When you want to stop breastfeeding

I have written before about how I struggled to establish breastfeeding with both of my boys. There is a lot on the internet about how hard it can be to start breastfeeding, but something that gets less attention is just how hard it can be to stop breastfeeding! This is a time that can be difficult emotionally, physically and practically.

Emotionally – because it’s a little sad to move on from that lovely physical closeness with your baby.

Physically – because you have to stop feeding gradually to avoid engorged breasts and complications like mastitis.

Practically – because you worry whether your baby will be getting enough nutrients elsewhere / whether baby will take a bottle or cup / whether baby will go to sleep without the comfort of the breast.

I fed my sons until they were 18 and 16 months old, respectively. When I stopped with each of them, I was definitely ready to move on. At least in my head I was ready to move on. My heart and the rest of my body was not quite so convinced. There were several stages of stopping breastfeeding and at every point I worried and worried.

Going back to work

Obviously if you want to go to work, you have to find a way to be able to leave your baby for a full day without receiving any breastfeed directly from you. I know that lots of mums worry about how to do this and I was one of them. I was mostly okay with my first son because I already was combination feeding him, so he was happy to take a bottle full of formula in the day. I had more trouble with my second, who downright refused to take a bottle or any formula.

Many mums manage to express milk to be fed to their children in their absence via a bottle or cup. I was not one of them. When I went back to work with my youngest he was 9 months old. I halfheartedly suggested to his nursery that they could offer him a cup full of formula in the day. He never would drink it. Eventually, he just got older and didn’t need that milk in the day anyway.

He happily started drinking cow’s milk from a cup when he was 1. So everything just worked out. I worried a lot but it seems my baby just got on with things. I want to tell mums not to worry as much as I did – that your baby will find a way to get on with things without you physically there to feed, regardless of whether you’re expressing / they’ll take a bottle / cup / formula, etc. But you probably won’t listen to me and worry anyway. It’s okay to worry.

Night weaning

There eventually came a point in my feeding, when each boy was about 1 year old, that I thought they were just taking the mickey with night feeds. They were definitely eating and drinking enough in the day, and yet at around this age they started waking more than ever and demanding milk every couple of hours. So I decided to “night wean” them, meaning no more milk in the middle of the night.

My decision to do this was fraught with guilt and worry. First of all, I worried that they wouldn’t go back to sleep at all if I didn’t feed them back to sleep. I worried that I might be depriving them of something they needed. And I felt sad about moving on from those sleepy middle-of-the-night cuddles.

But at the same time I was exhausted from getting up multiple times in the night and feeding for at least half an hour each time. I was certain they were getting enough food and milk in the day. I was desperate to be able to sleep a whole night and let my husband settle them for me if they woke. Or even more exciting, to feed them to sleep at bedtime and then go out for the evening without needing to feed again until morning!

So I tried settling them with sips of water and pushing the length of time between night feeds by 30 minutes each night until they were going all night without a feed. It took ages before they adjusted to the change, but it did work eventually. Both my babies actually slept better when they weren’t having milk all night. I wonder if maybe it gave them upset tummies to feed all night.

Dropping the last feeds

So at some point I got to the stage when the only feeds my babies were having were 1 in the morning and 1 before bed. I did things quite differently with my two at this stage.

With my first, I decided to cut out the evening feed first, because I wanted to break the association with breastfeeding and going to sleep. It took a long time for him to learn to settle without the breast, but eventually we got there. I think carried on with the morning milk until one day he rolled away from me and giggled in the morning instead of latching on. So that was it. I was a little sad about moving on, but it seemed like the choice had been his, so I was at peace with that.

With my youngest I was less organised and less patient. I had such trouble night weaning him, that I just couldn’t face trying to cut out that last nighttime feed. So I just wandered off! I went on a work trip and left my husband to deal with the fallout. As it turns out, with my boobs in a different country, my baby went to sleep just fine with cuddles from daddy. Go figure. I brought my breast pump with me in case of engorgement, but it seems not much milk was in there anyway as I didn’t feel like I needed to pump at all.

Lessons learned

So the reason I thought I’d share my story is because I was emotional, worried, and sometimes even guilty throughout the process of stopping breastfeeding. And I remember googling “stopping breastfeeding” to try to find reassurance, but there wasn’t much out there.

