The First Month

What They Don’t Tell You About Feeding

Feeding a baby is hard. They don’t really tell you just how hard.

By ‘they’, I mean pretty much everyone who may have talked to us about having a baby. Our midwife, our childbirth educator at antenatal class, other people who’ve had babies. They know it’s hard, but they just didn’t relay that piece of information to us.

Actually, in our feeding session at antenatal class I’m pretty sure something was said about it being hard and you have to stick with it, but the point wasn’t laboured. Most of the focus was on teaching us to breastfeed. And now I can see why so much emphasis was placed on it.

Breastfeeding is hard work. I can’t believe how difficult this supposedly natural thing is, and how much of a mental toll it takes on mothers. Does anyone find it easy? Perhaps. But so many women seem to struggle with it at first. This is our little feeding story.

Breastmilk isn’t there at birth. Most people have a tiny bit of colostrum (a few teaspoons per feed), but that’s it for a while. The milk’s meant to take a few days to come in. Colostrum is like breastmilk, but not quite. A woman’s body starts making it a few months before birth, and it’s a high-powered dose of antibodies and other good stuff to protect the baby from infection.

When Jasper had his first feed, he latched to the breast OK and started sucking pretty well. I asked the midwife if he was getting anything, and she told me you just have to trust that he is.

I find that weird, because what if he’s not? If there’s no milk supply, you can’t just make it come with pure trust. That would be amazing! I wish life was like that. Like, do we have bacon in the fridge? If I trust that there is, there will be!

He sucked for about 30 minutes so we assumed he was getting something, but as the day went on he got crankier and crankier. The midwives actually tried to milk Liv’s boob (like, literally – they taught her to squeeze it just right so milk comes out), but even then she was only getting about 0.1ml of liquid. Not only did Liv not have any breast milk at first, she didn’t even have colostrum. This is when the midwives suggested we give him a little bit of formula. We agreed, and by evening Jasper was finally getting some food!

They wouldn’t let us use a bottle to do this – Liv had to wear a nipple shield (a plastic fake nipple that goes over the real one) so that Jasper would know he still had to work to get anything out, and therefore hopefully help to get more milk flowing. They put the formula into a syringe and use a small tube running into the shield to get the formula to him. He continued to get formula through the shield about 10 times a day. It took an hour each time and required a nurse or midwife to stand there the whole time. Then she had to go on the breastpump  45 minutes after each feed for 15 minutes to try to get the milk to come in. This, too, happened 10 times day. Talk about exhausting!

All of this meant Liv got no time to feed the baby alone. Also, every time Jasper cried, even a little bit, someone would come rushing in assuming he was hungry again. Later, when we got home, she resented that for the five days we were there, she missed out on that essential bonding time because there always had to be someone hovering over her to make sure he was being fed correctly. But they all had different ideas of how much food he should be getting and the right way to give it to him. This meant every eight hours when they changed shifts we were being completely different advice.

This raises a theme that I think occurs in all aspects of raising children, that so many people want to help and think they’re helping, but actually sometimes they’re hurting. There are always unintended consequences, I guess.

So anyway, by day three the milk still hadn’t arrived (worst milkman ever!). Jasper was getting more formula and was happy enough, but Liv was getting distressed and emotional. She felt like a failure for not being able to feed her baby. I constantly tried to reassure her that she wasn’t, but I don’t think anything could have stopped her feeling like that. Of course she felt like a failure. In an age where breastfeeding is treated as the only safe and reasonable option by the Ministry of Health, and many midwives, it’s no wonder women feel immense distress when they can’t do it. I was skeptical of the Breast is Best campaign before we had Jasper, but now I’m downright angry about it. I don’t know why this campaign is necessary, but from my point of view it only serves to emotionally harm women who only want to feed their children. And to make matters worse, at our maternity unit the walls were covered with huge collages about how amazing and natural breastfeeding is, with pictures of animals breastfeeding! Huh??

We were lucky that we had no hangups about formula, because what would we have done otherwise? I’ve heard horror stories from other birthing centres in Auckland where the midwives won’t give a baby formula until it’s lost at least 10 percent of its body weight. That could take a few days! It just seems unnecessarily mean to the baby, and the parents, when you have a safe and nutritious alternative.

Late on day three the midwife was visiting us at the birthing centre and was talking to us about feeding. She suggested that we’d need to consider the idea that the milk might not come at all, and we could consider medicine that might help lactation. I thought this was a little drastic, but I guess she was preparing us for the worst. Liv broke down in tears, desperate to feed Jasper. I felt so sorry for her, but tried to remain positive and told her the milk wouldn’t be far away.

