“she was just a bit lazy about sucking” – breastfeeding round 2 for Ellen

Ellen struggled to breastfeed her first baby and bravely wrote about it here – she has decided to share her experience of feeding child number two after hearing that a friend was told to breastfeed or risk cot death.

Well, where do I start? I was the one who had the baby and the boobs who knew exactly what to do with breastfeeding the first time but I just couldn’t cope.

Second time round and I know what i’m doing, I know what to expect.  I’m going to have another go. I will be able to cope with it, because i’ve done it before. Plus my section is planned this time so, no crazy labour before a mad rush to theatre. Nope, i’ll be checking in to a weird kind of hotel and then at 1.40pm they will give me my baby. After that I know the drill – piece of cake!

Needless to say it didn’t quite work like that…

Coming out of theatre, with a bouncing baby girl who was a total surprise (we hadn’t found out and were fully expecting another boy) I felt tired but relaxed. Once she had been weighed and we were having some skin-to-skin she began to root around as if ready to feed. Here we go I thought, it’s going to be marvellous.  Me and my girl have it sussed from the word go.

Over the next 48 hours I was calm and collected, she would cry I would try to latch her on she would cry some more, fall asleep and within the hour it would all start again.

The midwives all assured me she was getting a little each time and as a section baby she would take longer to work out what to do and just to keep at it.

So keep at it I did.

Some times she would sleep for two hours, sometimes 20 minutes. everytime she would half latch, scream then pull away as if poisoned.

But that was fine apparently, she was just ‘a bit lazy about sucking’. I was convinced that each time she came close enough to do any good, my ginormous breasts were suffocating her and that’s why she was pulling away. But no, apparently all was fine – we were discharged after 48 hours and a maximum feed lasting all of five minutes.

So day three at home dawns after a whole night of screaming, not latching, screaming, dozing and screaming some more. The midwife arrives all lovely and kind until she is weighed. She had dropped from a lovely bouncy 8lb 2oz to a scary 7lb 1oz!

You can guess what’s coming next… the hospital who couldn’t wait to be rid of us the day before wanted us back.

Back we went straight to the special support clinic where we were told she was getting very dehydrated and needed cup feeding. I was asked to demonstrate how I was feeding her… but little madame was having none of it. Next came a lovely lady with a knitted (yes knitted) boob to demonstrate how to hand express.

Twenty soul-destroying minutes later I am the proud owner of 2mls of breast milk. Miss Madame is offered the cup which she drinks like a pro and promptly falls back to sleep. We are sent home again and told she will be weighed again tomorrow.The next day she has put on an ounce and a despite the knitted boob lady’s obsession with the wonders of hand expressing, I am now the owner of a hand pump.

Over the next four days we are seen daily and she is putting on weight via the cup but defiantly refusing to latch on, she just has no interest or inclination to do so.

Day five arrives and our daily visit dawns. The baby is doing very well with the cup and up until now, not a bottle has passed her lips – we are TERRIFIED of nipple confusion!

At this point I am knackered. All I do is pump all she does is refuse to feed from me and I also have a very switched on 3 year old who asks a lot of questions and understandably cannot grasp what the hell is going on.

Day five’s midwife is great. I think I may have fallen a bit in love with her. For the one hundredth time I ask, ‘is it worth it? Is she ever going to get it?’

The angel in the blue smock looks me straight in the eye and says I have to prepare myself for that fact that some babies are not going to get it.

Hallelujah! Someone has finally been man enough to tell me what I think I already knew on day two.

So within ten minutes a bottle of the amber nectar has been prepared and guess what? – the child needs no instruction.By day seven she has put on a weeks worth of weigh in two days – we are officially off the naughty step.

For four weeks I managed to hand pump almost every bottle until my supply dwindled and I realised I needed to to be a mum to two people now. I still think breast milk is the best start for your new baby, but it’s not always an option you can choose.

This time round, I feel less damaged by my feeding debacle. But, there will always be a part of me that wonders. Should I not have had that  elective c-section? Should I have tried harder with her brother? Is this my punishment for ‘giving up’ the first time?

