Feeding feelings…

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After Scarlett was born when I ventured out of the house, my huge worry was that when I fed her, people would judge me for breastfeeding in public. 
Now Holly’s been born and I’ve started to slowly venture out of the house, my huge worry is that when I feed her, people will judge me for bottle feeding.
One of the reasons I’m not planning on having a third child is because, I’ve run out of feeding worry options that I’ll assume people are judging me for! I honestly think I’d feel no less worried about it all if I bottle fed without my top on, at least then all bases of judgement can be covered!
Scarlett was early, so my milk supply took a little time to come through but not too long but then only lasted for three months. Holly was premature, so added to the extra amount of medication messing with my bodies natural rhythm, my milk supply took even longer and there isn’t sufficient to exclusively breastfeed. I’m therefore supplementing what I can provide with top ups of formula to ensure she’s gaining weight. Currently as a team we haven’t quite got her back up to her birth weight but we’re certainly getting there now we’ve started combination feeding.
Anyway, getting back to my initial point. It made me realise that it really isn’t breastfeeding mums vs bottle feeding mums as some of these forums and magazines often portray. As soon as you have a child, your choices are questioned, sometimes by the strangest of demographics. As Mums, we all want to do the best for our children. Feeding choices are made for a variety of reasons, all valid. Some desperately want to breastfeed, but for whatever reason can’t. Some really want to bottle feed and then end up breastfeeding. I read an interview recently with a mother who desperately wanted to bottle feed as she felt uncomfortable breastfeeding, but couldn’t afford the powder and necessary equipment and ended up breastfeeding, and not leaving the house unless she was sure she’d be back home before baby needed a feed. 
My personal take on the matter is that breastfeeding is evolutionarily what breasts are for, I am comfortable enough with my body to not fear feeding in front of people or outside of the home, and it’s significantly cheaper than formula (a reason I always put last because it feels less noble but is equally as valid!). At first, I was upset at the idea at not being able to feed. It felt like failure; not because I think choosing to bottle feed is wrong or a failure. But because I made my choice and couldn’t do it. I’d feel the same if I’d chosen to bottle feed and then bought the wrong equipment.
But whichever decision you make, going out past the safe sanctuary of home immediately opens you up to what the rest of the world thinks. And I’m not sure what it is about the decision on how you feed your child that convinces ‘the rest of the world’ that they have a say. Having now done both, there are several differences but that anxious feeling of being judged or feeling I need to justify my actions remains the same. So although we most likely can’t change the world, maybe us Mums could at least make it easier by being on each other’s side regardless of personal choice. After all, we’re all aiming for the same thing, a happy, healthy, well fed baby. How we do it is surely somewhat irrelevant? So whether it be by breast or by bottle, let’s all try and give each other a reassuring smile when we see our fellow comrades out and about! 
That’s right world, we may have baby sick in our hair, we may have odd shoes on, we may even have come to a cafe without our phone/keys or purse…but we’re out, we’re…well we’re worrying about 4,000 things at once, but we’re feeding our baby’s, and that is all that really matters!

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The Breast Advice…

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We are in the middle of our two week seaside holiday and so this week we are without my husband who is working away. Despite being nervous at leaving the safe cocoon of our home, we’ve been having a lovely time and our baby girl is becoming more and more expressive each day!

The other day we headed to Eastbourne and we had a new experience…breastfeeding in public…alone. Usually I have my husband or family or friends with me but the day was always looming that I would feed her with no-one and I have to admit I was a bit nervous.

As most of you will know, the Eastbourne pier had a rather big fire last week and so that part of Eastbourne had become quite the tourist attraction. We also wanted to see it, and without thinking settled down at the beachside cafe on the underpass next to the pier. I sat with my coffee in front of me and got baby latched on at least semi successfully without making too much of a hash of it. I then realised that with the rather large crowds of people on the promenade staring at the pier and taking pictures, I had somehow managed to place Scarlett and I centre stage of the biggest attraction in town! Not very smart for someone wanting to breastfeed as subtly as possible and without any attention! I dread to think how many tourists pictures now contain my feeding baby and a slightly frazzled looking Mummy!

But other than a rather daft decision, it went fine and without incident and we were about an hour later joined by Grandad and went on our way! As with a lot of things, the build up worrying about it was the worst part. So it got me thinking about what my top ten breastfeeding in public tips would be from my experiences this week, whether you be alone or in a group. As you read them, do feel free to add your own, although there’s no need to point out that a lot of the below would be simple common sense to most. I’ve learnt from the past week, that’s the important thing…!

