When I was expecting my son, I told myself that I wouldn’t mind whether we bottle or breastfed. I changed my mind when he became poorly, and wrote about the experience of establishing breastfeeding here. In brief, despite a short stint of tube feeding and then formula top-ups for a few weeks after that, we were soon exclusively breastfeeding. My initial aim was to nurse until Christmas, which was the three month mark for us. Christmas came and went, and as breastfeeding became easier and more habitual, I saw no reason to stop.
When my son reached five months and we began feeding him some solid food, I also started thinking about introducing occasional bottles so I could have the odd night feed off, and in preparation for returning to work in a couple of months’ time. That didn’t go well; by (re)introducing the formula feeds we found our son was allergic to milk (among other things). What with the time it took to see the allergy specialists, get hold of dairy-free formula and persuade him that bottles weren’t the devil, it took rather longer than I had anticipated! Months passed, and I was returning to work (part time) with a baby who still only took a few ounces of formula from a bottle, and that reluctantly and unpredictably. It was a source of great anxiety to me, to leave him with my husband or a relative, not knowing if he would eat. And as he would normally nurse to sleep, I didn’t know if he would sleep either. Not relaxing.
Around this point I bit the bullet and had another crack at expressing. I had hated my time pumping milk at the hospital, and had felt really discouraged by the whole experience. But needs must, and I borrowed an electric pump from the local Barnardo’s Children’s Centre for just a £10 deposit and £5 donation. That is an amazing service, by the way, as electric pumps are expensive to buy and often only needed for a short period of time. I persevered, and soon learnt to pick the best time of day to pump, to position myself comfortably, and distract myself effectively. It was not a joy, but it did help our situation because my boy would take breastmilk from the bottle readily; proving that he objected to the formula rather than the bottle itself.
I should add here that the little sod would drink ANYTHING else from ANYTHING else at this point: mugs, glasses, tumblers, sippy cups, doidy cup… I’ve always believed in a little of everything doing no harm so he’d sip my lemonade from a tall glass, guzzle hot chocolate froth from a Costa mug, down orange juice from my tumbler… you get the idea! (Most of this is pre-allergy discovery by the way!) He objected specifically to his formula – to be fair, the dairy-free (or ‘hydrolysed’) formula does taste disgusting.
As it turned out, he managed perfectly well without me when I worked – as everyone had told me he would, of course! We pottered along for the first couple of weeks at work with him feeding before I went to work, then taking what he had to from a bottle to keep going until I got back. When I could, I sent breastmilk rather than formula, and gradually, the bottle stopped being the enemy. I soon didn’t need to bother pumping at all. The only person suffering was me – my body had not got the message about the descreased need for milk yet, so work was a trial by the time afternoon rolled around.
My son had always been a frequent feeder, and I suspect took a ‘little and often’ approach to nursing. It’s hard to know as there’s no bottle to watch emptying, but going by the fact he fed hourly for about four or five months, then two-hourly until about six months, I think it’s safe to say he was a snacker not a feaster! This was, of course, exhausting and inconvenient, and also had an impact when we started weaning him onto a bottle. A baby of his age, the can of formula told me, should be having three bottles of 7oz a day. Three feeds a day?! Insanity. So I took the approach of little and often with bottles, until he was ready to take more at a time and go longer between feeds.
Gradually, I replaced nursing feeds with bottle feeds, not attempting to drop any feeds until the formula was replacing the breastmilk. I predicted quite a long period of adjustment, but as it happened it all flew by rather quickly. The basic plan was:
- Replace day feeds, one at a time, with formula, while nursing before and after work and through the night.
- Replace breakfast feed with bottle.
- Replace bedtime feed with bottle (then husband can do the settling, eek!)
- Replace night time feeds with bottle (then maybe I’ll get some sleep, eek!)
- Increase amounts of milk while decreasing frequency, when baby can manage.
And that was basically how it worked…just a lot quicker than I expected! Because while all this was happening, our son was also learning to sleep at night. So stage four didn’t really happen – he just stopped needing milk at nights full stop. And stage five just happened gradually as we went along. If he finished a whole bottle of, say, 4oz, then next time we’d make up 5oz and see how he did.
