You may have read some of my other Mummy Me posts, such as, Welcome to Motherhood, Travel tips for parents and my open letter to my girls on their first birthday's. This post is a bit different. It may tell you things you don't want to hear, but it is honest. Out of all the things, I wish I had this honesty before I had my baby because I definitely would have done things differently. This post isn't here to get you to do one thing or another. It is simply my experience of breastfeeding, good and bad. I'm going to start with the bad.
Be prepared - If I'm honest, breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life. From actually getting the baby to latch on (it's not as easy as it sounds) to constantly wondering whether your baby is satisfied.
I, like most first time mums, thought breastfeeding was something natural and ingrained within every mother. Your baby is born and their natural response is to feed - how hard could it be. Very hard. Very very hard. No, extremely hard. Are you getting the gist? Some women, I think, find it does come naturally. They are overflowing with milk and their baby latches on beautifully. That's amazing if it is you. But for the rest of us it's not that easy. It means working at 'latching on' non stop for the first few weeks. If you aren't exhausted already due to lack of sleep, your mind working overtime, getting used to never being alone, throwing in breastfeeding is enough to push you over the edge. Also with first time mother's being more likely to use an epidural or drugs through their labour this actually can have a knock on effect on your hormones and milk production. I have first hand experience of this as with my first I had an epidural (it was ineffective btw) and I really struggled with my breastfeeding. However with my second I had her completely naturally with no drugs, epidural, or gas and air and breastfeeding was so much easier!
The pain - is indescribable. Actually, scrap that, I can describe it perfectly. Initially it feels like someone is threading a needle through your nipple, with every suck another stitch. For me it was literally toe curling. My husband was literally there every time I fed my daughter for the first few weeks for moral support and to physically clench my feet as they curled in pain. I did have an infection and thrush in the nipple at one point but this pain was there with both my children and lasted about three weeks. Talking of sore nipples, a great cream is Lansinoh HPA Lanolin cream. I would put this on before and after each feed and it soothed the nipples and helped to heal any cracked skin. It's great because it can be put on before feeding and because it is a natural substance it does no harm to the baby and gives your nipples the lubrication they need with all that sucking. I feel like I've said nipples a bit too much.
It can also be very uncomfortable if you have had stitches or even a C-section to sit with your babying in your lap and feed which is the most convenient position. However there are lots of positions you can try.
Satisfaction guaranteed? - As I mentioned before, never knowing if your child is satisfied is a pretty annoying feeling. Because you can't physically see the amount of milk going into the baby's mouth it is hard to know how much your baby is drinking. This in turn causes you to pull your boob out every time your baby cries.
On the other hand, eventually once established, breastfeeding gives you a kind of satisfaction that nothing else can give you. You are providing for your baby, and this magic potion that you are producing is giving it everything it needs (aside from love and sleep) and all it will need until around six months.
Time - How long does it take to feed your baby? There is no answer to this question. I remember a time when I was feeding my first where she was literally latched on to one breast for 40 minutes and the other for 20. So that was a whole hour of feeding. She then went an hour and wanted feeding again but this time only for 15! With my second she only ever really fed for 15 minutes at a time. So even though you already know you are going to have less time, expect to have even less time to do anything. Somehow you need to remember to eat though to keep up your milk production. It's also a good idea to swap breasts to encourage milk production in both. Some prefer to swap half way between a feed. But I found once latched on I didn't really want to move the baby. When they naturally released the breast I would always offer the other breast but if they didn't take it I would then offer this breast the next time I fed.
To go out, or not to go out? That is the question. - When you breastfeed you need to be comfortable with popping your boob out when the baby wants feeding. This isn't always practical. As long as you carry a scarf around with you, most of the time this can be done discreetly, however sometimes it's just more convenient to take a bottle. Obviously this is only doable if you aren't breastfeeding exclusively. To be honest, in the first few weeks of motherhood I didn't really leave the house because I wanted to get into a routine for the baby and I found when I did go out, it unsettled the baby and she didn't latch on or feed as well. By the way, if you are happy to breastfeed without covering up, power to you.
It can't all be bad.... can it?! - No it's not all bad. I mean I did it twice (!) and if I had another I would again. The hard work pays off in the end. As a mum, you have a resilience within you that appears the second your baby is born. It's this thing where you do things just because you have to. There is no questioning, you just do. It's that same resilience that got me through my breastfeeding. Maybe to the detriment of my mental health with my first! But the hard work pays off in the end. This resilience is amazing because it sneaks its way in through other aspects of your life. It's definitely something I didn't have before having my babies.
Sleep - So we all know there is a severe lack of sleep when you first have a baby. So if I told you breastfeeding can give you more sleep then bonus right!? The great thing with breastfeeding is the night feeds. No having to get out of bed and boil the kettle, no having to cool the bottle so the milk is the right temperature. You just get the baby, pop them on and relax, all while laying down in your bed! I loved this as it saved me some lost kip! I wore sleep bras while sleeping which have no wire and are basically just made out of material. Kind of like a crop top. These gave me the support I needed while asleep and also when feeding, as by the way, your boobs are going to grow to extremes you have never seen, so will need more support.
Bonding - You do have a bond when you breastfeed. And I'm not saying it's not the same bond you would have if you were bottle feeding, but there is something about the closeness you feel when feeding your baby. Sometimes they fall asleep on you or sometimes they stare deep into your eyes and no matter what you feel somehow you are connecting with your baby. And it's just special. It's so hard to explain because a lot of the pro points to breastfeeding are hypothetical and link to the emotions you feel. Whereas the negatives relate to practicality.
A happy medium - I found what worked best for me was actually part breastfeeding and part bottle feeding. Now this isn't practical for everyone. But with my first, I didn't feel as though I was feeding the baby enough milk, the baby was getting restless which was making me more anxious, in turn affecting my milk production. From the advice of my midwife I then purchased an expressing machine (these are available to rent from most children centres, but if you chose to purchase try and get a double electric one as it saves so much time!). When initially expressing I wasn't even producing enough for a full feed which then reiterated the fact to me that I wasn't producing enough breast milk to satisfy my baby. So I would then top up some of the feeds with formula milk. This then gave me a break from breastfeeding. However I would say expressing is great for those who are producing a lot of milk, but for those of us who don't, it is just an extra thing you have to do in order to give yourself a break later on. Great for if you are going out though. Some might say if you have to top up with formula any way what's the point? I don't have a response back to this.
Choice - All I can say is breastfeeding is personal choice, so please don't be forced into doing something you don't want. Yes I breastfed and would do it again, but if it put me in a position where I was putting my own mental and physical health at risk there is no way I would choose to do it. A happy mum equals a happy baby. I would never put myself through what I did with my first and the only reason I breastfed the second time was because I had learnt from my first experience and honestly found it easier. I would encourage every mum to give it a go but please don't think it is the be all and end all of a healthy baby. Mum knows best, so go with your instinct and I'm sure you'll be fine.
I feel as though I could write a whole book about this! But for now I hope you find this helpful. If you have any questions or any comments I would love to hear them.
Here are some websites you might find helpful:
Here are some websites you might find helpful: