat in the place where people defecate. I have yet to find anyone who has expressed this as well as the poet Hollie McNish, so I’m just going to leave this here:

There is the thinly veiled implication that well-behaved dogs are more welcome than breastfeeding mothers and their babies, the mind-bending logistics of a group of mums taking it in turns to leave their friends and their coffee and cake at the table and take their baby and the thoughtfully provided chair into the disabled toilet. Or perhaps the whole group is expected to relocate, coffee and cake and all.

All of this aside though, there is a psychology at play here which is insidious and dangerous, and that is where for me the biggest problem lies.

I’m not too worried about me. I hope I’d have the guts to tell the cafe where to stick their sign. I know my rights, and I’m confident enough in the many benefits to me and my child of continuing our breastfeeding relationship that I wouldn’t be put off by such an impolite notice.

But what of those who are less confident? What of the mum in the early stages of breastfeeding her child who is self-conscious and embarrassed? What if she decides that this precious social time with her friends is so important that maybe she’ll just take a bottle to feed her baby when she goes out? What of her dwindling supply, her feelings of failure and resignation to not being able to follow through on her desire to breastfeed? What of her child, missing out on the many benefits that nursing can bring?

Not forgetting the rest of the cafe’s clientele. Like with many forms of discrimination, there are the people whose discomfort at being in the company of a breastfeeding mother simmers just below the surface. Seeing an official sign like this normalises their attitude, perhaps increasing their confidence in expressing their inappropriate views in another situation.

The cafe has claimed that there was a misunderstanding. Using the oldest excuse for bigotry in the book, the cafe owner has claimed that having breastfed her own children how could she possibly be discriminating against breastfeeding mothers. But there is nothing I can find in that sign that is ambiguous: she claims she has the right to ask breastfeeding mothers to feed in the toilet. And that is unequivocally wrong.

The cafe’s ratings on various online sites have plummeted after people expressed their disgust at their gall. The prospect of a nurse-in protest was clearly not one the owner wanted to face, and I understand the sign has now been taken down.

This is ultimately a good thing. But it took five weeks for this story to be picked up by social media – that’s a long time for something so damaging to be in the public sphere.

So whilst this particular tale of discrimination might have something approaching a happy ending, it is clear to me that this is not a time for us to be complacent. Not at all.

Benefits of extended breastfeeding


When I wrote last week about breastfeeding a toddler, I was very conscious that I was merely looking to capture my experience. There are many reasons why a mother might choose to breastfeed her child or not, and many more that will influence how long that aspect of their relationship continues. It is not my place to judge them for the decision they have made, or question their reasons for making it.

But then I read a comment that, just for a moment, made me question mine. One of my readers wrote that, on reading my article, he was left feeling that the extended breastfeeding relationship did much to benefit me but he couldn’t see how it benefited my child. That whilst I said that my son was not ready to stop, in fact it was me who wanted to continue.

Now part of me felt that I should just dismiss this entirely. Even if my reasons for continuing to breastfeed were mainly driven by my needs it’s not like it is harming my child – the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for two years or beyond after all. There are so many choices to be made as a parent, and it is always a process of weighing up the needs of everyone involved before coming to a decision.

But another part of me wanted to tell him that he was wrong. That not only do I know that my child is not ready to wean but also that there are numerous benefits he enjoys by continuing to nurse.

Having looked deeper into the WHO recommendations as well as other research I was actually a bit surprised at just how many possible benefits have been found by the numerous studies that have been carried out.

Benefits of extended breastfeeding for the child

  • Improved nutrition: in the second year breastfeeding can provide around a third of a child’s energy requirements as well as significant amounts of protein, calcium, folate and other vitamins. Not bad for a fussy toddler!
  • A continuing boost to the immune system: some of the immune factors in breast milk actually increase during the second year.
  • A wide range of other health benefits, including reduced incidence of asthma, lower blood pressure in later life, improved dental development, protection against Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of epilepsy. Extended breastfeeding has also been liked to lower rates of childhood cancer and obesity.
  • Improved cognitive skills, with the greatest gains for those breastfed the longest.
  • An important source of comfort, soothing tantrums and over-tiredness as effectively as a sore knee.
  • Increased confidence and independence. This one might come as a surprise, but as with many aspects of attachment parenting the secure bond created in the early years allows the growing child to branch out more, not less.

There are also, of course, a number of benefits for the mother who chooses to breastfeed her child past one year – benefits that are often overlooked in the argument that extended breastfeeding is merely pandering to the demands of the child.

