Guest blog by Jess - @cranio.shaped.mama
10th of June 2019. Just like that, we’ve reached my breastfeeding goal! 730 days, countless hours spent skin-to-skin, bonding, nourishing, comforting, loving, connecting, protecting, feeding. Before I had Zo, before I even got pregnant, I knew I was going to breastfeed. Mostly what I knew about breastfeeding came from my mother who breastfed both my sister and I to natural term, so often it’s hidden away in this society and anyway I was a young mum when I fell pregnant and I was the first in my close circle of friends to have a baby. I knew I wanted to breastfeed and do things as naturally as possible, to follow in my mother’s footsteps who gave me fond, loving memories as a child which grew into a close friendship as I got older. People would ask me if I was going to try breastfeeding – of course! And how long are you going to breastfeed for? 2 years as the WHO recommends and hopefully until my little one weans naturally.
Well, I can officially and proudly say that’s where we are today, I’m feeding a 2 year old who is still fed on demand, some days she feeds almost as much as a new born If she’s having a hard day, others she feeds when she wakes up and before she goes to sleep (and every time she wakes up through the night). We have no schedule or restrictions on feeding, just like I don’t restrict when I want a drink, a snack, some comfort, connection or love – the same goes for my daughter. Each day, while we follow a certain ‘flow’, each one is a little different from the one before and the one to follow. We’ve overcome huge struggles and the fact that I’ve reached this goal means more than I can put into words, there were many times I truly thought that we wouldn’t make it. But we have and I’m immensely proud of us both! Now is the time I feel that, while I probably won’t do it justice, I’d like to go back to the start and share with you (whoever might be interested to read our journey) our breastfeeding story.
10th of June 2017, 10 days late – my 8lb 2oz bundle of delicately smooth skin, the tiniest fat rolls I'd ever seen, a precious little head covered in dark hair, and beautiful eyes staring deep into mine. Mine. She was mine. I couldn’t believe it, she was finally here, hadn’t even cried and quietly alert but locked on me – and I on her! Then a new midwife came into the room and asked if I had breastfed her yet. I said no, to be honest I have no clue how much time had passed since she had been born, maybe half an hour? But I suddenly had this feeling of embarrassment, that I hadn’t fed her already, I should have thought, I should have said I want to feed her but in all honesty – it hadn’t even crossed my mind – all I did was stare at her cuddled into my chest skin-to-skin, amazed at what I had just done. Suddenly all my research I did throughout pregnancy came flooding back and I felt terrible that all the importance of getting baby to the breast as quickly as possible had gone out my head. However, the midwife was lovely and kindly helped her get latched on, from the first feed I guess it didn’t feel completely comfortable, I had to hold my breast back from her face so she could breath through her nose. This scared me, I'd always hated having big boobs and I was worried we were going to find it hard since my boobs were about 3x the size of her head! But still, it was a beautiful moment I will never forget, I got my husband to snap a photo to send to my mum and I’m so glad I can always look back on our very first photo together and our very first breastfeed.
After I’d had a quick shower and got dressed we got moved to the maternity ward and by this time it was about 10pm. I got settled in bed and my husband and I could stop smiling and staring at our new daughter. Soon he had to leave and I suddenly just felt so alone, and sore. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, but I also thought that I should automatically just know how to care for my baby, who was hours old and completely dependant on me. She was pretty unsettled that night and I would try to feed her, with help from the midwives – they would come and latch her on for me and then I felt stuck in that position, then as soon as we lost it, or she came off or fell asleep, I couldn’t get it back. I played some music off my iPad from the birth playlist I had made and listened to leading up to her being born in the hopes she would recognise it and be comforted by the music and my voice, it worked a little bit but I got told to keep it down as other mums were trying to sleep. I had it on low and had asked the other mum in my room (who wasn’t sleeping but on her phone) if she minded and she had told me she didn’t mind at all, but I turned it off. Then spent the rest of the night cuddling my baby, trying to feed her, calling for help, and just doing that on repeat. I felt bad every time I called for help and looking back I’m so mad at myself for feeling that way because I know now – of course I didn’t know what I was doing! And that was their job – to help me!
