I remember in the breastfeeding class I took before I had my first baby, so a long time ago , the lactation consultant said that there is no way to know exactly how much breastmilk your baby is getting per feed but if you demand feed your breasts will produce the exact amount for your baby.
She didn’t tell me it could take up to 6 weeks for my supply to regulate and that feeding every hour on the hour is totally normal for some babies. So when we saw a GP 2 weeks after my baby was born and said “she won’t stop screaming and she just feeds around the clock” he should have told me that it was normal, keep feeding, it will work itself out, right?
Well he didn’t. He examined her and told me she needed formula. So like the good girl I was back then, I weaned her completely and switched to crap in a can. I wish I hadn’t listened but I did and I can’t change that. However, that little girl was so loved and so nurtured, she has turned out just beautifully.
It was after I weaned her that it all became a numbers game. How much formula, how many bottles a day, how long are they spaced out, making sure she had a full feed. At 6 weeks she was diagnosed with silent reflux so then add .6ml of a Zantac twice a day.
Then someone gave me Save Our Sleep and I became obsessed with how often she slept and how long. Tried that for one day, hated it. Bought Sleeping Like a Baby by Pinky McKay and at 8 weeks, we started on our journey following attachment parenting. Cloth nappies came, then an ergo, I learnt about BLW and DD got her first teeth at 5 months old.
Still everyone around me was obsessed with numbers, especially when it came to feeding. How many bottles and how many little tubs of solids their babies were eating. We would sit in cafes while my daughter picked off my plate surrounded by mums and babies with little tubs and spoons. It was okay for them, it worked for them and their babies, but it wasn’t for me.
Perhaps I was a lazy mother, she ate when she wanted, drank when she wanted, slept when she wanted, played when she wanted, we cuddled when she wanted. We ran on baby time. And by the time she was about 8 months our day had a predictable rhythm to it. It wasn’t something I did on purpose really, although Pinky McKay’s sleeping like a baby gave me the initial idea to follow her cues. It was just how life went.
We went with the flow, she’d generally have a morning nap and I’d shower, dress, have a coffee, get ready for us to go out. She would wake up and we’d go for a walk, or go to the park, or head to the shops. Then we’d have lunch and she’d have a play while I did some housework, then she’d have an afternoon nap and I’d do any jobs that were difficult with her under foot. Then she’d wake up in time to play in the kitchen while I prepared dinner. DH would come home and play with her while I cooked, then dinner, bath, cuddle, bottle, bed. It was predictable but fluid. Sometimes naps didn’t happen, or were longer, or shorter. Sometimes there were lots of bottles, sometimes very few. It was relaxed and by the time she was heading towards her first birthday I felt like we had this down pat. She dropped her morning nap, and that become quiet time instead, read some books, do some colouring, have a shower with mum.
We’d book our play dates for middle of the day, as she was pretty much guaranteed to be awake.
Life was smooth, our ‘routine’ was relaxed, and the clock on the wall barely got a look in.
So imagine the culture shock when my second son was born and we were thrown into the world of NICU.
In NICU everything is about numbers. From timing feeds, timing the space in between feeds, calculating how much milk a baby is ‘getting,’ measuring top ups, weighing everything from the baby before and after feeds to weighing wet nappies to see the exact out put. Everything was timed, scheduled and measured. To me, the relaxed mum who did as her baby pleased, it was total culture shock.
I remember setting alarms for feeding times thinking back to that one day we tried Tizzie Hall’s method and how it didn’t work for me or my baby. I remember feeling like a fish out of water. Exposed, vulnerable and confused.
The pumped my baby full of fluid, he was using a lot of energy to maintain his temperature in that air conditioned nursery. He lost weight, they gave him tiny top ups of fluid. The lactation consultant was useless, she had calculated how much milk he would ‘need’ (based on what I don’t know) and insisted he needed four hourly feeds. Again, what this was based on I never know. I was told demand feeding used too much energy and was difficult to measure their progress.
Demand feeding was in reality inconvenient for them. Having to ring me every single time he cried. Too difficult. They wanted to give him a dummy to space out his feeds. But I was well aware of the dangers of nipple confusion. The looks I got when I refused sucrose for him during the heel prick test and insisted on breastfeeding him instead. It would throw off the whole routine.
But getting him demand feeding, who in the long run would it be an ‘inconvenience’ for? Surely none of the nurses were coming home with us. In the end the first night I got him to myself (we roomed in the night before he was discharged) I co-slept and demand fed him. His temperature was fine. He didn’t hang off my boob all night. And I forgot about the numbers.
I brought him home and we’ve demand fed ever since, and his weight has shot up. He’s never gone 4 hours without a breastfeed (well not during the day anyway) but we’re both happy feeding as often as he wants. I haven’t been as obsessed with his sleep, but then again when you’re sleep deprived everyone crunches the numbers every now and again.
And as we head towards 8 months I’m noticing a pattern in his sleep that has formed, he likes an early bedtime and often conks out on the boob at 6.15pm and then sleeps deeply for hours and hours.
I believe in making a pattern not a routine. Babies like to know what’s coming next but a set routine locks you down and stresses you out when you deviate from it. A routine can be more stress then what it’s worth.