Benefits of extended breastfeeding for the mother

  • A range of health benefits, including reduced incidence of Type 2 diabetes, lower incidence of hypertension, protection against breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • It can help to control your weight – whether helping shed the extra pounds or protecting against too much weight loss during the nursing period.
  • It reduces stress – the very act of nursing is relaxing, partly down to the calming effects of prolactin but also the physical closeness with your child that it necessitates in the middle of a hectic schedule. Added to this there is the peace of mind that comes from the health and nutrition benefits for your child described above.

Of course not all of these benefits will apply to everyone, and there are doubtless things that other mothers can add to this list. I think it provides a pretty solid retort, though, to those who believe that only one party can benefit from extended breastfeeding – or in fact that it is a fruitless enterprise altogether.

I feel immensely privileged that I have been able to breastfeed my child, and that circumstances have allowed us to continue this relationship for as long as we have. Now that I’ve reminded myself of just how many things we both stand to gain from it I’m most definitely not in a hurry to stop any time soon.

I have endeavoured to reference my sources for some of the more tangible claims above, but if you would like to find out more there are numerous resources available on the UNICEF and La Leche League websites. If you’d like to ask a question, or if I’ve missed anything you’d like to add, then please do so in the comments below. 




Mums' Days

Breastfeeding a toddler


If you had asked me at the beginning of my breastfeeding journey if I’d still be nursing my son at nearly 21 months I would have said no. No way. I mean, I had nothing against the idea of breastfeeding an older child theoretically – I wasn’t freaked out by it like so many readers of this article seem to be (I know, I know – never read the comments on the Daily Mail). I was just pretty certain that by the time my tiny baby had grown into a toddler our breastfeeding days would be long gone.

But like so many things about this parenting lark, I was wrong.

It’s not like I’ve made a conscious decision to keep feeding him, but rather that there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to stop. We’ve got our technique down pat now and there’s not much I can’t do whilst he’s feeding in the sling. He’s feeding right now – dozing in and out of consciousness as I tap away at the keyboard. I’ll certainly miss the time it gives me when he can be close and nurtured and safe whilst I can still get on and write. If all goes to plan our breastfeeding relationship will have seen me through at least two novels by the time he stops which can’t be bad!

There are of course many benefits for him as well. I mean, he loves his booba. He asks for ‘booba feed’ when he just wants a quick snack, or ‘booba bed’ when he’s ready to sleep, and when I say yes he bubbles over with glee. He’s even starting to express an opinion about which one he’d prefer, though I’m not sure I’m going to encourage that…

I do think it’s still an important part of his diet too. He eats well, don’t get me wrong – he’s had porridge and banana for breakfast today, followed by mackerel and poached egg and kale for lunch. But he’s growing so fast – both in body and mind – that I’m not surprised he needs the extra calories.

But there’s more to it than that. It comforts him, in this world which is more full of wonder every day. It gives him pause, time to reflect and recharge. It reminds him that I am here, and I am his, and gives him the confidence he needs to embrace all the new experiences that are presented to him. If he is sick, or falls and scrapes his knee or bumps his head, then a bit of booba is better than any medicine.

My milk helps to warm him up when he comes smiling out of the Devon sea, and when we were in Barcelona this summer, traipsing round the city in the scorching August sun, my milk stopped him from becoming dehydrated. Of course he drank water too, but the nutrients in the breastmilk did a far better job of reviving him. He’s not interested in drinking anything else – we’ve tried watered down juice and other kinds of milk but he won’t touch them – which is one of the many reasons I know he’s not ready to stop quite yet.


It’s not all plain sailing. There are moments when he calls out for booba or puts his hand down my top in public when I feel like I need to make excuses for the fact I’m still feeding him, though if anyone else were to actually challenge me on it they would most certainly feel my wrath. It can get exhausting, and I do sometimes wish he fed a little less frequently. We’re essentially working on the principle of ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’, but he still rarely goes for more than four hours without asking. It’s not that I can’t say no – and sometimes I do – but that doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. There’s plenty else I put my foot down on, but not this.