Finally daylight came and I waited for my husband to return. I told him how much we were struggling with feeding and he tried to help us get as comfortable as possible. I was starting to be able to latch her on, but she often slipped off or fell asleep. I don’t know how many midwives came and shaped my boob and quickly got baby on, I didn’t know how they did it or how to do it alone, I felt like I needed a million hands to help this tiny, floppy, fragile little girl to just feed. Later that day I burst into tears in front of my family because I knew the cues of her looking and needing to feed and I fell apart because I felt like I couldn’t do it and I was failing her already at less than 24 hours old. My mum asked if there was someone who could come and help and so they sent a special feeding midwife down to me who was so kind! She told me how this is all new and learning curve for both of us, that I did not need to feel guilty, that I could do this and that I just needed to trust in myself and my baby because we were literally made to do this! She showed me better than any other midwives what I should be looking for in a good latch, how to tell if she’s drinking and how to tell if she has had enough.
They kept me in for another night to try and get feeding more established and it was probably one of the worst nights of my life. Zoey continued to be unsettled and cry and I struggled to feed her. I called for help, again, and a new midwife came in who took Zoey off me, swaddled her in a blanket and told me I needed to rest as I had had no sleep in over 48 hours. At this point I was in tears, telling her I didn’t know what was wrong or what she wanted but I was so tired and every time I put her down she cried. I told her how we had a traumatic birth and she was pulled out with forceps and asked her if this could be causing her to be unsettled and in discomfort, to which she tutted like I was stupid and said “of course not! Look at her, she’s fine, she's not scratched up of anything” (actually she had 2 very red marks on her head and her head looked squashed at the sides, which was actually Craniosynostosis) I knew that birth can have a huge impact on babies behaviour but she still made me feel so insignificant and ridiculous. She then went on to tell me that I’d been holding her too much and that’s why she was crying, she was over stimulated from me holding her and spoiling her all the time and I HAD to give her time in her cot to settle and sleep. I now know that was the biggest load of baloney! But in my weak and exhausted state I believed her, I believed that I was the reason my baby was crying, I was doing it all wrong already, I was failing her, she was innocent, tiny and crying because of me, I was a huge failure as a mother only 48 hours in. I obeyed her command to get in bed and the tears flowed and flowed, I watched her shhh and rock my crying baby, then she left her because another mum needed help and I picked up my phone to text my own mother to help me know what to do because I felt completely overwhelmed and lost, I wanted to scoop up my baby and stop her from crying but I had been told that was the WRONG thing to do and the REASON she was crying in the first place. Then she came back and gave me a big telling off for being on my phone instead of sleeping, yeah... because falling asleep to the sound of your new born crying is so relaxing... She shhh'd Zoey some more and she did stop crying, I didn’t though, not until I cried myself to sleep feeling like the worst mother in the world and utterly exhausted. About half an hour later she was crying again, I went to her and while I knew I'd be told I was wrong I just HAD to pick her up, but then I was bleeding out all over the floor – yep – even through 2 pads and those hospital panties so I had to lay her down and sort myself out. I called for help again and another midwife came and I told her what the last one had said, how I’ve been picking her up and trying to feed her every time she cries but I can’t manage to get her to latch and feed effectively but I was told that was the wrong thing to do anyway. She looked at me sympathetically and said she was definitely rooting so again she helped me latch her on and once we were comfortable she left. I felt such a huge sense of relief holding my baby at my breast again! I didn’t set her down again for the rest of the night. Around 6am that horrible midwife came to check on us and all she did was look disapprovingly and tell me I must set her down and get some sleep when I can. I smiled and nodded.