My bouncing baby girl is almost six months old now and it has taken me that long to write this post without it coming out like scribble. But just this week my best friend who is now 36 weeks pregnant has been told (for the second time) that in order to avoid cot death she needs to breastfeed.

It made me realise the most important thing for new mums out there is information, support and preparation for that fact that sometimes the babies, or the boobs or the mummies just can’t do it and that is FINE.

Read more stories in Birth, Boobs and Bad Advice – the book!

The worst places to feed a baby

Every so often, we all make an error of judgement. I am particularly prone to this when it comes to choosing somewhere peaceful to sit and feed a hungry infant.

My personal top ten of Shit Places To Feed Babies includes a heaving gluhwein stall in the middle of a Berlin Christmas market, a windy clifftop outside a pub at a busy beer festival and a coffee shop where the clientele decided to loudly discuss the evils of formula milk as I prepared a bottle of said “poison”  for my screaming infant and tried not to cry myself.

Needless to say with that pedigree I didn’t think twice today about entering what looked like a quaint olde worlde tea room in a quiet market town with one baby in need of milk and one toddler demanding orange juice and a biscuit. It seduced me with its exposed oak beams and ingenious if a little bizarre window display of cascading plastic pearls.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise until it was too late that the tea room was actually a pub, and that pub was clearly the preferred haunt of the town’s two oldest and most hardcore drunks. I noticed them propping up the bar just as I started giving the baby his bottle and was therefore a captive audience.

What attracted my attention was the sound of Drunk 2 coughing up what appeared to be the remainder of his right lung. This prompted Drunk 1, perhaps in an effort to distract me from the death rattle, to ask me over and over again whether I thought the baby’s bottle was warm enough. I was hugely relieved for once that I wasn’t breastfeeding – I think the entire place would have spontaneously  combusted.

After about the ninth time, I realised that we were never going to progress past this endless repetition unless I moved the conversation on so I asked him whether he had children of his own.

‘Unfortunately not’, was the reply. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I mumbled something about them being a mixed blessing at times.

‘That depends on whether it was your choice,’ he roared.

‘Oh God,’ I thought, as the toddler shrank closer to me and almost kicked his juice over, ‘I am now going to spend the next hour debating lifestyle choices with a man who has drunk his own weight in whisky every day for the last four decades.’

Incredibly the baby came to our rescue by finishing his milk and then very loudly and proudly filling his pants.

‘Um, is there anywhere I can change a nappy?’ I asked the barmaid,who was studiously ignoring all of us. Deep down,  I already knew the answer – it was obvious by now that nobody under the age of 65 had set foot in the place for quite some time.

“The restaurant,” she said, gesturing to another room. So we decamped to an empty cafe area (mmm, hygienic) where I discovered that the baby was quite literally up to his neck in his own creation and I was almost out of wet wipes. Somehow we struggled through, while Drunk 1 loitered in the doorway and attempted to tell me his life story while the toddler pretended to stab himself with  a plastic fork he had somehow found on a chair.

After what felt like an eternity, we were ready to leave. I said goodbye to Drunk 1 for the 19th time, threw the baby into his buggy and yanked the toddler towards the door. We were literally two steps from freedom when my son looked up at me angelically.

“Mummy,” he said. “I’ve done a poo in my pants too.”

Help! I’m addicted to message boards

I charted both my pregnancies through the What to Expect app.

I downloaded it because through every week of pregnancy it compares your growing baby to a fruit or vegetable, and it entertained me enormously to watch my unborn children blossom from lentils into pumpkins. I was very hormonal at the time.

I still use it. According to it I am now 64 weeks pregnant – a medical miracle – but the child is still, disappointingly, a pumpkin.The reason I haven’t deleted it is because I am shamelessly enjoying being a lurker on the message boards.

The “hot topics” area is like Mumsnet on crack, an angry mob of sleep-deprived women (and a few men) who happily tear each other apart over issues like vaccinations, pornography, sexual preferences and, of course, breastfeeding.