Though I may need to break through that soon for the sake of both our sleep. Nights are hard at the moment: he’d dropped down to waking me for one or two short feeds which was totally manageable with the co-sleeping. But in the last few weeks it’s been almost like having a newborn again – last night he woke up almost every hour, scrabbling for me and crying bitterly if I tried to soothe him in any other way. I thought for a while it was maybe just backlash over the lack of routine we fell into over the summer, but having done some research it seems this is a fairly common ‘thing’ for the breastfeeding toddler. So we’re looking into gentle methods of night weaning him. There are lots of techniques out there which I think we could handle, but it’s one thing rationalising them in the light of day and quite another negotiating with an angry toddler at three in the morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And as for weaning entirely? Well I think now that’s up to Arthur. I’m certainly not about to deprive him of something he loves so much, especially as both of us will be losing out when our breastfeeding relationship is finally over. And really, for all of his confidence and agility and words, he’s still my baby. He’ll stop when he’s ready, and only when he’s ready will it be time to stop.





Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

The power of attachment

Before Arthur was born, I didn’t really have much of an idea about the kind of parent I wanted to be. I knew I wasn’t great at keeping to fixed routines, and my time as a teacher had taught me that nurturing young people generally works best when you take the cues from them. But it was one thing listening to teenagers communicate their needs and wants – how on earth was I supposed to do that with a tiny baby?

I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I figured I’d want to express fairly regularly so that other people could feed the baby too and I could have a bit of freedom. It was losing my freedom, if I’m honest, that I was most nervous about. I was sure I’d want to make the most of my parents’ enthusiasm as new grandparents to get out for time alone with Leigh, to touch base with the me that I was before I became pregnant rather than letting this new little person take over everything.

We were given a pram by Leigh’s parents, having researched endlessly which one would be best for tackling the off-road paths and beaches near where we live. My mum helped me decorate the nursery, all decked out with the cot the baby would move into once he’d passed the six month stage and was ready to graduate to his own room. I knew there would be times when he would sleep with us, but I definitely didn’t want to encourage that on a regular basis.

And then when Arthur was born everything changed. He went from being an abstract baby to a real little human being – and I was surprised to find that I didn’t want to leave his side. I didn’t really get out of bed for the first two weeks after he was born. Partly because it was the middle of winter, and partly because it took all the focus and energy I could muster to overcome the problems we had getting breastfeeding established (you can read about that here). And during that time, when I wasn’t dozing, I read. I started by browsing internet forums looking for inspiration about how I was actually going to approach this business of parenting. I know people say that you should just trust your instincts, but I was terrified of getting it wrong – I did have an idea about how I wanted to do things, but it was so different to what I considered socially acceptable that I needed validation. And slowly I began to find it.

I realised that I identified with what people were calling attachment parenting – I’d never heard of it before, but keen to find out more I ordered several books – Dr Sears’ The Baby Book was great for day to day questions and concerns, but it was the work of Deborah Jackson that really inspired me. I read When Your Baby Cries and Three in a Bed, and as I journeyed with her through different times and cultures I realised that the status quo I had come to accept was far from the only option.

As Arthur and I began to face the world together, I began to put these ideas into practice. After nearly being put off by the first sling I tried I soon became a convert to babywearing – I wrote about the beginnings of that journey here. I found that I was so calm and focused when I was wearing my baby – I didn’t have to put him down alone to get things done, or worry about him as he napped elsewhere. Bizarrely by physically attaching Arthur to me I found I finally had the freedom to begin to live my life again, starting with beginning to write the novel that had been swimming around in my head for so long.

It was a long time before we asked my parents to babysit – they’ve still only done it a couple of times – because we decided we’d miss Arthur too much and would rather he just came with us. And so he did, to meals out, to parties, to gigs, to festivals. I was surprised again – though of course relieved – to find that Leigh shared my inclinations, and as a result the three of us have had so many fantastic adventures together.


The thing that has most surprised both Leigh and I though has been I think our attitudes to sleep. The sixth month point came and went long ago and Arthur is still sleeping in our room. We’ve talked about it, and both agree that it’s going to be a little while before we’re ready to give up co-sleeping. Arthur loves being close to us, and there is something quite magical about sharing the moments just before he goes to sleep and when he has just woken up as well as the groundswell of love that I still feel when I watch his sleeping form in the middle of the night or he snuggles up to me for a feed.

I know that we’ve been lucky, that there are certain freedoms that we’ve had that have meant I have been able to let Arthur set the pace. I haven’t had to go back to my job as a teacher, and as I muddle through in my attempts to forge a new career at home I can adjust how and when and where I do things to suit his rhythms.

And bizarrely, with all this talk of attachment and the warnings I’ve ignored from well meaning advisors, Arthur’s actually becoming a very confident and easy going little boy. He rarely cries, and as much as I try to follow his cues whenever I can he is proving himself to be highly adaptable when he has to fall in step with me.

