I have been writing this blog post for as long as I have been feeding Amelia. A whole 7 months my body has fed her and at the end of our journey I have found myself still adding or tweaking little bits of this post. I was thinking about why this was the other day and I truely believe it has taken till now to post because I am still on that journey; still learning about breastfeeding. So here it is, its raw (and probably the most honest and poorly written post), but it’s my journey.
Breastfeeding didn’t come naturally to me and I saw it as purely functional. I find breastfeeding itself to be a very natural and beautiful thing so when I started and didn’t feel that way I felt this pang of guilt. For a long time I felt ashamed that I felt this way and ashamed that I didn’t love it as much as friends or family, or even some of my insta family. But do you know what? I am not ashamed about feeling that way anymore. It gave my daughter exactly what she needed to grow. Every centimetre she has grown, every oz she puts on and every fat roll she has developed is because of me and my body. That is such an empowering feeling.
Amelia turned 7 months old a couple of weeks ago and we shared our last feed together before moving her over to Dairy Free Formula. I felt ashamed to be ending my journey while she is still so young but it was right for her and right for me. I have always been at the stand point that “fed is best” and I am so proud that I beat my original target of 6 months.
Before Amelia was born I had decided that I wanted to try and breastfeed. I had seen lots of friends and family feed their children and had also done some research around the benefits of breastfeeding and decided I wanted to give it a go. I also was of the opinion that if for what ever reason feeding didn’t work out formula would be just fine. When writing my labour plan I included in my preferences for feeding; I wanted to breastfeed exclusively if possible and as soon as possible after the birth.
When Amelia was born she was immediately routing for a feed so we had our first feed within an hour of her birth. Feeding at the beginning seem to be so natural and I passed all the feeding checks before being let home. Amelia was so tiny and her head felt like a little pea next to my rather large swollen boobs. This natural comfortable feeling disappeared when my milk came in.
Suffering with damage to my nipples, poor latch, suspected tongue tie, and Reflux meant that our breastfeediing journey was off to a rocky start. No one seems to tell you that when you start feeding it will really hurt. Well I am not going to sugar coat it, it hurts at the beginning. You both are learning how to feed and that is a challenge in itself let alone being a massively sleep deprived, first time mum who’s milk has just come in with hormones going crazy; HOWEVER it does get easier. I wish someone had been honest with me about how much it would hurt in those first couple of weeks so that I didn’t feel like such a failure. I remember sitting not wanting to feed Amelia as the pain was just too much in the beginning, and then feeling so much guilt that I felt that way about feeding my daughter. So if you are reading this and you are just about to start your breastfeeding journey or you are in those first couple of weeks where its painful I promise it does get better, and even now through the different challenges we faced I can hand on heart say that it was worth every toe curling painful moment at the beginning. Hold on mama!
At around 8 weeks old Amelia was diagnosed with a Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) alongside suspected Reflux. The health visitor had suspected Reflux from birth but this was not properly diagnosed until we saw a pediatrician when Amelia was around 8 weeks old. Our GP had prescribed us Gaviscon to try to settle Amelia’s reflux but this was very hard to administer when breastfeeding. We had also tried other suggestions to aid Amelia with her reflux like raising up her cot to an angle and keeping her upright for 30 minutes after a feed but none made any improvements. After my first appointment with the paediatrician she confirmed that Amelia was suffering with Reflux and prescribed Ranitidine instead of Gaviscon. Instead of stopping mid feed to give her Gavison mixed with water which just resulted in her having a meltdown I now simply had to give her this medicine three times a day. We saw dramatic improvement in Amelia after the first couple of days; she stopped arching her back in pain and the volume of sickness reduced to normal posseting after feeds. It was also in this first appointment with the Paediatrician where she diagnosed Amelia with a Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy.
