Not the perfect mum

I’ve had a lovely weekend. A good friend of mine took Jenson for a few hours and this allowed Gregg and I to have an afternoon to ourselves. Time to reconnect, which is so important. It used to be a given. We could go out on dates, spend time together late into the night (not worrying about a certain someone who might wake up at 5am), have impromptu weekends away and spend so much time together.

It was wonderful to have time together, but as a result, I don’t feel like I’ve spent loads of time with Jenson.

And I’ve got the guilts about it.

I don’t want to be the ‘perfect mum’ but I find myself judging my choice to make lunch for Gregg and I for the week instead of rushing to spend hours watching and playing with Jenson. I feel less than adequate because I asked Gregg to get into the bath with Jenson tonight so that I could have a few moments alone, not doing any tasks, to write this.

And as I’m reflecting on all this self-judgement, here’s what comes up for me:

  • I am someone who needs time alone to process and reflect and breathe. And that didn’t stop when Jenson came into this world. So it’s natural that sometimes I’m going to want some time alone.
  • We went to a birthday party today – our first of many baby parties – and it was lovely. But it involved a lot of small talk with people I don’t know and that tires me out. I’m reminded that needing extra time alone hasn’t been a need in isolation. It’s partly because of the surrounding circumstances, needing a bit of time to boost up my energy and resilience after spending 3 hours with lots of people I don’t know.
  • The ‘perfect mum’ doesn’t exist. She doesn’t have to deal with tiredness or full-time work. And so she’s not someone I want to judge myself against.
  • I don’t have to find each and every experience with Jenson fascinating. I love the boy – he is my world and I’d be adrift without him. But watching him play with a plastic ride-on toy is sometimes (ok, mostly) boring. I don’t have to be in rapture at everything he does and it’s ok if I’d rather watch a film or read a book instead sometimes.

Just getting all this out in the open is enough to shelves the guilt. It reinforces that I don’t want to be the perfect mum and reminds me that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t be her.

So I’m going to enjoy the remaining time of peace whilst Gregg and Jenson are in the bath together.

No judgement whatsoever.

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In a funk

I’m sat down, having just put Jenson down to sleep, and am reflecting on the intermittent funk that I was in yesterday. I had moments of joy – seeing a friend, going to a yoga class, time in a cafe by myself, time laughing about what Jenson was getting up to – but kept on falling back into a bit of a mood. An itchy, scratchy feeling that things weren’t quite right.

And, having reflected on it, I think I know why this was…because I haven’t let go of my old life.

I keep on thinking  about how I’d love to be able to sleep in until noon, spend all day marathoning films, go out to eat in the evening with friends, read a book in the bath for hours and hours…and on the list goes of what I’d love to do for just one day.

And while I would never wish to be without my gorgeous little one, who is one of the very the best things in my whole world, I’ve been keeping hold of what was and is no longer.

I don’t think this has been a problem up until now because prior to this stage Jenson was amiable and willing to tag along doing whatever I wanted to do. But with his new found crawling and his little personality coming through (he’s got my stubbornness!), he’s no longer content to be my little shadow. He wants to be centre stage.

But despite this, I’ve been trying to keep my life as it was. Going out to cafes where there’s nothing much for him to play with, wanting time to chat when I need to be occupying Jenson, wanting to come first when, for now at least, that’s not how things are.

In sharing this with you, it’s helping me to let go of what once was in order to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of what is. And there’s so much to appreciate – my healthy, radiant, cheeky little boy, my family of three who I love spending time with, the possibility of doing other stuff – autumnal walks, craft activities, coffees in soft play centres, dancing around the kitchen, dressing Jenson up in ridiculous outfits, trips to the swimming pool.

And I know that things will get easier. Jenson will become more independent and will need me less which will bring with it the possibility of hours to read by myself, trips out with friends, trips to the cinema, time to cook up a storm in the kitchen. But I’m sure that, when that day comes, I’ll also feel in a funk and will mourn the days when my little boy needed me so desperately.

So I’ll try to appreciate what I have, for I have so much to be grateful for.

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Sanding away

I’m going to be honest with you about how I felt this morning – I was bereft. I sat down outside on the cold concrete floor and wept as I mourned for myself and all that I’ve lost since becoming a mum.

As I write this a few hours later, I know that what I experience is first world problems. I’m not wanting for food, safety, shelter or water – my life is pretty sweet. But in that moment, life felt very bitter and I want to share my experience with you, dear friend.

I cried for not being able to sleep as I used to, for not feeling free to have a late night with friends in case Jenson wakes up to play in the middle of the night (as he has done twice since we’ve been on holiday), for not being free to drink and make merry without compromising my breastfeeding (a choice I’ve made but one which comes with a price), for not being able to have hours writing and reading and dreaming and planning in lovely coffee shops as I used to, for my body not being my own, for my time not being my own, for having to succumb to the wiley needs of a nearly nine month old who wails in consternation if he’s not able to get what he wants. Oh how he wails and how tedious it gets at times.

And for not having the energy to put on the ‘I’m fine, all is good!’ facade when my resources are nearly gone but I’m surrounded by people. A facade that allows me to push on when I’m tired, to be sociable when I need time alone, to push down my needs in order to seem easy and fun when I feel exhausted and drained.

And when I realised this last truth – that I’m not able to pretend to be anything other than I am – I was able to see how this experience of motherhood with Jenson is sanding away my rough edges. It’s holding me accountable for what I want to be, but struggle so much with.

Authentically me.

I want to be able to say ‘I’m exhausted, I’m going to bed‘ even when others are staying up. I want to feel free to curl up in a corner and read even when most around me are enjoying being sociable and chatting. I want to feel free to be nothing other than what I am.

But yet so often I soldier on, follow the crowd, join in even if it’s not what I want. There’s probably a mix of FOMO in there, but more often this behaviour is driven by the part of me that is like a little girl just wanting to be loved and accepted and feels that the only way for this to be the case is for me to be acceptable to other people by mirroring their wants and their desires instead of following my own.

The sad thing is that none of the people I count as friends put this pressure on me. It’s my own pressure I feel. I’m sure they’re glad when I do stay up late or go for walks with them etc., but their world doesn’t revolve around me stepping in line with them and they’re not bereft when I hold back and don’t join in with whatever group activities are going on. They love me for me.

And so while I may have partly cried this morning for the struggles I face as Jenson’s mum – lack of sleep, feeling stretched beyond my limits, being forced to find patience beyond that which I didn’t know I had – I’m also thankful that this experience with him is constantly reminding me what is important.

Finding my voice, accepting myself as I am, living life on my own terms.

And for that, my boy, I’m eternally grateful.

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What he’s teaching me…

My little peanut is almost eight months old. I can’t believe it! He’s nearly been out in the world for longer than he was inside me growing. At times these eight months have seemed like a life sentence (sorry Jenson, but it’s true!) with sleep deprivation, inexplicable crying and endless rounds of nursery rhymes and distraction techniques to soothe him. But at times I look back and think “how can he already be two thirds of his way through his first year?!”.

One thing is for sure – he’s my biggest teacher. One I didn’t know I needed and couldn’t have planned for when he made his appearance known to me.

I was lying in bed yesterday morning, looking at my sweet boy as he slept next to me and I thought of all the things he’s teaching me…and here are the three things that spring to mind most keenly.

Patience

Oh I’ve had to be patient so often with my little one in these first eight months. When he’s up at 5:30 on most days and I want to shout to the heavens “why will my baby not sleep past daybreak?!?”. When he’s crying and I can do nothing to settle him. When I’m feeling a bit under the weather but have to bring it for him. When I cook a lovely meal for him only to have it rejected. When he wanted to be held in my arms to sleep for the first six months of his life.

Patience, he’s teaching me to have a bucketful of patience.

I’m sure there will come a day when I snap at him, yell with frustration and scream to who-knows-what about what a difficult life it is to be a parent, but for now I feel like my little guy is teaching me slowly what it means to have patience. The importance of taking a deep breath, the ability to look at the bright side of things I’m finding challenging (never have my days been so long with the early starts!), the joy of having him which makes up for all the inconveniences of parenthood.

He’s teaching me to go with the flow and let go of every notion of control I had before.

Presence

I’ve always been a planner. I’m first in line (or maybe a high second place) to plan my sister’s wedding when she meets Mr Right. I know where I’d like to be in 3 years time. I’m always looking ahead.

Too much sometimes.

And I quickly discovered that my little boy is the medicinal tonic to my future focus. He calls me to stay firmly in the present with him. Especially when I’m on my phone – how he hates it when I’m glued to the screen!

