As we moved beyond the first few weeks and months, we really found our rhythm. Bottles for bed or if, on the rare occasion, Daddy took her out without me. But breastfed throughout the day. It was frequent feeding at first which was exhausting and left me feeling touched out very easily, but I have to say that I found breastfeeding to be my favourite of the 2 feeding options. It was wonderful to have that option and I’m so grateful we did as I really feel we had the best of both worlds, but once we got to just the one bottle in the evening, I was happy with that but I absolutely wanted to do every other feed and the thought didn’t cross my mind to just give a bottle instead unless it was unavoidable.
Around 8 weeks, however, I noticed myself wincing at the start of each feed. Something stung, it felt like shards of glass. I tried some different positions and some were more comfortable than others but over time, this feeling got worse and worse. I would bite down on my bottom lip, tears would fill my eyes and my body would tense. Something definitely wasn’t right. I could hear her clicking during feeds and she was slipping back off her latch once she started feeding. I knew that these were red flags for a bad latch but nothing I was doing was fully correcting it and I’d likely need some help. My health visitor referred me to the lactation consultant who diagnosed a tongue tie which needed division. It was going to be a few weeks before this could be arranged.
In this time, every single breastfeed was just awful. I cried through plenty of them and was using nipple balm like it was going out of fashion. I listened to Stacey Solomon’s podcast about breastfeeding and it was so validating. When the seemingly obvious solution is to just stop but you feel the ache to continue, it’s difficult for anyone to understand. In theory, there shouldn’t have been an issue as Olivia could happily take formula too? Why not just feed formula while I pumped until she had her tongue tie revised? Well… because I just couldn’t. It sounds so ridiculous, like I was being some kind of martyr, but it wasn’t that. I HAD to continue. It hurt physically, but the thought of not breastfeeding upset me most.
The mental health debate with breastfeeding, I believe, lies somewhere amongst issues such as these. When something is causing you physical pain, you don’t do it, surely it’s that simple, right? (it’s not! Ask anyone with chronic pain!). Anyone who would have seen me breastfeeding around this time would have thought I was mad for continuing. The tears, to an outsider, surely wouldn’t have been worth it. But to me, they were. When we tell mums to stop breastfeeding ‘for their mental health’, it paints too simple a picture of a dichotomy that just doesn’t exist for many mums. Although this period of time was challenging and physically affecting me, I continued because I still wanted to. To stop would have been more of a detriment to my mental health. And worse, to be pressured into stopping when I didn’t want to.
3 weeks later, the division was done. And it was like night and day! It didn’t take long for things to feel comfortable and happy again. Olivia was going to sleep for the first portion of the night having had her bottle with Daddy, sleeping until 3am then having breastfeeds until it was time to wake up. Feeding whenever she wanted during the day and breastfeeding was my favourite mothering tool. Any Olivia problem could be fixed by boob and sometimes it was lovely to feed her to sleep and curl up myself too! (I actually wish I’d have done this more!)
Our next issue to resolve came around 4 months. Those long stints of sleep at the beginning of the night were disappearing before our eyes. Instead of 3am, Olivia introduced a midnight wake up. And a 1am. Then a 1.30am. Until it became unpredictable, far too frequent and massively unsustainable. There came a point where I was truly exhausted taking all the night feeds. My partner suggested an extra bottle in the night and I felt like my world fell from under me. I knew this suggestion came from a place of concern and logic, but it felt like a punch to the gut. I didn’t want to be replaced, but I also knew this wasn’t the way to continue. I couldn’t have continued, so something needed to change.
I thought long and hard and the compromise I reached was that I would start expressing again, he would offer her that in the bottle first and then if she still wanted more for the feed, offer her the formula. This way, she was still getting my milk, but I could sleep. Olivia didn’t get this memo. I came down the next morning to see my breastmilk just sitting on the side next to a finished bottle! I was furious. But it turned out Olivia had refused the breastmilk in the bottle altogether and there was no option but to try formula, which she wolfed down. I convinced myself that, just like myself, she prefers her favourite beverage on draught rather than bottled. Fair play to the girl. But this still left me choosing between replacing another breastfeed with formula and neither of us were quite ready for that just yet. At this point, we started to bedshare and continued happily for 6 weeks until that became too much for me. It was causing my back to be very sore due to chronic pain, so I began to shuffle her back over to her side cot.
Each of these phases felt like the right thing for us at the time and having this flexibility of options really helped us in the long run. Making the change until it’s unsustainable is absolutely the way to go for us and something I stand by. Breastfeeding itself was the right choice for me until it wasn’t. After 10 wonderful months, breastfeeding aversion really got the better of me and I made the choice to stop. I was so proud of how far we had come and I desperately wanted only the good memories of our journey so it was a no brainer to me that our time had come to an end. This way, I was still absolutely motivated to breastfeed any future children and I am looking forward to having this experience to base my decisions from next time. We didn’t have to worry about ‘weaning’ Olivia off the breast and our transition away from breastfeeding was seamless at this point. We both seemed to be ready.