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!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Belated breastfeeding week post 1: A little self congratulation and a lot more luck (and gratitude)

Totally unrelated photo

A 7-day trial.  Weekends at work; weekdays away from home.  A 5.5 month old baby. Two boobs.  One pump. A dwindled freezer stash (...thanks to Toby's addition of a 10pm feed at about 4 months).

From the day I returned to work in June, this trial loomed on the horizon as the single biggest threat to my "goal" of keeping Toby fully on the boob to 6 months.  And Toby sat on my mind as the single biggest threat to my ability to do a good job for my boss and, more importantly, for our clients. 

And now it's over, and it worked out better than I expected, and Toby is still fully breastfed, and I'm sort of proud, even though really it was: a) no big deal; and b) all down to other people and dumb luck.

I was amazingly lucky that Phil was still off work and able to travel out of town for the duration of the trial; there's no way we could have done it otherwise, as my stash just wasn't big enough (again, thank you 10pm feed...). 

I'm lucky to have an understanding boss who let me slip back to the hotel room to pump at lunchtime, and who excused me from a few nights of client dinners so I could spend time with my boys (and, well, work...). 

I'm lucky that Court lunchtimes are rather generous, and that our hotel was very conveniently located (I pumped in a room at Court for an earlier case up there, but it was a bit of a pain!)

I'm lucky that Court starts at 10, so even though I usually spent my mornings working, I could pump before heading out the door, and sometimes even sneak in some extra snuggles.

I'm so grateful that all of those stars aligned and made it possible for me to be lawyer-Kate and mum-Kate at the same time.  And I'm incredibly grateful to have a job that, while hard, is flexible and supportive. 

...but in amongst all of that gratitude, I confess to feeling a little bit bad-ass, and a whole lot awesome. And now it's time to take a whole lot of fenugreek, as a week and a half of reduced pumping means I have a lot of catching up to do!