I am just so glad I took the time to explore the alternative approaches to parenting that were out there, to find a way to meet the needs of both my baby and myself. I’m glad too that I accepted the changes that becoming a parent wrought within me – however surprising they were at first. I suppose you’ll never know what sort of a parent you’ll be until you are one – I’m not for a second suggesting that the approach we’ve taken would work for everyone, but for the time being at least it definitely seems to be working for us.

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt of ‘surprise’.




Becoming a mum: breastfeeding

Arthur is feeding in the sling as I write this – as he does most mornings in fact before drifting off to sleep giving me the time to get some writing done. He’s fourteen months old now. If you had asked my pre-baby self whether we’d still be breastfeeding at this point I would have thought it highly unlikely. My goal was a year, at the very least six months – though at the beginning of our breastfeeding journey even that seemed insanely ambitious.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed even before I got pregnant. My mum had breastfed me and my three brothers so it seemed like the obvious thing to do. Add to that my preference for food that is local, organic and unprocessed wherever possible and my aversion to washing up which made the endless sterilising and preparation associated with formula feeding particularly unappealing and it seemed a no brainer. What I had no idea about was just how difficult it could be.

At the breastfeeding class Leigh and I attended, diligently focusing on how to get the correct latch and marvelling over the video of the newborn baby crawling up its mother’s belly to help itself to milk, I asked what problems we might face and if the class leader had any tips to overcome them. My concerns were brushed off though – breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world, we were told, just follow the guidelines we were given and we’d be fine. Retrospectively, having faced considerable challenges myself and heard all of the different problems faced by my mummy friends, I think we were being fobbed off. There was such a focus on persuading us to breastfeed – though no-one in that room really needed persuading – that the class leader didn’t want to say anything that might put us off. It’s a shame she couldn’t have treated us a bit more like adults really – it certainly would have made me feel like less of a failure in those first few weeks, and might have helped me identify what was going wrong sooner.

I had no idea anything was wrong at first. We had a near perfect home birth (you can read about my birth story here), and though it was past the end of her shift the midwife stayed to make sure Arthur latched on for his first feed. She was happy he was doing ok, and I was floating on a wave of exhaustion and oxytocin, just relieved he was finally there. We all settled to sleep soon after midnight, and we were grateful that he chose to sleep through until eight the next morning.

In fact I think I had to wake him then. I felt a little guilty as we’d been told to make sure he fed every three hours – but we were also told our baby would let us know when he was hungry. Advice about waking sleeping babies varied enormously – and as, by my mum’s account, I had been a very sleepy baby too, I wasn’t all that worried about it. It makes me shudder slightly thinking about it now – no-one had been able to explain to me previously why it was so important that babies were fed every three hours, even if they seemed to want to sleep, but my subsequent research taught me that his blood sugars had probably been dropping dangerously low, and if I’d left him to rouse himself he may not have woken up at all.

feeding 1 week

The next couple of days passed in a blur. Midwives came and checked on us all, asked about the feeding. I said I thought everything was going ok but I couldn’t really be sure: I had no idea what it felt like to have a successfully feeding baby attached to my breast, so I had to accept their reassurances that the latch looked fine, that it would be easier for me to feel what was going on when my milk came in. I remember feeling very out of my depth, had the sense that something wasn’t quite right but didn’t know what. Arthur was so sleepy, would spend hours at a time at the breast but never seemed to be satisfied. But I just put this down to him – to both of us – needing to learn how to do this breastfeeding thing properly. Clearly it wasn’t going to be quite as natural and easy as people made out.

The first sign that there really might be something wrong was on day three – New Year’s Eve, and Arthur’s due date. After the midwife had weighed him she looked concerned, and said she was really sorry but she was going to have to call the Special Care Baby Unit and we should get ready to go in. He’d lost fourteen percent of his body weight – nearly half a kilo – and this had set alarm bells ringing.

Our families were beginning to gather at our house to see in the New Year as we left for the hospital that afternoon. Even in my worry I was well aware of the irony – we’d had a successful home birth three days early and now, on Arthur’s due date, we were heading to the hospital anyway. I remember shouting instructions at my sister in law to sterilise the brand new breast pump as we left – the midwife had said we’d almost definitely need it on our return if I wanted to continue breastfeeding.