CMPA is where the body’s immune system reacts abnormally to cow’s milk proteins and sees them as harmful to the body which causes an allergic reaction. As I was breastfeeding Amelia I had two choices: 1. Stop feeding and move her onto a dairy free formula or, 2. cut dairy out of my diet. Now I could have decided to end my feeding journey there and then but I had given myself a goal of 6 months and I felt determined to get there so I chose the latter option. So there and then I cut dairy out of my diet – no milk in my tea and no more of my beloved chocolate. It took 6 weeks to fully remove dairy from my system and this was difficult to watch as my milk was still causing Amelia discomfort. After two weeks of being dairy free I noticed a difference in Amelia. I was told to challenge her milk allergy after the 6 week period to confirm the diagnosis and see if she reacted to dairy being ingested. I treated myself to a yoghurt and some chocolate. For the next 2 days after this Amelia was writhing in pain, refusing to eat and vomiting a lot; all symptoms of she displayed before I went dairy free. There and then we had our diagnosis; Reflux and a Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy.
I am not going to sugar coat it I found it difficult to begin with but do you know what, overall I have found it easier than I initially thought. I thought I would really struggle over Christmas not being able to tuck into the Christmas chocolates but honestly to know that it wasn’t causing Amelia any pain made it so much easier. Seeing Amelia in pain was enough of a deterrent for me. I didn’t realise until I had to go dairy free how much milk is in; especially things you wouldn’t even think would have it in! Bread, sweets, crisps, sauces, biscuits and cereal; all contained milk in some format. It was challenging to find things that I could and couldn’t eat, especially when out for dinner or going over to a friends or family member for food. I found bringing my own food as the safest and easiest option, and with such a range of alternatives within supermarkets this was not too much effort. Majority of restaurants now offer a free from menu or list the ingredients for each dish so eating out actually wasn’t too bad; although I definitely would say that being Dairy and Gluten free did mean my options were slightly limited. The only thing I really missed was a proper cup of tea. Now as a tea lover I tried every milk alternative on the market but none really hit the spot for me. I settled for Oatly Barista which was the closest to a nice cup of tea but most days I would be dreaming of a good cuppa.
(Keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of weeks for my best dairy free swaps and restaurant suggestions!)
After a tricky first couple of months I thought we had finally cracked it but around 5 months Amelia went on a nursing strike. It lasted just under two weeks and during this time I kept offering her the breast alongside some expressed breast milk. Sometimes she would take the breast, other times she would only take the bottle and then other times she wouldn’t want any at all. I found this very challenging as Amelia was so small already, teetering on the 0.4th percentile line so just couldn’t afford to lose any more weight. My advice for a nursing strike is to just keep offering the boob if you are feeding or bottle if your baby is bottle fed. After reading tons of articles or blogs about a nursing strike its all about perseverance. Your little one will eventually come back to feeding as normal but you kinda just have to ride it out. I also visited my local breastfeeding clinic who helped me adjust my position and Amelia’s latch. I just hadn’t thought that as she grew, so would the way we feed together.
After the allergy had been confirmed we had been referred to see a Dietitian. Amelia was diagnosed with CMPA at 12 weeks, and we have finally been given an appointment where she will be 34 weeks old. I am feeling a bit unsure about what is going to happen with this appointment but very much looking for advice and guidance on weaning Amelia onto solids properly and ensuring she has the right amount of Calcium in her diet.
Steve and I took the decision to move to Combi-feeding Amelia at 27 weeks old with one bottle of formula a day, gradually increasing this and fully weaned off breastfeeding by 30 weeks. On Amelia’s 7 month birthday we shared out last feed and I felt very different than I thought I would. With all my personal challenges with breastfeeding, and the challenges feeding in public can bring I always thought I would be happy to stop feeding her. But as our journey drew to a close I treasured the real beauty of feeding. The intimacy, the private time for just me and her, the little things she did while she fed; all started to be things I loved.
At the end of my breastfeeding journey I can safely say that I am so glad that I fed Amelia. Even through the toe curling moments at the beginning, the awkward comments when feeding in public and having to go dairy free was all worth it. i know I have helped to give her the best start in life and I am so grateful for all the support available to me via the NHS, Facebook, friends and family. I owe my breastfeeding journey to my very good friend Katie and wouldn’t have survived my dairy free journey without her and the several CMPA support groups on Facebook.
If you are still with me, thank you so much for reading! 🙂
For more information on Cow’s Milk Protein allergy and other all allergies please click here