Retiring the Boob.

So, it’s July and I’m not sure if I can believe it’s been 18 weeks since I gave birth. The day will be etched into my memory for eternity.  The moment she was heaved out of my battered and tired body and unceremoniously plonked upon my chest will be my favourite memory of her because she was finally here.  At last we could say hello to our little warrior princess, and what a warrior she was. Screaming her beautiful purple head off, she was letting the world know that she had arrived.  I was instantly in love with her. I couldn’t contain my happiness and burst into tears of pure elation (with a pinch of exhaustion).  I watched as her daddy cut the cord.  There is not much in the world that will make you fall in love with your husband all over again than watching him in that tiny moment.  As he looks at you, and he looks at her and you can see that his love is, and will always be as powerful as yours.

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First Cuddles.  Copyright of Monsterful Mama

I ushered daddy off to look after baby while I ‘birthed’ the placenta and was sown back up like a shirt that had been torn in bloody battle.  I was asked if I was going to breast feed to which I promptly exclaimed ‘Of course I am’.  The first time she latched on I was mesmerised by her.  I watched as she effortlessly found my nipple and began to suckle away at her first meal.  I was hypnotised by the unbreakable bond that was being strengthened by this most natural of motherly duties.  I was adamant that I would breastfeed exclusively as I imagine many new mothers do.  I had done my research and I was sold.  There was no way I was giving her formula. As some of you may know, that was about as good as it got.

Every mother makes a choice before their baby is born.  Each mothers decision is her own and based on her own personal circumstance and I will respect that but for me it was only ever going to be breast.  After a week in hospital exclusively breast feeding, I was finding things difficult but I was not going to give up.  We encountered all kinds of issues.  Firstly, Zosia has a tongue tie but we’re lucky enough that it doesn’t cause her any problems feeding.  Secondly, it f*****g hurt!  Nobody ever explains how much pain you experience when you first start breastfeeding.  Everyone pushes it because it’s best for baby etc. but they fail to mention the excruciating pain you get until your nipples toughen up.  I never even knew I would need ‘tough nipples’.  So when my nipples began to bleed and crack I was so scared (there definitely needs to more support and information available to first time mums).  Luckily my hospital was right next to a high-street baby shop so hubby popped over to get some nipple cream.  Now, if you are an expectant first time mother who is planning on breastfeeding I would highly recommend that you should pack some in your hospital bag ASAP!

As I had done my research, I was fully aware that my milk might take a while to come in but we pushed on.  She was feeding little and often but she wasn’t crying or complaining so we assumed she was getting enough from me.  It wasn’t until we had gone home and had our first midwife visit that we realised things weren’t right.  She had an infection.

NOTE: this part is a little difficult to discuss at the moment but I will come back to it one day.  I did however find that reading another mums recent blog post about how she dealt with her son being in hospital helped a great deal.  She was able to put into words a lot of the thoughts I felt at the time but am not ready to process just yet.  You can find her blog post here – http://frame.bloglovin.com/?post=5744541781&blog=13526577&frame_type=feed I hope that you may find it as helpful as I did.

Whilst at the hospital, I was made aware that I would need to top up with formula milk. Of course I was asked if I was okay with this but I didn’t really have a choice.  I’m sure you can image just how bitterly disappointed I was when I realised that I wasn’t able to make enough milk for her.  At this point my beautiful baby girl was stuck in a plastic box with wires everywhere and machines beeping constantly.  She needed more than I could provide her.

The feeling of self loathing was hard to deal with. Whilst Zosia was in NICU I cried almost every day.  I was really struggling with how much of a failure I felt.  I had failed my little girl at the one thing I was made to do.  Even when my milk finally game through properly, it still wasn’t enough for her.  As time went by, topping her up after breastfeeding became the opposite.  Before I knew it I was the appetiser to the main course of formula.  I will always find this incredibly difficult to deal with. When we have another child I will now know that I may need to include formula.  Not knowing that to begin with made the first few weeks of her life some of the hardest we have ever experienced.

Now as my supply has steadily diminished as the weeks have flown by, I have to deal with those feelings of being a failure again.  The supply is practically non-existent. Each time I try to feed her I’m almost in tears.  Dealing with this feeling of inadequacy several times a day, takes a toll on your mental health.  I feel like I have let her down.  It doesn’t matter how many people try to convince me otherwise, I will continue to feel this way. Today, as I write this, I have not breast fed her at all.  It feels strange, like the bond is weakened somewhat.  I have to remind myself that this is silly.  I’m not sure if I am imagining this but there is a sense that she had picked up on this and seems more needy lately.  In the last few days she has demanded more cuddles and in the morning she wont self sooth herself to sleep, she wants snuggles to help her drift off.  What I do know though, is that when she grows up she will not care how she was fed.  I know she will not blame me or accuse me of not trying.  She will still be my perfect little darling. She is such a happy little girl and will always know how much I love her.  I must remind myself that I tried my best and I should be proud of what I have achieved so far, but to save my sanity, it is now time to retire the boobs.

If, for whatever reasons you too are thinking about retiring the boob, the NHS does provide information to help you make an informed decision either way.

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/stopping-breastfeeding.aspx

Thanks for reading.  If you have been through something similar please feel free to drop me a comment.  I enjoy reading about other peoples stories and knowing that I am not alone in this.

Monsterful Mama.

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National Breast Feeding Celebration Week with UNICEF UK.

Breastfeeding is something I have always imagined I would do when I had kids.  No questions asked.  I would be a breastfeeding mummy sitting in a café with my wabs out to the sounds of a sucking babe.  You never assume that for whatever reason, you might have trouble breastfeeding or even how much it bloody hurts to begin with and you will never know until you try.  There is a lot of stigma attached to breastfeeding at the moment.  If you’re not doing it, you’re failing as a mother AND as a woman.  I mean what else is there to do with your boobs other than feed your children right?  If you are doing it and you are someone who does it in public well, then you’re a brazen hippy hussy who does nothing but get her boobs out in public all day long.  I mean, why do we even bother wearing clothes ladies?  If however, like me, you do not exclusively feed either way you can be shunned by those on either sides of the fence.  To be honest, you’re kinda damned if you do and damned if you don’t.   Yes, breast is best, but FED IS BETTER!

So, I really do struggle to understand why some (notice how I didn’t say all – you over there, get off that high horse!) breast feeding mums can be quite so snooty about it all.  Instead of belittling each other for our chosen feeding regime, should we not be empowering one another?  You are NOT a failure if you cannot or chose not to breast feed.  It’s none of our business which way you feed your baby, as long as they are being fed, and are happy and healthy.  This is why I support this event.

Shockingly, the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.  Now, maybe you’re too scared to get Phil and Grant out in public.  People can be quite rude when you’re feeding your baby, especially if they are eating.  They think that you need to hear their opinion as you are feeding when in fact, all you really want to do is feed your baby in peace, enjoy a cuppa and maybe catch up on social media because let’s face it, since having a baby you’ve become quite the hermit and social pariah amongst some (!) of your non-mummy friends.

Despite being a combination feeder, I am pro-breastfeeding but that doesn’t mean to say that I am anti-bottle feeding.  It just means that if I could exclusively breastfeed, I would.  I spent a lot of time reading up on the fantastic benefits to mum and baby whilst I was pregnant.  Not only does it have an endless list of nutritional benefits but it is about the bond that is strengthened by being that close to your baby.  They are calmed by the closeness to you, they recognise the sounds of your heartbeat or digestive churns from when they were inside the womb.  They can fall asleep easier on breast.  Then of course there are all the benefits for their tiny immune systems.  Babies that are breast fed are less likely to suffer from reflux and wind.  The list goes on.  There are some down sides to some of these.  Both of you can get too hot and sweaty in the hot weather.  They can get too used to falling asleep on you and can then find it difficult to fall asleep in their cot on their own.  You can’t get much done when baby is attached to you and dad can be left feeling a bit ‘useless’ as he can’t help with the feeding but these are all manageable issues.  For me, the pro’s far outweigh the cons.

But not all stories have happy endings or even a straight journey between a to b.  My own story started in hospital.  Now if you are a mother reading this then you know and understand that no matter what people or doctors tell you, you will find some way to blame yourself.  Firstly my daughter and I had an infection from a traumatic birth.  We were both in hospital for five days to manage that.  We were both on antibiotics drips.  When, on the sixth day we finally went home we thought everything was fine and dandy and we were set for our future together as a little family.

