Let me be straight from the start. I’m not here to extol the virtues of breastfeeding, of which there are clearly many.
As celebrity chef Jamie Oliver discovered recently, you can get into serious trouble if found guilty of ‘mansplaining’ to mums about what they should do with their nipples…
Discussing the topic on LBC radio earlier this year, he (I believe, well-intentionally) claimed about breastfeeding; “It’s easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free.”
For some new parents, this may well be the case. But from our experience, and that of countless other friends and family, breastfeeding can in fact be one of the most challenging and emotional parts of life with a new baby. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method when it comes to nursing. While it may appear to be easy, that couldn’t be further from the truth…
During our pregnancy, my wife and I both attended an excellent (and free) breastfeeding clinic at our local hospital. We were told by numerous people in the know that you are far more likely to succeed at breastfeeding if both mum and dad know the ropes. Needless to say, I took copious notes…
With the aid of some awesome knitted boobs and a range of graphic (but very informative) videos, we both left the session equipped with a range of different breastfeeding positions to try, a concept of the perfect latch and a clear understanding of the benefits that breast milk offers to new babies. It all looked so simple.
But we soon found out it wasn’t so clear cut…
As, when Teddy arrived (nearly a month earlier than expected), his first vitally important breastfeeding experience was unfortunately cut short.
After successfully latching for the first time (despite a minor tongue tie), he only managed to feed for about 10 minutes before he was rudely extracted from his mother (my wife, Rosie), who had to be whisked off to the operating room due to unexpected complications during the birth.
Thankfully though, that early interruption didn’t seem to do any lasting damage, and he took to the boob again soon after. However, being both premature and jaundiced, he needed regular top ups of hand expressed colostrum (first milk), which we gave to him in a tiny syringe.
Otherwise, as instructed by the ward midwives, we breastfed him on demand, which seemed simple enough. However, premature babies sleep a lot more than babies who go full term, and Teddy was no different. He clearly loved his sleep and rarely cried out for milk. On occasion, we actually had to wake him up to feed, worried that he must be hungry, even if he didn’t realise it himself.
So after four days in hospital on account of Teddy’s early arrival, a minor heart murmur and the aforementioned jaundice (poor little chap!), we were finally discharged and allowed to go home. We were elated and terrified in equal measure.
This was it…we were now on our own. With no midwife or maternity nurse on hand to help if we got into trouble, it was up to us to make this breastfeeding lark a success.
During the first two days at home, we soon got into the swing of things, feeding on demand as suggested. Needless to say, it was an exhausting task, most of all for Rosie who, as the primary source of milk, inevitably had to take on the bulk of the work.
Thankfully, despite his minor tongue tie, Teddy’s latch was good. And we knew from the breastfeeding workshop we attended to carefully detach him from the boob if it was painful or didn’t look right. For any new parents reading this, we can’t stress the importance of a good latch too much. If it’s painful (at least for more than the first 20 seconds) it usually means something isn’t quite right. So best to detach the baby and try again, rather than suffer through the pain.
To help matters still further, Rosie also religiously applied lanolin cream to her nipples after every feed. This massively helped to minimise any soreness or cracking skin, while avoiding the need to use nipple shields (which by the way, are really common, especially among first time mums).
During these early days, Rosie’s milk started to come through. Seemingly overnight, her breasts pretty much doubled in size, becoming rock hard (sometimes painfully so), filled to the brim with milky goodness. We dutifully added ‘new bras’ to our growing shopping list, while nipple pads became her new must-have accessory.
Feeling utterly useless (on account of me not having breasts to feed the baby myself), I took charge of all the household chores. While I couldn’t take on the burden of breastfeeding, at the very least I could lighten Rosie’s load in other areas of our domestic life, giving her the time and space she needed to recover from the birth and focus on the job in hand.
So I cooked, I cleaned, I did the grocery shopping online, made tea, took responsibility for her medication, changed nappies, made Rosie breakfast in bed…you know, dream husband kind of stuff. It was the least I could do after what she’d been through these last nine months.
