Breastfeeding – the ups and downs

Ah, breastfeeding. It so nearly went the way of the cloth nappies. As in “Nice idea, but life is too short”.

After an unfortunate start in Special Care, the situation with breastfeeding went from bad to worse to a bit better to horrible to acceptable. This post has been brewing some time so it’s a long one!

A better start for breastfeeding

Our hospital only supports breastfeeding which was just fine with us. Before we actually had a baby. Unless you end up in Special Care like we did. In the midst of confusion about whether he was going to have serious problems, nobody asked us whether they could give him formula. They just did.

In hospital I repeatedly asked the midwives for help with positioning and latching. I was advised to use nipple shields for my flat nipples (they’re not) and told he was latching fine (he wasn’t). As a GP friend pointed out, most of the midwives that would have been around us are from the first generation who didn’t breastfeed – they happily filled their offspring to the neck with formula, because they were told it was ‘scientific’. I suspect that it was because we were in a private room that we never encountered the hospital breastfeeding counsellor while we were there – although friends on the ward did.

After a week in hospital, on our first morning home the Community Midwife took one look at Sproggett and diagnosed a tongue tie.
If it had been identified and treated in hospital maybe we would have had more success getting him to latch on. But again it’s not a priority for them, especially with funding shortages. The wait list to get it assessed and then treated on the NHS is 4-6 weeks in our area. We had it done privately.

By then he was ten days old and frankly our second wind hadn’t kicked in yet. You know, we were still at the stage where you might find the milk in the oven or random bits of cutlery in the fridge and everyone is just happy you haven’t absent-mindedly left the child outside the shops. Yet.

My attempts to offer him the breast before the bottle became half hearted as I lost confidence. I failed to follow up when the hospital breastfeeding counsellor didn’t come to appointments she’d made with us because in my mind that meant facing more anguish trying to feed. Instead I put effort into following an expressing schedule.

Eight times a day, I was told. Obviously those pesky baby creatures feed throughout the night too so my alarm was set for 22:00, 2:00, 6:00 and then every two and a half hours to try to get those eight sessions in. I don’t think I ever made it. But the milk supply didn’t go down which was the important thing. With well-meaning advice ringing in my ears, and making me dread missing a session: “no pump empties a breast as well as a baby”, I kept plugging away. When you add in the time involved in sterilising bottles, expressing and actually feeding the baby it’s brutal how physically and mentally draining (badum-tish) that could be. I nearly gave up.

Why persevere with breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is convenient, fast, and comforting for a squally baby as well as all the health benefits and immunity from illness. It can also sit somewhere on the pain scale from sore to agonising, it’s tiring when you’re getting used to it and sometimes downright bloody heartbreaking.

For us, things improved dramatically at ten weeks and made me think breastfeeding might actually be possible.

Nothing could have prepared me for the enveloping feeling of guilt when we were not doing well, massively fuelled by hormones. Every time we failed to achieve a latch after seeing a consultant or counsellor where we’d been fine, Mr D would come home to find me feeding Sproggett a bottle of formula with tears steaming down my face. Breastfeeding can be just as tough on your partner. He’d tell me that it was fine and that the baby’s health was the most important thing. I’d agree and then snottily wail about how breastfeeding “was the one thing I’d wanted to do for him”.

What worked for us?

Being a squeaky wheel. We kept asking for help. Endlessly. In hindsight I was kind of obsessed.!

He was born on Sunday at 6pm and we left hospital on the Friday at 5pm. We talked to

  1. The community midwife who on the Saturday detected the tongue tie and put us on to…
  2. the hospital’s breastfeeding counsellor who came around on the Monday. Mind you she didn’t actually come back to either of the follow up appointments I made to get help with positioning. However she gave us details of a…
  3. woman who could help with tongue tie privately but didn’t do any real follow up to assist with feeding. Instead she suggested we contact…
  4. Local breastfeeding support groups but most of them were closed down for the summer but we found…
  5. A great lactation consultant in town and then by September our local groups were going again.

Yeah really. Around the houses. We spent a whole bank holiday weekend on a babymoon – in bed doing skin-to-skin – which really seemed to help with making breastfeeding our default way of feeding but then it became unbearably painful. That’s when someone passed me Ann Dobson’s details.

Why work with a lactation consultant?

Ann Dobson is a lactation consultant who runs a drop in clinic on Fridays at the Welsh Centre on Grey’s Inn road. It’s busy and you’ll wait to be seen (seriously – bring lunch with you) but she was the first person who really helped us to have a breakthrough in terms of feeding. She asked me to see if he’d latch on, then said ‘try holding your breast like this.’ Boom. Baby latched, pain free. I may have cried a little at this stage. Later this led to extreme frustration, frankly. It took this woman approximately ninety seconds to get us off the starting blocks, and we’d been pissing about for ten bloody weeks?

She wasn’t judgemental about shields, and was completely practical. She also was visibly cross about the consultant who treated the tongue tie but didn’t help with breastfeeding. Her take on it? “Anyone can cut a tongue tie, that’s the easy part. Establishing breastfeeding takes work”.

We went back a number of times, both for appointments and the clinic and we also had some cranial osteopathy sessions. I would have poo-pooed them initially but they did seem to help.

Board certified lactation consultants specialise in breast-feeding and related issues, which is not the primary focus for a midwife. She also was great with support by text outside of the clinic but given how busy she is, I wouldn’t depend on this. The clinic isn’t NHS so there’s a fee payable, which could be beyond some people’s reach. But when I think about the money I wasted on nipple shields and other paraphernalia…

Why is breastfeeding so bloody hard?

I do get rather angry about the way that most hospitals seem to let women down when it comes to breastfeeding. Although I asked for help on numerous occasions, I was mainly fobbed off or told I was doing a great job when anyone who knew what they were talking about should have seen that he wasn’t latching, he couldn’t with the tongue tie. It’s an old chestnut but although breastfeeding is ‘natural’ it’s often far from simple. I truly believe that one decent lactation consultant working in each hospital really would make a difference in terms of how many women breastfeed successfully and keep breastfeeding.

In our NCT group, out of six couples only one woman took to it from the moment her boy was flopped on her chest. She is a sweetheart and bless her, actually felt bad about it and went out of her way to downplay how easy it had been for her. I did go through a period of feeling envious of anyone like her. Why didn’t it just “happen” for us too?

Stopping breastfeeding

Originally my goals were “to breastfeed” and in my mind I wanted to get to a year. Then it was getting it to happen at all. We cracked the latch at ten weeks which was fantastic. Then I developed vasospasm which wasn’t fun. So I reluctantly moved to two breastfeeds a day to allow some recovery and also to ensure that he kept getting some breast milk every day – in the entire period of breastfeeding he only got one cold which beats the average by a country mile.

Then the first teeth arrived. At nineteen weeks. Jesus, really? I know that I could have worked harder at supervising him to make sure he wasn’t going to bite but the final straw for me was when he bit me while I was breastfeeding him on a flight home to Ireland, trying to help his little ears avoid popping (oh and then he threw up everywhere too which is unusual for him) and it just seemed like a sign. Also he’d been showing such interest in food that we started weaning a few days later and that seems to be going well.

I think it was a natural end for us, even though I’d always assumed it would last longer so that makes me sad. I’ve been reading a lot recently about post-weaning depression which seems to strike so many women, but personally now that I’ve come around to it, I’ve realised I’m quite keen to ditch the nursing bras and tops and start wearing proper underwear again. When I borked my back this week, Mr D was able to take over all the night feeds without me having to express. Sproggett is desperate to try anything he sees us eating and is a rosy happy little fellah on the mixture of formula and milk he’s had so far. It feels like things have worked out the way that they were supposed to.

Still here? Blimey, well done!

Lots of pregnant friends have asked about breastfeeding, as I think there’s a natural curiosity and anxiety about it. I usually say:

  • ask for help with the latch and try to be as confident as you can before leaving the hospital
  • in hospital, ask for tongue tie to be checked if you can if you’re having problems
  • if you’re having problems with latch, focus on your milk supply
  • if you’re expressing to exclusively breast feed, consider hiring a hospital grade double pump which makes it all so much faster
  • keep asking for help

Did you have issues on your way to breastfeeding? Or did you decide it wasn’t worth persevering after a bad start? Were your midwives and hospital supportive and knowledgeable? Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

The Enterprise, Holborn

You know how everyone thinks that their wedding* was the bestest party ever? Well, we’re no exception to that rule. Credit where it’s due, here are some of the people and suppliers who helped us along to that conclusion.

