Wednesday 6 November 2013

Breastfeeding through separation.

Families in the midst of separation have incredible amounts of stress and difficulty within their lives, add to that a young family among whom include a breastfeeding mother and baby and levels of stress and concern can be overwhelming. This topic is close to my heart having separated from my husband and father of my 3 boys including my little breastfeeding one who was only 12mths old at the time. I was to learn that maintaining the breastfeeding relationship while the martial relationship falls apart is possible and provides a lot of comfort and security in an otherwise tumultuous time.
There are three main themes that are stand out, these are how to help baby cope with her new home life. What and how to feed baby when she’s not with her mother and finally how to manage and maintain milk supply.

The biggest factor that will determine the amount of impact the separation will have on the breastfeeding relationship is probably the age of the baby. The mother of a very young baby is going to face different and varying degrees of struggles to the mother of a breastfeeding two year old.  At any age the relationship of the parents is so very important for babies comfort and security. An amicable relationship with babies best interests as the key focus is absolutely essential for breastfeeding to be preserved.

The most important factor to maintain in babies everyday life is stability. If baby is still very much feeding through the night or has been co sleeping with mum there needs to be a gentle transition from this before she can happily go with bags packed off to dads for the night. A loving gentle dad will see the importance in taking this slowly; and mum, even though she’s clinging on to these precious moments, will slowly and gently ease them to some form of night parenting that can be done equally as well by dad.
It’s not those night feeds or night cuddles that are essential for baby to feel safe and thrive but when moving between two home environments consistency is. Imagine for a moment, baby 4 months old co sleeps and breastfeeds all night long with mum 4 or 5 nights a week and then the other nights dad is trying to settle baby in a cot with a dummy or a bottle. Dad isn’t going to have a fun time and baby is going to be stressed beyond measure.
Communication is essential. Mum and dad need to discusses their wants and needs for baby. Breastfeeding is something to strive to preserve. Because a baby is breastfed it doesn’t mean dad’s time has to suffer, the whole family needs to be flexible and give and take.
While ever dad is happy with mum doing the night time parenting mum and baby can carry on as is, breast feeding, cuddling and co sleeping as much as possible because soon enough dad will be ready and wanting night time access. When dad is ready for night time parenting there are no set rules and many options. For baby it would be helpful for both houses to follow the same night parenting plan. If dad weren’t willing to co sleep it would be helpful for mum not to co sleep either. Perhaps mum could reserve co sleeping for day naps and baby goes down in her bed at night. If baby were breastfeeding through the night dad could offer a bottle through the night, this would mean effort with expressing and milk handling but would preserve those night feeds if baby is still of a young age. As baby is getting older and night feeds less important night weaning is something that can be considered at some stage. It is probably much sooner than baby would have naturally done so but can make night parenting easier all round.

“My son was 12 months old when I split from his dad. Being an attachment parent Rhys had barley left my side since he was born. He was heavily breastfed and co slept most nights. Dad was very aware this was going to be a big transition for the both of us. For the first couple of weeks we kept it to daytime and evening parenting for dad. While the nights I worked on night weaning and settling him in his own cot.
It was far easier than I anticipated. I think the age helped I could talk to him, “no boobie, nigh nighs in cot” and id lay on the floor next to his bed, tap the pillow for him to lay down and id stroke his back. There was no screaming; eerily I think he understood what was happening.
By the second week he was ready for his first night at dads, I believe he slept through for dad, and while I woke lots that night I relished the fact no one was in need of me. When Rhys came through the door the next day he ran into my arms and snuggled in for a breastfeed as happy as could be.”

Always a welcome moment when Rhys returns home.

What to feed baby when she’s away from mum will differ with the age of baby. Presumptuously there are going to be fewer young babies spending time away from mum than there are older. The older baby, older than 6 months who is eating solids and family foods can manage a longer time with out milk and really doesn’t need it replaced at all for these short-term stints. Baby should have access to lots of fruit and veg and other foods as the family eats and water from a sippy cup. Baby may like a milk feed to go to sleep, this could be ebm from mum or even just plain cows milk.
You can’t give a baby under one cows milk I hear you say?? Cows milk is inadequate as a complete milk food for babies under two, that is correct. That means if a baby’s only dietary intake is cows milk it is poor nutrition and not appropriate. If though a baby is breastfed (or formula fed for that matter) and receiving a balanced diet of other complementary foods cows milk can be welcomed in to the diet as a complementary food. Consider it the same as a drink of water or juice or custard. It’s not necessary, its not their main nutritional source, its just a drink.
The young baby however who is not yet taking solids will need more planning around time away form mum and what and how she eats. Mum can express milk for her baby; baby can take this milk from a bottle or a cup (not a sippy cup). We know bottle feeding can lead to breast refusal in some babies so cup feeding or timing visits around feeds can help to reduce the number of bottles baby receives.