This is interspersed with some astonishingly candid life stories, like the woman who lives in a Master/slave relationship with her husband – a real life Fifty Shades and a great deal more raunchy (I  am not making this up, although of course there is every chance that she is).

This thread has inevitably attracted thousands of comments. One of my favourites, following a detailed description of a liaison  involving nipples and a mousetrap, was a woman who replied supportively that she had been inspired by our very own Anastasia Steele to take more of a “traditional” role in the home and was now wearing eyeliner to do the laundry and fixing her husband a scotch when he got home from work.

I’m not sure she quite understood what the mousetraps were for.

My “home” group – mums who all had their babies in the same month as me,is a lot more tame.  Almost every thread has a headline along the lines of:

HELP! my baby isn’t sleeping / HELP! my baby is sleeping too much

My baby is HUGE! / my baby is TINY!

My baby won’t stop eating! / My baby isn’t eating

I HATE breastfeeding / I have 4000 bags of breastmilk in the freezer and I’m never going to stop

Whatever the issue (and it almost always is one of the above), my fellow mums consult whichever parent manual is the baby bible du jour and proclaim: “aha – it’s week 6/7/9.4… it’s a wonder week/growth spurt/sleep regression!”

I have no idea what a “wonder week” is but it appears to  excuse a multitude of baby sins. As for growth spurts and sleep regressions… I don’t think babies are quite clever enough to timetable those in, somehow.

I don’t want to piss on any parades but these babies are surely just being BABIES. Sometimes they eat/sleep/shit/gurgle, sometimes they don’t. They are growing all the time – it’s not a diary date for them.  

One theme crops up in almost every section – there are  a LOT of complaints about Mothers-In-Law (or MILs as they are known).

A word of warning to all us mothers of boys… basically we can’t win. Those that get involved are “taking over” and those that stand back are “not interested”. Every single bit of advice they give is not only wrong but dangerous and they are not to be trusted with any important task, even though they managed not to kill the furious new mum’s partner or his siblings back in the day.

A few of them seem to want to move in which is surely a recipe for disaster. I asked my mum once if she would like to live with us and she could barely conceal her horror.

“I do love my grandsons darling,” she said. “But I also like to give them back again.”


Babies and Baggage

I need at least three hours notice to leave the house at the moment.

That seems to be the fastest time in which I can wash, dress and feed one adult, one toddler and one baby. Then all I have to do is find everybody’s shoes, coats and hats, argue with the toddler about wearing said coat in the car, select by process of elimination the correct small cars from the 20,000 in his collection to hold on the journey, change the baby’s nappy (again), and finally go to the loo myself while the two year old sings “mummeeeee weeeee weeeeee!” at the top of his voice and the baby cries because he is in his portable carseat on the floor and the toddler is blocking his view.

Performance anxiety is not an option in our house. Neither is privacy.

My handbag is roughly the size of Moldova – and this is in part the bugger about bottle feeding. If we are going out for the day I need three bottles of cooled boiled water, plus a large pot containing the right portions of powdered milk. For some reason this baby simply refuses to drink the ready-made cartons, which is rather inconvenient of him. But I am not entirely unhappy about it because, at an eye watering £3.50 per litre, that stuff is more expensive than gold (probably).

I also need nappies/spare pants (which *must* have spiderman on them, don’t ask), wet wipes and a change of clothes for both children. After one particularly memorable moment featuring a fruit salad and an exploding infant on a sofa in Pret a Manger I’m seriously considering adding a spare outfit for myself to the collection but I don’t think my shoulders could take it.

Then there’s the “emergency” toys, in case one falls out of favour, or into a river – yes, this has actually happened – the toddler drink and snacks (note to potential bag thieves: I wouldn’t touch those Marmite rice cakes if I were you. I have no idea when they were opened or how long they’ve been there), the muslin square, the changing mat, the teething gel… and finally my own stuff: keys, wallet, mobile phone, hairbrush.