The Enterprise, Holborn.

It’s one of those places where people narrow their eyes and say ‘Oh – I think I know it’ – but often don’t as it’s a common name. The Enterprise is hidden away opposite Lamb’s Conduit St, at 38 Red Lion Street towards High Holborn.

We wanted a central London wedding and a pub venue for the reception. Ideally without any hire fee and somewhere that we could bring in our own food. A case of hen’s teeth, you might think.

Our fabulous baker friend remembered clients who’d had a strict budget which they spent on Waitrose canapés and wedding cupcakes in a pub that allowed you to bring your own food, and that’s how we found Diana and the Enterprise.

This woman is a saint. I’d like to think we were relatively chilled (because every bride does, even as others are queuing up to slap her silly) and that was largely down to Diana’s patience and organisational skills. Her default answer is “yes” and they literally could not have been more helpful. How many pubs would say

Why don’t we just put up the 75 metres of bunting? Much easier than your coming over. We’ll do it at midnight on Friday when we close, so it’s all ready for you on Saturday at 11:00am.

And the flowers too. We can do those. Would you like balloons? What about balloons? (no, no balloons)

Tea and coffee? Well either you can supply your own which we’ll use or we’ll get in whatever you want.

And yes, we can mix a cocktail on arrival with that specific ginger beer you want and the house Bloody Marys too.

Music? Live band? Great! Just bring an iPod or use or Spotify account for when they finish. What about the disco ball? (yes, definitely disco ball)

You can drop in stuff any time you like or get it delivered directly here.

Of course, your caterer can use anything in the kitchen and we’ll get the chef to come in on Saturday morning to make sure everything is ok.

If you want to pop back on Sunday we’ll have everything packed and ready for you to take away. Or we can keep it until after your honeymoon?

How about an extension until 1:00am? That’s free of charge, we’ll sort it out.

You want striped straws and Fentimans? Just send them over.

And on, and on. We didn’t have to pay anything for hire, just meet a bar spend which was rather lower than anywhere else that we looked at. We had the pub to ourselves for the day (and when one person did wander in off the streets opportunistically, it took the staff about seventeen seconds to clock him and move him on). The pub’s Victorian glory meant we had to do very little to dress it up – in fact we did nothing as it was all handled by the pub.

The Eating.

We were in the lucky position of being able to work with people we knew well for the food.

Sylvain from Undercover Kitchen toiled away in the kitchen for about twelve hours and pretty much used every cooking method available to him. I’ve known him for a while and knew that the presentation would be great but above all the flavours would be perfect. I hear that the quail scotch eggs and the fish and chips went down well (also did that classic thing of not actually managing to eat much at our own wedding, dammit). He made piles and piles of Ginger Pig bacon butties and London Rich sausage sandwiches. He was also game for doing two complete sets of food and even supplied the sugar syrup for the bride’s cocktail. Nothing was too much trouble.

Some issues ahead of the day meant we changed the plans from a small family lunch and evening party, to brunch and afternoon tea and late night shouty singing. Baked greats – not just goods, greats – came courtesy of Scott from Kooky Bakes with American Breakfast Whoopie pies amongst other dazzlingly pretty cupcakery and also including the infamous Kooky Slice; and the amazing Arianna Halshaw of Bittersweet Bakers made all manner of treats. Particularly our favourite Rice Krispie Marshmallow ones, and flourless chocolate cookies, and cinnamon rolls…. the best damn cake ever.

It was three tiers of Guinness and Ginger with vanilla cream cheese icing and it was devastatingly tasty. To the point where I know she’s been bribed for the recipe and she very generously gave it to me too – it’s going to be our Christmas cake this year. It’s gloriously unctuous and moreish, a melting, rich gingerbready concoction. Available to order from her website…

My lovely mum brought us a great pressie, hand carried all the way from Ireland. A wheel of mature Mossfield cheese, made by my cousins from organic milk, fifteen minutes away from where I was brought up. “The Irish Cheese” is like a Gouda and also comes in other flavours like garlic and basil or herb and sundried tomato. I say: the mature wins every time. It’s available from Paxton & Whitfield here.