And it wasn’t – the next day she got a few mls. And then a bit more. But she still wasn’t allowed to put J on her breast – she had to keep expressing and giving it to him via the syringe so they’d know how much he was getting. This got annoying, so one night, when J was particularly upset, Liv just put him on her boob and let him go for it. He loved it! And it totally settled him. We just had to do what we wanted to do in the end, and ignore what we were being forced to do.

When we got home, Liv was feeding Jasper on the breast for a while, then every feed he was topped up with a bit of formula – about 50ml. Liv was then expressing on the breastpump between feeds to boost her supply. We’d then top J up with the expressed milk too, and then the formula if he needed it.

But as the days have gone on, and Liv’s milk supply increased even more, Jasper was mostly on the breast. Now, he has some formula at night, mainly to give Liv a bit more of a rest (he’s a hungry fella who feeds for 40 minutes each side!). She’s still expressing a bit, but he’s mostly on the breast.

The point is, that first week is so hard in terms of feeding. The midwives at the birthing unit kept telling us it gets better after a couple of weeks, and they’re right. Now, just over three weeks in, we’ve got it down. Liv and Jasper have their routine, and I help out with a bottle feed or two every now and then. For Liv it was worth persisting with the breastfeeding because that’s what she wanted to do. It was a nightmare at first but things did all  fall in to place.

I know this isn’t the case for everyone – some people actually just can’t do it. And some don’t want to, and that’s totally valid. All I know is that Liv seems to get some joy out of the bonding she gets with J when they’re feeding. Of course there are so many ways to bond, but I guess this is their little thing that they share.

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Doing a bottle feed while Rocko supervises
The First Month

Sleepless in Pukekohe

The last time I left you, I’d just got home from leaving Liv and Jasper at the maternity unit for their first night there. I was ecstatic with the baby and the birth and how perfect everything had gone. Well, that didn’t last long.

Some people did warn us this would be difficult. Throughout the pregnancy, my delightfully cynical friend Lawrence kept saying things like, “PREPARE FOR THE HORROR”, and other such words of encouragement. Well, he has twins, so I figured things must just have been hard for him and his wife. We’ll be fine, I thought. We’re always fine! Things are pretty easy for us! But then reality sets in and I think, actually this is kinda crap. When does it get fun?

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His “oh God, I ate too much again” face.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the little guy and think he’s great, and I know we’re only three weeks in, but so far it hasn’t always been a barrel of laughs. For some people this is a wonderful time. But do people look back on this time with rose-tinted glasses? Do they forget how hard newborn babies are? Do they forget how stressful it is being up many, many times in the night with no way to settle their baby? I can only assume that kids become really fun, and that that joy drowns out the negative experiences of having a newborn. Or maybe other babies are just easier than ours.

In any case, I’ve been putting on a brave face. People at work ask me, How is Jasper and Liv? And I say, Oh they’re fine, just fine, he’s a bit unsettled but he’s OK, really.  It’s too hard. It’s easier to just say Yup, we’re all good, thanks.

The first two weeks are a lie.

Jasper slept really well when we brought him home. He would feed about 9:30pm, sleep til about 1am, feed again, then sleep for another three hours, feed, then back to sleep. He was so easy to settle. We thought we’d nailed it. Yes! This is easy! What is everyone complaining about?!

This last week is when Jasper started to get nuts. He’s awake a lot – not always crying, but just awake, and often unsettled. He sleeps for half-hour bursts, but then wakes up crying. It’s worst in the early hours of the morning, because nothing seems to settle him. He’ll go down for a few hours in the evening but then from three am on, he’s a restless mess. Nothing seems to calm him. Is it colic? Wind? Is he cold? Is he still hungry? Is he lonely? Does he need a cuddle? We try all the settling techniques, and often nothing seems to work. We just have no idea.

Eventually, some time mid-morning, he has a good sleep. But this guy is awake for hours at a time. Aren’t babies meant to sleep lots? The internet says babies should sleep about 16-18 hours a day at this stage. Yesterday we recorded his sleep schedule. He got eight hours. Just.He’s only three weeks old and still probably pretty freaked out about the world, so I understand why he might be a bit difficult right now. But it still makes it a bit hard for us.