So what I’d like to say is:

  • it’s okay to feed for as long as you like
  • but it’s also okay to stop whenever YOU want or need to
  • it’s okay to feel emotional
  • but you and and your baby will be fine.

If you really need some extra support, consider talking to your local NCT breastfeeding counsellor or visiting a breastfeeding support group. They will be able to offer you personalised support and advice, and many will be able to relate to what you’re going through.

Petite Pudding
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Losing the baby weight: Myths vs reality

Once you get pregnant, not only do people start telling you what is safe and unsafe to eat, they also keep reminding you not to “eat for two”. Well, sod that. If I can’t drink and I can’t eat the best cheese, if I’m sick, tired, hormonal and my boobs hurt, you know what I’m going to do? Eat cake. During both of my pregnancies, I ate cake and ice cream and mountains of curry, pizza and peri-peri chicken. And both times I did gain weight which took a lot of time to lose. Plus, I wasn’t exactly skinny to start with. But I don’t regret a single mouthful of sugary goodness, because pregnancy made me feel awful and the cake helped me cope. If you feel the same as me, then you should cake away. Tell any judgemental friends or family that someone on the internet (clearly an expert) said it was fine.

Once you have the baby, the health police stop banging on about how not to poison your baby and gain loads of weight, and start banging on about how to lose the baby weight. Luckily, these days celebrities are being a little more honest about how bloody difficult it is. But there are still countless articles trying to give you “realistic” tips about how to use the weight-loss tricks of celebrities. I’ll tell you how celebs lose baby weight. Two things:

  1. They have bottomless pits of money to hire personal trainers and diet chefs and nannies to look after their babies all night.
  2. It’s their job to lose the weight.

So I’m here to tell you a real person’s view on losing baby weight. I think there are loads of myths about losing the baby weight that are propagated even by our well-meaning friends and family. These conspire to make new mums feel worse about their shape. And the worse you feel, the harder it is to make the changes you want to make. So here are my biggest baby weight-loss myths and some tips (from my humble experience) to help you actually lose the weight in real life (if you want to).

Biggest baby-weight loss myths

“9 months on and 9 months off”

This one has a good intention behind it, implying that it takes as long to lose the weight as it does to gain it. But in my experience, 9 months is not long enough. It took me the best part of 2 years to lose the baby weight after my first, and I’m still working on the weight gained from my 22-month old. The problem is, raising babies is hard work. It’s physical, emotional, mentally straining and you don’t get much sleep. These factors combine to make you reach for the nearest chocolate-y sugary fatty-fat-food full of energy to help you get through another day. You might not have time to cook proper meals or if you do cook them, you may never eat them. My first son used to cry like clockwork whenever I sat down for a proper meal. As a result I used to eat like I’d been stranded on a desert island living on coconut water for the last year.

“Breastfeeding helps you lose the baby weight”

This is a big one that they like to roll out in those wonderful guilt-trip pamphlets and signs as displayed in hospital and given you by health visitors. Now, as I’ve explained in my breastfeeding story, I was only able to achieve mixed-feeding with both of my children. So perhaps that is why breastfeeding didn’t do jack for helping me lose weight. But whether or not your baby is fully, partially, or not-at-all breastfed, don’t feel bad if it has no correlation to you losing weight. Breastfeeding makes you produce all sorts of hormones that you don’t normally produce. Plus, if you’re on the pill, there are only certain pills you can take when you’re breastfeeding and one of the side effects of progesterone-only pills is weight gain. I have never been able to achieve any significant weight loss until I’ve stopped breastfeeding.

“Just eat a bit less”

Someone actually said this to me when my baby was only 3 months old. I was tucking into a fairly modest plate of pasta and he’s all like, “maybe you should have a smaller portion?”. Pfffft. I had my stomach cut open 3 months ago. I was up all freaking night with a baby hanging off my boob. You try it and see if you want to eat less sodding pasta.

“Try some postnatal fitness classes”

I actually highly recommend these. But not because they will necessarily help you lose weight. They might, or they might not. I did baby yoga with both children, walked miles and miles pushing buggies around, and tried some more difficult mum fit classes too. None of these resulted in weight loss (any calories burned were replaced with sleep-deprived-chocolate-binges). However, the exercise improved my mood and I met other mums for potential friendship/coffee drinking/joint chocolate binges. The baby yoga was also a lovely way to bond with my baby.

