Why this Mama Bear is not ready to give up breastfeeding

I'd always planned on breastfeeding little Bear, there was never really a doubt in my mind that that was what I intended to do. I know that there is a mantra 'breast is best' and right here and now I want to say that no mum should EVER feel judged for how she chooses to feed her baby, it is a completely personal decision – breast, bottle or combi. From the outset I set myself the target of reaching four months as a minimum – if I could do that I would be happy – but six months would be ideal. I remember that, whilst I was pregnant, I did lots of reading about breastfeeding and the benefits, spoke to friends who had breastfed their babies, attended classes provided by my local Infant Feeding Team and joined a support group (CHERUBS) on Facebook – I was determined that it was the feeding option for us but also I wasn't going to be a martyr to it, my research meant I was well informed I knew there was a chance it may not work and that it would be hard.

That being said no amount of research really prepares you for what breastfeeding is really like.

If it wasn't for the support I received on neonatal our breastfeeding journey was nearly over before it really started. For the first four days on SCBU little Bear wouldn't latch and had to be fed expressed breastmilk and formula through a tube. To say I felt like a failure is an understatement, no amount of research prepared me for how I felt when this happened. I had this rosy picture from the Infant Feeding Teams and Breastfeeding talks at Baby shows where my baby would craw, latch and feed – it was meant to be this perfect moment. I never had that. I had to battle for five days to get my baby to nurse. It was exhausting. Eventually we were able to get him to latch with the support of nipple shields but this was only a temporary measure and gradually I had to wean him off these so that he would feed better. When we reached the 6 week mark, once again we hit a stumbling block as little Bear's latch began to deteriorate and he would often be incredibly fussy on the breast. There were so many days where I would often cry at home be it during or after feeds, wanting to throw the towel in wondering if things would be easier if he was bottle-fed. Would he be more content? All he wanted to do was feed – but would often refuse the breast, and the bottle when we tried to give him expressed breastmilk. His refusal to take a bottle meant that breastfeeding was our only option but then one day he went on a complete feeding strike not taking the breast at all. I felt terrible – it was clear that he was hungry and unsettled but every time I went to feed him he would latch for a couple of minutes before coming off gagging on my milk as my letdown was too strong and I was engorged due to his refusal to feed. It was a complete catch-22 and I felt we were stuck in a vicious cycle. A week later, emotionally I hit rock bottom and did not know what to do, little Bear had cried all day and nothing I did helped to settle him. That evening I found a free sample MAM anti-colic bottle from a baby show we had been to, the only one we hadn't tried and I completely forgot we had it. In my mood I wasn't hopeful that he would take it but it was worth a try, he wasn't properly breastfeeding and this was my last resort. When Papa Bear arrived home we tried to give him expressed milk and he took it – I was so relieved but there wasn't enough expressed for him so tentatively we also tried some formula which he hadn't had since being in the hospital. He took it too. I was very relieved – suddenly he was more settled and through the night he breastfed beautifully. Something had suddenly clicked and as much as I hate to say it, and know there are some out there who would vilify me for what I'm about to say, but that bottle has saved our breastfeeding relationship.

All of a sudden we were on a roll and before I knew it we made it to the four month mark. I was thrilled. It still wasn't easy but I felt a sense of accomplishment. I also had what I felt was the best of both worlds, 6 weeks after hitting rock bottom weeks things were going well, there were still difficult days but these were infrequent. Importantly for us little Bear was now successfully combi-feeding: What a relief.

It was at this time that I once again began to enjoy breastfeeding and I realised that our six month goal now seemed to be achievable – indeed it was and at eight months old our breastfeeding relationship is still going strong.

This week now is special for two reasons:

2. Today (Tuesday 1st August) marks 8 months since little Bear started to properly latch and take the breast, meaning we were on our way to removing his feeding tube on SCBU.

So why am I not ready to give up?
For one thing it has become easy now to breastfeed him. It's free and I don't have to worry about making sure I have enough bottles sterilised or the right amount of formula to take out. All I need it me.

Secondly, it gives me 5-10 minutes where I can just sit down and watch TV – I can't remember the last time I watched a TV programme all the way through and not in 5-10 minute blocks during the day – read a book, or catch up on my NCT girls WhatsApp chat thread.

At night, whilst I grumble about having to get up, breastfeeding is also a far quicker way to resettle little Bear during the night. Although this did bite me in the butt, we experienced a horrific 4-month sleep regression where I had to resort to cosleeping as during the worst nights little Bear would be up every 45 minutes and would not fall asleep unless he was on/ next to me. It took us 8 weeks to crack the regression, which was probably longer than it needed to be but at the time I just could not find a way out of it.

So, whilst I had thought that at 6 months I would wean little Bear onto the bottle, those plans just seemed to disappear. I had always thought 6 months due to teeth as the idea/ prospect of being bitten during a feed makes my toes curl, but little Bear still doesn't have any teeth – yet – and now I think even when he does have them we'll still carry on. We are both enjoying our time nursing and neither of us was ready to give it up and I don't think we will be truly giving it up any time soon. I feel like breastfeeding has given me a bond with little Bear that is incredibly strong and as I wrote in a previous post, on days where he is upset, unwell, or finding his developmental leaps particularly challenging, I love that he can find comfort by breastfeeding. Not only that he hasn't really taken to drinking water as quickly as I would have hoped so I know that by offering him breastmilk I can keep him hydrated.

The one thing I will say though is that there is absolutely no way I would have had the strength to do this without my husband. His support has been invaluable and I truly believe that a lot of our success has come from his support. On the days when I wanted to give up he listened to me, never judged and would always help to settle little Bear. He would bring me drinks and food. During the middle of the night feeds he would do the nappy changes. He never left our bed as he wanted to be there for us. When little Bear wouldn't settle as he could smell the milk on me, he would take him instead even when he had work the following morning. Also, he was the one to give little Bear the bottle so that I could have 20 minutes to myself – often spent running around trying to tidy or expressing. I could not have done any of this without him – Papa Bear you are my rock.

I've published this post today for two reasons:
1. It is World Breastfeeding Week (1st-7th August) which aims to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding around the world with over 120 countries taking part in the celebrations. Today there have been lots of news stories about including classes about breastfeeding in schools and about the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in the UK.
2. Today (Tuesday 1st August) officially marks our 8 month of breastfeeding, something I never thought we would achieve – one month until this silver boobs become jade boobs!

Little Bear we've come so far, I didn't know when our journey will end but it is one that I will always cherish.

Mama Bear x

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