I planned to breastfeed for three months max. Eight and a half months later and I'm still going!
My start to breastfeeding was mixed. I had my baby Aeryn via emergency c-section in November due to a sudden onset of severe pre-eclampsia. I was given no support in a dramatically understaffed maternity ward ranked 'inadequate' by the CQC. Thankfully my baby took to the breast like a duck to water and latched right on!
The fun began when we got home. By day 3, the health visitor told us she had become jaundiced and lost 13.5% of her body weight. Born at a petite 6 pounds and 4 ounces, she became a tiny little thing. We called her Froglet, because her skinny little legs made us think of a baby frog! We were told to head straight back to the hospital to see a pediatrician.
They advised my milk wasn't in properly and Aeryn needed formula top ups. We tried and she was projectile vomiting and pooping like a scene from the Exorcist. Her skin became rashy and she cried non stop. This should have told them something was wrong, but I was told to persist and top her up after every breastfeed.
We went home armed with formula and tried. She would cry all day and all night, only sleeping when she had tired herself out from crying. I was exhausted and in pain from the section. She would only poop every eight days and had painful gas that made her arch her back and scream.
I went back and forth for daily weigh-ins to monitor her. She wasn't gaining weight, despite my efforts with the formula. I was told it was normal and she had colic. As a desperate experiment I stopped topping her up with formula and pumped relentlessly to give her expressed milk top ups. Things started to improve and after five and a half weeks she got back to her birth weight.
Something still wasn't right. She would not sleep or poop 'normally'. We were absolutely shattered! One doctor diagnosed me as an 'anxious first time mum' and reassured me that babies cry.
Eventually, I saw a different doctor who listened to me and suggested that Aeryn might have allergies. I was told to cut cow's milk from my diet for three weeks and see if there was any improvement.
As a lover of cheese, I wasn't thrilled, but was so desperate to help my baby feel better I'd have tried anything.
In less than a week, the difference was clear. She had normal nappies, slept for several hours at a time and had no rashes. We saw a dietician to confirm and Aeryn was finally diagnosed with a Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) at four months old.
She has gone from the 2nd to the 50th centile and is a happy, healthy little girl. We tried prescription formula, but she didn't like the taste and it aggravated her reflux. I decided I would breastfeed her until she is ready to wean.
I was already a vegetarian, so her allergies have effectively made me a vegan. I have lost a lot of weight, so I have to be careful to get all the essential nutrients. I miss the convenience of oven pizzas and ordering whatever I fancy from the takeaway, but it is manageable. There are so many dairy free options these days, so I can still have adapted versions of chocolate, yoghurt, cheese and cake. Dairy free baking has become a new hobby and often people can't tell there is no milk or butter!
I started weaning at six months and she loves her food! I have to carefully check the ingredients on everything and warn restaurants when we order, but it is going well. I often find it easier to just say I have an allergy, rather than explaining the transition of allergens through breast milk! Eating a dairy free diet with her means we can share food safely and enjoy things together. When she is a year old, I will work with the dietician to start her on the Milk Ladder - gradually introducing it into her diet to see if she will grow out of her allergies. The good thing is that most children do by the time they reach school age.
If I begin to miss baked camembert too much, I just remind myself that it isn't forever. Too soon she will be growing up and breastfeeding will be something I look back on and miss.
I have been able to enjoy breastfeeding a lot more since her diagnosis. It has given us a beautiful bond and I love feeding her to sleep or snuggling up on the sofa together.
I love being able to feed her anywhere, whenever she needs it without having to prepare anything. We have fed on a plane, on a Swedish hillside, on trains, in the pool and in pubs and cafés out and about.
Sometimes people can be negative, but 99% of the time people are lovely and supportive. I feel confident and empowered to be making the decision that is right for my baby and her health.
I have found Facebook breastfeeding CMPA and support groups invaluable, along with attending La Leche League meetings. Swapping tips and stories with other mums in the same boat is so helpful.
The most important thing I have learned from my breastfeeding journey so far is to trust my instincts, how to advocate for my daughter and know that as my baby's mum, I know what is best for us.