The worst part is that when people come over to visit, he’s pretty good! They say things like, Is he always this chill? And we laugh. It’s like he knows, the little bastard.

I went back to work this week and the plan was for Liv to tend to him during the night because there’s no sense in both of us being tired. The working person may as well have some rest and actually be able to perform at their job. Ha, yeah right.

It’s hard for me to sleep knowing Liv’s out there struggling to get J to sleep. So I’m helping out a bit, trying to settle him when I can. Usually this is very early in the morning, about 5 o’clock. I figure if I can calm him for a couple of hours, that’s a good bit of sleep Liv can get before I go to work and she has to put up with him all day.

Anyway, it kinda sucks right now. He’s cute but we don’t get anything back from him. Smiling is probably still a while away, and it seems like if he’s not sleeping or eating, he’s whinging.

This probably sounds far worse than it really is.  Everyone’s healthy and we’re just losing sleep, that’s all. But that’s stressful. It’s such a hard adjustment to go from a life of extended sleep with no responsibilities. I’ve been tired before – I used to work shifts when I worked in radio – but this is different. It’s like, I feel OK and in control, but I’m forgetting things and doing strange things. Like, this morning I almost put raw quinoa in my breakfast smoothie because I was doing two things at once. Just now, proof-reading this blog post, I’m correcting the most atrocious spelling errors. Goodness knows if im making mistakes at work without realising. Good thing I’m not a surgeon!

The point is, this is way harder than I expected. I feel like the joyful moments are far and few between and we’re just putting up with J, and him with us, probably. Maybe this plays into my impatient nature, and I know things will get easier and more fun, but right now I’m just so tired.

But I shouldn’t complain. I don’t want to be one of those people that misses out on their children because they’re always thinking of the future, looking forward to those more fun stages of development, like laughing and talking. I do want to experience it all and that means taking the good with the bad, but I hope something fun comes along soon. And maybe this is where evolution has it all worked out, because I know that first real smile is probably only days away, and then I know J will have my heart forever.

Listening to: An Imaginary Country by Tim Hecker

Reading: Meet Me In The Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman

Hours of sleep: 5 (at a stretch!)

The First Month

Day One

We've had Jasper for more than two weeks now, and I have so many thoughts about the first few weeks that I'll need to break this up into several posts. But I want to do one on the first day, because this was one of the best days of our lives. It deserves its own post.

The first thing that surprised me about his birth is that I wasn't overwhelmed with emotion like I thought I'd be. People have described the moment you meet your first child as this extraordinary, life-changing moment where time stands still and you marvel at this little wonder you've created, or something like that. But it wasn't like that for me. Don't get me wrong, I was delighted; happy tears streamed down my face and I laughed with disbelief that he was actually here. Liv did that half-laugh-half-cry that comes from the combination of exhaustion and joy. We were just so happy it was over and that after nine long months we finally had our little man. But I just didn't feel like I expected to. I wasn't immediately transformed, is what I mean. I felt much the same as I did before he was born. But here's the thing that surprised me the most: I didn't love him.

I've read other people describe being overwhelmed with love when their first child arrives. But I really didn't feel that. To be honest, it kinda of felt like we had a baby to look after now, but it wasn't ours. It could have been any baby! Who is this stranger? That's what it's like. It's weird and I never would have expected to feel like that. Even now, nearly three weeks in, I'm, not attached to him yet. A friend told me the other day this can take months, and that makes sense. Obviously I do love the little guy and I'm just so glad he's ours, but I don't feel a bond with him yet. It'll come, I know. Right now I'm just enjoying watching him change with each day.

Anyway, back to the first day. So as soon as he was born Jasper was brought up to Liv's chest, where he stayed for an entire hour. I loved how relaxed things were. There was no hurry to get us out – in fact, we were encouraged to take things nice and slow and spend a few hours bonding with our baby before thinking about leaving. I'd expected to be ushered out the door pretty quick, considering how busy the hospital is. But we stayed at our leisure and enjoyed this precious time with J.


I fired off a few quick texts to family members to let them know he was here. After half an hour or so I popped down to the coffee kiosk to get a latte, as I'd been up most of the night. I was tired, but relaxed and happy at the same time. When I got back I took off my shirt and had some skin-to-skin time with him. It was lovely, holding this warm little baby on my chest with some towels over him to keep him warm. He was awake at this time, his big, dark eyes exploring what little of the world he could see, looking up at me. Only an hour old, he was already holding his head up. Strong little guy.