He drags me firmly into the land of now as we explore the world around us. Time speeds past as we examine our reflections in a doorknob, splash around in the bath, laugh at games we play together. When we’re together, there’s no thoughts of work or relationships or anything other than being with him.

And it’s beautiful.

Sometimes it’s frustrating too (see above for the patience he’s building in me!) as I want to gallop away to plan future stuff. But for the most part, being called to be present with him is a reprieve from how I’ve learnt to (dis)function and it’s brought so much peace to my life.

Some people pay hundreds of pounds on a retreat and in yoga or meditation classes to learn how to stay present…but I’m learning it from my baby who seems to be a natural, my own little mindfulness guru.

A different path

Becoming a mum has shown me what is truly important in life – my family, having a job that stretches me, being able to travel and explore this world. But it has also thrown so much up in the air for me as I question how I can contribute more, how I can leave this world in a better state for my boy and those who are growing up with him.

I can’t just go to work and return to be with him. It’s not my path to just do my job and return home to pour everything into my son. I feel the call to contribute more.

The weight of responsibility of being his mum has made me discover the responsibility of being a citizen of the world and has started me questioning what this means to me. Whether it’s playing a part in reforming local government and politics, the medical system, the environment or the education system, I feel something developing. A path just out of sight beyond my vision that I know I’m going to tread at some point in the future.

He has shifted my priorities and shown me a new path I never thought possible.


So here’s to my boy as he’s on the cusp of eight months old. I can’t imagine my life without him.

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Six months

I’ve been a parent for six months…bloody hell! How did that happen and how did this time pass both at a snails pace and in the blink of an eye?!

From a sleeping, crying, mewling little baby to a little being looking more and more like a toddler with each passing day. It’s incredible to see how much he has changed and how much I’ve changed during this time.

He now stands (sometimes unaided when he’s holding onto something), sits with such core strength, grabs anything in his reach, beams for us, strangers and for the camera…and yet some things don’t change. He’s still as determined as ever to sleep curled next to me, to feed or be rocked to sleep.

And he’s still as spirited as the very first day when he screamed the hospital down. The loudest, most determined baby on the block.

What about me? My changes are less perceptible, more internal but life changing nevertheless. My ability to be patient has increased, I now know I am stronger than I could have ever believed (from pushing his 4 kilo heft out of me to surviving on little sleep and getting twice done what I would have before), I have less tolerance for bullshit and for getting involved in those silly games that people play in life (psychological ones, not things like buckaroo or uno 😜).

And I feel a new steeliness inside me. If I’m going to leave my little person in someone else’s care, it better be for a job I am passionate about – something that lights me up. Otherwise why would I leave my little one?

And my decisions have more weight than before. Staying binge free and dealing with what’s going on underneath the surface is not just for my own good but for him too. So he doesn’t take on the practices that have been so harmful to me in the past. Sure, he’ll have his own struggles, but as much as I’m able to, they won’t be passed on from me.

And I’ve found joy in the small things. Seeing him smile, making him laugh by singing silly songs, watching Gregg being a better father than I could have ever dreamt him becoming, seeing the love of our families for Jenson.

I’ve also learnt to reach out and ask for help, to maintain boundaries and say no. To ask for what I really want instead of just wishing people could read my mind.

All in six short months.

And I find myself asking what the next six months will bring for both myself and my little half-Birthday boy. Adding in work to the mix for me, him spending most of the time with his father who will be on shared parental leave…

What I do know is that it will go by in the blink of an eye and that I will share what is happening with you, dear friend.

Four months in

I’m sat here in the dead of night (my greatest blogging time since the arrival of my son!) thinking about parenthood. The four month sleep regression has hit my household with force, coupled with potential teething, and things are pretty tough.

Not a ‘I can’t cope’ tough but a ‘this is really unpleasant’ tough. I’m tired, it sucks being up in the night so much and am feeling slightly buffeted around from the tremendous highs of love that I feel for this little guy and the deep lows of feeling stretched beyond my means and super crabby from lack of sleep.

And here are some of my mid-night thoughts about it all…sorry if it comes across as ranty, but here it is!

