One year ago today Toby went from being a breastfed baby to a bottle fed one. He was 3 days shy of 4 months old and it’s safe to say that those nearly 4 months hadn’t gone quite to plan for us.
Toby screamed day and night from the night he was born, a mere 10 hours old when it all started. An unsettled baby by all accounts, throwing silent reflux into the mix led to what felt like never ending screaming, back arching and feeding. I’ve written pieces about Toby’s silent reflux including a vlog which from the messages I’ve received has really helped other parents. I think at the time, however, I was in some denial about how difficult we were finding life with Toby and I glazed over things to a certain extent. I didn’t admit at the time that I cried every day, that I felt like a failure, that mine and Phil’s relationship was tested hard by Toby’s screaming – I look back at his newborn photos and cry that they almost all feature him crying and looking pained.
Breastfeeding took some time to get right and I had nipple shields for a while before seeking help from peer supporters and in the end the latch and feeding in itself was a completely natural process for us both. What wasn’t quite so normal was Toby being on and off for feeds constantly; 10-15 minutes on and up to 30 minutes off during the day and barely an hour between feeds at night. As the weeks turned into months my emotional wellbeing was under strain but I couldn’t accept that I’d need to stop breastfeeding because we’d worked hard to get that bit right and at times it felt like the only thing I was doing right.
One year ago today I went to Nottingham to meet up with my lovely friend Zena and Little Pudding who is about 6 weeks older than Toby and was also breastfed. Poor Zena was subjected to a very stressed and emotional mummy with an equally stressed baby who cried the whole time we were there and would barely feed for a few minutes before arching his back and screaming. When we parted, Toby and I went into the city centre to wander around and our day out ended in further misery when I went to change Toby in John Lewis and tried to fees him again. With well-meaning looks from other mums making me cry publicly, I locked Toby and I into the toilet cubical in the family room and accepted that it was over.
I was a mess, my baby clearly was in pain and my milk wasn’t helping him whilst at the same time being the only one able to have Toby for prolonged periods of time was pushing me to the very edge of sanity. Phil and my mum did whatever they could to help out but I needed to say goodbye to breastfeeding, to step back and figure out how to help my son.
I didn’t ‘quit’, I didn’t ‘give up’, there’s no giving up about it because continuing as we were would have meant giving up my emotional health and not being a strong enough mummy to Toby. Writing it all a year later, I’m crying again. Toby was never seriously ill, his life wasn’t in danger and for that I am eternally grateful. That said, we had month after month with a baby who cried day and night, I went to baby groups and left wanted to cry each time, we didn’t have a squidgy newborn for even a whole day – Toby was rigid, with an arched back and screaming for the vast majority of the time.
There is no wrong or right time to stop breastfeeding, it’s an individual decision that is up to individual parents to make. Phil supported me from the very beginning and when he could see what was happening to me, he wanted to do whatever he could to help. Some mums use bottles from day one, others breastfeed for one, two, three or more years but what they have in common is, like me, they want to do whatever is best of them and their babies, their families. I did not quit, I made myself stronger for my son, my husband and everyone else I love.