I was hooked up to an industrial breast pump as soon as we arrived at the hospital – we didn’t even make it out of the waiting room. The doctor and nurses we met were surprised to see that I had ample supply – apparently the usual result of that initial test in our circumstances would be little or no milk being produced. A nurse came and sat with us and cup fed Arthur with my milk, the rest being labelled and put into a fridge for later. Next came a barrage of tests for him, during which we were transferred to a bed. I started getting ridiculously antsy at this point – I really don’t like hospitals. Even my relief when the results of the tests came back showing no major underlying concerns was short lived when they said Arthur and I would need to stay in overnight. I know I should just have been grateful he was ok, but I really, really wanted to go home! In the end, after Arthur had consumed enough of my expressed milk to bring his blood sugars up, a combination of my tears and Leigh’s persuasive powers meant they taught him how to cup feed and let us go. We were under strict instructions to feed Arthur every three hours, topping up after each feed with expressed milk in a cup, and to come back in the morning to get him checked over again.

cup feeding

The check on New Year’s day showed that the new approach was beginning to work – he’d gained a little weight overnight, and they were happy for us to continue with regular home visits. So began a gruelling regime of breastfeeding, expressing and cup feeding every three hours. The whole process took at least two hours, so none of us were getting any sleep, and whilst Arthur was very slowly beginning to put on weight this was clearly not sustainable. When my milk properly came in it just seemed to make things worse: my breasts were so painfully engorged no matter how many cold compresses and cabbage leaves I applied, and Arthur would just cry and fuss when I tried to feed him, pushing me away but at the same time not wanting to be anywhere else. He made a clicking sound when he tried to feed, and was very colicky indicating he was taking in too much air.

The midwives were at a loss as to what was going wrong – they were convinced my latch was effective, and just said I should persevere. I’d begun to spend every spare minute researching our symptoms online, and ordered a book which was to become our bible – ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding‘ from La Leche League. From this I deduced that there were two possible causes for Arthur’s inability to feed – oversupply, or maybe a posterior tongue tie. He’d been checked for the latter twice already, but it still seemed a very likely explanation. I followed the advice for mitigating the difficulties of oversupply, and went to an appointment with the hospital’s breastfeeding specialist armed with my new knowledge.

She listened, and agreed that a tongue tie was likely. And in fact was able to attempt a frenulotomy then and there: we’re lucky that our local hospital has been a centre of research for tongue tie and its impact on breastfeeding. She warned us that Arthur’s frenulum was tricky to reach so she many not be entirely successful – and in the end referred us to a Max Fax specialist to complete the procedure the following week.

Even once the problem had been identified and dealt with it took us some time to get breastfeeding comfortably established. Arthur was clearly able to latch better after the second frenulotomy, but he was still taking in air and still needed supplementing with cup feeds to get the milk he needed. I decided to try to improve his latch with nipple shields. Several people had warned me off them, but I figured it was that or nothing. Feeding was starting to get incredibly painful, and the shields protected me as well as giving Arthur something he could quite literally latch onto more easily. We ended up using the nipple shields for a couple of months, and at several points I despaired of ever being able to just breastfeed naturally. We no longer needed to supplement though, and gradually we used the shields less and less, until one day I realised we hadn’t had to use them at all.

For me, breastfeeding has been a really important part of becoming a mum. I understand now how difficult it is, and feel very strongly about women needing accurate information and honest advice before and after birth. With the issue of tongue-tie being in the news a lot recently I hope people will be quicker to diagnose and treat it – I know that on the scale of things Arthur and I were lucky to get the help we needed so early on, but even those couple of weeks felt like an eternity, and had a huge impact on our ability to get breastfeeding established. If I hadn’t have been so stubborn I think I probably would have given up. And whilst I totally respect the choices of women who decide not to breastfeed, I think it’s very sad if our society can’t support those who want to nurse their baby to follow through on that decision.

feeding 14 months

Looking at Arthur today it’s hard to believe that we ever had a problem at all. By the time he was six months old his weight had shot up from the seventh to the ninety-first centile. Breastfeeding finally did feel like the most natural thing in the world: no faffing around with bottles and formula, and I had the ability not only to feed him with my body but also to comfort him and soothe him whenever he was upset or in pain.

Now Arthur enjoys a wide range of solid foods, but shows no sign of being ready to give up nursing. It frustrates me occasionally – he won’t take milk or even water really from any other source – but I only have to think back to how close we came to not being able to breastfeed at all to be grateful that I’ve been able to nurture him for this long and to hope we’ll continue on this breastfeeding journey for a while longer yet.

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