So until about a week ago, my breastfeeding journey with George had been one failed latching attempt after another, exclusively pumping, and trying desperately to stop the formula supplements. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with formula, I don’t at all, he would have died without it, and any mother who chooses (or is forced) to feed her baby formula has my full support and respect. You have to do what’s right for you and your baby. We have one semi-successful attempt in the bath at about 10 weeks old (he didn’t scream!) but before he could try latching he got upset about being on his tummy, and I stopped. Honestly, I didn’t have the strength to try again.
Although I thought I had made my peace with the decision to bottle feed George and that expressed milk was just as good, I experienced a new kind of heartbreak when I started going to baby groups. Seeing other women breastfeeding. I had no idea how hard that would hit me. I would sit there with George’s bottle, feeling like a complete failure, like they all had this amazing bond with their babies that I would never experience. I was jealous beyond belief, and grieving deeply. I think I’ve cried more about this than anything else, ever, and I’ve had depression since I was about 8 years old. I felt that life wasn’t worth living, and I had completely failed as a mum. I still feel that whatever struggles other mums have had, nothing compares to not breastfeeding. In reality I know that’s not the case, and that mums who are breastfeeding have probably had so many struggles too. But when you’re feeling like this it’s very one-sided, unbalanced and all-consuming.
So I made the decision that George would be breastfed, but with expressed milk only. This was going well, and I was actually quite enjoying it. I love being able to see the milk I produce for my baby, and he loves it so much. It isn’t too much of a hassle, I can pump discreetly in the car, out and about, at friends’ houses, anywhere I feel comfortable.
A few weeks ago Katy and I were sitting outside playing on the grass with George one day, and I noticed he had started to root at my chest. He hadn’t done that since he was a tiny newborn, it used to frustrate me so much as he was clearly asking to be breastfed, but when I offered it to him, he would refuse.
I wondered how he would react if I offered him the breast. Katy suggested I try, but I felt a bit uncomfortable, as we were on the front lawn! She said I should try it anyway, after all if we were established in breastfeeding I would happily do it anywhere. Our house is on a slope anyway so the chances of anyone actually noticing what I was doing were small. I offered it to him, and to my surprise he didn’t cry! He didn’t latch, but he certainly looked interested. He became a little bit fractious after a minute or so, and I put it away and gave him a cuddle. I felt very pleased with our progress, and started to research the possibility of successfully re-latching a four month old. It seemed very possible, given the right techniques. Lots of skin to skin time, bathing together, co-sleeping (we can’t really do this as George is a noisy wriggler in bed!) and just lots of cuddles and play. No pressure for him, just letting him be around my breasts and find them himself if he wants to. I spoke to one of the leaders at La Leche League, and she advised the same.
So that’s what I did. Someone online advised she had done the same thing as her baby was traumatised by the breast, and she started by laying baby down on the floor and letting her nipple dangle near his mouth, whilst playing and singing, so that he started to associate breasts with fun. It worked and he latched eventually, and once they were both confident she then started trying other positions. I thought this would be perfect for George, so one day I laid him on the bed and knelt over him. I was totally surprised at his response. No screaming, no tears, no turning away. He didn’t seem particularly interested but he was happy to just be near it. When he started getting a bit frustrated I stopped and cuddled him. I tried again the next day which much the same response. The next day I had him laid on the bed as I got dressed and I noticed him looking at my breasts and licking his lips! He had obviously started associating them with food again. I knelt over him, squeezed a bit of milk out and he licked it off. The most progress we had seen yet! He continued doing this each time I tried, usually once or twice a day, although some days I was too busy, tired or stressed. As the days went on he started to open his mouth for it every now and then, although he would get quite frustrated. Then one day, after having a nice long bath together, I picked him up and walked around with him snuggled into my breast, singing and bouncing him. He had been quite fractious before I picked him up but this look of drowsiness and contentment came over him. He leaned over, and latched. Didn’t feed, just peacefully dozed off.