In the second instalment of our Feeding Friday series, Gemma shares her journey with us. In the early days with Rory when I was struggling and worrying about everything, Gemma’s willingness to share how she navigated the feeding journey that was right for her was so comforting. It’s not EBF or nothing. It’s making it work in a way that suits you. Read on…
It was always my intention to try to breastfeed my baby, and thankfully I was able to do so, I was breastfeeding to some degree for the first 4months.
Although I had always intended to try, and hoped to be able to for the first few weeks at least due to the natural health benefits for both mum and baby, opportunity to bond and to experience this beautiful design of nature, I didn’t actually put a lot of pressure on myself regarding breastfeeding prior to having my son. This was because I myself wasn’t breastfed, neither was my older sister, and we are both very healthy people with fab immune systems. My mum tried with my sister but came across so many struggles with it, (I’m sure mid-late 80s BF help wasn’t as readily available as it is today), my mum felt awful about not being able to feed my sister and myself herself, but as a result, these two formula fed babies we have grown strong and healthy as children and adults, we were fed great meals throughout our childhood and had active lifestyles and a loving home, therefore the fear of a formula fed baby being ‘worse off’ just wasn’t that intense for me.
I certainly believe breast is best, and with all my health choices for myself and my baby, I look to nature first, but I felt it wasn’t worth being too distraught if after trying, breastfeeding just didn’t work for us. I am also hugely invested in mental and emotional wellbeing both personally and as my job, i’ve seen first hand, with friends, the emotional trauma women can go through when the BF journey isn’t going to plan and I felt it was personally of more value to feel as relaxed as possible, keeping stressors low, to enable the best bond with my baby and if this meant parking the idea of breastfeeding if it was taking too much away from my mental and emotional health, so be it.
As soon as my son arrived he was routing, I was so happy to see this natural phenomenon occurring, he happily sucked away at the colostrum from the get go. I found the sensation wonderful and actually the feeding came easily to us both at this point, thankfully. The midwives in hospital were happy with how he was feeding from what they could see, I didn’t get much help but I didn’t ask for it. I was fumbling about a bit but all seemed to be happening, who knows? I’ve never had a baby before and suddenly I’m solely responsible for feeding him, it’s mental…. Luckily he seemed to know what he was doing even though I was just winging it.
After a day or so when my milk came in, I remember so did all the emotions. With vengeance. I would also feel a pain on the let down initially which was becoming more and more daunting every time he needed feeding. It would make my whole body tense up, after we were into it, I managed relaxed more and it actually felt nice but that initial latch was really sore. I later discovered he needed to open his mouth a bit more, this really helped, I was advised this on one of the home visits from the midwife. However by about day 5 I was feeling like I couldn’t continue this feeding, I was starting to want to avoid cuddles because it seemed seeing me equalled milk time to him and I just needed to give my sore nipples a rest. I remember hearing scary film type music in my head when he’d start to search out his next feed…
This was getting too much! I was exhausted, emotional, sore and very drained, but instead of giving up there and then, I copied what a close friend, who was a month ahead of me had done, and got my pump out. The advise from the professionals had been to not do this, they said if they take a bottle at this stage they’ll not take boob. I decided I didn’t think this was always the case as my friends babies were happily going between bottle and boob. The softness of the pump looked so inviting and it was much more gentle on me. I was fascinated by seeing the milk come out of me and remember taking a photo of a 3oz white / yellow liquid in a bottle and sending it to my husband, saying ‘look what I just did!’ So pleased. (yellow as it was still turning from colostrum to milk)
I offered my son the bottle and he took it very well. I then proceeded to feed him with the bottle for a day and the next day I went back to boob. He managed both easily and the break the pump gave me completely saved our breastfeeding journey. I felt back in the game and ready to continue.
