What daily life is like with a breastfed baby
There was no such thing as a typical day with a breastfed baby, especially in the beginning, and suggestions that there should be were not helpful for most women. From the women's stories it became obvious that things were always changing. They changed from hour to hour within the day and from day to day as their baby went through growth spurts*1 (see below) and fed more frequently, grew older and fed less frequently, began to take an interest in other foods, when the weather was very hot, or when the baby was ill.
Her fourteen week old son is hungrier for some feeds than others, feeds more frequently in the...
How do you know when he wants to be fed?
He sort, he sort, we've sort of got it down to like a, a communication, like a talk, he goes [makes baby noise] sort of thing [laughs]. We'll check his nappy and if it's not that then I know that it's, it's a feed that he's after, and he sort of latches straight on so. If I get, if I offer it to him and he's not hungry then just looks away and doesn't sort of make contact with my breast at all so, I know if he's hungry or not.
And can you describe a feed in close detail, what you're doing, how long, is he having both sides, that sort of thing?
It depends, how, how it depends on how he feeds, 'cause sometimes he does, and he's hungrier than others obviously. And if I latch, I latch him on to one side and if he takes, if he takes a while to sort of eat, excuse me, then he's probably just wanting a drink and it's probably not like a full, full feed that he's having, whereas if you've suckled on he go, he just goes for it when he's really hungry and it, you can feel yourself if you've got like a full breast you can feel it literally emptying. And then at the end he'll sort of latch on, latch on, latch on and he'll sort of come off and on, and coming off and on, and coming off and on and if he does that then I offer the other one because, he, he's obviously not getting enough out of the one I've got left. So if I do that then he latches straight onto the other until he's finished but he's, he does tend to latch off, if I offer him both he does tend to latch off quite soon onto the second. He doesn't sort stay there long.
So he comes off on his own?
Oh yeah he always.
When he's finished?
Yeah he always comes off on his own I never take him off. So, just literally however long he wants [laughs] to be there for, but he doesn't take that long now, to start with it was, it was taking sort twenty, twenty-five, sometimes thirty minutes but I think his suckle must have got better because it's probably ten, fifteen now but he seems to still empty me as well, so I think he's just, his sucks probably just got quicker [laughs]. Initially it was quite tiring obviously, but we've managed to get him into a little routine now where he goes to bed about eleven and he doesn't wake up till seven so [laughs] I can't complain at all. But on the evening he does feed every hour to an hour and a half, it's like he's bulking up before he goes to bed, and then the second he wakes up he gets his, he gets a feed and then after his bath he gets another feed. So he does tend to sort of build up, empty himself while he sleeps all night and then feeds again to fill up.
Her twelve month old baby is having solid food and wants to feed less often so she thinks that...
And I knew then that he was starting to say he didn't want that midday feed, or he didn't want the one after lunch, and you know sometimes we would have a bit a battle with me trying to get him on and he would go on and he would smile almost and then bite me, and I would think, 'Well that's very naughty, that it's not nice to bite mummy' but I knew then that he wasn't really wanting it, so we then sort of would drop one feed off. We've got to that stage now where he's on three a day, which some people would say, 'Well that's quite disappointing isn't it?' but he sometimes doesn't want his afternoon one, and seeing as that I will be returning to work, I feel I can now keep my breastfeeding going longer because if he only really wants to top and tail the day i.e. have one when he wakes in the morning and one before he goes to bed, I feel between us we will breastfeed longer, and that I don't have the pressure at work of finding a room to express. So the fact that I've stayed off with him longer rather than going back to work after six months and that he himself has decided that he just wants a breastfeed in the morning and night and he can take or leave it at lunchtime, I think will, we don't have a date now when we're going to stop breastfeeding. We just are breastfeeding, and even my husband asked me the other day he said, 'So, you know, do you think you're going to keep going with [son]?' and I'd said, 'Yes' he said, 'Do you think you'll keep going till we have another one? Because of course you could always keep feeding him and feed another baby' so all these things that we hadn't thought about, initially my goal had been, 'If I could get to three months, if I could get to three months, because of the pain, if I could just get to three months that would be great', then it would be, 'Well if I could just get to six months so that he starts weaning that would be great', and now it's just well there's not that pressure any more to think about if only, because we're doing it. Of course you get another load of problems now where you get people sort of saying, 'You're not still breastfeeding are you? Are you still breastfeeding him?' So you have other attitudes to deal with about being a longer breastfeeder.