We spent a few hours in the delivery room, slowly getting ready to move on. The midwives spent time with Liv helping her get breastfeeding established. At some point they did some checks on J and weighed him – 3.8kg – and we clothed him for the first time.

We were planning on heading to the Pukekohe Maternity Unit, but needed to wait until Liv had the use of her legs back after the epidural. Slowly she got the feeling back and I helped her shower and get dressed. I was eager to get us out of there and get set up at the Maternity Unit. The hospital was great but after ten hours in the same room, I was a little over it.

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We put plenty of layers of clothes on J and strapped him into the pram. I adjusted the back so it went right down, so he was lying down completely, thinking this is what I was meant to do. But half-way to the car he had his first spill. A bunch of white stuff came out of his mouth and he coughed and I freaked out actually had no idea what to do. It seems so simple – get a cloth and wipe it up! It was fine, just a little spill, but I didn't even have a cloth to clean it up. So unprepared! I found a tissue and wiped his face and that was it, and I made a mental note to always have a spill cloth ready.

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We got to the car, strapped J into his car seat (this was freaky – he was so small the straps pretty much covered his whole body!) and left the hospital about 11am. It's a strange feeling, driving with a newborn in the back. Liv sat back there with him. I was extremely careful going over bumps and such, being mindful not to rock him too much. We pulled into Wendy's for our first post-baby meal. God it was good! Liv was especially ravenous, as you'd expect after doing the equivalent of running a marathon.

About midday we got to the maternity unit and got things set up in the room. It's wonderful to have a facility like this just down the road from our house. There are about 10 rooms there, with at least two midwives on at all times, and nurses who come and go. It's just a nice transition between the hospital and home, where we will have to do everything ourselves. Each room has just a single hospital bed, so no room for partners. But they told me I could stay til about 10 each night if I wanted.

That afternoon was spent in giddy togetherness. Liv and I beamed at each other, unable to believe that this cute little guy was ours to keep. Feeding him was proving a challenge, though. He just wouldn't quite latch properly. One of the midwives noticed he had a pretty bad tongue-tie. This is a problem that's becoming more prevalent, apparently, and there is talk that the cause is too much folic acid. Yeah, that thing that prevents spina bifida. The link is unproven, however, and even if it is proven, I'd rather he had a tongue tie than spina bifida! Anyway, they had a woman there at the maternity unit who could cut the tongue tie for us. It was hard to watch, someone going at my little boy with a big pair of scissors! But it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. He didn't cry much worse than for his vitamin K injection. I was just glad to get that out of the way.

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In the early evening, Liv's mum and step-dad also turned up for a cuddle for a while. J was pretty chill through all of this. He didn't cry too much, but also wasn't getting much food, so he got a little more cranky as the day went on. We quickly learnt that our little boy has a massive appetite, and with Liv's milk (or even colostrum) yet to come in, he was getting more and more desperate for food by night time.

The midwives suggested we try giving him a bit of formula. We had decided fairly early on that we'd be happy to give him formula if he needed it. Neither Liv nor I had any pretensions about the use of formula. Some people decry it as unnatural, but we'd rather our baby was fed (also, you know what's natural? Infant mortality. It's amazing we have a food product for him that's safe and nutritious and can keep him going). Meanwhile, Liv was spending a lot of time on the breastpump to get the milk flow going.


As the night wore on, I knew home time was looming for me. I was beyond exhausted and Liv seemed to be well looked after by the midwives. By 9pm I made the difficult decision to leave, as much as I didn't want to. I felt like I never wanted to leave either Liv or J ever again. But I also knew a good night's sleep was essential. So I said goodnight, went home and collapsed on the bed.

This was one of my best days, possibly second only to our wedding. It was just so fun. We felt so good, so euphoric. Jasper was cuter than we could have ever imagined and we already enjoyed him so much. As I drifted off, I smiled with relief and excitement. Our baby is here, healthy and safe, and we are all OK. And we now have a lifetime ahead of us as a family. A lifetime of fun and laughter and cuddles and kisses and holidays and swimming and books and games and music and cousins and aunties and uncles and grandparents and Christmases and beach days and playground adventures and school trips and all of those things that I enjoyed so much about being a kid. I faded away, my heart filled with the hopefulness of new life. There were no anxious thoughts, no worries. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but I felt like everything was all right.

Reading – Meet Me In the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 by Lizzy Goodman.

Watching: Apple Tree Yard

Listening to: Add Violence by Nine Inch Nails