Earlier this week Sahara turned 5 months. That’s 5 months of keeping a little human alive with nothing but milk – sometimes from me, sometimes from a bottle. I thought it might be the perfect time to reflect on my feeding journey with her while also highlighting some of the products I could not have got through the last 5 months without!
Let’s go back to the beginning; Sahara was born with a tongue-tie, and you may be sitting there thinking what the hell is a tongue-tie. Well, I had no idea until good old Dr. Google came to the rescue. Long story short, this little issue meant breast feeding was that little bit harder – and it’s bloody hard enough to start with!
As a first time mum, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard the odd comment about how breastfeeding is a learnt skill rather than instinctual, and that it’s a process where both mum and baby are the student, learning on the go.
I did do a breastfeeding class/course prior to having Sahara to get more of an understanding on feeding positions, techniques, possible products. While informative, I honestly don’t think anything can prepare you for the real deal until you’re going through it – and personally, I probably wouldn’t recommend spending the money on a course unless you’re absolutely keen to.
It’s a really hard thing to navigate when there’s so much info out there, and sometimes the info doesn’t match what someone else has said. In the first month I saw two separate lactation consultants and while semi helpful, even their advice contradicted that of the midwives in the hospital.
People talked about the “let down” too and being able to feel it, seeing that a sign that you know your baby is getting milk; well, I couldn’t rely on that as it’s not something I feel as though I ever feel.
For the first week and a half, I dreaded feeding Sahara. Her tongue-tie meant she couldn’t latch on easily and nearly every feed was accompanied by tears from me.
I couldn’t give her a bottle either because the pump that I had bought when I was 3-4 months pregnant (serves me right for trying to be so organised early on!) I couldn’t use as, would you believe it, it was too small for me.
Now you may be wondering how on earth a breast pump could be “too small”, well you might be surprised to know that a key factor when it comes to buying a pump is nipple size – which I was not aware of prior to purchasing this pump. So fellow mums-to-be, measure your nips before you go shopping! The original pump I bought was a Tommee Tippee one and unfortunately you can’t buy extra flanges for it, which means if it doesn’t fit then it’s completely redundant to you. I ended up having to buy another one and this time opted for a Medela, as you can buy extra flanges (both bigger and smaller). I can’t fault this pump, it was great while it lasted. Electric, with the capability of being a double or single pump, easy to use and compact enough it could fit in the pocket of my trackies if I wanted to move around and not hold it.
At a week and half we had Sahara’s tongue tie snipped (although it sounds horrible, it was a super quick and simple process that barely phased her). Her latch became so much better after this, but feeding was still a challenge. Some feeds I wouldn’t be able to feed her unless I had a shield on because she’d given me ulcers and the idea alone of her being anywhere near my nipples was excruciating.
On the days I couldn’t bare to have her feed from me because of the pain, I’d express so that I could still give her breastmilk from a bottle, but then I struggled with supply and demand. Sahara was such a hungry hippo I couldn’t keep up with her want. My supply in the freezer consists of 5 250ml bags and that is it; that means there’s only been 5 times when I’ve been able to pump that amount.
Unfortunately, when Sahara was about 2 months, my ability to express milk came to a stop. I’d sit there for 5 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins, sometimes even an hour and could not get anything out. I tried all the pumping hacks; power pumping; lactation cookies and drinks but nothing helped. I was so disheartened when this happened. I feel as though no one talks about the flip side that can come with feeding and pumping – the friends who had become mums around the same time as me weren’t experiencing the same issues; they were feeding and pumping fine, getting a supply up in the fridge or freezer, meanwhile I’d be lucky if I even got 10ml of milk out.
Mentally and emotionally I felt as though I’d failed as a mum because I couldn’t have a stash of breastmilk in the fridge for when Sahara needed a feed and I wasn’t around. I had no choice but to turn to formula – and while formula feeding is in no way a bad thing, it’s not talked about enough, so much so that the mum guilt piled on some more because everyone around me was breastfeeding their babies. I mean for goodness sake the formula tin itself says “breast milk is best” – thanks marketing team for plunging the knife even further into me and making me feel bad for not being able to feed my child.
I’d like to take this time to say, from a fellow mixed feeding mum, if you find yourself needing to go down the formula route it is more than ok! The best piece of advice I got from my maternal child health nurse was that you don’t have to justify your reasons for feeding one way or the other to anyone – as long as it works for you and your family, that is all that matters.
There are pros and cons to both ways of feeding. You have a lot more flexibility when breastfeeding, you can literally do it any where any time – which is great for the times when you forget to pack a bottle and you’ve got a screaming, hungry bubba in the back of the car and a roadside feed needs to happen. The flip side is it’s really hard to tell how much milk they’re getting with each feed. There are times I will breastfeed Sahara for 30+ minutes and she’s still starving at the end and smashes down a bottle as well! So there’s a massive benefit of bottle feeding, whether it’s expressed milk or formula, you can track how much your bub is having.
As I said, Sahara’s 5 months now and has been mixed fed from about 6 weeks and it hasn’t stunted her growth one bit – in fact she’s killing it in the percentiles for her age! Mood wise, as long as she’s being fed she’s over the moon.