Needless to say I can never actually find any of my stuff. Car keys can hide for days on end inside a tiny trouser leg and I think the last time I fixed my hair away from home was July 2009. I do wear make up but more often than not I get home to discover my mascara has taken up residence on my cheeks and I’ve got toothpaste rather than lipstick on my lips.

I’m sitting in a quiet beachside cafe on my own while I write this. I’m by the fire, and haven’t had to apologise to anyone for the trip hazards/spillage/loud burps or say “stay away, darling, it’s hot hot hot!” every 30 seconds. I have with me my phone, a debit card and an iPad, and that’s it. I think I am at least a stone lighter and five inches taller.

I miss them…


Why stop at paying mums to breastfeed?

Now that mothers in some areas are being bribed encouraged to breastfeed by being offered £200 if they last for six months (by which point mothers like me with no supply would probably have no child left to feed), I’ve been thinking about other worthy but difficult parental tasks that could perhaps be improved by some sort of financial motivation.

Nappy change – New parents to be taught how to grade each nappy according to volume and consistency, and submit their claims accordingly. Rates range from £20 for a real humdinger to £2 for a damp squib. Additional funding is available if this happens a) during rush hour on the M25, b) if the only available changing facility is the dirty floor of a napkin-sized cubicle in the gents or c) in a projectile manner while you are half way through the changing process and therefore directly in the firing line. Supporting evidence may be required (unlikely). If it really is poomageddon, proceed to….

Outfit change - let’s face it, it’s a pain in the proverbial, this. You’ve just finished the above only to discover there’s been an overflow. Perhaps Little Darling has also by now thrown up all that hard earned milk for good measure. Sometimes the resulting debris is localised but more often than not the whole ensemble ends up soaking in a bucket of Nappysan for four days and you have to start faffing about with babygro press studs from scratch. It’s got to be worth a fiver. And you may need to do a…

Bath – It’s 11pm. You have been up since 4.39am. Baby has been screaming ever since and you’ve lost track of how many nappy claims you’ve registered. You may feel too frazzled to even contemplate plunging your arms and your tiny, angry beloved into a bowl of lukewarm water while your neighbours call the council to complain about the noise. But it is really important that you keep your child clean so…could you perhaps be persuaded by a tenner?

Sleep - or rather lack of. We all know that sleep deprivation is a form of torture so why shouldn’t parents get compensation for all those missing Zs spent pandering to the nocternal demands of their offspring? The UK minimum wage is £6.31 per hour – which should just about pay for all the coffee you’ll need to get through it.

Reading/singing – Yes, nursery rhymes and baby books are short (one of ours is only 4 words long. Mummy. Daddy. Baby. Faces. Genius) but it’s the repetition that grinds you down. You really haven’t lived until you’ve spent 35 minutes crooning Twinkle Little Star to a howling infant. According to Gigwise Mariah Carey charges £164,000 per song for a private performance. Granted it’s fair to say that most of us are no Mariah Carey but the experts claim this is an important part of stimulating the minds of the next generation so £50 per session seems reasonable. It’s still cheaper than both PRS and all the therapy the children will no doubt need in later life if they grow up without said warbling.

If only eh?

Breastfeeding – second time unlucky

baby's hand


I started writing this three weeks ago, at 2.28am, during an impromptu night out at the Hotel NHS – for the second time since the birth of our gorgeous little son, our youngest child, five days previously.

I was awake – as per usual – and our son was asleep (at that point, less usual).

I’m ashamed to say the reason I was there was because, despite all my research and rage over the insane pressure to breastfeed my first son and the shit that was thrown at me when I couldn’t, and despite the fact that I wrote an entire angry book about the fiasco that I and many other women have been through, and despite my absolute conviction that I wouldn’t drive myself mad about bloody breastfeeding ever again… I drove myself mad about bloody breastfeeding again.

That was a long sentence.


But that’s what you get at 2.28am.

Anyway the result of my decision to try to do something I already know from previous experience I am crap at was a dehydrated baby. I don’t need to tell you about the epic guilt trip I’m still on about that.