Steven at Union Hand Roasted Coffee dashed to get a kilo of Revelation into the post to me at 5:00pm on Thursday night after I totally forgot to order any in advance. By 4:00pm on the day of the wedding, given that the ceremony had started at 10:00, people really needed coffee.

We had a ball at our own wedding, not only because we were surrounded by a ton of people we love, but also because we had brilliant people helping us. If you’re considering a London wedding, or even further afield, can’t recommend them all highly enough. Oh, and our photographer Chris was awesome too.

Photos by Chris Osburn, Scott Ball and MiMi Aye.

*Blogging got a bit neglected with wedding planning then getting married and moving house twice, all in the same month. Normal service to resume…

Brunch Extreme at the InterContinental Park Lane

At the beginning of brunch at the InterContinental London Park Lane yesterday, someone from the hotel asked me if I’d ever been there before.  A Park Lane hotel? No, not recently and not without a corporate event to attend. I imagine many London-dwellers are the same – generally when we want to go out to eat or drink, we don’t think of hotel restaurants or bars as a first option.  Those lovely Qype people folks arranged for a small group of people to go to the Cookbook Café and find out precise what they have to offer, and to see if we should reconsider.

One of the massive benefits of going to a venue with Qype, apart from the company, is that you get the best service imaginable, lots of attention and often special access – in our case, Paul Bates, the executive chef joined us for brunch and talked us through the menu.  The vast, bottomless bellini’d menu.  That’s right, folks. Choose from five different type of nectar then add Crémant de Bourgogne, swirled together in a champagne flute til the cows come home. Or til 4:00pm, I suppose, when the brunch finishes.

You start off with the Market Table – a buffet which starts with a bread selection and cold meats, and homemade piccalilli and chutney. Then it explodes into more lunch-like salads (vast bowls of chickpeas, greek salad), fruit salad.  There are pastries, juices and coffee of course too. Round to the other side of the table and it’s filled with local cheeses and sashimi.

::  Tuna Tataki ::

:: Lucious pepper salad ::

:: Seasonal preserves ::

While the group made a trip – or two – to the buffet, Paul chatted to all of us about the inspiration behind the menus and the cafe itself. As the name suggests, it’s inspired by cookery books and at first they used to faithfully reproduce dishes from the books that are on sale around the room. Nowadays they occasionally use some of the recipes for inspiration, especially when catering for events but create the menus themselves.  On sunny day like yesterday, it felt bright and airy in there – well, air-conditioned of course.  We were sitting up at the rear of the room, almost on a mezzanine level which would be great to book out for a big group. The diners were a mixture of a sloaney young crowd who looked to have been staying at the hotel, possibly for a wedding, couples, tables of ladies who appeared to be there specifically for the food and who were making numerous visits to the buffets. Can’t blame them.

:: Eggs Benedict ::

If you fancy something hot along with the Market Table, you can move on to the Full Breakfast option. Eggs any way, hash browns, bacon and sausages, potato cakes or a freshly baked waffle.  Go for the waffle. Also available on the À la Carte, we shared plates of these and the American-style pancakes.  The maltyness, the light crispy texture, and the plethora of toppings (chocolate sauce, maple syrup, that instrument of the devil that is clotted cream, fresh compote, waxy pistachios) made it my favourite part of the menu.  Ok, of that part of the menu.

Sticking with the more traditional brunch items, we also ordered the eggs benedict and most of tried the Corn and Scallion pancakes with wild rocket and scrambled eggs, both very good with sunshine yellow yolks spilling out of the eggs which are sourced from Berkshire. Reducing food miles is a concern for the hotel – as Paul reasonably pointed out, food that is procured locally costs less, is fresher and is seasonal.

On to the lunch dishes.  Yes, that’s right. We were only halfway through.

:: Pinkly perfect lamb and implausibly creamy mash ::

:: Gently spiced Monkfish ::

:: Courgette tart ::

I never would have guessed that I’d choose the vegetarian option as by far my favourite of these choices. Sweet roasted vegetables and buttery pastry. It even surpassed the lamb and duck-fat roasted potatoes for me.

To finish, we felt it obligatory to try the desserts trolley (that makes it sound insubstantial, or a chore – it wasn’t.)  Ok, I admit it, I saved space.  Here’s the plate I liberated (to share, honest).