Several women used the phrase 'go with the flow' in terms of daily life*2, particularly in the early days, and mentioned the need to be with their baby and conversely the need for their breastfed baby to be with them both day and night. Several women talked about making a clear distinction between day and night by keeping night time feeds very low key (see 'Breastfeeding during the night'). Many women spoke of gradually finding a balance between being led by their baby's needs and the introduction, as their baby grew older, of a few simple family habits around bath and bedtime for example. A few women, most of whom were mixed feeding, set up a more prescriptive pattern very early on because it suited their lifestyle. One woman was surprised at how much time breastfeeding a baby can take and spoke of sorting out her priorities. She talked about getting over-tired with a toddler and a new baby in the house until she adjusted her expectations of what she could realistically fit into a day (see 'Emotional and psychological aspects of breastfeeding'). Lizzie’s exhaustion mainly resulted from her efforts to feed her baby exclusively on breastmilk despite very low milk supply.
She is in total harmony with her eight week old baby's feeding pattern in contrast to her...
How have you found the milk supply this time now that you're not expressing?
Totally I, it seems that my baby's getting what he needs, I haven't had engorgement, I haven't had discomfort, if I have it it's just for, you know, half a day and it's not as bad as it was the first time so, you know, if there is too much milk then I don't know, it sort of sorts itself out, I don't do anything it's just happening and that's the magic of it, it's easy because I don't tamper with it, it's a sort of a, it's an automatic thing, I you know, I don't do anything [laughs].
Do you find you have different amounts of milk at different times during the day?
During the day, well it's very interesting because my baby is quite a sleepy baby this time and he has a sort of frantic feeding and it always happens in the evening and I wonder whether my milk is actually my, I usually find that I have more milk and perhaps the better milk, I don't know, but he seems to want to really feed at this time, he feeds almost hourly, so he's not a baby that feeds every three hours like they tell you it should be, my baby tends to feed early in the morning when I get up, he feeds about you know, hourly, sort of at three hour, you know, three hours at an hour interval and then sleeps quite a lot when he's awake but doesn't feed very much and then in the evening he has another burst of feeding time where he wants me all the time and that's the way he is. And I'm not worried about it as, you know, you get sort of advice that it should be every two hours when they are little and then every three hours, but really he knows when he's hungry and, that, you know, there's no I was told to wake him up every two hours to sort of feed him but he's not hungry, he doesn't want it, he's asleep, he's happy, he's probably growing up, so I leave him and he knows what he needs and I think, you know, I can see that he's well, with him.
She developed the confidence to trust her instincts and realised that her baby wanted to be with...
Was that a huge weight off your shoulders?
Yeah. Yes, I just felt that in that one statement it all made sense, so that's, just, live my life how I need to live my life as a mother, stop trying to be independent from my daughter, accept that this is how life is, and once I did that, and I stopped trying to put pressure on myself to hoover every day, and put her down because I'll spoil her, which, you know, I, lots of people, 'Oh you don't want to be carrying her about all day, you'll spoil her, you'll never get a minute, you're making a rod for your own back' all these things, and in me, here, I'd be here at home in me, like, 'Oh God I'm doing it all wrong, oh no, I will, I wouldn't, what will so and so, what will auntie so and so say because I've, I've spoilt her, I've spoilt the-I've fed this baby and I've spoilt it, and I'm, I'm doing it wrong I'm not good, I can't do this'. And so all that went, I just thought, 'd'you know I'm going to just trust what feels right, trust this process', and that's what I did, and we absolutely sailed through, we had a wonderful time. And, you know, we had us little moments along way as you do, things weren't always great and there'd be night times when I'd sort of be blue in the face and thinking, 'Oh no what have, you know, what have I done?' [laughs], 'Scuse me. But it were all, I acknowledged it as all being normal and that was what was normal, and not this trying to make, trying to make a baby fit in with my life, I just accepted that we had to learn it were a new thing, we were a new family who had to learn to be a family together and each one of us as individuals would bring something to that, and had to take something away fr
She was amazed and frustrated by how much time it took to feed her newborn baby until she...
