How time flies.  The truth is that having a baby and working full time doesn’t leave much time for blogging.  I say baby, but she’s almost eighteen months old!  She has a sister on the way, too, due in May, so we’ll be in for double trouble very soon.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I intended to talk about feeding.  This is a topic that became very important for us because, as you will see below, our path from breast to bottle to weaning wasn’t a straightforward one.  I, like a significant number of mothers, intended to breast feed.  I said I would try it and see how it went.  I was prepared to persevere to a certain degree, but not averse to using formula if that proved to be the best option for all of us.  I like to think that I was pretty open-minded.

M was a big baby.  She was almost ten and a half pounds, chubby-cheeked and big all over.  Like all newborns, her weight immediately dropped.  I kept breastfeeding her and waited for her to regain her birth weight.  She was a fairly regular 3-hour feeder.  After over three weeks, when she still wasn’t gaining, the midwife suggested that I top up her daytime feeds with formula.  That would make it easier for us to monitor how much she was eating without disrupting my milk production too much.  Four weeks passed, then five.  Towards the end of that week she finally managed to regain her weight.  I was signed off by the midwife and put under the care of the health visitor.

Not long after this we started to notice that things weren’t quite right.  She was hungry at her usual times, and would signal that she wanted feeding, but after a couple of minutes would arch her back, scream, and refuse to eat any more (breast or bottle).  Because she was miserable and still hungry, we would try again and again to get her to eat, all with the same result.  We switched to Dr Brown’s anti-colic bottles.  Nothing worked and her daily intake of milk decreased steadily. I downloaded an iPhone app and recorded every diminishing feed.  My life started to revolve around millilitres, ounces and feeding lengths.  It was miserable.

I went to the weigh-in clinic.  M had dropped from the 95th centile to the 25th.  I looked around at all the big, bouncing babies and then at my long, skinny waif.  I felt awful.  She was totally reliant on me to keep her clean, comfortable and fed, and I was failing.  The health visitor told me that I wasn’t feeding her regularly enough and instructed me to feed her every two hours, even if that meant waking her throughout the night.  In fact, she went as far as to say that I should change her nappy and splash her bottom with cold water to wake her if she was groggy (which I point blank refused to do).  I was made to feel that it was my fault.  I went home and cried.

Against my instincts I tried to implement the 2-hour feeding plan.  It was disastrous.  Now I had a confused, tired baby on my hands as well as a hungry one.  Her natural pattern of sleeping and eating was totally disrupted, I was exhausted and strung out, and still she refused to eat.  Her skin became blotchy and flaky and, for the first time, she seemed genuinely unhappy in herself.  Finally I took her to see the doctor.  It seems stupid now, but I was so conscious of being labelled with the ‘neurotic first-time Mum’ tag that I felt nervous about going.  I didn’t want someone else to patronise me, or to make me feel even more of a failure.  I really wasn’t thinking clearly.

The doctor was absolutely wonderful to us.  For the first time I felt as if someone actually believed that M had a problem and wanted to get to the bottom of it.  She listened kindly to everything that I had to say while I sobbed in her office.  She diagnosed two things: a likely milk allergy and silent reflux.  M’s little insides were inflamed, due to the allergy, and causing her burning pain every time she tried to eat.  Her priority was to alleviate the distress being caused to both of us and to get her eating again as soon as possible.  She prescribed Neocate for the allergy and a combination of Ranitidine and Domperidone for the reflux.  We were told that it would take up to two weeks before we saw any effect but that things should improve.

She also diagnosed something that my mother and husband both already suspected, that I was in the grip of post-natal depression (again a topic for another post).  At her insistence, my husband was asked to take a fortnight off work to supervise the feeding. I was not allowed to feed M at all, or even be in the room when she was being fed, and the endless monitoring of how much she was consuming was forbidden.  We were told that it would take up to two weeks before we saw any effect.  I expressed milk during this time, to keep my production going, but really this signalled the beginning of the end of breastfeeding for us.

Slowly and surely, she improved.  Within a week she seemed more comfortable.  Gone were the screams and the arched back.  Her complexion got better, her smile returned and, importantly for me, so did her chubby cheeks. By the time we returned to the doctor a fortnight later, she looked as healthy as any other baby.  Still long and lean, but healthy.  It felt like a black cloud had lifted.

We were lucky, I know we were.  Our doctor recognised that there was a real problem, rather than a minor bump in the road that the baby would ‘grow out of’.  Thereafter, her approach was to diagnose the worst-case scenario and treat it accordingly.  She didn’t make us wait, or go through a lengthy process of eliminating certain things (tricky, to be honest, on an all-milk diet).  She told me to wean her as soon after 4 months as I felt comfortable (which I did, and I’ve never seen a baby vacuum down baby porridge like she did) and later on to introduce dairy products as part of the normal weaning process; small and infrequent quantities of yoghurt and cheese, no actual cows’ milk.  At around one year we started replacing the Neocate with soya formula, one scoop at a time, and by about 15 months she was drinking soya only.  Other than the fact that she’s still not had actual milk (we’re going to introduce that under the doctor’s supervision once she’s past 18 months), I’m pleased to report that she now has a good appetite and an adventurous palate.

Other friends of mine have been fobbed off when they’ve had problems with feeding.  There’s the pressure to keep breastfeeding at all costs, as if that will solve everything.  Then that unhelpful word ‘colic’ gets bandied about (there are some medical practitioners that suspect that all ‘colic’ is actually a symptom of some underlying allergy or intolerance).  More often than not, the whole thing is attributed to the mother/father being neurotic.  I honestly think that we need to dig our heels in more and demand to be taken seriously.  Surely the priority absolutely must be to get the baby feeding and thriving?  Once that’s been achieved, it’s OK to gently experiment with different formulas and foods, not before.  Our babies can’t speak to us and tell us what is wrong … they can only signify that they are in pain or distress and they need to be listened to.