1) Get baby attached as swiftly as possible but don’t rush too much, people don’t expect you to be a magician but by being too aware of hiding yourself, it’ll end up taking longer which will make baby more agitated (and louder, perfect for not drawing attention..!) and generally lengthen the whole process.

2) Don’t worry about other people, most won’t have any problem with it at all and anyone who does is actually breaking the law! You cannot be asked to leave or harassed whilst breastfeeding and unless you’re taking you top and bra off and swinging yourself about, you’re fully within your rights to feed in caf├ęs and restaurants.

3) Saying that, some people will feel uncomfortable. That’s not your problem but it’s not them having a problem with you or your child, it may just be they’ve never seen a breastfeeding Mother before or are of a generation or background that are used to it being behind closed doors. So don’t worry about them!

4) If for any reason, like me, you’re needing to use shields, however tempting it is to hastily put all clothes back into place without removing them – do bear in mind that they stick out a hell of a lot more prominently than you do, and you may not notice until you’ve been walking around for a while and find you’ve been doing a rather unglamorous Madonna impression for half an hour!

5) Seagulls can’t be trusted. This doesn’t just apply to breastfeeding, seriously, at the slightest hint there may be food about they turn into vultures. Made worse when you’re feeding and worry you can’t bat them away quick enough. I might be bias as I’m terrified of birds but I’m pretty sure even the RSPCB dislike seagulls.

6) If you’re wearing regular clothes (as opposed to tops etc that are specially designed for nursing) do check before you leave the house that they stretch as well as you assume they will, so you don’t find yourself sitting on a toilet in a pub on Brighton pier with your dress off and on the floor. (Totally unrelated to another experience this week of course…ahem)

7) If you are going out in a rush and can’t find any breast pads…make the time to get them. After an hour or at the slightest cry from your baby and you’ll have two rather obvious wet patches. In related news, wet patches show up very strongly on light red tops…!

8) Do try and find a way to occupy the time whilst feeding so you don’t feel too self conscious (or bored!) but at the same time, make sure you don’t get too occupied. Baby’s often fall asleep whilst feeding and if you’re engrossed in that thriller novel, you may not notice that to onlookers you’re a woman sat alone, reading, holding a sleeping baby…with one breast casually hanging out.

9) If you’re using nipple shields, remember that they’re quite light, so on a breezy day, you need to keep hold of them once your done. Relatives are almost always understanding of you breastfeeding your child in front of them, they’re significantly less understanding of a milky nipple shield landing in their fresh cup of coffee. (Especially if they take their coffee black!)

10) And finally (although I half suspect most people wouldn’t need this pointed out to them as advice) If there’s been a big event that draws in the crowds, especially crowds with cameras and you’re nervous about breastfeeding…don’t sit right in front of said event.

Breastfeeding is definitely a learning curve, and getting used to it in public isn’t instantaneous. The nerves won’t last forever, but in my case sadly, the Eastbourne tourist photos might do…!

Breast Foot Forward…

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Breastfeeding. ‘The most natural process in the world’. But boy oh boy, it’s a minefield; a minefield for discussion and in practicalities. I always assumed unless there were any extreme circumstances, the only obstacle in the way of breastfeeding was the decision not to. I have many friends with kids and you know whether they breastfeed or bottle feed, but I had never delved deeper than that or even asked why they made their decision. And outside of your circle of friends, you have your ‘breast is best’ warriors, and you have the formula fans but even they don’t go into much more detail than the sales pitch; ‘it’s more natural/cheaper’ or ‘you can share the load more/its easier to get into a routine.’

I discussed the decision early on with my partner and we were immediately agreed that I would breastfeed. My personal reasoning is essentially that I’m quite traditional in nature, the whole point of breasts is to feed a baby…and I truly didn’t give it more thought than that.

Cut to nine months later and I’m sat in recovery after the emergency c-section and it was time for that first feed. As always, it’s not quite like they portray in the films, or even how they portray in the leaflets. Being two weeks early, I was told it might take a bit longer for my milk to come through. However what I never even anticipated, somewhat naively and arrogantly, was that my little one wouldn’t be able to latch on and there was some manual expressing to be done to get things going.

