Tuesday, 15 October 2013

21 Breastfeeding Lessons Learnt...

Note: The following post was also published on The Essential One Blog last week.

I never expected breastfeeding to be what it became to me.

I went in to motherhood with a vague notion that "breast was best". I knew I would give it a go but my main motivation was more based on a generic feeling of obligation than it was on science, infant nutritional convictions or any maternal feelings towards the issue. I just kind of thought that's what you should want to do, so I must want to do it and I'll give it a bash.

What happened then? Well, then I had a baby. And, like so many other things, motherhood shone a totally different light on it. Breastfeeding became important to me. It became important to me because if there is an option that is better for my baby then I wanted it for my baby.

Anyway I maintain this is not the advice blog. You'll need to find someone far more eloquent, intelligent and well read for that. Soz. But I've had big chunks of this drafted for months and have talked myself out of publishing twenty times on the basis that I am aware no breastfeeding journey is the same. No baby is textbook and no pair of boobs seem to perform the same (and often each in a pair can be doing different things). So let it be disclaimed this isn't any sort of definitive guide to breastfeeding. It discounts a million and one specific scenarios specific to a million and one different individuals. What it is is 19 months worth of one mum's experiences feeding one baby condensed in to 21 reasonably condensed numbered points. Here I go...

1. First feed. I knew babies were born with the ability to suckle. This doesn't prepare you for the WONDER that is marvelling at a new life who is seconds old knowing where to go and what to do and doing it knowing life depends on it. That right there had me hooked. That moment.

2. Babies are born with fat reserves. Try not to panic if they do not feed at first. They are built to wait until your milk comes in, which for most is days!

3. Measure your expectations about what a whole feed is. In the early days their tummy is the size of a marble! Don't panic, it's quality not quantity. Ask a pro if you are worried and numbers don't lie, if satisfactory weight gain is occurring (overall) then they must be getting enough no?

4. Babies only know need. Your newborn is not capable of thinking "I'm going to cry for a feed just to irritate her". They are driven by need alone. Nothing else. If they display signs of hunger then they are hungry. If it feels like you've been feeding all day, that is because they have been growing all day. Tomorrow will be different, enjoy the down time, you won't be there forever.

5. It hurts. I was told by several sources "breastfeeding only hurts if you're doing it wrong". Wrong. Nothing has ever been so incorrect. Breastfeeding is painful. Of course it's painful. Your skin needs to toughen up and your flow needs to stabilise. If you intend to breastfeed, don't bother promising yourself you will never swear in front of your child. You will only disappoint yourself 18 times a day as you latch them on to your own composed theme tune of "moly-fucking-shit-buggery-arse-holios". 

6. Get comfortable. Get a drink. Get a good book. If baby is easily distracted (unlikely at first) get rid of distractions. Get yourself fifty cushions. Get confident asking people to grab you things. Set yourself up for EVERY feed. You could be there an HOUR! Think of it as enforced rest.

7. Latching on. Aim their nose at your nipple to make them open their mouth wide. Hold their head at the top of their neck. (Don't cover the whole of the back of their head with your palm.) Make sure their bottom lip is curled down. Get as much in their mouth as possible. Not happy? Do NOT carry on regardless. Put your little finger in to the side their mouth, break the seal, pull baby away, breathe in some patience and start again.

8. Find time to feed in the bath. Especially in the early days. Tell the visitors to get lost. Run a warm bath. Get in, relax for ten minutes, then get someone to pass baby to you. The discomfort will ease. Your let down will be easy. Sore nipples (and anything else) will get a soak. It also makes for beautiful, memorable bonding time. Make a memory and jump in the tub.

9. Find your local breastfeeding support services (preferably before the baby gets here) and use them. Call them. Get them round. Cry at them. Try their suggestions. Some might sound bizarre but they (they're called the Pink Ladies around here) totally saved the day for me. Do your research on these services and phone numbers in pregnancy, then you will know from the outset that you have back up.

10. Oversupply. According to the wonderful Corinne (from the Pink Ladies mentioned above) I had enough milk for five babies. This made for a horrendously forceful and painful let down. The solution was to feed off the same breast two-three feeds in a row before switching. Within about 2 days my supply settled. The logic of this baffled me, but it worked.