The only wobble I had was when we had got to around stage 3; when we were just down to night feeds from me. Suddenly, it all seemed very real and very finite. Once we stopped breastfeeding, that would be that… The first night that I replaced his 10pm-ish nurse with a bottle, he really seemed upset for the first time. In the previous struggles to persuade him to take a bottle, he never seemed distressed. He would just not drink the milk if he didn’t fancy it. This time, he was wailing for milk but refusing to drink from the bottle. He was headbutting me and cuddling into me but instead of giving him mummy cuddles, I stayed strong and stuffed that plastic thing in his mouth and bawled my eyes out too! It felt awful, but if I had given in then, I don’t know if I would have continued bottle weaning. He quickly forgot his woes, fed from the bottle and went back to sleep, but I stayed awake and for the first time in months, really thought about whether I was making the right decision.
I was never going to be a mum who breastfed until ‘natural term’ – i.e. when the child himself decides to stop nursing. This normally happens naturally at the age of about two. That was not for me! Although I understand why people make that decision, and appreciate many statistics support it, instead I wanted to be free, to be comfortable, to be myself. One of my greatest motivations in stopping breastfeeding was the restrictive allergy diet I had been obliged to follow while nursing. Not for the inconvenience – but for the fact I couldn’t continue my efforts to lose weight while on this diet. That sounds terribly selfish, but the weight I had put on during pregnancy was very depressing, as well as being unhealthy. The allergy diet was so restrictive (in combination with my vegetarianism and fussiness!) that I simply couldn’t continue to follow Slimming World and this diet at the same time. It was a decision I made for myself, and I make no apology for it. For my sleep, for my mental health, for my comfort, for my weightloss, and for myself, it was time to stop breastfeeding.
So we did!
Something clicked at some point, and he started downing his bottles, going hours between feeds, and showed no stress or sadness at ending nursing. I like to think that was because I worked hard at doing things gently and gradually, and (as usual) showered him with affection and cuddles at ALL times!
Finally, the days of ugly bras, unflattering poppered nighties, pumping, and breastpads were over…
So what have I loved about stopping breastfeeding?
-Wearing normal bras. Supportive ones. Decorative ones. Ones with no bloody clips to accidentally fly open every time I get dressed!
-Going out and staying out – all night! For a treat a couple of weeks ago I went out with friends and stayed over at my sister’s afterwards. To leave my husband to dinner duties, bedtime routine, nighttime wakings and then breakfast chores was an absolute delight! He got off very lightly I might add, as by this point our son was practically sleeping through the night, but I still enjoyed the freedom from baby responsibilities. Silly things like not having to think of what to feed him, apply his cream, choose something to wear, the endless search for a clean bib…small things!
-Feeling like my own person again. For months, you give your body over to your child. Throughout pregnancy, and then through the months of nursing, you are not your own. You avoid certain food and drink, your body changes in so many ways, you sleep at another human being’s whim…as willingly as we do all of the above, it has been amazing to get back some independence.
-Getting back to Slimming World. I am making awful progress in these first couple of weeks to be fair, but I am finally allowed to eat yummy things again (now the allergy diet has finished) so you can’t blame me for enjoying a crepe or two, right?!
And what do I miss about breastfeeding?
-Not a lot! Hah!
-The regular opportunities for cuddles, of course, but then he’s still too small to resist my cuddles whether he wants them or not, heehee!
-The convenience. Obviously it’s massively more convenient to raise a tshirt than it is to sterilise bottles and allow water to cool, measure out powder, shake and cool again. Let alone the hassle of making a bottle up when you’re out and about.
-That’s it! I’m sure there’s some statistical stuff too, but I’m not an expert.
In just a few short weeks since stopping breastfeeding, bottles now feel completely normal and I have had no reservations about the decision other than my one bedtime blip that time. Our relationship has continued to grow and deepen, as I knew it would. His father can now feed him and put him to bed, improving their bond and my husband’s ability to support me. Relatives can care for him easily and conveniently, with no anxiety for me. I am back to work and loving it. I can rest easy in the knowledge that I gave him the best possible start, for the first ten months of his life. Now we’re onto new adventures!
How long did you choose to breastfeed, if at all? How did you make the decision to stop? What were your feelings about the transition? Any regrets? Any top tips?