I won’t go into too much detail, but my memories of the hospital based breastfeeding include quite a lot of bleeding, a lot of pain, a tiny syringe pulling places I’d never expected a tiny syringe to go. Still my milk supply came through and with the aid of shields to help baby latch, I was breastfeeding. I have to quite shamefully admit that when two mothers in my ward gave up at various points, I also felt a ridiculously undeserved sense of pride at persevering. And a pride that had me believing that at least the hard part was over. (Oh how deluded I was!)

Nearly four weeks on, I’m still using the shields despite hoping to have ditched them by now. There’s still some bleeding, there’s still a lot of pain but there’s now an added side to things.

Sleep deprivation is a completely expected side effect of having a baby and so that wasn’t a surprise. What I hadn’t anticipated was quite how draining feeding would be on my body. It takes 500 calories a day to breastfeed which apparently is the equivalent of how many calories running a 5k burns. I also didn’t realise how relentless it was. At the moment, Scarlett is a constant cluster feeder, over the last few days, apart from in the morning for maybe two stints of two hours at a time; she wants to feed…constantly. I’ve had to get my husband to do all manner of ridiculous things even just to occupy her long enough to run off for a quick toilet break! The most she seems to stand, is to allow us to change her, then the familiar mouth cue followed by screaming if a feed doesn’t immediately follow!

At first I was worried, she was underweight for the first few weeks, did I not have enough milk? Was I just not able to provide for her? I started having thoughts creep into my head that I obviously wasn’t a ‘natural’ Mum, breastfeeding is the most natural process in the world and I was clearly no good at it. What I didn’t realise is that I hadn’t done one of the simplest of things…I hadn’t asked any other Mums about it. Worried they’d look at me in abject horror at my confession, I imagined them confirming my fears, “she feeds constantly?! My God the poor child needs to be taken from you, you’re starving her,” (I also imagined this being said whilst they casually fill up a few milk bottles with their own ample breasts because…you know, it’s that natural.)

I first tentatively looked online, and…immediate relief. Not only did I not receive hate emails, I wasn’t the only one, in fact the only thing I could be sure of, was that I was boringly average! It instantly made me feel better, and a bit stupid to say the least. But being the over thinker I am, I then immediately realised I had a different issue – this is something nearly all breastfeeding mothers go through, so why did I feel like I couldn’t hack it?! Yes ok so I’d been back in hospital for a second operation and was fighting off an infection but Christ, I certainly didn’t have it that bad realistically! But on closer inspection, it seems most of us feel like we can’t hack it from time to time, and, as it turns out , that doesn’t necessarily make us awful people!

You may be asking yourself whether I’d opened any books or found out any of the (now seemingly) obvious, whilst pregnant? Well, yes I did, but the benefit of google searches once you actually have a baby is that you know what you’re looking to find out. There is so much information about, before you have a baby you have absolutely no idea which bits will apply to you. You wonder, will my child have allergies? Skin conditions? Colic? Cradle cap? You can’t possibly find it all out when you may only need to know 10% of it. God knows I didn’t have enough brain power whilst pregnant to look into it all. (and even know all the possible things to look into!) it’s only really reactively you can learn along the way.

So for some, breastfeeding does come naturally and without much incident and without the intense frequency. For me, one of the challenges has definitely been breastfeeding, but after driving myself insane, although I’m nowhere near having cracked it, I am at least a bit more relaxed about it. If she’s still screaming at me every 5 minutes for a feed in 10 years time I’ll know something’s gone horribly wrong(!) but in the meantime, a few points that currently help me, please feel free to send me some of your own!

1) Above all, relax as much as possible. We will all get through it, whatever the problem; and every day we’re one step further along.

2) Drink and eat little and often, you need the extra calories and it’s so easy to forget to eat when you’re constantly otherwise engaged with a child attached to you. But having being close to fainting on a few occasions only to realise I need some more water or a snack, I’m now putting my husband in charge of making sure I eat and drink enough.

3) Whilst feeding, read magazines/watch TV/catch up on films/start a blog, anything to keep your mind going enough to not make the time drag or be too void of activity so as not to distract you from any pain. Personally, although an avid reader normally, reading doesn’t work for me as it often just makes me even more tired so find whatever works for you.