You do what you can do

I spend a lot of time walking around with Jenson as that’s when he seems the happiest. Able to stare at the world and take it all in, he’s pretty content this way. I think that I’m setting myself up for years of having to be constantly on the go and already feel the pavement pounding in my knees. But as a good friend recently joked, he’s not going to be 16 and still need to be walked to sleep. You do what you can do to get through the current situation and that’s ok.

Parenting books are bullshit

Well, not all of them. I’ve read a lovely one that’s called ‘the kind sleeping book’ and is really helpful in thinking about sleep in general. But the ones I read before are irrelevant and unhelpful. They peg babies into generalised groups and is about as helpful as sweeping statements like “all men are bad at X” or “all HR professionals are ‘people’ people”. Nope, babies are individual and you need to treat them as such.

Intuition is key

How I parent is as individual as how I decide to dress or what beliefs I hold. As much as all babies are different, all parents are different. So there’s no manual that can tell you what to do. You just have to use your intuition.

For example, you’ll know if you read my blog about how Jenson has struggled to put on weight. He’s in the 9th percentile (9th lowest weight grouping based on all baby weight) but is as bright as a button, feeds lots and isn’t overly sleepy or lacking in energy. I’ve been worried by his weight but I know in my gut that he’s well. I know that he’s very vocal and if he was hungry would be constantly crying as he did at the start when he had a tongue tie and couldn’t feed enough.

So I’m learning that I need to trust my intuition because there’s so much in the world, so much contradictory information, that could cause me to worry if I don’t trust myself and follow my gut.

Sleep when you can

I can’t really sleep in the day because Jenson usually naps while I’m I’m on the go, walking somewhere around town. But with sleep becoming rarer and rarer in my life I’ve started to go to bed earlier. And when my bedtime creeps to 10:30 or later I invariably regret my decision to watch one more episode of whatever it is I’m devouring.

To get through the next few months, especially the return to work with a baby who is still co-sleeping, I’ll need to put my sleep first. Even if that means I do little other than just be.

Opinions aren’t facts

A friend of mine, as I was telling her about not feeling able to be physically affectionate to Gregg as much as I used to be, indicated that I should be putting more effort in with him.

And I should.

But I didn’t need to hear those words from her or feel judged during a really trying period of life. As my good friend Charlie said to me yesterday, it’s still so early on, I am allowed to feel ‘touched out’ after a day of carrying, cuddling and holding Jenson close to me in a sling.

This time will pass and we’ll get back to where we were in time. Yes, I should make more effort with Gregg, but I know he understands the pressure I’m feeling and it’s ok if I can’t be the perfect wife at this time in my life.

Selfishness is ok

I’ve dragged myself out of the house sometimes when I’ve felt I would have preferred a day snuggled up or when Jenson was napping. And when I’ve been around friends and family who have taken Jenson off my hands for a bit, I’ve been on edge, hoping they’re ok and coping with my little diva prince.

I also probably let people visit far too soon when Jenson was born. Time when I was trying to get my balance as a new mum and was still feeling vulnerable and unsteady and needed to just cocoon.

During these first few months, my one regret is that I haven’t been selfish enough. I haven’t said ‘no’ enough or put my needs and those of Jenson first.

It’s strange got me to think “I wish I had been more selfish” but is also really telling of how hard it is to be a new mum.

Even at 2am, one smile from Jenson makes the world right

Being a mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The simplest thing – play, feed, burp, change a nappy, sing to, kiss and cuddle, sleep, repeat – but also the hardest.

It’s all made worthwhile though when I see his cheeky grin at 5am, when I hear him coo or take a new step in the world.

I’m head over heels for him and no sleeplessness or challenging times can take that away from me.

Internalising

I’ve been on a path for a while to find acceptance with who I am. Acceptance of my body, acceptance of those parts of my personality that I often think are ‘too much‘ or ‘not enough’. Too sensitive, too emotional, too bossy, too strong-minded, not funny enough, not extroverted enough, not laid-back enough.

I have long periods of peace with who I am and have made great strides forward in gaining love and acceptance of myself – I know that my body does not define who I am inside, I’ve learnt to find beauty in my strong body instead of berating it for not being waif-like and I’ve also gained a great respect for my body after being pregnant and giving birth to my beautiful baby boy. It is so much more than flesh that should bend to my will – it is precious.

Yet I’ve noticed my mean girl voice come back into my head of late. Judging my body that has not and may never return to its pre-pregnancy form. And commenting on all the ways that I’m not enough and too much in each situation. Doubting that I’ll find acceptance from those I hold dear. Fearing they’ll find me lacking in some way.