Daytime came and my husband came back and I tried really hard to get her to feed effectively but they still weren’t happy as her latch was still too shallow and her cheeks caved in when she sucked. I begged and pleaded with them to let me take her home where we would be comfortable, where I could relax and have my family around me. I hated being in the hospital, I was sore, uncomfortable and felt like I was doing everything wrong, yet on my own. I just knew we needed to be at home. So they let us go but told me to make sure she fed at least every 3 hours and I think they expected us to come back, we never did. I went home and had a little sleep while my dad held Zoey while she slept. I think I slept for about an hour and a half and it was the most sleep I had got in 3 days, but I woke in a panic because it had been longer than 3 hours since Zoey last fed. I tried to feed her but it still didn’t feel right and I was uncomfortable so I phoned my mum in tears, again. She dropped everything to come and stay with us for a week, she helped me get Zoey to feed as well as I could each time she needed to and reassured me of how well I was doing, how normal it was to feel the way I did, how I was not a failure and doing everything right, I could not spoil my baby, all she needed was me and all I needed was her and everyone else could do everything else and I would sleep when I could, and we waited for my local midwife to come out the next day.
My midwife during pregnancy was such a lovely woman, always made me feel so at ease and was a firm believer in doing things naturally like I was, she had many years of experience being a midwife in Africa which I loved! So I hoped she would help when she came. That she did, more than the many midwives and feeding specialists that came to see us in hospital. She showed ME how to get Zoey latched on, she didn’t do it FOR me but told ME what to do – to cross cradle, hold her with the opposite arm to the breast I was going to feed off, then with the other hand to hold my breast in a C shape and then shape my breast into a V pointed towards Zoey's nose to nipple and than latch her on. I was amazed! I had done it! All by myself, with guidance, but she didn’t take the baby for me, move my arms, move and touch my breast, she told ME how to do it FOR MYSELF! That was a huge turning point. She was shocked at the terrible treatment I got off that one midwife and gave me a complaint form. She was so angry, and told me how wrong she was and how I had been doing everything right and was not a failure! I already felt much better about it from my own mother but it was nice to see how much she cared. While she was there she showed me how to express some milk out and we could see my milk was beginning to turn more white and transition into mature milk. I felt so so happy and relieved!
So the weeks went on and we did a little better but Zoey was still incredibly unsettled, she was constantly on me either feeding or sleeping, she fed at least every hour, would fall asleep on the breast, wake on the breast and want more. The more time went on the more unsettled and fussy Zoey got with feeding, she pulled on and off the breast, clicked when she was on, her latch was shallow no matter what I did, she cried at the breast but didn’t want anything but the breast, she was very sick and would projectile vomit after feeds and milk would pour out her nose as she was feeding. The health visitors I saw couldn’t help much even though they tried. She was gaining lots of weight at this point but I felt like that was only due to her being on my breast CONSTANTLY! So I turned to Google over and over again and we thought it could be oversupply issues or she was sensitive to dairy so I came off that. Then I started reading about tongue tie and she had all the symptoms of a posterior tongue tie, reading the symptoms list was like reading everything about Zoey! So then I fought to get a referral to the tongue tie clinic in Aberdeen which was about 2 hours away from us. It only ran every 2 weeks and I had just missed it so was told I would have to wait another 2 weeks, that sounded like an eternity with the issues we were facing! Zoey was 6 weeks old at this point and I saw the infant feeding specialist at our local hospital who gave us a nipple shield to try because she struggled to latch, to be honest her advice felt rubbish and unhelpful, in those 6 weeks I had read so much about breastfeeding, breastfeeding problems and techniques that I kind of knew what she was saying was off. The nipple shield was making everything worse, Zoey struggled even more to have to suck harder at the plastic shield to transfer milk from my breast through my nipple and through the shield and milk was going everywhere. My husband told me I should at least give her advice a go because you can’t know from just one try in the hospital, but I phoned my friend's mum who was a breastfeeding specialist and had been trying to help and support me more than my health visitors had been and she too thought her advice was wrong so I decided to ditch the shield and wait for the tongue tie appointment. She also told me to give her a dummy as if she was just wanting comfort and was probably annoyed at all the milk, so I tried it but she instantly gagged any time I put the dummy in her mouth so I ditched that too and followed my instincts. Continuing to do the best I could to help her latch and comfort her as well as I could do, constantly attached to me either eating or sleeping.