4) Savour the time, if I have a second child, I may have to try and keep up with a small toddler as well as having a baby permanently attached..or whatever individual challenge the second brings. It seems like madness right now but as tiring, and as painful as it is, it really won’t be long before she doesn’t need or want her Mother, and I’ll look back at this time and cherish the closeness. I’ve mentioned my little brother almost a decade my junior many times before, but I will forever painfully remember a moment when he was about 5 and I was a teenager and he desperately wanted to spend time with me and I wanted to go and see my boyfriend; he came over playfully for a cuddle and uncharacteristically I pushed him away and walked out. The noise of him crying and looking up at the window and seeing his heartbroken crying face pleadingly looking out at me will forever haunt me. The boyfriend is long gone, but so is that precious time with my baby brother who is very soon to turn 21 and not all that bothered about me anymore. (rightly so!) That one experience is enough to bring tears to my eyes every time I think about it and ensures that despite anything, I never take this time for granted.

5) Talk to others, whatever the issue, you are definitely not alone!

Five is all I have I’m afraid, I’m still trying to find ways of making it easier, still learning and having huge highs and challenging lows. But one thing I vow never to do is tell any new Mum that breastfeeding is ‘the most natural thing in the world.’ That’s as may be but there’s no quicker way of making an inexperienced Mum feel inadequate!

Motherhood IS an innately natural thing, but it takes time to find your own style, work out how it works best for you. Each tiny new creature is brand new, doesn’t come with instructions and will come with their own individual issues and difficulties. Nobody will go on the same journey you do, but reassuringly at the same time; I’ve said it hundreds of times (and even then I keep forgetting!) we’re all in it together.

Whatever the problem, chances are you’ll be dealing with it or thinking about it in the middle of the night, which is a lonely time of day when you can’t settle your baby, but one of the wonders of the internet is that if you want to, there will always be someone also awake somewhere in the world with a similar problem. So if you happen to be struggling with feeding, put the kettle on, get comfy, I’ll meet you in cyberspace later…

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Crazy Train Catch Up…

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A couple of months ago, I blogged about some of the crazy ideas that kept me awake at night, and a friend recently asked if ‘baby brain had calmed down…’ HA! No my friend, there has definitely not been a decline in the madness. I have however felt much calmer in the last few weeks now that I know our baby could somewhat safely be born even if she was born at an early stage, it’s one fear that has abated and it’s meant that despite other things, I think I have enjoyed the third trimester more than the other two.

But when it comes to crazy, well, let me keep you, dear reader, also in the loop…!

1) I spoke before about my worry that my previously ‘inny’ belly button would pop out into an ‘outy’…well, I have kept a keen eye on it since and it is what can only be described as ‘dangerously level.’ No more do I have the cavernous space I have grown up with, it is worrying close to becoming positively protruding. Let me reiterate, there is nothing at all wrong with naturally outy belly buttoned people (‘outers’…?! Is there a word for that particular sector of society?! A secret handshake perhaps to identify with? Is there an entire belly button underground world I am yet to stumble upon?!) HOWEVER, I am used to mine the way it is and just don’t want to change camps at this stage of life. There are 4/5 weeks left of my pregnancy and the observation continues…

2) I also spoke before about my crazy fear that my baby would suddenly burst out, a la the scene in the film ‘Alien,’ and perhaps when I was reading the last blog post on the matter aloud, my baby heard me and has a tricksy sense of humour because since then she has kept her head towards the top and when moving about, tends to just stick her head out as if she is trying for a mistake. I have a bicornuate uterus (my uterus is separated in the middle so there is effectively a double chamber) which in turn means my poor little one has less space than normal. As she has grown, the space has become tighter so according to the medical professionals, the protruding head is quite normal and easy to explain rationally. I, however am a first time Mother with the flair for the dramatic so I have of course settled on my original diagnosis…alien-esque escape attempt!

3) Due to the unusual uterus, the fact that baby is breech and the additional fact that I am back on medication after my old friend epilepsy made a rather unwelcome but not totally unexpected return during pregnancy; I am going to be having a c-section. At first, I was very upset by the news, I wanted to give birth to my baby, not have somebody else remove her from me. After thinking that way for a ridiculous and rather petulant 15 minutes, I realised that with my circumstances, I am incredibly lucky to have conceived in the first place. Likewise, the health and safety of my baby is absolutely my priority and therefore if that means a c-section, that us exactly what will happen. Fear of a safe birth is hardly irrational, but once I’d got a bit more information, that’s not why this passage is included in my compendium of crazy. No, this particular entry is much more crazy than that…

…after a c-section, you are left with a scar across your lower tummy. I’m not a shallow girl and the aesthetic aspect of that doesn’t bother me at all. However I have had a dream that the familiar smile shape of the c-section incision (that usually make most women feel better about it) will take on some sinister character and my tummy will somehow become it’s own entity. Is this my fears of the operation manifesting itself in strange ways? I certainly hope so or else it might be time for a psychiatric assessment!!