11. Undersupply. You will make as much milk as you use, although sometimes there's a lag so give your boobs a chance. Keep feeding and give your milk should catch up. Talk to your health visitor, midwife or GP if you are concerned about weight gain. If you replace breastfeeds with formula feeds your supply will reduce further, so a better option can be to offer breast first then top up if needs must.

12. Express and give Daddy the chance to feed. I didn't do this enough in the early and I should have. It's really special time for them, allow them the opportunity. Advice on when to introduce a bottle differs and the issue is "nipple confusion", my midwife told me to make sure I gave her a bottle before 4 weeks, I did and we never had a problem. I've also heard you should never try a bottle before 6 weeks because they will lose their latch. I guess the answer is you don't know unless you try, I find it unlikely one bottle feed will ruin their latch irretrievably.

13. There is a magical time between 3 and 6 weeks where you go "ok we got this". Suddenly it doesn't hurt. Suddenly it's easy. You sync. Your body and theirs. You fill as their bellies grumble. It's magical. It's the miracle of nature at it's very best and it's happening between you and the (or one of the) love of your life. My mum (who you'd think was being commissioned by Breastfeeding Inc.) kept telling me "give it a month, just give it a month and then decide what you want to do", she knew something I did not, she knew if I could set myself this seemingly more manageable goal then I would continue. 

14. WHOP-EM-OUT. I doubted myself several times about how public is too public. You know what? GIRL'S GOTTA EAT! You are feeding your baby! No you should not wait till you get home. You should not do it in the toilet. You should not apologise. If your baby doesn't feel like eating his/her lunch under a sheet can you blame them? You are not hurting anyone. You are not flaunting anything. You have a hungry baby and you are feeding him/her. Everyone else... If they have a problem they need to evolve and go educate themselves.

15. You do not need an expensive breastfeeding cover. A muslin or two will do. Wrap one corner around your bra/top strap and let the muslin hang over you and baby. I loved the Aden & Anais  ones. 

16. You do not need an expensive breastfeeding pillow. Well I didn't. I never found it comfortable. It did however make for a good "tummy time" support for her.

17. Look after your back. One or two uncomfortable feeds sat on ill-advised seating during the day can have you wincing that night. Your back will be under enough pressure with all the lifting, rocking and pacing. You may not realise the work your back is doing whilst you feed, you will concentrating so hard on keeping babies latch good. Use a range of breastfeeding positions and make your position choices based on you as well as baby.

18. Savour it. Watching TV, playing on your phone and reading a book are great for passing the time during feeds but try to make one or two of your feeds a day just for you two. Watch them. Marvel at what a good job your body is doing for her body. Feel close. We'll blink and they'll be cross teens and we'll miss this closeness.

19. Alcohol. Use the same rule as driving. Plus if you drink whilst feeding it'll probably all be out of your system by the time they want the next feed. As was the advice on my NCT breastfeeding workshop and I have read nothing and experienced nothing make me think this information was incorrect.

20. Routine vs baby led. I always fed on demand, so I have no idea how breastfeeding really fits in with Gina Ford type routines. I brought in a set feed before bedtime when we set up a bedtime routine and she was always screaming for her morning feed so those were pretty routine from about 3 months. Aside from that it was all on her. It worked for us. If you do want to set a routine just do not tie it to a sense of "success" of the day, if it goes good then great, if it doesn't... It's not personal.

21. Stopping. This is so so personal and I'm still formulating the criteria that made it right for me to stop. It was a combination of her needs, my needs, baby to be's needs, logistics and values. If I were to answer exactly why we stopped it wouldn't be short and it wouldn't be the same as anyone else's and that's cool. It was just our time and I am pleased to report it was right for us. (This is how it felt.)

And soon enough... A new nursing journey will start again soon! (See my pregnancy page for bump pics and posts!)


  1. Omg I love this post so much. I'm all teary thinking bout my short lived breast feeding journey but memories of how bloody special it was got me all mushy, amazing words and advice. Really lovely post :):):) and esp love the bath idea, never thought of at. I will remember your words if we are blessed with a baby no 2 :):):)


I appreciate, read and reply to all comments, I would LOVE to hear what you think today...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...