Baby number two is now seven months and it seemed about time to stop expressing milk. Well, that's not strictly true - in my head I'd imagined that I'd probably keep milk-making for a good year or so in line with all sorts of health recommendations. In reality, now that I'm back at work a couple of days a week, the logistics got a bit tricky and I was finding that I really needed the hour or so of time spent pumping to do all the other things that life requires (washing, cooking, entertaining small people, even occasionally exercising or god forbid spending some time with Mr Williams).
So now that it's all over I've found myself reflecting on (and discussing with other interested people) how you feed babies in the first few months and I've noticed some things.
Firstly, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't with breastfeeding. Feeding babies is pretty hard no matter how you go about it. If it's all happening naturally, you're pretty much glued to the baby and if it wakes in the night, it's you who is going to sort it out. If you express, you're stuck using time to make the milk and then put it into the baby, and you need to have access to power source in a private space a lot of the time. And if you're using formula or mix feeding you have to deal with all the guilt and judgement (as I've written about before), not to mention the time-consuming cleaning and sterilising involved.
So secondly, the grass will always seem greener on the other side. Because there is a downside no matter how you feed, there is a terrible tendency to assume that if things were going differently, things would be easier. If you're breastfeeding, you probably wish someone else could do the overnight feed at least sometimes. If you're bottle feeding, you probably wish someone would pay the exorbitant cost of formula at least sometimes. On the upside, that means there are good aspects no matter what you're doing (breastfeeding can be cheap and bottle feeding can give you some sleep).
Thirdly, there is nothing worse that you can do than judge someone for their choices around feeding (or any aspect of parenting really). Absolutely everyone has a story about the aunt/colleague/frenemy who said "you just didn't put him on the breast enough when he was born" or "that's an expensive way to feed a baby" or "she looks like she's been grazing on the green pastures". Even when it's a throw away line to you, those comments stay with people for a really, really long time and can really effect someone's state of mind.
Finally, it's not all bad!! While I've may have highlighted the negatives, the first few weeks and months can actually be an awesome time. The baby is little and will stare into your eyes while the milk goes in, you get cuddles all the time, their heads smell good apparently (I've never got into baby-sniffing but some people swear by it), and they can pull some really funny faces. So it's really just a matter of holding onto this stuff at 3am when the baby pukes all over you and himself and the floor...
Anyways, I hope that my feeding experiences may someday help others as they navigate some of the harder moments. I haven't written about the practicalities of stopping feeding (which is surprisingly hard to get detailed info on beyond, drop one feed a week) so please feel free to get in touch if you ever want to discuss. Best of luck to anyone currently in the process of feeding a small baby!