I think a big concern for expressing so early on is how it can affect your supply, I was aware of this, so I decided whilst my supply was still establishing to over demand, so I wasn’t going to cause myself any flow problems. I therefore either pumped or fed directly every 1.5/2hrs even though baby’s demands were 2.5/3 hours, this enabled me to store up any extras, helped me to feel ahead of the game and seemed to stimulate my body to produce plenty of milk. I did this for the first few weeks, it took effort to be constantly milking myself one way or another, I did start to feel like a milk production line. Buying a manual pump was an improvement on the electric as the noise of the electric made me feel like I was on a farm.
But on the whole this really helped me feel in control of the feeding, I was happy my son was getting breast milk from me whether he was taking it directly or from the bottle. Having the combination gave me more freedom to share the feeding if I wanted to, the bottle was quicker and we still got lovely cuddles and I was quite into seeing how much milk he drunk.
I felt confused when people thought this wasn’t breastfeeding, as far as I was concerned it was coming out of my breast and into my baby.
Breastfeeding directly from the boob felt wonderful too, we had moved through the painful phase and the connection and process was easy and pleasurable now, setting off lovely endorphins.
Up to week 7 I was feeding on demand. I had made the decision to use expressed milk for the night feeds as it was quicker and I could ensure he wasn’t just dummying me only to be up hungry again in an hour. This also meant I could hand over to my husband from 5am to give me a few extra Zz’s. I used to express and store extra milk throughout the afternoon to create a good 5oz + feed that I had ready for the first night feed around 10ish, he’d drink that and then I’d put him down and pump my boobs ready for the next feed and to ensure I was mimicking the baby’s demands, then, a few hours later is:12:30am we’d do the same again, I’d pump after and be ready for 3am etc all the way to morning when I’d enjoy a breastfeed straight from source. This may seem a bit of an odd way to do it to some, asking why feed then pump and not just breastfeed directly? Well, for me this whole process took 20-30mins, feeding and burping for 10-15mins followed by a 5-10 min pump and back to bed, breastfeeding directly took me nearer 45minutes and made us both so sleepy, I couldn’t be sure of what he’d drank either, so on the whole I got more rest the way I’d decided to do it, even if it was a bit ’round the houses’.
From week 7 I started a routine , babes was feeding every 3/4.5 hrs and had gained the right amount of weight. All was going well, the routine didn’t take too long to establish and was well worth while for us, we continued to combine feeding breastmilk from the bottle and myself.
I had set myself the target of breastfeeding for 12 weeks and then starting to wean off in time for me to return to work part time at 4 months.
Around week 10 I introduced 1 formula feed before bedtime, this was just in an effort to make baby sleep a little longer. He coped with this well.
After 12 weeks I actually felt I could continue some more and very gradually introduced a few more formula feeds of Aptimal 1, I thought doing it gradually would help us both, myself with the weaning off and baby’s digestion going from breastmilk to formula. The transition didn’t cause us any drama. I had thought that I was enjoying breastfeeding this way so much I might continue even when I went back to work, however come week 14, I naturally started to feel a bit ‘done with it’, I decided I would use the next 2 weeks to slowly reduce and then stop altogether.
It feels like quite a big deal to make that decision to stop, I was quite emotional about it but on the whole felt ready to feel like my body was my own again. I was happy with what we’d done and we’d gone beyond the time id intended originally anyway. My son was happy and healthy, a good feeder and relatively good sleeper too. His digestion hadn’t suffered by the introduction of the formula and I felt strongly that his immune system had hugely benefitted from the early breastfeeding.
At 17 weeks we stopped, I knew it was to be my final breastfeed so we sat quietly together and enjoyed it directly from the boob, I tried to stay mindful of this precious moment and even took a few personal pictures of it, to document.
Since then we have been getting on well with formula and started eating solids around 5 months. He is a great eater, very interested in food. We give him healthy foods, no sugar and lots of variety. My son is now 9 months old and I feel so blessed at how healthy and happy he is.
Everyone has their own journey and I don’t believe there is any wrong or right way to care and nurture your baby. I did it my way and I’m really happy with what we did, for both of us. It was what worked for our family and if I’m honest I winged it from the off and I still am, guided by intuition, fuelled by love and supported by wonderful friends and family. 🙏🏻