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Happy Family. Copyright of Monsterful Mama

Life felt so good.  Sore, but good!  When you leave the hospital or have your fist midwife visit, they explain to you that it’s natural for baby to lose some of their birth weight as you wait for your milk to come through.  They get a great deal from your early milk (colostrum) so there is no need to worry.  Our first night as a family went smoothly.  Zosia is a well behaved baby.  All of the midwives commented on that.  She is quiet, not a scream the house down kind of baby and she really only cries when she’s hungry.  Sure she gets whingey at other times and I am sure this will all change as soon as those teeth start coming through, but for now she is very good.  After our first night alone as Mummy and Daddy, we had noticed that she had slept most of the day and hadn’t spent very long feeding.  The midwife came, weighed her and sent us straight to A&E.  She had lost 15% of her body weight.  The most they allow is 10%.

Immediately I began blaming myself.  Was I feeding her enough? Why hadn’t my milk come through yet? What did I do wrong?  Every question went through my head as you can imagine.  I was in bits.  It turned out the she was very dehydrated she had an infection.  Whether it was the same one as before or a new one we will never know.

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Skin to Skin. Copyright of Monsterful Mama

Now, my point here isn’t about blaming the NHS for not picking this up before we left hospital, but it is about the blame I placed at my own feet.  I was convinced that I had starved her, that it was all my fault but it wasn’t.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault really.  The problem was with the stigma around breast feeding exclusively.  The unrealistic expectations that we force on ourselves, social media and celebrities that make it look so easy and the excessive promotion of exclusivity are what’s really at the route of the problem.  It has this hazy, romanticism to it when they do it.  You don’t see the sore, chapped, bleeding nipples, the screaming baby that just won’t latch or the greasy haired, exhausted mummy feeding on demand every two to four hours including through the night.  What you do see is airbrushed, pre-selected ‘natural’ images.  This puts a lot of pressure on us little people.  If we struggle to feed our babies in the most natural way, we are deemed as failures. But, it’s ourselves that we disappoint most.  We are our own worst enemies for falling for this false image of motherhood.

When my milk finally came through, I was so happy!  Yes my daughter was in NICU but I was feeding her and she was getting better.  What bothered me was the need to ‘top up’ with formula because she had lost so much weight.  My milk supply still wasn’t enough  for her and it never has been.  The formula top up has now become the main course to the breast milk starter.  Feeding her boob calms her whilst she waits for formula to heat up.  I will continue to feed her until the boobs have dried up but we go through phases where I am adamant that we are close to running out yet it will then, out of nowhere pick up again, leaking for no reason. I honestly think this is damaging my mental health.  To regularly go through stages of self-doubt and self-loathing is beginning to get to me.  My journey has become about the stigma that I had unknowingly attached to bottle fed babies.  I didn’t realise it but I was becoming the breast feeding snob.  My milk should have been enough for her but it wasn’t.  How could formula milk be enough when I wasn’t?  Why are there women out there choosing to feed with bottle when they had a good supply?  Didn’t they understand that breast milk was better?  Over and over it went through my head.

 BREAST IS BEST!    BREAST IS BEST!   BREAST IS BEST!!!

I was really struggling to come to terms with my own inadequacies.  Deeming myself as a failure as a mum, as a woman, unable to do what evolution had given to all mammals on this planet.  I will still find it difficult as my journey continues but I am looking for the positives in any way I can.  If I make it to the next month then I am doing alright. My baby is chunky and bonny.  Her development is on track.  With formula at least Daddy can feed you if I need the loo or want to cook dinner.  If I have appointments Daddy can look after her without worrying about feeding her and I guess at least I don’t have to use those awfully noisy breast pumps any more!  Now, as I prepare to retire the boobs, I remind myself fed is better.

FED IS BETTER!  FED IS BETTER!  FED IS BETTER!!

So, what can we do? We must change the culture around exclusively breast feeding.  No mother is failing her child if she cannot breast feed or if she has to ‘top up’ with formula.  The way to make a change to the culture is to change the conversation.   We need to listen to each other and guide each other, not judge and belittle.   You have a choice to make that nobody else can make for you.  Don’t allow anybody to make you feel like you have failed if you choose to exclusively bottle feed.  We as mums have enough to deal with, with our own insecurities so don’t let anyone else bring you down.  What works for the, doesn’t have to work for us.  You are doing the best you can and it IS good enough.

I hope that by sharing my story, I can help make a change.  It’s not all singing and dancing but it’s what we do.

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Big Girl Now. Copyright of Monsterful Mama

If you need more information, follow the link.

https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/better-conversations-about-feeding/

Monsterful Mama