I know I’ve missed #worldbreastfeedingweek with this, I was a bit uncertain whether to write about our journey or not. Last year I was writing with pride about our feeding journey, and if you had asked me if I would be feeding this time next year, my response would be I hope so!
I’d like to think I would have been foolish enough to say a hard yes, as it takes two people to breastfeed, but I wanted to continue as long as possible. I can’t say how long I would have kept going, and I wasn’t looking forward to the day when I decided it was time and having to wean her, however I hadn’t prepared myself for her weaning herself.
If you’ve read our birth story, Baby H was born at 41 weeks with a natural unassisted labour, it took a couple of attempts to initiate feeding, but 8 hours later she was on and our journey began.
Mainly our journey was simple, I had plenty of milk so that was one thing I didn’t need to worry about, however, it was an oversupply which brings its own challenge. For us my oversupply meant that H would either keep a really shallow latch, or clamp down to stem the flow, both of which were very painful. Feeding was working, it was painful, but it was working for her and she was gaining weight well, that being said I wanted to see if it could be more comfortable.
Firstly, I reached out to our Health Visitor who watched me feed and gave me some pointers, it worked for us well in the office but for some reason I couldn’t replicate it at home. Next I spoke to our local La Leche League leader, who recommended feeding in a laid back position, but I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. Finally, I attended a breastfeeding clinic at a local hospital who taught me to pinch my nipple and roll it into her mouth to ensure a deep latch and if she slips take her off and try again - this was perfect and finally feeding was comfortable.
Returning to work and breastfeeding
We continued exclusively breastfeeding until weaning at six months, then at 7 months I returned to work two days a week. To date the oversupply had meant a decent output when pumping and catching letdown with a silicon pump when feeding, so I wasn’t concerned about my return to work. We sent H to childcare with one bottle of breast milk and one bottle of formula each day. It was perfect
I took a one-hour pump break each day and was able to express enough for the following day’s bottle, so we could protect the freezer supply. Then it all changed, only two weeks into my return to work, my period returned and my supply plummeted to less than half of my previous output. I don’t know if the timing was coincidental, or if my return to work brought on my period and that affected my supply, or vice versa, either way, emotionally I was not ready.
Dealing with a reduced milk supply
To begin with, I upped my pumping, making sure to also pump at home and on my days off, it was sustainable, but not enjoyable. Eventually I had to concede, the regular pumping just wasn’t for me, I wasn’t enjoying it and she was already having one bottle of formula a day, was it really so bad to increase that to two? We still fed in the mornings, at bedtime and at night, our journey hadn’t ended, it had just changed.
We were lucky because H had always switched well between the breast and the bottle so I didn’t need to worry about that. When I met with our Health Visitor before H was born she had asked our feeding plans and when I explained I wanted to exclusively breastfeed but have the option to give her bottles of expressed milk, she advised that if feeding established well then to introduce the bottle at 4 weeks rather than six to avoid any bottle aversion (please note this goes against all common advice, it’s just what worked for us).
H was content having her formula milk at the childminders and breastfeeding with me, it was working well. Fast forward another two months, we’ve dropped the breakfast and night feeds so we are on just one a day at bedtime and it’s no longer the same story. H is starting to fuss on the boob, coming on and off, not latching effectively, not taking much in and it’s back to being painful. She is frustrated. I am frustrated. It's no longer working.
I persevered though, having told myself that we would make it to one year, we only had around 6 weeks to go, we could do it. Bedtimes were getting fraught, H just wanted a bottle, I didn’t want to give her it, after all it was now the only time we fed. I kept battling, then a few weeks shy of her first birthday I gave in. I’d always prided myself on being baby led for the majority of my parenting, and I suddenly realised I no longer was when it came to feeding, H had decided she was done and I was trying to override that decision.
Accepting our breastfeeding journey had ended
I would love to tell you when I reached that decision I felt a wave of relief, but I didn’t, a wave of sadness yes, but no relief. However, H was starting to settle better at bedtime so it was undeniably the right decision to make.
11 months later I still feel sad that we didn’t get any further, I think I always will. To this date, I still think about feeding most days, and check for milk at least once a week (there’s still some there!). Yes we never made it to one year, and I wasn’t ready to stop, but that’s not important, what’s important is I fed for as long as it was right for both of us.