Monday, February 21, 2011

Jacob's weaning story

It appears that Jacob has weaned after 4 years and 8 months of breastfeeding. I'm still not exactly sure when his last feed was as the whole process has been a slow and gradual transition. I'm feeling a little bittersweet about it all. On one hand, I'm happy and proud that we shared this breastfeeding journey for so long and am so grateful that I've been able to give him this gift. It's undoubtedly provided us with an incredible bond and health benefits for both of us. On the other hand, I'm feeling a little sad that this stage of Jacob's life is over and he is growing up so quickly.

Breastfeeding didn't come easily to us. I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed but had no idea how hard it would be. When Jacob was born we had skin-to-skin time but he wasn't interested in attaching. It didn't help that the midwife who was with us tried to 'force' Jacob onto the breast. It was a horrible experience for both of, it made me feel inadequate that I couldn't breastfeed my son and Jacob upset and crying. Jacob was fed by syringe for the first couple of days with the midwives expressing colostrum from me to feed him. Then on about the third day a midwife suggested using a bottle which he took to quickly (in hindsight we were lucky that this didn't lead to nipple confusion - but we didn't know any better at the time) I was so excited when my milk started to come in and I was able to use the electric pump.

On about day 5, Jacob was taken away from us to the special care nursery. They wanted to keep an eye on him because they thought he might be having seizures (I didn't!). He also had an eye infection. This was a horrible time for us. I was already feeling hormonal and emotional from the birth and to have my son taken away from me made it even worse. Jacob was given lots and lots of tests by an overzealous paediatrician. There were blood tests, head ultrasounds and so on. By far the worst though was a lumbar puncture. We were told it was best for us not to be there while they did it. We could hear Jacob screaming from our room as the needle went in. All Chris and I could do was sit there and cry as we heard our baby screaming.

Jacob was given ABM because I didn't have enough milk for him. I wish I'd known at the time that I could have refused permission for them to do this. I hated the thought of him getting ABM rather than my breastmilk. After advising staff in the nursery that I wished to try feeding Jacob from the breast, I went in one night and found that they had already given him a bottle of ABM (not even the EBM which I had in the fridge!) I was upset, angry and so sad that once again I had failed my duty as a mother.

On my last night in hospital, a lovely midwife and lactation consultant helped me to get Jacob attached using a nipple shield. This was such a moment of joy. It felt good to be able to feed my baby the way nature intended (even if it meant having a piece of plastic in between!) It also meant I didn't have to worry about heating and cleaning bottles - yay! We hired a breast pump from the chemist (wish I'd known about ABA then!) for me to use to keep up my milk supply as we'd been told that nipple shields could affect my supply. Unfortunately, this contributed a lot to my engorgement issues as it turned out I already had a good supply. I was pumping a whole feed out, probably about 3 times a day in addition to what Jacob was taking!

I was very fortunate that the hospital where I had stayed had a lactation clinic. I attended the clinic a few times in our journey to breastfeed without nipple shields. The first lactation consultant I saw was good but she implied that I needed to get Jacob off the nipple shields as soon as possible (or maybe that's just the message I took away because I was so desperate to be free of them!) Trying to get Jacob off the nipple shields lead to lots of anger, tears and pain on my part which I'm sure Chris will attest to. I ended up with badly cracked nipples and feeds were just so painful that I dreaded them. This wasn't how breastfeeding was meant to be.

Luckily, the second lactation consultant I saw was wonderful. She encouraged me to relax about getting Jacob off the nipple shields, that there was no rush. It turned out that I had a bout of mastitis the day that I went to see her. I'd thought that it might have been mastitis but wasn't sure because I didn't know exactly what it was. She was wonderful in helping me to massage the lump out and encouraging me to rest. After all her help I didn't even need to take antibiotics which I was glad about.

I think it was about 3 weeks that we finally stopped using the nipple shields. I still felt awkward about feeding Jacob in public though and would avoid it whenever possible. It was really difficult to get him attached. He would fuss and pull away and I'd end up with milk everywhere. I'd watch other Mum's with babies the same age breastfeeding and they seemed to do it with such ease. We ended up taking Jacob to see a paediatric chiropractor and it turned out that he did have a few issues that were most likely to do with his birth (he'd come out quite quickly in the end). Jacob seemed a little better after our chiropractor visits but breastfeeding was never completely pain free.

When Jacob was about 6 months old, I developed another badly cracked nipple. It didn't seem to want to heal no matter what I did and was still there after weeks and weeks. I remember one night, Jacob slept a bit longer than usual and I was starting to get blocked ducts so I got up to express. All I could express into the bottle was drops of blood. It was so painful. By this stage, I'd discovered my local ABA group which was a god-send. I called my group leader to talk to her about what was going on. While she couldn't really offer any advice, she listened and that made a huge difference. I ended up going to the doctor to make sure the crack in my nipple was some other sort of infection. Turns out it wasn't (or I assume it wasn't seeing the doctor didn't even want to take a swab - he brushed me off pretty quickly!) and not long after it did end up healing.