Zoey then had her 6 week check up at the GP and I explained our feeding issues and how I was sure she had tongue tie and was a little miffed no one had picked it up and had only come to light with my own research. He was very dismissive and unsympathetic. However that is when he picked up her head being an abnormal shape and brought up the ridge down the middle of her head. We had noticed it ourselves and I was going to ask about it. He told me her head was measuring large, I asked him what that meant and his words were “well it can be an indication of pressure on the brain” my insides turned, “how would I know she had pressure on her brain, are there symptoms I should be looking out for?” “just generally unwell, lethargic and vomiting”. Ok something else to worry about. He said her head was long and narrow and “it was called something but he couldn’t remember, we will review in 3 weeks” He was so blasé about it but I felt sick. I left thinking how incredibly unhelpful he was and overwhelmed with something else to worry about on top of a very unsettled baby with tongue tie and now something abnormal about her head. I decided to just focus on one thing at a time and make it to the tongue tie appointment, and vowed I would not Google anything about her head, which is very unusual for me as I Google everything!
It was when we were away with family that Zoey seemed unwell so we took her to hospital where she was officially diagnosed with Craniosynostosis. I felt broken inside but a few days later we had her tongue tie appointment so I tried to just focus on taking it a day at a time. They checked her over and said that her frenulum was very far back and they didn’t want to cut it as it was too close to nerves, would bleed a lot and would do more harm than good and they didn’t expect it to be the cause of any feeding issues we had. I told them about the Craniosynostosis and asked if they thought that could impact feeding to which they said no. I saw another lovely health visitor and breastfeeding support worker, who tried to help but didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know at that point. And so we continued to struggle and travel up and down the country to appointments with neurosurgeons. They said it was very common to see the unsettled issues I had with Zoey and so many families they see say the same, yet there is no scientific evidence to prove Craniosynostosis causes feeding issues and unsettled behaviour in very young infants. It’s not until they get older than the craniosynostosis and pressure creates more of a risk and becomes symptomatic. Yet my gut told my otherwise, I could see her saggital craniosynostosis was severe and there were no other obvious or logical reasons for her behaviour. We knew she needed surgery and while it was the last thing I wanted for my baby, I hoped she would improve after her surgery at around 6 months old. As the weeks and months went on she became more and more unsettled and feeding hit an all time low, she wasn’t just fussy, she was refusing to feed. She was almost 5 months old and cried all day long, nothing soothed her, she searched for the breast but as soon as I offered it she would arch her back and scream like she was being murdered. The only time she would latch on a feed was when she was asleep. So I spent my days walking the floor trying to settle and soothe her, all. day. long. Until eventually she would pass out on my shoulder, then I would sit down and bring her to my breast and she would feed in her sleep. During this time my mum had phoned Le Leche League as the local support from professionals was pretty useless I’m sorry to say. They told her that I was already doing everything they would suggest instinctively and that I should know what a wonderful job I was doing, so many would have given up by now and that when I felt ready they hoped I would join their team when the time was right and our struggles were behind us. I’d tried expressing and bottle feeding but everything I tried either made her gag or scream. So I continued doing my best, busting a gut for my baby, advocating for her needs, following my instincts, but slowly losing the will and becoming an exhausted and depressive mess with a baby that screamed the moment she woke up, to the moment she fell asleep, while I walked the floor, back and forth, over and over, for 6 long weeks. She was losing weight and I just didn’t know what more I could do, there was no more that I could do, I had tried everything, I once heard a saying 'sometimes we cannot fix our baby crying, but it is our job to never let them cry alone' and that’s what I did, in fact in her 2 years of life she has never, ever cried alone. As a mother our primal instinct is to keep our baby warm, safe and fed and when any of those things are put into jeopardy we cannot help but feel extreme anxiety and upset. I felt such a mess inside and out.