I experience this mean girl voice as an uncomfortable niggle, like a bruise I can’t stop touching. Sometimes I can say “thank you for your thoughts but I don’t need to hear them” to my inner mean girl and other times her words stay in my head and make me feel paranoid and self-conscious, wondering if everyone else is bored by me or thinking how much I’ve let myself go.

Luckily I’m able to do the former a lot more than before but it’s still exhausting to deal with.

But when I ask myself what my mean girl is truly about, I know it is an internalisation of tiredness, of being overwhelmed by this new experience of being a mother, of things being too much in life, of feeling that I’ve lost myself to then find myself and then feel lost all over again.

There are people I know who deal with these feelings by externalising them – talking about it, crying or raging. But with me, I’ve always internalised what’s going on for me.

I don’t know why this is, although I do think a lot of pressure is put on girls to be happy and that being sad or angry or grumpy is seen as unacceptable.

Perhaps it’s not the ‘why’ that is important though. The key is what I do now that I’m aware of the internalisation. Because I know it’s not healthy for me.

Thank the mean girl

I could continue to fight this voice or I could treat her as what she is – a prompt that something is out of kilter in my life and needs addressing. So I could thank her and deal with the underlying issues. It’s exhausting to do this, especially as the mean girl voice raises its ugly self when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. But if I start to look at what is going on underneath, I think it can only get easier.

Put myself first

Over the past few weeks my husband has taken Jenson for a few hours to give me the space and time to do things for myself. And it has been what I’ve needed to reconnect to myself and feel back to my normal self. It’s what I’ve needed to keep my mean girl at bay. So I think I need to keep on having this time to keep my sanity. For me, it’s not a nicety, it’s a necessity.

I’ve also found myself being ‘rude’ over the past few weeks as I’ve prioritised my needs over other people. I already feel torn in so many ways since Jenson came on the scene and I can’t split myself anymore to accommodate other people. So I’ve turned people down, I’ve asked people to visit at a different time that suits me or said no altogether to seeing them, I’ve not gone along to things I didn’t want to. Because if it’s a choice between being seen as rude or going crazy, I’m going to opt for rudeness.

Share away

I have written before about how I find it hard to share what’s going on with me face-to-face. There are a few good friends who I feel safe sharing with – those who have earned my trust, are good at asking the right questions that open me up and have been as vulnerable with me as I am with them. And to be honest with you, I think it’s fine to be like this – to have a select few people who are trusted to hear my stories as I’m trusted to hear theirs. But I need to find time to connect with them around the time constraints of motherhood.

Externalise

I know that pushing down what I’m feeling is a one-way street to comfort eating and people pleasing. The two things I’m proud to have stepped away from for the most part. So to not push down my feelings, I need to find a way to externalise what’s going on for me in a healthy way. This blog is a huge part of that – sharing my experiences and expressing what I’m going through with you, dear friend. But I also think that there are other places where I can externalise my feelings. And I’m taking some steps to get there by arranging some coaching for myself to deal with the perfectionism which says ‘it’s not ok to not be ok’ and holds up an ideal of what I should be – funnier, easy-breezier, more extroverted.

I know that this is going to be a journey I take over the rest of my life – that of tuning into my intuition and learning to listen myself and what I need. It feels hard to be here, but it also feels honest and truthful and like things can only get better from this point onwards.

I am his. But I am also mine

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll have noticed that the subject of my posts has changed since I’ve had my baby boy. And that’s to be expected because, as a new mother, he is my world.

Since I’ve had him, I’ve realised that I am no longer my own. In fact, I’m coming around to the realisation that I will no longer come first. He comes first regarding how I spend my time, my money, my love and my energy and I know this will continue to be the case even as he grows and relies less on me. He’ll still come first.

I well and truly belong to Jenson. I am his.

But it doesn’t change the truth that I am also mine.

In fact, I have a tattoo on my right foot which says “I am mine”. A tattoo I had done after a bad relationship break-up where I realised that all too many decisions in my life were being made to please other people (in this case a boyfriend who told me I was too fat, my hair wasn’t pretty enough, my taste in clothes wasn’t right…) instead of following my internal compass and my own desires.

And while I love Jenson with a selfless love that I have never experienced in my life, it doesn’t change that I am still mine.

