Why didn’t they warn me?!

vickiOur guest post today comes from the lovely Vicki.  Vicki is mummy to Alex, a little boy of 19 months, and runs For Luna, an online swimwear website with her husband, James.

There are many aspects to becoming a parent that nobody can prepare you for. You can’t describe labour and childbirth to anybody because, for one thing, it is such a personal experience – different for every woman. My experience was dreadful due to complications, and I remember asking ‘Why did no-one warn me?’, but how could they? And what good would have come from it? Anyway, as everyone knows it is all worth it in the end.

Another major shock to the system for me was lack of sleep. Before becoming a mother I used to think that eight hours sleep was my absolute minimum requirement, any less than that and I would feel nauseous and fumble through the day feeling hard done by. I had the angel baby on the maternity ward, we spent three nights there and the other babies cried and screamed all night whilst Alex slept peacefully. I felt very lucky. But as soon as we were at home he woke every 75 minutes for a feed, and this continued until he was 7 months old.

Of course, I tried to nap with Alex during the day but it was hard because his naps were very unpredictable so you never knew how long he would be asleep for. To cut a long story short, after 7 months of this sleep deprivation I was exhausted mentally and physically, and desperate for a solution. I had read every baby sleep book going, and tried almost every method and routine. The one thing I swore I would never try was sleep training, but at 7 months I felt I was dangerously tired and that something had to give. I didn’t want that to to be me!

James and I decided that we would give it a try over 3 nights. Alex was 7 months old and happy and healthy in every way so we felt it was a good time to go for it. The first night he woke as normal at 9.30 looking for his first feed. I went into him every 5 minutes and just stroked his head for 30 seconds before leaving the room. He whinged (I use this word not in an unkind way, but just to emphasise that he didn’t ever actually cry) for 40 minutes and then slept until 5.30AM. It worked like magic! And the following 2 nights he did the same, although the calling out lasted 20 minutes, and 5 minutes respectively.

We felt we had hit the jackpot, you can imagine how elated we were. We had our evenings back, I could go to bed early and get 8 hours sleep. It was amazing. So what a shock when a few weeks later I hit a wall of severe and all-encompassing depression. My period came (first one since becoming pregnant) and for the next 3 months I was on a roller coaster of emotions. Most of the time I felt like someone had sucked every last bit of colour out of the world, I found day to day life very hard. I felt like a failure. The doctor prescribed the minipill which (within a week) made things so much worse so I stopped taking it immediately. Then, as suddenly as it had arrived the depression lifted. Mercifully.

A few months later the black cloud returned. I was so frustrated with myself. I have everything I need in life and I know I am a happy person, so I could not understand what the problem was. This time it only lasted a few weeks, but was just as terrible and brought with it some really tough times for the whole family as I fought to keep functioning.

It was only a few weeks ago that I realised what was causing these awful, uncontrollable feelings. The first time they came on, at 7 months, I went from feeding Alex 5 times per night to just once before bed. The second time, with Alex at 12 months, I had dropped his lunch time feed. I am, it seems, a bit of an oxytocin addict. When you nurse, you enjoy a wonderful rush of this ‘love hormone’ and it floods your system with good feelings. Now, I can’t say I’m aware of these effects at the time, but I am certainly very aware of the drop in hormone levels when I reduce feeds. Looking into it online (thank you Dr Google!) I found that this is a known issue that affects some women but not others. They call it a hormone crash caused by the reduction of prolactin and oxytocin, which is exactly how it feels. Some women suffer for a few days, others can go on for years feeling terrible. It can also cause headaches, bloating, nausea etc. I suppose like menstrual symptoms it varies from woman to woman. And this is quite apart from the sadness that most of us naturally feel when weaning our babies (or toddlers) from the breast.

In terms of what you can do to alleviate it, the jury’s out on that one, although this affects lots of women it is not really talked about much. The doctor would have me on medication straight away, but I really want to avoid it if possible. Scouring forums I’ve found suggestions of chocolate helping (naturally!), rest, coffee and exercise. For me, to be honest, nothing made me feel better but what was really important was talking and being honest about my feelings so that my family and friends could help me rather than feel pushed away by my seemingly hostile behaviour. Imagine a woman with PMT and multiply that by about a million and you are close to understanding how bad it is when this happens.

This all leaves me a little nervous as I know Alex won’t be breastfeeding for too much longer, he currently has 2 feeds a day and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading the expected final ‘crash’ when it comes. But I somehow feel comforted knowing that it is an explainable condition, and that I’m not simply going mad! And like my ‘dreadful’ birth experience, it has all been worth it for the experience of breastfeeding my baby so I wouldn’t go back and change any of it. If anyone else has suffered with this and has any advice or comments, I’d love to know.

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