“You can get back to jogging 6 months after birth”

Maybe if you are Jessica Ennis-Hill or Paula Radcliffe. My dabbling in running before both of my children was not fortifying enough to get back to it easily. I tried to start jogging again when my youngest was 6 months old. It lasted for about a week before I put my back out and caught the latest virus that was going round Eldest’s preschool. Get back to your usual exercise when you’re ready, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work out, because babies are hard work. You will eventually be able to resume (vaguely) normal service.

“You have to lose the baby weight”

You may actually be comfortable in your skin post-baby just the way you are. If you are, then chill. Don’t let anyone tell you what your body should look like. The way you feel is the only thing that matters.

Things that helped me lose baby weight

What works for me might not work for you, but I’m going to tell you anyway in case it does.

Finding the right diet

When you’re ready to watch your diet, that is. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t recommend dieting before baby is at least 9 months old, sleeping well at night, and until you’ve stopped breastfeeding.

There is no magic bullet for dieting, but what I’ve found is that each person can find something that works for them. I’ve had friends who’ve lost the weight and kept it off successfully with Weight Watchers, the South Beach diet and Slimming World. But for me, it was The Fast Diet. Even before I had kids, I could never stick to any sort of diet or even so-called “just eating healthy”. But The Fast Diet, also known as 5:2 or intermittent fasting, has been a miracle for me. You limit your calories to 500/day for just 2 days a week and eat reasonably (i.e. whatever you want without totally bingeing) the rest of the time. After both children I’ve lost around 2 stone (24 lbs) with this diet, after never being successful with any other. It sounds crazy but if you read the book it makes sense, and there are loads of other health benefits from fasting. It’s made me crave healthier foods. I’m currently obsessed with avocado, and that’s a phrase I never thought I’d say.

Finding a realistic exercise programme that fits into mum life

The only thing that has worked for me for getting fit and keeping fit is the Couch to 5K programme. It’s a running programme where you gradually work up, through interval training, from being a “couch potato” to being able to run 5K. It seriously works, no matter how unfit you are. It helped me get over a dislike of running. And it’s a great solution for a mum, because you can do it any time and with no special equipment. However, you may find something else is your thing. The biggest thing is to remember is that any exercise is good. Even if you aren’t consistent, one gym session a month is better than none.

Getting your brain on your side

I’ve found that I’m enjoying my exercise sessions more lately and I think it’s due to things that I’ve changed in my life that keep my mind busy while I’m exercising. In the past, I found exercise so boring! But since I’ve started blogging, I’m coming up with post ideas in my head the whole time I’m running and the time flies by. I forget I’m running. I’ve also subscribed to a music streaming service, and it’s really helped to always have fresh, new music to listen to. It’s also helped me to set a goal/reward to look forward to. For me, I’m hoping to look and feel awesome in time for my 20-year highschool reunion next summer.

Enlist support from your family

If your partner resents the time you spend exercising, or hates the food you cook on your diet, you are not going to succeed. Talk to your partner and explain how important it is to have his/her support. Support your partner’s diet and fitness goals as well, and see where you can cooperate in meal planning and family scheduling. If you have older children, you can also get them to join in on your exercise. My 4yo loves a bit of stretching or calisthenics.

Accept setbacks

Being a mum is a bloody hard job. If your child gets sick, or you get sick, or you have another life emergency, or a bereavement, or you get injured during your exercise efforts (I’ve had a hundred bad back or twisted ankle incidents), you might end up having to take a break from diet and exercise. Try not to let it get you down. It’s real life. As long as you keep trying whenever you realistically can, you’re doing great.

As for me, I’m doing okay. My youngest is not yet two, and I have about 5 more pounds of baby weight to lose. Then I can tackle what I like to call my “beer and burrito” weight.

Are you eager to lose the baby weight or are you happy just how you are? Do you have any weight loss and fitness tips you’d like to share?

Cuddle Fairy
Hot Pink Wellingtons

My breastfeeding struggle – for those who are struggling too

Tips for new mums who are finding breastfeeding difficult, from my own experience

Apparently, in the USA, August is National Breastfeeding Month. I’ve read some really interesting posts about feeding and I thought I would share my own story along with a few thoughts I have that might help someone just starting out on their baby feeding journey and who is perhaps finding it difficult.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was a bit complacent about breastfeeding. I’d read all the literature saying that “breast is best” and that it’s easier than formula feeding, and it was never really a decision for me. I just planned to breastfeed and assumed it was as simple as that.