We’ve slowly been introducing various solids since the 4 month mark; a bit of avocado to start with, we’ve trialled raspberries, peanut butter, hummus and banana too. I’ve noticed other parents with babies roughly the same age as Sahara are feeding their kids more solids than we’ve been doing and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t compared myself to them – wondering whether we’re behind, whether we’re doing the right thing, or if we should be encouraging her to eat more solids more regularly. At the end of the day though, we’re doing what works for us and that’s not always the same as other families (I have to quietly remind myself of this sometimes).
While I don’t necessarily have a game plan in terms of feeding Sahara, I haven’t set a date of when I’ll stop breastfeeding, I’m hoping to make it to the 6 month mark for my own satisfaction. I haven’t even done any research into how to wean off it, that’s my next challenge!
Enough rambling on, here are some tips, tricks and products I could not live without when it comes to feeding:
- Tip number 1 – take the pressure off feeding, try not to have expectations and instead see what plays out. From day dot the pressure of needing (and wanting) to succeed in breast feeding caused me a lot of stress, everyone told me that this would impact my supply. If you’re stressed your milk won’t come in.
- Tip number 2 – if you’re going to buy a pump, measure your nipples so you’re not throwing money down the drain willy nilly! 😂
- If you do buy a pump, it’s definitely worth looking into second hand ones. I didn’t know this was a thing, but I wish I did at the time because they can be so expensive and if you can get a good one second hand, it’s worth saving the money.
- It can be time consuming pumping, so I’d invest in some pumping bras (this $15 one from Kmart did the trick for me) so you can have your hands free.
- If you want to try to boost your milk supply you can try lactation products, as I said above I don’t personally feel as though they helped me but you might be different. I tried the following:
- Lactation cookies from Happiness Is (this is my friends business and if I’m being honest, I continually ordered these because they tasted so damn good!)
- Milky Goodness lactation pre-made cookies and packet mixes
- Made To Milk Smoothie Mix, Toffee Caramel Latte, White Hot Chocolate, Chai Latte, and lactation cookies
- For those building their supply, I would seriously consider investing in some reusable milk bags – if you’re able to have a constant supply in the fridge or freezer then you’ll go through a lot of bags so why not ditch the single use plastic ones and instead opt for some reusable silicone ones. I personally got these ones from Haakaa.
- There’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night having leaked, so I’d recommend investing in some breast pads (I was gifted these ones at my baby shower but you can also get reusable ones if you’d prefer).
- On the leakage note, I did invest in these milk collectors, which I think are great if you leak a lot and that’s worth catching but personally I was never able to collect enough to put in the fridge anyway.
- If breastfeeding is super important to you, persevere through whatever challenges you may face. Chris often comments on how much my feeding experience has changed. In the early days the idea of having to feed Sahara was daunting, I would only do it if I was sitting down with pillows propped under my arms. Fast forward a little bit, and there’s been times I’ve fed Sahara while walking through Bunnings. I certainly never thought I’d be comfortable enough to be able to feed her while standing up!
- One thing I purchased that I absolutely would not recommend getting first up is the LaVie lactation massager. One of my friends suffered mastitis and I had in my head that it’s something every mum will get eventually so decided to buy this product before Sahara was even born so I was ready to go if I ever got the signs of mastitis. I think I’ve used it twice, both times because I wanted to make the most of the money I’d spent, not necessarily because I needed to use it. Again, it’s a great idea but something I’d hold off purchasing until you know you’ll really need it.
For the formula feeding mummas, my top 2 products without a doubt are a milk powder canister (this $5 one from Coles has done the trick for us – they make it much easier and quicker to make up a bottle, especially in the middle of the night as you don’t have to count scoops) and a MISSTA bottle (it’s a high quality thermos with an inbuilt thermometer and LED light for safe, on demand formula feeding). If you’re a formula feeding parent and you don’t have a MISSTA bottle, I honestly don’t know how you survive. The brand is co-owned by one of my close friends’ cousin and I originally purchased one for my sister a few years ago when she had my niece; the minute I knew I was going to be using formula I ordered one straight away!
When it comes to choosing formula, there’s really no right or wrong way. I asked a friend of mine who has older kids what formula she recommended and I went to the shops with a plan of getting that particular brand. When I got there though, they were completely sold out. I sat on the floor of the supermarket aisle in tears, Googling the different formula brands. It was so overwhelming. I ended up grabbing the Bubs Organic brand; Sahara’s not been fussy with it so we’ve stuck with it ever since.
I’ll finish on this note… it’s easier said than done, but comparing your feeding journey to someone else’s is going to do nothing for your mental health. As long as your baby is healthy, it doesn’t matter what feeding route you decide to take – ultimately it’s your decision, so do what works best for you. This post is in no means me suggesting one way is better than the other; it’s simply a reflection of what we’ve been through and my attempt at making a fellow mum that may be going through similar scenarios know that she’s not alone and that it’s ok if you can’t breastfeed or pump or you give your baby formula. Fed is best.