Sometimes it amazes me how two baby boys can be so different. Right from pregnancy, these two chaps have given mum and dad such different experiences. Lockie was born on his due date, water birth, no pain relief, no interventions. Jamie was born 8 weeks early via emergency c-section, under general anaesthetic. Lockie never slept anywhere except on us, for the first week of his life. Jamie came home from SCBU with a ability to sleep anywhere. Lockie seemed allergic to sleep – still does. Jamie sleeps 10-12 hours through the night. Lockie was super active – rolling early on and crawling at 5.5 months. Jamie resembles a slug – no sign of rolling at almost 6 months. Two very different boys.
One other major difference with these two has been feeding – Lockie was formula fed from 5 or 6 weeks, Jamie is exclusively breastfed. After my first traumatic experiences with breastfeeding I never thought I would make it to (almost) 6 months exclusively breastfeeding. (I also never thought I would have another baby but that’s a whole other story!) You might think traumatic is a bit of an exaggeration but that’s what it felt like at the time. Trauma. Or a death. The death of my dream of breastfeeding. OK, maybe I am being a little dramatic.
When I look back at that first breastfeeding experience I can break it down to the facts: I had Reynaud’s. I had cracked and bleeding nipples. I had thrush. And I had a hungry baby. Those 4 factors combined made me dread every peep that little baby made as I anticipated the extreme pain that would follow him latching. I physically reacted to every hungry cry – my shoulders hunched, my stomach dropped and tears started to form. In turn, my body thought, “stuff that, I’m not making milk if that’s what happens”. OK – maybe that last bit is not scientifically correct but I seriously never had enough milk for that kid, no matter what I tried. And I tried: lactation teas, supplements, peanuts, oats, Guiness, domperidone, pumping – if you told me standing on my head while reciting the alphabet would increase my supply, I would have tried that too.
Hindsight is a powerful thing. When I was living it, it was heartbreaking. Soul crushing. It made me feel like a complete and utter failure as a mum. When you’re tired, hormonal and struggling as a new mum, you feel every emotion x 100. Today’s me would tell me back then to just enjoy your baby. Seriously, don’t spend any energy stressing about whether he is breast or bottle fed because that little baby will grow in to the coolest little dude – smart, funny, imaginative and healthy. How he was fed will not matter in the slightest. But I’m pretty sure all of my friends and family tried to tell me – I just couldn’t see through the black cloud.
But with Baby Mac #2 I had such a different experience. One silver lining of having a very premature baby is the extremely gentle introduction to breastfeeding. I started by hand expressing a little colostrum. Then as my milk started to come in, I went to 3 hourly pumping. Jamie was taking 0.5ml every 3 hours. Then 1ml. Then 2mls. My stash in the SCBU freezer grew. Sure, it was a pain expressing every 3 hours, especially during the night. And there was no “Pamela Anderson”, my milk’s in, moment. The amounts in the pumping bottle slowly increased – 5mls turned in to 10ml, then eventually I was getting anywhere from 40ml to 100ml per session.
Then came the day that I could try Jamie on the breast. He latched instantly, took 3 sucks then fell asleep. And that was it for the day. The next day we tried again – this time he wouldn’t latch at all. I cried. The nurses rubbed my back and explained the 2 steps forward, 1 step back that often accompanies premature babies. The next day he latched and sucked for a good few minutes. Soon we were doing every second feed. Then at 4 weeks and 5 days old I got to spend the night in hospital and do a whole 24 hours of feeding. And then another 24 hours. Then it was time to go home and before I knew it, he is almost 6 months old and we’re still going strong.
I thought breastfeeding would be a bit like riding a bike – once you’ve nailed it, you’re away laughing. Breastfeeding has been nothing like this for me. Or maybe I’m yet to nail it.
Some days are easy. Some days are really hard.
Some days he wants to feed all day to the point where I just can’t stand the thought of another latch. Other days I get sad thinking about our breastfeeding journey ever ending.
Some days he arches his back and cries, pushing off me yet still seeming hungry. Some days he snuggles in tight, drinking until he’s sound asleep.
Some days I just wish I could get away, drink a bottle of wine and then sleep til noon. Other days I feel completely content to watch movies with a baby attached to me, never leaving the house. And some days he seems to prefer chatting to feeding, popping off every few seconds to smile and babble up to me.
I have no idea how long we’ll breastfeed for. I say “we” as I’ve heard sometimes the baby can make the call, self weaning. I’ll keep going for as long as it works for all of us. And I’ll enjoy it for as long as I enjoy it. And one day I’ll look back and remember my two very different babies.