Looking back (potentially through rose-tinted glasses), it felt like we were the definition of team work. And for these two days at least (while utterly knackered) we found ourselves settling into a state of new-found family bliss.
That was, until our first, unnecessarily terrifying, community midwife visit.
After running through the usual tick-box questions, she told us we were doing everything right. We were on track. A huge sense of relief washed over us both. Unaware of the bombshell about to hit us, we excitedly stripped Teddy off for the last item on the agenda…his first at-home weigh in. We dutifully popped his naked, screaming (he hates being in the buff), squirming little baby bod on the scales.
Suddenly the midwife’s face changed.
Teddy had lost weight…too much weight. Apparently anything over nine per cent below birth weight is a red flag that something isn’t right. And poor little Teddy’s weight had dropped by 12 per cent. Had we done something wrong? Was there a problem with Rosie’s milk supply? Were we terrible parents?!
But instead of calmly allaying our fears, the midwife (incredibly insensitively, I thought) started saying all the things that no new parents want to hear…
“Not a good sign…”
“Worried about what this will mean for his jaundice…”
“Strict three hour feeding schedule…”
“Bottle top up after every feed…”
“And if I don’t see any improvement in the next 24 hours…
you’ll have to go back to the hospital!”
We immediately panicked. Rosie burst into tears. I rushed to unpack our new Dr Brown’s microwave steriliser and accompanying bottles to figure out how they worked. The midwife, meanwhile, just stood there, looking awkward.
As we hadn’t got around to buying a breast pump yet, on account of Teddy’s earlier than expected arrival, the midwife suggested we hand express – probably the least appealing prospect in the circumstances.
Taking matters into our own hands, we called Rosie’s sister who had a baby just four months earlier, who (thank God) agreed to lend us her Medela pump until we got our own. In a mad rush, I jumped in the car and hurried over to her house to collect the pumping equipment before speeding back to milk my teary wife.
The next few days were a complete blur. Before every feed, I sterilised the pumping equipment and corresponding bottles (super easy with our microwave steriliser, thankfully), before setting them up for Rosie in our bedroom. She then pumped for five minutes on each boob (around 30ml at that stage) before Teddy latched on for his feed. While he was busy on the boob, I sterilised another bottle and decanted the freshly pumped milk into it, ready to give it to him myself once he had had his fill from mum.
This painstaking feeding process took over an hour to complete and had to be done every three hours, day and night. Sterilise, pump, breastfeed, bottle feed, repeat…sterilise, pump, breastfeed, bottle feed, repeat…
Keeping track of timings and boob logistics was a full time job. We found the only way to do it was to write down every action as it happened; not only for our own benefit but also to prove to the community midwife that we were doing everything we could to get some meat on Teddy’s skinny bones.
5:00am: Baby woke up
5:10am: Expressed 30 ml (both boobs)
5:20am: Nappy change (small, dark green)
5:23am: Fed from left boob: 25 minutes
5:48am: Offered right boob: fed for 2 minutes
5:50am: Bottle fed 30ml expressed milk
6:05am: Nappy change (big wee)
Exhausting was an understatement.
But eventually we settled into the swing of things, thanks in large part to a special delivery from Medela UK. Sensing our desperation, they sent us the most amazing breastfeeding care package, including their double Swing Maxi Breast Pump and a separate hand pump, a load of Medela bottles, nipple pads, milk freezer bags and nipple cream, which arrived in our hour of need! An absolute Godsend at a time of severe desperation…
We noticed right away that the Medela Swing Maxi had a much more powerful motor than the single breast pump we’d borrowed. And, combined with the double pump mechanism, it allowed us to express twice the volume of milk, in half the time – a serious life saver given the strict feeding schedule we had to adhere to.
What’s more, through regular pumping on both boobs, we noticed that Rosie’s milk supply visibly increased, allowing us to pump more than the 30ml top-up that Teddy needed after every feed. As a result, we quickly stockpiled a store of expressed milk in the fridge to use for the night feeds (saving us from having to pump during the early hours). A major bonus, as the strict feeding schedule was at its most gruelling throughout the night.
