Monday, August 20, 2012

6 months of breastfeeding (and 3 of pumping): Some things I've learned

 [Insert romanticised breastfeeding shot here... Oh wait, I don't have any]

For a researcher and a worrier, I had a surprisingly laissez faire attitude to breastfeeding during pregnancy.  I knew some people couldn't, for various reasons, so I knew I had to approach it realistically (similarly to how I approached drug free birth), but I think that was literally all I knew.  My plan was to feed, if I could, and for as long as I could and just to pump when I went back to work.

We're 6 months in now; a point that's gone from being my minimum to being my mid-term goal to being, well, today.  In that time, we've had our share of challenges (marathon feed sessions, stomach upsets and dietary changes, fussy feeding, nipple confusion and more), but we've also been very lucky.  I'll be completely honest; some days I want to just throw in the towel, but the good things so far outweigh the difficult ones, that I'm truly thankful for every day we manage to keep going.  This post will probably focus more on the difficult bits, so please, keep that bold bit in mind.  There is, quite simply, pretty much nothing I love more right now than breastfeeding Toby...when it's good.  When it's bad? It's pretty much the worst.

The things I wish I'd learnt, pre-baby:
  • breastfeeding "ability" isn't binary; it's a continuum (and yeah, ability is totally the wrong word; I'm lazy, yo).  It's not a "can do" or "can't do" thing; rather, there's a big line between Ms "Breastfeeding is straightforward for me" and Ms "Breastfeeding is impossible, or as good as impossible for me" and most people will fall somewhere around the middle of that.  It wasn't a matter of crossing the "yep, we can do it" line, with smooth sailing from there, the way I'd sort of imagined it.
  • breastfeeding "ability" (using that inapt word again) is a Mum thing and a baby thing
  • even when things are going well, breastfeeding is pretty hard sometimes (*at least from what I can tell).  Even if you don't have an under supply or an oversupply, your supply is probably on the high side or the low side (or sometimes one, sometimes the other). On the high side? You may deal with leaking, pain, engorgement, a spluttering windy baby.  On the low side, you'll probably deal with near constant worry and guilt.  Either way, being a tiny creature's sole source of food can be a bit overwhelming, which brings me to....
  • "I'll just pump" is a totally oxymoronic phrase for SO many people, whether supply is on the high side or on the low side.  First, there's the pumping itself.  It can be damn hard to fit in, plenty of people can't [easily] "let down" for the pump, and you have to be careful with how you go about it, because the whole breastfeeding supply demand thing is so important in the early weeks.  Then, getting your baby to take a bottle (it's been fine for us, but not for plenty of women I know).  THEN, making sure the baby still likes YOU once they've gone bottle (that one has been a bit more challenging here).  And finally?  When you take that break and someone gives your baby that liquid gold- YOU HAVE TO PUMP AGAIN (if your supply is on the high side, because or else your boobs will explode, if it's on the low side, because or else your too-smart body will decide it doesn't need to make that milk any more). Plus, if you're pumping a lot, it can affect your supply
  • not knowing how much your baby is getting can be TOUGH: no matter how much I read about why it doesn't matter how much he gets (in volume terms), like almost all breastfeeding mums, I sometimes wish for a breast gauge.  Although pumping and working has been tough, I've been glad to know how much he's had to drink during the day 4 days a week, and to share the responsibility for keeping his tummy full.
  • it's not all smooth sailing just because you're out of the "fourth trimester".  Distractible four month olds, fussy five month olds, then teething, then toddlerdom.  We've just come (mostly) out of a couple of months of distracted, fussy, feeding and fortunately things are going smoother now.  But smoother still involves kicking, pulling off, scratching, squeezing, twisting, talking, grumping and so on...
I'm sure the next 6 months will have their own challenges- I hope we can get through them, and that I get to write another (maybe on-time) breastfeeding week post next year!


Bakebikeblog Bakebikeblog said...

A great post Kate! We have been lucky enough that breastfeeding has worked for C and I - a little too well perhaps - as she WILL NOT accept a bottle.This could be problematic when I go back to the office next month eeeek?!!

Rachel Harris said...

Ahhh, the memories come flooding back. I remember pumping, and it was always like trying to better a PB. "Bugger, only 150mls", or "Wow, 200mls, go me!". You've outlined the fickleness of breastfeeding perfectly.

HotpotatoKate said...

So true, Rachel. But at least with a PB training actually seems to help, whereas with pumping, I beat myself up about the bad days even when I'm doing everything humanly possible to improve!