It had to be her Craniosynostosis, causing pressure and tightness. I just knew it. That’s when my mum suggested I take her to craniosacral therapy, she was very confident in the therapist she saw for herself and I had tried everything else – why not try that, I was willing to try absolutely anything since I was at my wits end! However I was worried about the cost as we had very little money and I knew these things don’t come cheap. So my mum said she would discuss it with her cranial therapist at her next appointment and see what she thought. Mum got back to me, very enthusiastic after her chat – the therapist said she ABSOLUTELY thought she could help and even said she would treat us for free!! I was shocked and felt like it was an answer to prayer. So we went and she explained how it all worked, which I'm going to try and do for you now – as best as I can: Dee Kassing, IBCLC has written an article describing ways physical therapy from an experienced practitioner might help with sucking issues. She explains that if the 22 bones in the baby’s skull are not perfectly in line (often associated with forceps or ventouse delivery), this can affect the way the tongue and facial muscles work which in turn may irritate the nerves in the face. All these factors can affect suckling, swallowing and breathing. EXCERPT FROM Breastfeeding and Craniosacral Therapy: When It Can Help, Dee Kassing BS, MLS, IBCLC, 2014: 'If there is misalignment and imbalance of the skull bones, this can affect the function of the palate, tongue, and other structures of the head. This can cause the palate to be too high or uneven, or the facial muscles to be too tight. Imbalance of the structures of the head, as well as trauma from the birth process itself, can cause constant irritation to the nervous system. This constant irritation may also cause hypersensitivity, which can sometimes be the underlying cause for babies who gag and cannot accept anything in the centre or back of the mouth.' So it all then made sense to me, Zoey's skull was out of align from her Craniosynostosis, causing pressure and irritation in the nerves in her face and her nervous system. Not only that, she had a traumatic birth, which we now know was because her head couldn’t squeeze through my birth canal effectively as it was fused together, plus she had the ventouse suction cup stuck on her head about 3 times and each time it came away and failed, then she was pulled out with forceps. It was no wonder she was struggling so much! I just hoped and prayed it would give her at least some release, however I was still sceptical and thought she may not get better until after surgery.
Craniosacral therapy is a very light touch way of working with the body, it supports your body’s innate ability to balance, restore and heal itself as well as reduce stress. So light touch that at first I didn't even realise she was doing anything, I just thought she was feeling over Zoey for things out of alignment and balance. She did a lot of work in her mouth, and she found that Zoey had actually lost her sucking reflex, the sucking reflex is what all babies are born with – as soon as something is placed in their mouth, (a nipple, dummy, bottle, finger) they automatically suck. However, Zoey was not, her palate was “ridgid” she said. Babies should have a hard bit at the front of their palate (roof of their mouth) and a softer part towards the back, this is where the nipple should be drawn to with a good and effective latch which should result in painless and effective feeding at the breast. But Zoey's was completely hard and she could not draw into the back of her mouth, hence why getting her to latch and feed well had become so difficult – for us both! As she worked she was telling me she was getting good releases and her palate had softened. She was so kind and gentle and did everything in Zoey's time and went with her lead, as she was working in her mouth a could see how Zoey wasn’t sucking and then all of a sudden she began to suck on her finger when she told me she had released which was amazing. She also did some light touch work around her head and you could see her little body actually relaxing. I was trying not to get my hopes up but inside I was feeling myself relax as I could see her working. Once she told me she was finished Zoey was looking for a feed and so I went and sat down while my mum went in next for a session. And she went on the breast nicely, didn’t fight it, and I could feel an immediate difference! It sounds unbelievable and I could hardly believe it myself, after about 30 minutes of cranial sacral work, surely it couldn’t have made such a difference, but it had, I felt SO much more comfortable with her on my breast and she felt so much more relaxed and fed nicely! She then fell asleep in the car, she seemed so calm and peaceful I was in genuine amazement. I was waiting for her to turn fussy again and refuse the breast, but no the effects lasted! She continued to feed well, was so much more settled, it was honestly like a miracle had happened and she was a different baby!! She would search for the breast and go on without a fight, her latch wasn’t perfect but it was better, she would happily feed and drift peacefully into sleep, and I absolutely loved it! Obviously she still had Craniosynostosis, I knew she still needed her surgery but I couldn’t believe what a difference the cranial therapy had made!