:: Desserts selection ::

Clockwiseish from top left: Nutmeg creme brulee, hazelnut brownie, chocolate torte topped with praline and nuts, baked cheesecake, champagne mousse with raspberry jelly, Bakewell tart. I particularly loved the cheesecake, it was creamy without being claggy, and utterly moreish.

We finally, reluctantly left the table – though we’d dined for almost three hours, and moved off for a tour of the kitchens (photos on Flickr) exiting through Theo Randall’s restaurant. You can see some of the spirits in his backlit bar above – it’s somewhere I’d certainly like to come back and visit. It was named Italian Restaurant of the Year 2008 in the London Restaurant Awards and I’ll also be looking out for his book Pasta, coming from Ebury in June.  We visited the 7th floor club and then said our final goodbyes before dispersing gradually back into the sunshine for the rest of the afternoon.

Stars *****

Yes, it was a treat but our experience yesterday made me reconsider looking into what London’s top hotels have to offer. The brunch at the Cookbook Café offers bewildering amounts of choice, with literally something to suit everyone. Take a group, get everyone to plump for the £39 Bubbles and Brunch option and linger for a Bloody Mary or Bellini fuelled catch-up session.

Thanks to TikiChris, Qype and the lovely Esther, Charles and of course Paul at the InterContinental

London Supper Clubs: Trail Of Our Bread and the Awesome Birthday Cake

I’ve been known of late to use and abuse the word ‘awesome’, though once I would have shunned it. But ‘awesome’ is the only word to describe the fantastic ‘surprise course’ at Trail of Our Bread on Saturday. A work of sugarcraft art – but how did it taste?

We’ve been to this supperclub before to review, then were gutted to miss out on the Ocean Commotion evening.

We saw some familiar faces when we arrived and I’ll bet they’ll write more complete accounts of what we ate – it was my night-before birthday celebration so I was glad to have any photos come out at all.  We started with chestnut and chorizo soup, laden with caramelised onions. I could have eaten bucketloads (classy, me).   Seconds were offered but previous supperclub experience finally came to bear and I (uncharacteristically) restrained myself, ostensibly in order to enjoy each and every course. Realistically, so that I wouldn’t need to be rolled out.

:: Fideo* pasta with garlic butter ::

:: Rabbit with petit pois, lettuce, cider and spiced glazed chicory ::

:: Rhubarb Fool with ginger shorbread ::

The main course was (Easter) bunny which again was something I’ve never cooked – or eaten for that matter. I was treated to two saddles, though I was assured that the meat on the bone was just as flavoursome. Thanks to a surprisingly good bottle of Chapel Down and a decent Cabernet Sauvignon that we were making our way through, I’m a touch cloudy about the exact order in which the next courses arrived.

There was the wibbly but tasty experimental citrus jelly, the set and ludicrously moreish Absinthe jelly, and then Jim, our host, made an announcement.

For the duration of the evening, a surprise had been hidden in plain view, right beside me.  Jim knew that it was my birthday and he suggested making a cake – which Anna baked and decorated from scratch (she asked the boyfriend “What does she like?” “Meringues.” “Sod that, I’m not making a meringue”).  It was a layered sponge with buttercream, jam and fondant.  The sugarcrafted poppy was fab, and the touch of genius was using crushed Oreos for the soil.  You paused before taking a mouthful, it was so fantastically realistic.

You never know quite what you’ll get at a supper club.  This time around we had lots of new things to try (for me, rabbit and absinthe included) and shared our table with a great bunch of girls and the odd wildcard. Group photos aren’t the norm but we had those too.  The set dressing – including Alice in Wonderland style TOOB goodiebags – was imaginative and sparked conversation, including whether we really should ‘Drink Me’ or not, when faced with little cork-stoppered bottles filled with what might have been absinthe or Fairy Liquid (vodka with colouring).

Thank you so much to Jim and Anna for making it such a fun night, and especially for the awesome flower pot – and yes, it did taste as good as it looked!  That’s definitely out of the ordinary for novelty cakes – and hell, anyone who knows me know how fussy I am about baked goods.  Anyone need a bespoke cake for an event?  I recommend you contact and try to cajole her.

*I think that’s what the pasta was… and more photos are here