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.

Pace

So far I’ve loved the slow, dreamy pace of motherhood. I’ve spent hours lying on the sofa feeding Jenson, forgot about housework and done very little with my time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written about my experience as a new mum, gone out to lots of groups and met up with loads of people. So I haven’t done nothing with my time. But I’ve been a ‘human being’ instead of acting out my usual ‘human doing’ rush, rush, rush. And it has started to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Yesterday Gregg was off work and I had written a list of things that I wanted to accomplish during the day. Not big things but some things that I was looking forward to getting done.

  • Batch cooking some pasta sauce to have the rest of the week
  • Going to the GP
  • Sorting out my wardrobe and putting away my maternity clothes
  • Uploading shoes and other items I no longer wear onto Facebook marketplace
  • Doing my ‘break up with your phone’ activity of the day
  • Putting some photo frames up in the bedroom

These were things that would have taken me a few hours to accomplish in the past but I would have stretched them out over several hours, enjoying the feeling of de-cluttering and streamlining my life. I would have perhaps extended my cooking to include baking some cookies or cakes and then I maybe would have also used my busy energy to give our bathroom a well-needed clean or left the house to sit in a cafe for a few hours, writing a blog post or a letter to a friend.

But that was not my experience yesterday. I managed to accomplish some of the essential tasks – cooked the pasta sauce (a task left over from the day before), spent 45 minutes frantically clearing out my wardrobe and put a few of my shoes on Facebook to sell. But it was punctured by Gregg bringing me Jenson for a feed or taking him outside for a walk so Gregg could do some of the jobs he’d set his mind to in the day.

It felt so frustrating to be going at this slower pace. To not be able to get things done and instead just surrender to being with my boy.

I feel so horrible saying this – like a really undeserving mum – because it’s a beautiful thing to spend time with Jenson. To witness him feeding, sleepy and content or looking at the world with wide eyes.

But it’s also frustrating to have my wings clipped and to find myself unable to do all those small things that would have taken up a mere fraction of the day in times gone by.

And I’m also finding the ‘break up with your phone’ book hard to put into action. Because the premise of the book is to do something else with the time you would have spent on your phone. But activities I’m able to think of that are possible with a little 7 weeker in tow (especially one who wants to do nothing more than feed and sleep on me!) are near impossible.

So I suppose today I’m having a bit of a moment of feeling a bit down. Looking back on the ease of my pre-mum life and wishing I could be back there for just one day. And I’m also becoming aware that parenthood is going to teach me so much about just being – something which feels so uncomfortable for me when I’m used to rushing around and accomplishing so much.

I think this is one of the biggest lessons in my life – letting go of doing and allowing myself to just be. Relaxing into this moment, whatever it brings. Learning to adapt and let go of what I want in order to enjoy what is.

I know it’s good for me but I also know that it’s hard for me. So I will have hard days, and that’s ok. It’s all part of the experience of being a new parent and finding my feet in this new reality.

His best interest

I’m just leaving Derbyshire after a long weekend of family celebrations and time with friends. If I’m honest, I was a bit apprehensive about the time up here before we came because it was my first big trip away from home with our son and it was quite a busy time with lots of plans in the diary.

We would being seeing people who would be so excited to see my little newborn son that they would want to hold and cuddle and cherish him. It’s normal for them to want to do this and, as a baby, it’s normal for Jenson to sometimes be happy to get their attention and to sometimes be in a bit of a cranky mood and just want to be left alone or to be nestled close to me or his dad.

I think of myself as a kind person – generally happy to oblige others and go with the flow. But when it comes to my son, it isn’t a case of obliging others and making exceptions. I have to act in his best interests. And this makes for a different dynamic, one that I was slightly apprehensive about:

  • Saying ‘you can’t hold him at the moment‘ to those who I usually would make exceptions for and sitting with the discomfort of having disappointed them
  • Leaving dinner halfway through with friends to comfort a cantankerous baby
  • Turning down offers of help to rock a crying baby because I’m trying to learn Jenson’s language to respond to what he needs when he’s upset (different temperature, nappy change, food, time alone, cuddles, being played with…)

And with the slight apprehension I felt, I also wanted to be able to cuddle him and hold him close if I wanted to without feeling obliged to always pass him around to other people when he was in a good mood.

It felt a bit rude sometimes and it felt a bit uncomfortable but I think that these feelings were a remnant from my people pleasing days. And my role as his mum isn’t to be polite and put the needs of others before Jenson, it’s to, as his mum, put him first.

I know there will come a time when I need to model sharing and generosity and kindness to him. But at 6 weeks old, this was not the time. This was the time to put him first and that’s exactly what I did.