So how did you reconcile that difference?
It took time, it took a long time, you know I'd say several weeks really, before I realised that this was actually the most important thing I could be doing, and that it wasn't doing nothing, that it was actually growing this baby and that, that was my prime role at the time.
So this was your day's work?
And you had to be satisfied that you'd done a good job?
Yes that's it, but it's a really big mind shift, and it's not something I give, I think people tell you beforehand [laughs], and maybe it's not something that everyone experiences I think some people are quite happy to sit on the settee for six hours a day, or some twelve hours day but it's not easy to read I don't find when you're breastfeeding, you know, I tried having phone conversations while I was breastfeeding and that didn't really work either it seemed to sort of unsettle the baby, and, you know, it's how do you hold the phone and, I found that I actually needed to concentrate on what I was doing even when it became second nature, it was different if I was trying to do something else at the same time, as breastfeed, if I wasn't concentrating on that mainly, the feed didn't work as well. So whether that was the baby picking up the fact I wasn't giving it my full attention, or whether it was that my mind was occupied elsewhere I'm not sure but, there was definitely a link, and so really you're left with trying to just sit and, think [laughs], which suits some people but is more difficult for others.
What about television or the radio?
Yes I mean television, to a certain extent, but I can't watch anything on television I'm not a sort of person who can just sit and watch, I need to actually want to see something. And in night time feeds I did actually used to listen to the radio, with my first child that was.
Despite her efforts, Lizzie didn’t manage to increase her milk supply. This resulted in a breastfeeding experience that became increasingly stressful and exhausting for both mother and baby.
And at night, probably I was at night managed to get him to sleep for maybe an hour and a half probably. And then he’d want feeding and then I’d feed. I’d be breastfeeding him for sort of an hour and a half. So it was, it was, it was physically exhausting. And my husband was brilliantly supportive and he would sometimes, when I just needed that break, would, would take [son] into another room and sort of just try and just distract him and play with him. But he just wasn’t having any of it, you know? He was hungry and that’s what he wanted. And even sometimes it was sort of going, “Actually, even if the comfort of breastfeeding, even if there’s very little coming out, makes him feel a little bit better,” and again, if he fell asleep, so then sometimes he did fall asleep for me in bed and went sort of sit there awake, not daring to move because I was just like, “Oh, I’m going to have to breastfeed again if he wakes up.”
Some women described a period during the day, usually in the evening, when their baby wanted to feed more frequently*3. Some women spoke of days when their baby was unsettled or poorly and seemed to just want to breastfeed all of the time. Several women talked about keeping a record of what their baby was doing as a way of sorting out possible patterns or showing that things were not as bad as they thought (see 'Feeding patterns in the early days')
She gives us a glimpse of family life and feeding an older baby for comfort when he was ill.
Is there a special routine or a set time? When does it happen?
It's becoming well, it's used to be in bed, my husband doesn't want it associated with bed, just in terms of sleep and stuff he's a bit of a, a sleep doctor so he knows his stuff in this area and I'm happy to, you know, I'm happy to respect him, so generally we, we come downstairs in the morning and I sit on the sofa, this is exactly where I sit and he has his feed but it's not even in the morning now.
First thing in the morning before anybody else is up?