Then a few weeks went by and she started getting fussy again and so I took her back for more therapy, and she found she had become tight again. She said that will happen as the head is fused that it will keep drawing the tightness back, and also during growth spurts if the body has weaknesses like Zoey had it can cause tightness as the nerves and nervous system struggles to catch up at such a fast growing rate. Which made a lot of sense since babies do grow at such a fast rate and her fussy periods were in line with the wonder weeks app I had on my phone which explained about each developmental leap and growth spurt! We then saw this pattern of settled behaviour and feeding after therapy sessions but after about 2/3 weeks she would become fussy again and so we would take her back and each time we saw such a huge difference in Zoey. We continued to do this until her surgery date came, 28th Dec 2017.
We experienced the worst time of our life, the first night in hospital before her surgery breaks my heart to think about, when she had to fast. It was so hard since I had always fed on demand day and night I knew she would wake multiple times looking to breastfeed but past 2am she wasn’t allowed to feed. I hardly slept offering my breast each time she stirred in the hours before 2am, then 2am came and I woke her to feed to make sure she had one good, last feed. Worst case, it could have been our last ever feed, I tried not to let myself think like that but I was so, so scared of losing her in that operating theatre, I felt so very broken inside. I stared at her little sleepy face, her relaxed body curled up to mine and her long eye lashes and I wished that we could wake up from this living nightmare! Then the rest of the night my husband and I took it in turns cuddling her, walking the floor with her or even just playing with her and talking to her each time she woke. Eventually she got upset and we rocked her in her pram which worked until the morning and we just kept her as distracted as we could, she amazed me, still smiling away even though she looked very washed out. It was so painful for me not being able to just pick her up and feed her like I always did, it went against every natural instinct in my body.
Then the time came that I had to let her go and I can’t say much about that because no words can describe how dreadful that was. She was away from me for 10 long hours. I expressed every few hours in the hospital pumping room and I hated it, my milk, Zoey's milk, flowed into these bottles while my tears flowed down my cheeks. I shouldn’t have been there being milked like a cow, into these empty plastic bottles, I should have my daughter, safe, healthy, happy in my arms taking her milk for herself. I’ve never felt so completely broken as I felt in those hours that she was away from me! After the surgery she was in NICU overnight and it was the only time she had ever accepted a bottle, I was so glad she had my milk for her to have some familiarity in such an awful, traumatic and confusing time for her. I wasn’t with her when she had the bottle but the nurse said she absolutely gulped it down, which made me happy and pained all at the same time.
The next day we got back on the ward and I was told that I could go back to feeding her ‘as normal' as and when she wanted it. I was so incredibly scared, she had this huge wound, a drain coming out her had, canulas and wires coming out all over the place and I didn’t know how to lift her and hold her without causing her pain. Well, really there was no way to lift her without causing pain but we just had to do our best, I got a nurse to help me the first time, they supported her body while I lifted her and got her into position, her little face and groans of pain still stab me in the heart, brings tears to my eyes and lump to my throat like it was just yesterday. There’s not much worse than seeing your baby suffer and when you try to pick them up to comfort them make it worse! But we managed and when she latched on I gave a huge sigh of relief and cried my eyes out, I knew we had a long way to go yet with recovery but I felt like we were complete again. She was back in her happy place, guzzling away while looking up at me, she had no idea what was going on, why she was here, why she was sore but she knew I was there with her making her feel safe.
The first time I saw her smile after her surgery was when she was having a nice feed, once we had managed to get comfortable, and she came off and looked at me and tried to smile through her swelling face. That smile was the 2nd most precious smile I've ever seen after her first ever smile at 3 weeks.
She took feeds little and often during her stay in hospital, she was quite sick with the medication but usually managed to keep breastmilk down. However it must have been uncomfortable for her to feed as she wouldn’t relax and fall asleep like she did before surgery, she only slept in her pram being rocked. A week later we were sent home and that was the first time she managed to drift off to sleep while feeding, such a joyful, sweet and peaceful moment I captured on camera and it’s one of my favourite photos to this day.
I wondered how she would go as she recovered and if we would see big differences in her behaviour and feeding, I felt really good about the surgery and how successful it had been but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up thinking all our feeding problems were over. As it turned out I had every reason to hope because she continued to feed nicely and we loved all the times we snuggled up on the sofa together and she would fall asleep while I watched Netflix. Surgery mad such a huge difference to her, you could visibly see the pressure was gone, she was less uptight, happier and more alert in her behaviour and slept SLIGHTLY better, I say slightly because she has never slept well ha!