4) There is a common fear for some Mothers that they won’t feel close to their baby or bond as they feel they should, this fear especially common for Mothers who have a c-section. My particular brand of fear is slightly different. What if my baby doesn’t bond with me?! What if on some as yet un-understood level, I am a disappointment to my newborn?! It may seem daft but I can feel that our baby is an absolute Daddies girl already, when we go and watch him teach a class or his voice rings out above others in a room or he comes home after a couple of days or more away with work, she gets really excited! Kicks a plenty, wriggling about, the absolute love she has for her Father is measurable. He has an incredibly cool job and is an incredibly talented writer, director, stage combat teacher and fight director so growing up, he was always going to be her hero but already her favourite..? Give me a chance! Saying that, he’s the obvious choice as favourite; he’s also my hero, and I have provided so far – a uterus with so little wriggle room, at her 34 week scans she had a foot up next to her face, quite a lot of crying, and she must hear me moaning about being in pain and think, ‘for crying out loud Mother, I’m trying to grow into a mini human in these conditions?!’ She also has two sets of incredibly doting Grandparents and although I wouldn’t tell them to their face (little brothers aren’t supposed to be given too many compliments by older siblings!) I know she will have so much fun with both her Uncles. And as crazy as it may seem, part of me worries that I’ll be desperate to bond with her and she’ll have no need for a clearly slightly unhinged Mother! I am more than happy not to be the favourite, in fact one thing I am especially excited to see is that special light in her eyes everytime she sees her Daddy because it’ll be the same light I have when I look at my husband. But I am hoping to be at least up there and that on her day of birth she doesn’t look up at me with an expression that says…’really…this woman?! Do I have any choice in this?’

5) If all things allow, I would like to breastfeed. I’ve been warned that when hearing a baby cry, my breasts will leak somewhat of their own accord and to therefore to stock up on breast pads! I know that it can get painful and there can be problems with blockages and other associated issues, but none of that keeps me up at night. The thoughts that live in my dreams is that I will, once home, start to breastfeed and then for some reason, it won’t stop, like a tap with no means to turn it off. I have a horrendous image of my husband coming home to find his wife and daughter in a foot of breast milk, tears from both whilst our belongings start to float around in the uncontrollable torrent. I know what you’re thinking, ‘what the hell has she been smoking?!’ I only wish I could tell you there’s something chemical behind these thoughts – there’s not, this is in fact what goes on in this brain with no prior prompting or man made substance help.

And the breast milk tsunami is perhaps an appropriate place to leave it for now comrades! We all need a break and it only gets stranger! Sadly I have been assured by several Mum friends that baby brain not only doesn’t get any better, but simply takes a firmer hold. Which is a shame because I used to be considered quite smart, a reputation I can probably kiss goodbye to. My only hope now is that I can avoid getting to the stage where I get some sandbags in the garage just in case…!

The best piece of advice I’ve received during pregnancy is just to go with it, relax as much as possible and let it all happen. I’ve been relatively rubbish at following this advice and have managed to worry at every corner and internally convince myself of the worst even when it outwardly even seems like quite the accomplishment to have found the negative! My compromise has been to keep good humoured about it. I have been a nightmare for my poor husband who has admirably and patiently let me rant on about how the lack of uterus space will probably mean our baby hates me as she’ll remember that cramped feeling for life! But I am aware that I’m being unreasonable, which at least is something, so a decent amount of ribbing is definitely called for!

A couple of months ago I wrote about feeling slightly crazy with worries that seemed unnecessary compared to the big things, by the last stretch I assumed I’d be more concentrated on the more impending, practical issues. But it seems my brain is happy at this particular station and after much discussion with others, I am apparently not alone. So although I’d imagine your middle of the night irrational thoughts will be different (and probably a bit less dramatic!) than mine, we can all take comfort that even though as first time Mothers, we have no real idea what we’re doing or what we can expect – we WILL all find a way. Our brains are perhaps distracting us with thoughts of outy belly buttons whilst they start working on a deeper level to get us through things we couldn’t necessarily do on a more conscious level. Our new arrivals are the most important thing to any first time Mother and instinctively we will do whatever we can to succeed at our new role. So as we all get to the same crazy town station, we may as well let our brains do their thing and take in the sights! Climb aboard ladies and let’s continue to enjoy the ride!