At about 7 months breastfeeding just seemed to fall in place. All of a sudden it wasn't painful. This was what I had always imagined breastfeeding to be like! I'm not quite sure what was going on in those early days. Although, when I was pregnant with Esme and on a visit to my midwife she happened to see in Jacob's month and said to me 'he's got a tongue tie - did you have trouble breastfeeding?' Suddenly everything made sense. You can still notice it a bit when you look in his mouth now, at 4.5 years old, but it doesn't affect him in any way. Obviously, at 7 months old his mouth had grown enough for it not to be a problem which is why breastfeeding was no longer painful.

Although the breastfeeding was now going well, I wasn't coping with being a Mum. I felt lonely and isolated. I loved my son but would feel intense anger with him at times when I couldn't get him to sleep or he was crying. I was also frequently in tears. Jacob was quite a high needs baby. He didn't sleep much and just wanted to be held by us all the time. We got to the point of him waking every 45 minutes at night and I just couldn't do it anymore so off we went to sleep school. Sleep school was pretty horrendous and I wouldn't ever do it again but I do credit it for being a turning point in my life. I spoke to a psychologist who suggested that I might have post natal depression. I started on medication not long after. This, and finally having some coping strategies helped me turn things around.

I honestly believe that it was breastfeeding that helped me to bond with my son in those first few months and I think my post natal depression would have gotten a lot worse, a lot quicker, had I not been breastfeeding. When I felt those surges of anger at Jacob when he wasn't sleeping all I would need to do was sit down and breastfeed him and those feelings would disappear as my let down happened and my body was flooded with oxytocin. I was very set into routines with Jacob as this helped me to cope and I found that feeding him frequently, ast certain times in my routine helped a lot (how much that has changed now lol!)

We went through a week or so of breast refusal when Jacob was about 11 months old. He would still have his morning feed but refused all other feeds. Luckily, with the advice from my ABA group leader (again!) and by staying calm and relaxed about it all it didn't take long for Jacob to start feeding again.

As Jacob got older and started to feed a bit less our breastfeeds became our special time together. We would have a feed in bed in the morning, then usually after his day sleep and at bedtime to feed him off to sleep (ahhh, so easy!) I got pregnant with Esme when Jacob was about 18 months and he quickly dropped his middle of the day feed as my supply dropped. Although my nipples were quite sore during the pregnancy we managed to keep up these two feeds throughout. Well, mostly. Jacob went through some times of fussiness during the pregnancy which I assumed were because of the changing taste of the milk and we ended up only feeding on one side but we kept going nonetheless!

We then went on to tandem feed when Esme was born. I loved that I could still have that special time with my son even when things were so busy looking after a newborn. Jacob ended up dropping his morning feed not long after Esme was born (mainly because I wasn't really 'available' to him in the mornings!) but we kept up the bed time feeds. It was lovely still being able to feed my little boy off to sleep even though he was a little bit older.
He did ask for a few more feeds after Esme was born and sometimes I would let him but was happy to just keep him to a few. We had a few simultaneous feeds and it was lovely to see both the kids feeding at the same time although I didn't always feel that comfortable feeding them together.

I really thought Jacob would continue feeding for ages, he gave no sign that he was ready to drop that bed time feed. And I was happy to keep giving it to him. Around the time that I got pregnant we started to give him the choice of milk in a cup or milk from me (there's a few reasons for this which I won't go into here). Sometimes he would choose milk from a cup but for the most part he still wanted a feed from me. I had started to get really sore nipples from the pregnancy (worse than last time!) and Jacob's attachment started to feel 'wrong' as well so it was almost a relief when he would choose milk from a cup. There was no pressure for him to stop feeding though.

As my pregnancy progressed though, and my milk supply started dropping, Jacob started wanting milk in a cup most nights. He would say he wanted milk from me but then change his mind and say there was 'no milk'. He would go a few nights and then have a feed and then a bit longer until I realised that it had been a couple of weeks since he'd had a feed. So, although it has been a little sad for me, it has been a gradual transition and part of the rhythm of life I feel.

I am so grateful that we were able to share our breastfeeding journey for so long together.

I may have made a mistake in telling Jacob that there will be lots of milk when the baby comes however. He has already told me that he is going to have milk again then. We'll just have to wait and see what happens ;)

Here's some photos from our breastfeeding journey. I really wish we had more photos from when Jacob was younger but sadly we don't.

First breastfeeding photo - Jacob was about 4 months here.

The best thing about breastfeeding - it's portable! Jacob feeding on a picnic at 6 months old.

Jacob wearing his Mummy milk t-shirt
A sleepy feed at about 17 months

Breastfeeding at 40 weeks pregnant. Jacob is 2 years, 3 months. Apologies for the darkness of the photo!

First tandem feed with my two children.!

Tandem feeding my two children in the Fitzroy Gardens. Jacob is 2 years, 9 months and Esme is 6 months.

Another tandem feeding photo! Jacob is 3 years, 3 months and Esme is 12 months. This was such a gorgeous moment. I hadn't fed them together for quite awhile and Esme thought it was hilarious seeing Jacob feed. She kept trying to poke him in the mouth! Jacob continued on regardless...

Our last breastfeeding photo together. Jacob is 3 years, 3 months. I really wish I'd taken another one before he weaned though

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