No generally [2nd son], we come down, [1st son] will be sat here, we'll have chat, the three of us or generally I, [2nd son] will feed and I'll have a little chat with [1st son] about the night or what he's been up to or whatever and it's not even every morning now. I want him to wean himself, but I don't, I will never suggest a feed to him and I haven't done for a long while, probably for six months. But if he asks and if it's in the morning then he can have. There was a few, a couple of months ago he wanted to feed in the afternoon at about four o'clock, he was a bit poorly, and if he's poorly then I'm more relaxed but we had someone coming to the house who'd never been to the house before. It was a teacher for the deaf for my first son, the doorbell rang as my youngest was wanting a feed and, you know, he's now, he was then two and almost a half, and for unfortunately we live in a society, even though the norm is I think nationally, internationally for years where it's not perceived to be normal to feed a two and a half year old in public. Although it is my home I did feel awkward for a moment and I did something I'm not, I'm not proud of [laughs], I turned to [2nd son] and I said, 'Do you want a hot chocolate?' Now this is the kid who has had chocolate maybe twice in his life, who was in heaven on both occasions and who I thought would jump at the chance, he just looked up at me and said, 'No Mummy [sobbing noise] booby'. So, I just thought, 'My goodness if it means that much to you of course you can have some'. So I gave him a feed and the teacher for the deaf came in and she didn't even realise what was happening she just thought we were having a special cuddle, I said he was a bit poorly and then later on she clicked and it's, you know, it's nothing I'm ashamed of, it's interesting that in our society there are issues about feeding a two and a half year old, it's something that many, many people do I know in private as in fine in the comfort of their own home but they wouldn't tell other people they're doing it. And I think maybe things are beginning to change.
She found breastfeeding easy with her first child and talks about the benefits that it had for...
Did you feed him on demand or to a schedule or?
No just on demand I just fed him when he was hungry and he was great really because he fed quite, especially when he was little he fed a lot during the day so I'd kind of be feeding every hour or so during the day.
Was that a problem for you?
No, well it wasn't a problem for me because I didn't have bottles to make up, you know I didn't have to worry if I wanted to have a snooze I developed the skill of feeding lying down, so we could both kind of have a little sleep, it was very nice but he was really good at night as well, he fed, he went for sort of four or five hours, more or less from two, three weeks old in the night so, he was fabulous [laughs]. Really, really easy feeder and just you know gained weight and was a bit of a superstar really, and so I have to say I did I found it you know fairly easy.
Did you know much about breastfeeding before?
I did, and I suppose I felt quite strongly that I wanted to do it and I felt it was the best thing.
Because of the health benefits and because basically almost like a laziness thing of the fact that it's just, it is so much easier than making up bottles, sterilising and all the stuff that goes with it and basically you kind of, I know people say, 'Well then it's got to be you, it's got to be you', but I think as a mother if your baby wakes in the night, you're going to wake anyway, so, you know you kind of think, you might as well, you know, I think had I bottle fed I think I'd probably have been awake even if my husband was bottle feeding until he'd gone back to sleep. The other thing I think that was fantastic for me about breastfeeding was this sort of the comfort side of things, which you don't get with a bottle and the fact that if your baby is ill, even if they have got gastric illness you can still breastfeed them whereas obviously you can't do that with bottle and it's such a comfort and it's useful if they are grisly or if they're tired or if they hurt themselves, just stick 'em under your jumper and plug 'em in and it's like magic really, just like magic and that's I don't think when I started I thought to myself, 'Oh I'm going to feed for you know for a year and a half', but it was just kind of one of those things that I just carried on doing, and it was interesting because one or two of my friends I thought, once my son was walking were a bit like, 'Oh, are you still feeding' you know found it a little bit uncomfortable, but I think when it's your child and they just grow up day by day, you don't think, 'Oh they're a toddler and I'm still feeding him', so, yeah, I found the whole thing just really easy and by the time I kind of wanted to move on and maybe leave him for a little while at sort of you know five, six months, obviously he was starting to wean onto foods then anyway so you could do that but also he wouldn't take a bottle so he went sort of straight to a cup, an open cup and that was and that worked really well so it didn't mean that I was you know tied to him
Many women said that there was more to breastfeeding than providing their baby with breast milk. Sometimes their baby wanted to feed quickly because he/she was hungry and sometimes their baby wanted what the women identified as 'comfort feeding' which was when their baby was not obviously sucking to get milk and satisfy hunger but was engaged in a more leisurely suck for comfort. The women quickly learned to recognise the different types of breastfeed.