I still have needs, desires, hopes and a personality that is at its best when I have regular time alone to process, to think, to breathe, to exercise. And that’s ok.

So I’ve started to take a few hours for myself in the weekday evenings and to have a period of time by myself while my husband hangs out with our little monkey at the weekend.

And this time alone is so sweet. I can’t express just how marvellous and precious it is to me. It’s like oxygen to my soul.

A time to go for a run in the spring sunshine, a time to geek out revising my coaching training notes, a time to put music on and write this post to you in uninterrupted bliss.

And I’m reminded that it’s ok to be mine. It’s ok to need this space. It doesn’t make me less than a mother – it gives me the capacity to be a better mum. And I feel lucky that I’ve got a partner in life who supports me to have this space and time just as I support him to have his own space and time doing things that he loves.

But I want to look at my tattoo more often and remind myself of it’s new meaning – that I’m allowed to my own person and take time for myself, even as a mum to a new baby.

I belong 100% to Jenson but I also belong to myself. I am mine.

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The witching hour

I have to say, I was a bit smug about my son. Sure, he’s a baby who expresses what he wants and is fairly quick to protest if we don’t respond to him. But if we made sure he was fed, clean and loved, he was fine.

Until yesterday. When I got to experience what the witching hour really means. A time where, no matter what I did, Jenson was inconsolable. Crying louder and louder and unable to be comforted by song, feeding, rocking or any sort of soothing activity Gregg or I could think of.

It went on for about 30 minutes until he fell, exhausted, to sleep but it felt like 2 hours of endless crying. And tonight has brought about the same witchy madness, sending him over the edge and causing him to scream louder and louder with each passing minute.

Gregg took him for a walk, something that always manages to send him to sleep but I’m left a bit shellshocked at my inability to calm my son. I know it’s not my fault but it sort of feels that way.

I think it must be overstimulation, but what triggered the transformation from peaceful sleeping babe one moment to screaming wild-thing the next? Responding to him a second too late perhaps – he wanted to feed and I took a moment to try to attach a pump to express from the other breast? Or would he have just screamed, regardless?

I suppose I’m writing this for no real reason really. To get out my feeling of hopelessness. To not stew in my feelings of inadequacy and to remind myself that it’s not my fault.

Babies sometimes cry and it’s ok for me to find it tough.

It’s also ok for Gregg take Jenson for a walk to soothe him (although sat here I feel helpless and like I’ve done something wrong by not being the one to calm my son down).

Geez, parenthood.

The most beautiful, complicated, challenging, dizzying, joyful, destroying, uplifting experience I’ve ever known. Where I have to let go of control and go with just what is in this moment. Where I’m unable to steer the journey much of the time. Where I have to rely on the help and support of others more than I ever have done in my life.

It helps having this safe space to write down my thoughts and express what’s going on for me. To not keep all this stress, anxiety and worry inside myself. So thanks for being here for me, dear friend.

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My supply

So before I start getting into this properly, I want to put a big caveat on this post – I’m talking about breast milk and all the things I’ve done to increase my supply so if it’s not your thing, please feel free to stop here.

I also want to caveat that I don’t think that breastfeeding is the be all and end all. Some mums make their choice to bottle feed and if that’s your choice, good for you! I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed from the moment I got pregnant and have continued to want to do so despite being faced with some challenges. Especially because Jenson will rely on breastfeeding to have immunity from disease when we’re travelling in Cambodia and Vietnam in June. Yes, breastfeeding has some great benefits – supporting your baby to get over sickness quickly, the beauty of relaxing while your baby is slowly feeding, not having to faff with sterilisation, supporting your body to return to its pre-baby state. But it’s a personal choice and I support anyone to do what is best for them whether it’s the bottle or boob.

I’m hoping to write this to partly come to terms with what has been a really hard journey and also to put my experience out into the ether to hopefully help other new mums who want to persevere and keep on feeding their babies if things get tough.

And for a lot of people it does get tough. I think I heard that less than 10% of mums are breastfeeding when their babies are 3 months old. It is challenging – a skill you and your baby are having to co-learn when you’re at your most vulnerable and exhausted. And it takes the perfect cocktail of hormones for the milk let-down reflex to be triggered and for your baby to latch on properly.

I wasn’t told that it could get tough before I had Jenson but I wish I had been.