But then real life sent me for a loop. At 10 days overdue, there was evidence of meconium in my waters, and so they induced labour. I laboured for 20 hours but ended up with an emergency caesarean. At first, I was put on the ward with my new baby, and I couldn’t get him to latch despite lots of help from the nurses there. Then, suddenly, they whisked him away to special care. It turns out he had pneumonia, probably from breathing in some of the meconium-stained waters. So he ended up in a different ward from me, in a plastic box with extra oxygen and antibiotics.

I was then encouraged to pump some milk to be fed to my son through a feeding tube put in his nostril. However, milk doesn’t come in as quickly after a caesarean, and the breast pump did nothing. One of the nurses suggested that we try hand expressing colostrum into a syringe. At 3am she helped me painfully and painstakingly squeeze my nipple (that’s right, another woman was squeezing my nipple – no dignity for new mums) until a tiny bit of “yellow gold” leaked out into the syringe. I was then expected to do my post-caesarean shuffle all the way to the other ward to deliver the infection-fighting stuff to my little one. I did this every couple of hours for 3 nights that seemed like an eternity.

Later, when he was well enough to be moved into a room with me, I spent countless hours trying to get him to latch without success. He failed to gain any weight, and they suggested top-up feeds in order to get some food into him. They also suggested I try nipple shields, to make my rather flat nipples stick out more so that baby couldn’t get some purchase on them. The combination of these two tools were the magic bullet for us – he gained weight, got better, and we were able to go home. At home, we carried on with breastfeeding using nipple shields and kept up the formula top-ups. My health visitor told me that our breastfeeding was doomed because my breasts wouldn’t get enough stimulation using the shields and the top-ups would affect my supply.

But she was wrong! At 3 months old, my son figured out how to nurse without the nipple shields. We then carried on with the mixed feeding and ended up breastfeeding until he was 18 months old, albeit not exclusively.

Because of this ultimate success in building a breastfeeding relationship with my first son, I was overconfident again when it came to my second. When I brought him home from hospital, he was too sleepy to feed. I initiated formula top-ups, but then the midwife that came to visit me told me that if I used top-ups I would never be able to establish breastfeeding with him. She recommended I stick with exclusive breastfeeding and, unfortunately, I listened to her. By the time another midwife came to visit a couple of days later, my son had lost weight and was becoming dangerously dehydrated. We ended up back in special care with my son in a plastic box and me chained to a breast pump, just like with my first!

We were sent home after a few days doing top-up feeds, but I was finding his latch so painful that I was sobbing every time we tried to breastfeed. I was so disappointed in myself for not being able to do it after I’d ultimately managed it with my first. I decided to move to exclusive bottle-feeding, to use mostly formula and to keep expressing breastmilk until my supply ran out (as I was assured by many it soon would). However, somehow the act of taking the pressure off myself changed things, and when I decided to try breastfeeding again a few days later, he latched. And we were away. Our breastfeeding relationship lasted until he was 16 months.

So as you can see, it was a struggle for me, and I really feel for every single mum out there trying to feed her baby. No matter what you do, it feels like someone else thinks you’re doing it wrong. So here are a few tips for new mums trying to feed their babies, gleaned from my personal experience. They might not resonate with everyone, but if they help even one mum not feel overwhelmed with guilt for her feeding situation, it has been worth sharing:

  • While there is scientific evidence to say that breastmilk is best for babies, the best thing for babies is to be fed! Get food into your baby any way you can. Breastfeeding, expressing & bottle feeding, using nipple shields, formula feeding, whatever. It’s your body and your baby and don’t let anyone guilt you.
  • Many lactation counsellors, midwives, nurses and health visitors will give you great advice, but some might not. Their advice is not the end all and be all. Go with your gut. If you don’t agree with some advice you receive, don’t follow it blindly (like I did with my second son).
  • There is a lot of advice out there that says that things like nipple shields, exclusively expressing & bottle feeding, and top-up feeds mean that your breastmilk supply will drop and you will ultimately have to stop. I’m living proof that this isn’t necessarily true! If any of these tools help you carry on breastfeeding, even if it’s only once a day from just one boob, then that is just fantastic.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve had some wonderful advice from NCT lactation consultants, and there are loads of breastfeeding support groups out there where you can meet mums going through similar things. Ask your local children’s centre or health visitor for details. Sometimes a sympathetic ear can be the thing that keeps you going. 
  • Let go of the mum guilt. Us mums are guilt machines. But you are doing your best. I know because you’re here on the internet looking for help.
  • Formula has everything your baby needs. If ultimately you are unable to establish breastfeeding, or for whatever reason you stop sooner than you had hoped to, your baby is going to be just fine. You haven’t “failed”. You have been on your own unique feeding journey and moved on from breastfeeding at the time that was right for you. If you encounter any haters, tune them out
  • Finally, one last thing I wish someone had prepared me for: breastfeeding can be as difficult to stop as it is to start. If, like me, you end up breastfeeding for quite a while, ending breastfeeding starts to feel like a huge step. What if baby won’t sleep anymore without nursing first? When is the right time to stop? Just the act of reducing breastfeeds can send your hormones haywire. I was incredibly emotional both times I stopped, crying constantly for no apparent reason. Don’t be afraid to go back to a lactation consultant at this time to get support as you wind down the feeding.