She bounced back from such a traumatic ordeal, I can’t say I bounced back as quickly with my emotional and mental scars but our quiet times cuddled up nursing really helped my anxiety levels. I was and still am beyond thankful that we had got through such a tough time with feeding issues and major surgery. It felt like the day it was all over would never come, but we had made it to the other side and the relief was immense! I felt like no matter what we faced from now on, nothing could be as bad as those early days and that week in hospital. We managed to get some sort of normality back to life, no more fear of people coming over or going out places with a baby that wanted fed all the time but screamed when you tried while everyone could see your exposed breast and leaking milk. I could feed confidently and felt more secure in my mothering choices than ever before.
Soon a whole year of breastfeeding came around and it was crazy to look back on our year of ups and downs, how hard feeding was in those first 6 months. That there was a time I thought she hated breastfeeding and I would only persevere for a year while it was necessary. I had come to realise of course she didn’t hate breastfeeding, no baby does, but she found it so hard to feed, she was frustrated and uncomfortable, she knew no other way to express herself and she couldn’t understand why it was so hard to do what her body should have been able to do instinctively. During that time she knew that my breast was where she could find comfort and nourishment, we just had to work hard at finding how to get the relationship to work. I knew then that breastfeeding to 1 year wasn’t a necessity, it didn’t just stop there, over that year it becomes a huge part of your life and relationship, in a world full of changes and developments at rapid speed, breastfeeding is something that stays the same and provides that feeling of home, comfort and security. I was so happy we had made it to my goal, yet even happier that we had managed to get there through so much joy and love and we could continue to do so as long as we wanted to. I just loved our breastfeeding relationship, I feel like the struggles we had made me appreciate it so much more, how far we had come and how much she now loved snuggling up and gulping away at the milk made uniquely for her!
Breastfeeding can be hard even when all is going as it should, feelings of being touched out, with no personal space or time to yourself, the intensity of being the one to always meet your babies needs, especially at night. And I’m not immune to those feelings but at those times it helps me to reflect on how far we have come and how strong we had to fight to get our breastfeeding journey.
At times I have taken Zoey back to cranial therapy since her surgery to try and help with sleep and digestive problems. But she’s never needed it for feeding again. I thought all our feeding struggles were over and it was just a beautiful part of our life that would eventually, slowly and naturally come to an end. However there was still one thing that proved to be problematic in our breastfeeding journey – teething with molars. Around the time she had molars erupting she would become very fussy again, pulling on and off, and biting!
She got her first teeth at 4 months and it felt like the rest pretty much came in one after the other, which was fine until her molars started coming in and that’s whan the biting started. Ouch! Around 16 months we had our first nursing strike since before her surgery, so a whole year later and it took me by such a huge surprise. However it only lasted a day or so and she would sometimes strike after biting me or if a tooth was coming through, I knew what it was and knew each time it passed fairly quickly so never worried too much. However February of this year we went away to London with family and I found feeding her while we were out and about a nightmare, still feeding frequently at 20 months but that was fine by me, however each time she asked to feed she would just bite and I thought maybe she was doing it because she was uncomfortable and frustrated outside her comfort zone but when we got home she continued to do it which set off a series of nursing strikes. Even though I knew by this point the best way to handle Zoey biting was to remain totally calm and hardly even acknowledged she had done it (it was hard not to wince though) as soon as she bit me that was it she would refuse to feed anymore, yet she was inconsolable without her beloved “boobies” and would just sit on my knee crying not knowing what she wanted or how to be comforted. This went on and off for a few weeks and I was dying for her teeth to break through but being the very last 2 they took their sweet time! One was through and I hoped that the next one would be less of a problem since we had already found ways to help the biting that induced the strikes. But the very last one was the very worst one. She went from one day boobing as perfectly as could be, feeling like that was the easiest part of our day to completely refusing to feed when awake. I knew it was the next tooth and hoped it would pass fairly quickly but no, it was 3 long weeks of a complete strike. It was awful, she would fight and fight and fight sleep because the only way she was used to being comforted to sleep was by nursing. If she hurt herself or was having a melt down she would ask for boobie and then arch away and cry and be completely distraught. She never stopped or slowed down through the day and was getting so worked up but wouldn’t accept cuddles to sooth her and help her calm. I never got to sit down and relax. Basically our peace was gone. Until she fell asleep at night and she would feed in her sleep when she stirred in the night.