While this was a pretty dark period of early parenthood, like most things, it did have a silver lining though (for me at least).
Although Rosie definitely felt like she’s turned into a 24-hour milking machine, from my perspective as a new dad I found this alternative routine surprisingly special. You see, by being able to bottle feed Teddy myself after every breastfeeding session, it gave me the chance to have some unexpected one-on-one bonding time with my little boy. As tiring as it was, I never felt more connected to Teddy as I did during those early bottle feeds.
What’s more, we were extremely lucky that Teddy was happy to switch, without fuss, between bottle and boob. We’d been warned that introducing the bottle too early, may lead to the baby rejecting breastfeeding altogether. But thankfully this wasn’t the case for us (don’t believe everything you read!).
During the exhausting days that followed, we became increasingly aware of the importance of calorie intake. As any new parent will attest, it can be surprisingly easy to forget to eat or drink for hours on end when you have a hungry baby to contend with.
But as the breastfeeding mantra so wisely puts it, you can’t drink from an empty cup. And according to my reading, a breastfeeding mum should be eating around 500 calories more than usual every day to help maintain her milk supply.
It was this nugget of wisdom which led me to invent something decidedly awesome…my Patented Paternity Leave Breastfeeding Treat Basket (clearly, the name needs some work…).
After raiding the kitchen cupboards and local corner shop for a wide selection of high carb, high protein or high sugar snacks, I accumulated them all in an easily accessible basket. This was then dutifully installed in our prime feeding venue – AKA our bedroom – ready for mum (and me, on occasion) to pick at whenever our energy levels were running low. Seriously guys, make one of these during parental leave and you’ll earn some serious dad points to cash in later!
It took us another three weeks, but eventually we reached the massive milestone we’d been working towards. Teddy was suitably fattened up and went back above his birth weight, marking the end of our community midwife appointments and the chance, at last, to step back from our strict feeding schedule. And we haven’t looked back since.
What has amazed me is how quickly Rosie has adapted to life as a breastfeeding mother. I thought she might be shy; nervous to feed in front of others. But in fact she’s taken to it like a duck to water, making it look so easy and always putting the baby’s needs first. So far, we’ve had to feed the baby in a plethora of weird and wonderful locations – a friend’s house, in Peter Jones, a pub garden, a multi-storey car park and even some random village green – but she’s never been fazed. Although, for the record, we do try to be at home in Teddy’s nursery for most feeds!
Ultimately though, it’s her hard work and dedication that has made our breastfeeding journey a success.
Rosie feeding Teddy at home with her HushCush portable nursing pillow
Today, nine weeks into parenthood, we now have Teddy firmly into a routine (albeit, one that he does slip in and out of from time to time). We’re following The Easy Method by Tracy Hogg, AKA The Baby Whisperer – something we desperately launched into around week five after one particularly horrendous, sleepless night.
For those of you who don’t know, the E.A.S.Y. method stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, and You Time. Think ‘Gina Ford’ but a lot less regimented and more baby-led…
When Teddy wakes up, he eats (the ‘E’), followed by a period of activity (the ‘A’ – nappy changing, playing, cooing, smiling practice, repeating Dada over and over again until he (or I) gets bored). Then, when he starts to show signs that he is growing tired, we swaddle him up and set him to sleep (the ‘S’). Finally, the ‘Y’ part of the E.A.S.Y. method… “You Time” – basically the opportunity for us weary new parents to nap, shower, clean the house, check Instagram, whatever. Although, invariably, “You Time” rarely works out as planned, if at all…
Nevertheless, it seems to be working for us. And I’m pleased to say that I still manage to get my one-on-one bonding time with little Teddy, by doing a nightly ‘dream feed’ at around 11pm with a bottle of formula, so that Rosie can grab an early night (before she tackles the most gruelling feed of the day at 3am).
All in all, I think we’ve been really lucky in our breastfeeding journey so far. Undoubtedly we’ve had some highs and we’ve had some lows, but like all new parents, we soldier on.
So how did you find breastfeeding? Did it work out for you? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? As always, we’d love to hear from you so please do share your ideas and insights with the Group via the comments section below!
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