Her older baby often feeds for comfort and for skin-to-skin contact.
Can you explain that different sort of behaviour at the breast?
She just, she just, she just lies there with her mouth on the breast and does nothing [laughs], just has her mouth on there and she's just go, like do one little suck and then that's it's then, and you can tell she's asleep because she's snoring [laughs] but she just wants, but as soon as you take her off she's start to stir and she is getting better now, now that she's getting older with that and 'cause she's so much more active so she's wearing herself out a little bit more.
And is that what you call comfort feeding?
Yeah, yeah definitely, yeah when she just lies there and you know she's not doing nothing because she's just with her mouth open and she's just there for comfort, just because she likes the skin, skin-to-skin contact.
Is that a problem for you?
No it's not a problem, it's not a problem for me, it's nice I think, I think because I've worked so hard to get it to where it is, I don't want to just stop, I just want to keep going as, as long as I can really until she decides that she doesn't want it any more perhaps. I've said I won't, I won't do it no more than she's a year old, once she's a year old then probably stop then.
Many women described days when their baby wanted to feed frequently for no apparent reason and they called these periods 'growth spurts' and reasoned that the baby was building up their milk supply.
The times when her baby had a growth spurt and fed frequently were when she lost confidence and...
Can you describe that in a bit more detail? What is a growth spurt?
It's suddenly you think you're relaxed with your feeding pattern and suddenly it all seems to go wrong and you're like why what's, what's different? And it kind of, emotionally, again you feel like, 'Oh I'm going to give up, I'll just put them on bottles, they're going to go on bottles eventually anyway' and there's certain, I always found there was certain hurdles two weeks, four weeks, six weeks that I would feel like, 'I'm going to give up, it's going wrong' and then this friend would remark, 'No that's normal at about this time the baby's demand for milk is changing and stick with it for another couple of days and you'll get back on par again', and it was that kind of.
So how did you know that you'd reached a growth spurt?
The, it was just kind of a, a change in the, the feeding pattern, you kind of feel like, 'Oh actually it's starting to work now.' I was starting to feed and, and feed well, and the baby's taking the milk well and then the baby settles and the baby sleeps and it doesn't have too much wind, and then you have breathing space for an hour before you feed again, and you just kind of feel like you're cracking it and then suddenly it all goes to pot and, and you're kind of back, you kind of feel like you're tearing your hair out and baby's just having little drib's and drab's and you're not sure whether to go on the left or the right side and, you kind of lose control of what's going on again and you kind of think, 'Oh this must be it, it must be time to stop now.' You kind of lose your incentive I think because you've had it good for a few days, you kind of then everything goes, goes wrong and that's as my friend told me maybe she was just fooling me and just trying to give me confidence to carry on but that, that, those were times that, when I presumed the baby's, is demanding more milk because it, it needed more milk and I just went with the flow so I just kind of went with the flow and I guess that's what they called 'feeding on demand', but it can be quite draining when, you know, literally you, you feel like you are just continually feeding the whole time. But I think if you, I was fortunate with my, the first child that I breastfed I was fortunate in that my daughter, my elder daughter was at school my husband was self-employed so he was taking her to school in the morning and some days we just stayed snuggled in bed and she just fed when she needed to feed and we slept and dozed when we, you know, when, when it was right and that, that really helped I think just to, I mean I was lucky enough to be able to do it, so that really helped build a good bond and feel relaxed and comfortable with the breastfeeding.
*Footnote 1: Growth spurts are periods when the baby suddenly wants to breastfeed more frequently. They usually occur at about two or three weeks, six weeks and three months of age, last for a day or two and result in an increase in the mother's milk supply.
*Footnote 2: Breastfed babies have a wide range of normal feeding patterns and a healthy baby who attaches well and enjoys unrestricted breastfeeding will soon find his/her own pattern. There are health benefits for both mother and baby of frequent, unrestricted breastfeeding in the early days.
*Footnote 3: Breastmilk is constantly changing to meet a baby's needs both in terms of makeup and volume. Most women will feel fuller in the morning than the late afternoon and early evening when a baby usually wants to feed more frequently.