I felt completely not ready for it to be the end, I loved feeding her and I knew how much she loved feeding but it got to the point where it felt like we weren’t going to come back from this strike, the refusal was painful for me, I couldn’t help feeling rejected. I pumped when I could to try and keep up my supply in case she wanted to come back to it but I found it hard to express any milk and she also was afraid of the noise of the pump, so I just hand expressed as much as I could. I did it in front of her so she knew the milk was there for her and she found it fascinating to watch and would dip her finger in the milk, rub it on her lips and say “mmmm yummy”, I just longed for her to come back to her “lovely boobies” that offered her so much comfort and nourishment and peace to help her sleep. I researched all over the internet to find experiences of others who might have gone through the same with very little reassurance, many were either younger or it had ended their journey. I was feeling very deflated and even a little depressed which made me feel a bit silly, but I just felt like we had fought so hard for it just to end this way, suddenly and unhappily. If she was happy I would be able to come to terms with it even if it was sudden but it was awful seeing her so unhappy without it. I spent a weekend with my mum and even she was reduced to tears seeing unhappy we were, how she would ask for boobie but refuse to latch on, overtired and grumpy without knowing how to settle and switch off. I really thought we might have to give it up, but I decided to continue allowing her to feed in her sleep at night until she was 2 years old so I had technically reached my goal and then I would night wean her. Then one night I found an experience of a mum who back in the 90s experienced a 40 day nursing strike with her son around Zoey’s age! He had knocked one of his teeth out and exposed a nerve which was incredibly painful for him, poor little thing, but eating and nursing became incredibly painful and so he went on a strike for 40 days. She tried absolutely everything to get him back to the breast and he wasn’t even feeding at night. This gave me a little bit of hope that even though so much time went past for them and he must have been so scared of nursing causing pain that he did eventually go back to feeding just like nothing had happened, that just maybe we could too! So I continued persevering but not forcing the issue and really worked on letting go of my anxiety and upset around it, I accepted that she may never come back to it but allowed myself a little bit of hope that she might. Then one morning instead of pulling away as soon as she woke up she stayed and nursed for a few minutes, she continued doing that for a day or so and then she even came back into bed after getting breakfast with daddy one morning and came back to the nursing! I didn’t react but felt it was a HUGE step forward. Then a few nights later while I was rocking her to sleep she searched for the breast – fully awake and latched on and fed to sleep! I wanted to run around the streets shouting about how happy I was about this! (I didn’t don’t worry) and from then on she slowly came back to it and after a week or so of persevering with comfortable positioning and latching that was it! She was back to feeding like nothing had ever happened, actually she’s pretty obsessed with them so maybe she’s making up for lost time! But that’s it, she’s got all her teeth so hopefully no more problems there and we can do what I always wanted to do – natural term breastfeeding with child led weaning.
We’ve made it to 2 years as the WHO recommends, our time snuggled up feeding to sleep is my most precious and peaceful time of day and it’s like having a super power that helps her to relax and be comforted almost instantly in most situations. I’m in awe of how well breastmilk and the relationship of breastfeeding and the mother and child bond has been created and more grateful than words can express that I have been able to experience it! The time we have left of this phase in our journey is so precious to me, one day I know it will be over, one feed will be our last and most likely I won’t know it’s our last so I try and savour every moment. But hopefully the end isn’t too near in the future for us now! They only get older one day at a time, But it’s crazy how fast that time goes. I’m proud, thankful and motivated from my past, appreciative and content with the present and as for the future – I shall continue to offer love and be guided by her, when she’s ready to stop, that’s when we will stop.