So there’s my little contribution. I hope someone might find it useful. Remember, they’re your boobs, it’s your baby, and you’re the boss!

I would love to hear your feeding stories in the comments. What was best and worst? What helped you?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Reasons my mum is crying

A child’s musing on those moments when mum loses her sh*t.

I’m sure pretty much everyone knows and loves the famous blog, ‘Reasons my son is crying‘. It pokes fun of the very many things a typical young child might have a bit of a tantrum over. An example from my own 4-year-old today:

4yo (observing as I begin to apply sunscreen to  his 1yo brother): The sunscreen says “kids” on it.

Me: That’s right. Good reading.

4yo: But my brother’s a toddler. Not a kid.

Me (continuing with sunscreen application): Not all kids are toddlers. But all toddlers are kids.

4yo (high-pitched; distressed): NOOOOOOO! My brother needs TODDLER SUNSCREEN! I’m the kid. The kids sunscreen is only for meeeeee!

So, yeah, that happens. And it’s pretty funny when viewed in hindsight. But what about when you’re right there in the moment? Sometimes, don’t you just feel like lying down on the floor, going stiff as a board and refusing to move, a la toddler? Or just having a good old cry? Well, I do. And it got me thinking of what my sons must think of me, when I’ve lost it and cried in front of them. Some examples from my own experiences:

Newborn baby be all like:

My mum keeps shoving her boobs in my face. They are all hard and huge. And she is DOING IT WRONG. I am not having any of that milk until she ups her game a bit.

Wait? Now she’s crying? WTF, I’m the one who’s starving here!

Six month old be all like:

Mum has been IGNORING me all day. She keeps going into the kitchen and turning on some machine that’s really noisy. Now, she puts me in this highchair and starts waving a spoon full of orange mush at me. I don’t think so! I’m going to wave my hands wildly and knock the spoon of mush down her shirt.

She’s crying again. She tried to poison me and SHE’S the one who’s crying!

Nine month old be all like:

I’m tired of this sleeping at nighttime stuff. It is so last month. I’m going to just rest for short 45 minute intervals and then wake up and scream for mum. She loves giving me cuddles in the middle of the night.

3 hours later…

I just had to scream for TEN WHOLE MINUTES before Mum came to cuddle me this time. She’s biting her lower lip and begging me to go to sleep, tears streaming down her face. I don’t know what her problem is. I thought we were having fun, seeing each other all night.

18-month-old be all like:

I’m finished eating and no longer require this plate in front of me, still half-full of food. I shall toss it across the room in the manner of a medieval king.

Hey, why is mum shouting just because there are some baked beans in her hair? I put baked beans in my hair all the time!

2-year-old be all like:

These playgroups are kind of cool. Hey, wait a minute! Some kid is trying to play with the same plastic kitchen as me! I’m going to hit him repeatedly with this small metal pan until he goes away. What? Now mum is trying to drag me away from this usurper. I will go stiff as a board so she can’t move me until I’m ready to go. Uh oh, woman is tearing up again. Maybe if I scream a little louder in this public place she will learn to respect my boundaries.

4-year-old be all like:

It’s getting late and I’m actually quite tired. I’m going to give Mummy a big cuddle and tell her that I love her before I go to sleep. Wait…is she crying again?

Is it just me or have you experienced these sorts of moments? What are the reasons your kids’ mum is crying?

The Diary of an 'Ordinary' Mum

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