Why was it hard?

Breastfeeding didn’t get off to the best start for me. Jenson was tongue-tied (as I’ve shared before with you, dear friend) and while he was able to latch on, he didn’t feed effectively. This meant he was either feeding, sleeping or crying for the first three weeks and didn’t put on much weight. He didn’t drop into a danger zone but went from being in the top 75% of babies, weight-wise, to being in the bottom 9%.

And since he wasn’t latched on properly, my milk didn’t come in properly.

It wasn’t that the tongue-tie was undetected. It was picked up straight away but the protocol at the hospital where I had him was to not treat it unless it proved to be problematic. But the pity is that when it was apparent that this was the problem, the damage had already been done. To my milk supply and to Jenson’s weight which is only just starting to pick up 13 weeks into his life.

I don’t know for sure this was the problem. But I do know that it might have been the problem and I wish that I had spoken up more to the doctor who brushed off my concern and didn’t give me the option to treat it when I asked about the condition.

There were other issues at play too which impacted my milk supply – severe blood loss in labour, being treated with lots of IV fluid, anaemia, perhaps not resting enough when he was born…

So I don’t know why it was hard, all I know is that it was and has continued to be hard.

What I do

Since it became apparent that breastfeeding was an issue, I’ve done a number of things to increase my supply including:

Supplements

I take brewers yeast, blessed thistle, goat’s rue, fenugreek and marshmallow root supplements three times a day with food. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot, both in volume and in cost. I probably spend £30 a month in supplements but think I’d spend even more on formula if I was using it so I’ve come to terms with this.

Medication

I’ve been prescribed medication by the GP which is used to treat nausea/vomiting but has the side effect of increasing lactation. If you’re struggling, speak to your GP to see what help they can give you.

Food

I eat oats every day – porridge for breakfast and a flapjack whenever I can for a snack. I also sprinkle savoury meals with nutritional yeast which is meant to be good for milk supply.

I don’t drink alcohol (it can decrease milk production by 30% for the few hours following drinking alcohol) and have boosted my water intake as much as I can. I can’t wait to have a G&T but it’s not worth it at the moment for me.

Peppermint and sage can decrease milk so I also try to avoid these. Instead of peppermint tea, I have a new Mother’s tea that my friend bought me.

I’m also not trying to get back to my pre-baby body, although I personally feel pretty damn great in myself. The most important thing is to eat well so I’m having plenty of good fats, not skipping meals and have also started to eat locally sourced, free range eggs to get more easily absorbable omega fats. It was a hard choice to make with my veganism but I feel like this choice to re-introduce eggs is not at odds with my principle of being vegan to opt out of the large-scale and (often) damaging meat and dairy industry.

Skin-to-skin

I was told how powerful skin-to-skin is in increasing milk supply. Jenson doesn’t like snuggling close to my chest during the day as he’s a nosey little man who likes to look out to see what’s going on in the world. So instead we both sleep topless while co-sleeping to get the skin-to-skin benefit during the night.

Expressing

I have tried to express milk to increase my supply but find it a difficult experience. Having to make sure everything is sterile, finding time to sit alone to express and timing it with Jenson’s frequent feeds has proved difficult and I’ve not done this as much as I should. But I have done this where possible.

Seeking help

The best thing I’ve done is sought help from people. I’ve called the La Leche League hotline to get their invaluable help and advice. I’ve been to breastfeeding drop-in clinics. I’ve gone to my parents house to get some rest and a chance to express while they look after Jenson. I’ve spoken to my GP who has referred Jenson for further tests to make sure his slow weight gain isn’t the cause of an underlying health issue. I’ve stayed under the care of my health visitor to get support. I’ve asked friends for help and advice to support me.

I’m getting there

I’m happy to report that Jenson has started to put on weight at a more rapid pace. And I’ve taken steps to help myself feel more in control – I’ve written to the NHS trust to ask them to improve how they treat tongue-tie and have implemented the things above that fit into my life. So I’m not expressing as much as I could, but I’m keeping my sanity and hopefully making gains with lots of skin-to-skin and supplements.

It feels good to write all this to you and share my story a bit. It’s been a long road to get to where we are, but I’m glad I persevered and hope I can help people in the future.

I suppose the biggest advice is give you is that if you’re going through difficulty with breastfeeding, reach out. Get help. And know that things can get better.