“Rhys was a good eater, wed been doing baby led solids from about 5 months of age. He would go to dads with no hesitation and eat happily with his brothers, he would drink water and you would assume he wasn’t even a breastfed baby. Dad would give him a bit of warmed up cow’s milk in a bottle before bed at night where he’d fall asleep in dad’s arms, sometimes drinking all the milk sometimes not. It wasn’t long before dad even ditched the bottle and just offered a big nighttime snuggling where Rhys would fall asleep in his arms. On days he’s with mum he continues to have free access to the breast and would breastfeed to sleep every time.
As time went by he was even able to go camping with dad, sometimes for three nights and 4 days, apart from asking where mum was a couple of times he never missed a beat, he was happy and contented in family life with dad. He’d always come home to mum and snuggle up for a boob and a welcomed mummy cuddle”.

Rhys has daddy time, camping with brothers and family.
Clearly not a care in the world.

So as mums come to terms with the time she now has away from her baby, she may even be enjoying some of this new found “me” time. The final skill to master is the juggling of milk making, engorgement, pumping and expressing, all the joys of finding your self in the position of being a full time milk maker and part time mum.
How you manage and how much your supply is affected will depend on the age of the baby and how much she breastfeeds. If you break it down and try to not over think it, it presents as quite simple.
1 – when baby is with you allow free access to the breast.
2 – when baby is not with you pump when baby would normally feed. If baby feeds regularly this is easy, if baby feeds all over the place like an older baby might, just choose a couple of times that work for you.
3 - if you need to supply ebm to feed baby while she’s away you will need to add pumping to your normal day routine. For example two pumping sessions a day, say after morning feed and after lunch time, on top of your normal feeding/pumping might over the week give you enough milk for babies time away.
If your baby is older and supply is less of a concern you could just see how your breasts cope. You might find you can go all afternoon and just have a hand express in the shower before bed for comfort and stimulation sake (so your body thinks baby is still drinking this milk). You could do the same in the morning or you might be comfortable enough till baby comes home again.

“Initially I pumped using a hand pump when Rhys was away to maintain supply. Rhys was eating well and I chose not to send milk with Rhys as he didn’t drink much from the bottle any way. The milk I was pumping I put in freezer bags and donated them to mums and babies in need of donor milk. As time went by my supply had reduced, id lost a lot of weight by this time and wasn’t looking after myself the best I could.  I was finding it increasingly hard to pump. It was a round the time Rhys was 18mths old that I went form feeding on both breasts to just my left breast. My left side had always produced better and by this time 24hours could go by with out a breastfeed. I chose to feed on the one breast only because it meant the one breast would be fed on more frequently, I could focus on expressing just the one but simply just because I and Rhys preferred it.
Some times I worried about the little amount of milk that was there but all I had to do was think of Rhys and see how unphased he was by it all. He was so happy at the breast, he was still feeding to sleep and he was so happy in his busy little life with two homes. I completely relaxed and let Rhys lead. When he wasn’t with me id hand express in the shower and if I didn’t get around to it I wouldn’t worry. I never had a problem with engorgement or lop sidedness."

"these days are numbered" Rhys nearly two.

"Rhys was such a busy little toddler; even now I say he’s two going on 7. Every thing his brothers do he can do. I think back at the end of his breastfeeding journey and think he actually was torn when he was feeding because he wanted it but it was something the big kids weren’t doing. Rhys weaned himself so gradually and I’m so proud that his weaning was really led by him. I believe his living arraignments hastened the weaning process in terms of supply and him knowing he was fine with out it. But the access was there and my willingness for him to continue had he wanted to.
Slowly slowly a busy day would happen and boob didn’t come up, he’d now come home from dads and a game with brothers or a toy was more important than having a boob straight away. His feeds became so brief; he’d say ‘ah finished’. Eventually it was a couple of days between boobs.
Rhys snuggled into me the morning of his second birthday, a week or so had gone by since his previous boob. He looked up at me and with our saying anything tapped me on the boob (this was how he always asked for it), he latched on and suckled for a moment, then popped off and said finished. This was his last feed. I was fully aware of it and captured the moment in my heart.”

My baby love. 

I’m sure our breastfeeding relationship provided so much more safety and comfort for me over those 12 long moths of being newly separated and finding my new way. Our children are so resilient the only thing they need to thrive is love and care; we work so hard at trying to provide them with this we often forget about ourselves.
Relax, trust your body and your baby and most importantly trust your ex partner. Trust that they have your little ones interest at heart as much as you do and while you’re no longer living together you can work together to co parent and lovingly raise these babies that really are so lucky to have not one but two loving and safe homes.