Have you ever spent time in a neonatal unit? It is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking –  incubators reminiscent of sci-fi spacecraft pods house tiny little babies, while beeps and flashes on the screens which surround them drum out the statistics that are keeping them alive. Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen. Sometimes the beeps get more shrill and then everybody comes running. The babies are literally the size of your hand. They don’t cry.

While I was there I listened to a doctor delicately talk an exhausted couple through the agonising decision of whether to allow their 24 hour old son to have a chest drain. His lungs were not inflating properly and the medics were unsure as to why. The doctor was amazing. I found myself thinking that perhaps he was doing the only job in the world that really matters – and knowing that I would be unable to handle it myself.

Imagine what a fraud I felt – there I was, with a perfectly healthy baby, who simply hadn’t had enough to drink because of me.

With Son 1, my milk never came in. We tried everything – a million different positions, pumping every 2 hours night and day (horrid horrid horrid), fenugreek (smelly), stout (vile) and so on. At my peak I managed to express a measly 20ml per gruelling 45 minute pumping session. By this point my son was easily drinking 100ml per feed. It felt useless, I felt useless… and everywhere I looked it felt like there were people lining up to agree with me on that.

With Son 2, we were prepared. This time, we bought bottles, teats, sterilising fluid, formula ante-natally. And we had every intention of using them from the get-go.

But what threw me completely was that, within an hour of his birth, Son 2 latched on of his own accord and stayed there for over an hour. My husband and I stared at each other in disbelief. What the hell was he doing? Son 1 screamed like he was being murdered every single time my boobs were thrust in his general direction by one of an endless cohort of midwives  (and some were more gentle than others).

Son 2 never really stopped breastfeeding. He couldn’t get enough – quite literally as it turned out. Nonetheless, this time we were top of the class – midwives and health visitors alike congratulated ourselves on our “perfect technique” and after being so browbeaten last time, I felt smug. I guess I also felt that perhaps I could lay a ghost to rest here too.

I still have no issue with formula. Honestly, I don’t. I spoke to numerous experts when I was writing the book and they all agree that the merits of breastmilk are somewhat exaggerated (to put it politely) by the breastfeeding brigade. One of my favourite mad claims is that it raises your IQ. Yup, seriously. Never mind that little line in the research paper which states that other lifestyle factors (like, erm, education?) cannot be ruled out. Shush. Nothing to see there.

I just felt that if breast was what Son 2 wanted, perhaps that was what he could get. Maybe the fact that he was actually willing to put in the effort of looking for it would mean I would be able to produce it this time. And let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

Unfortunately once again my boobs decided not to play ball. To describe my milk supply as low is an overstatement. This time though I shut the door before getting sucked in (again no pun intended) to  the pumping rituals, the endless fenugreek, the “have you tried…?” and the “I know someone who produced mountains of milk after breaking a leg…” – all that well meaning advice that usually involves doing something horrendous. Besides I’ve already tried most of it, first time around.

With the exception of the one midwife who curtly exclaimed “well you are his mother, I suppose” (yes, well done dear, I am)  the health professionals were surprisingly supportive of our decision to formula feed. I say decision – it wasn’t really much of a choice. Babies are hungry creatures, and they don’t tend to favour pizza. But I have a toddler, and a husband, and a life, goddammit, which in my view is too short to spend waiting for my body to figure out how to do something it really doesn’t seem to get.

It is time to face the fact that I may be many things, but a milk factory ain’t one of them. And finally, I think – I hope –  I’m at peace with that.

Saturday night

I remember a time when autumnal Saturday evenings were all about good food, good wine, good music and good friends. Or at the very least, bad dates – which inevitably resulted in good stories to tell afterwards.

Then along came parenthood. Tonight I’ve put the toddler to bed, washed the towels, vacuumed all the cobwebs off the downstairs ceilings (not intentionally a euphemism) and I’m writing this during a quick snack break (that snack is a fucking satsuma, people) before I Dettol the bathroom sink.

This is what teenagers should be taught during family planning lessons.

Baby #2 incoming in T-12 days.