I knew from even before I was pregnant that I wanted to try and breastfeed my baby. Once I was expecting, I undertook heaps of research into it so as to try and prepare myself for what to expect and I seemingly encountered only 3 different types of information. The judgemental ‘breast is best’ type article which lambasts any person who can’t/won’t breastfeed. The glamourous pieces which focus on getting your figure back and feature photographs of beautiful celebrities breastfeeding their children whilst having their faces made up (yes Giselle, I am talking about you)! Or, the fluffy, earth mother type post which focus on the bond with baby and depict naked ladies sitting in streams whilst breastfeeding their babies.
Mack and I also attended the NHS Breasfeeding workshop which took us through the biology of breastfeeding, the dos and don’ts for breastfeeding, what support the NHS could offer for breastfeeding mothers and how partners could get involved (Mack was keen to support in any way he could but I suspect the thing that most stuck in his mind from this class was the knitted boobs)! I found the class fairly helpful although it was still given with a hint of judgment of formula feeding mothers and, if you are a google-aholic like me, the subject matter was all stuff you will have already found out in your own research. In hindsight, none of these sources came close to advising me or preparing me on how I would feel, once Mush arrived. I therefore hope that this blog can bridge that gap or atleast serve to remind me should I become pregnant again.
I was really fortunate in my labour and birth. I got the natural birth I wanted and Mush was born a healthy 8lb 5.5ozs and was awake and alert straight away. This meant she latched onto my nipple as soon as she was put on my chest. Ofcourse, I was that weak from labour that I couldn’t support her weight but a helpful midwife held her in place and then Mack took over so that Mush could take her first feed. Now, from my research, I can tell you that that first feed is not milk (this comes in later) but rather colostrum – concentrated goodness as I like to call it. I felt so proud that Mush had latched straight away and it felt so lovely (and dare I say ‘natural’ without sounding like a total hippy) to hold her and feed her for that first time.
From class I knew that Mush’s tummy was tiny so I expected to feed little and often. I did not expect that Mush would stay, quite happily, latched onto my nipple for sometimes an hour at a time. I also did not expect her little suck to be so bloody powerful; akin to holding the hoover attachment to your leg (we all did that as kids right?). We were fortunate to be released (from hospital, not jail) the same day as Mush’s arrival which was lovely. It was also nerve-wracking as we found we didn’t actually have a clue what we were doing (no amount of research can keep this feeling at bay) especially with breastfeeding. Here’s the lowdown on my experience with breastfeeding and the methods I employed to survive.
Mack and I aimed to feed Mush at least every 3 hours through the day (waking her up if necessary) and every 4 through the night but Mush wanted to feed much more than that. Mush just liked being on boob (as her feeding soon became known in the Mack-Bobal household). She would stay put for 40 minutes a time and fall asleep in my arms. She would (and often still does) feed every hour. This epic feeding caused me all kinds of problems.
(TMI WARNING) Sore, cracked and bleeding nipples caused pain I was not prepared for, never mind when your breasts becomes so engorged, heavy and beyond sore as your milk comes in. I mean, I didn’t have the easiest pregnancy as I suffered from severe symphysis pubis dysfunction resulting in me being on crutches, labour itself is no walk in the park but the pain I felt in those first few days of breastfeeding was so much worse to me as there’s no getting away from it – your baby needs to be fed. As Mush spent so much time feeding, I never felt like I had time to heal and I starting dreading the next feed. And I blamed myself for this. My latch must be wrong or my milk supply must be poor or maybe my body can’t do this. All I kept hearing in my head was the words an instructor had said at the breastfeeding class, ‘if breastfeeding hurts, you’re not doing it right.’ I would have quit there and then was it not for my 4 saviours: good support, time, lanolin cream and hot baths.
I found support to be so crucial in those first few days when you’re tired, don’t know which end of the baby is up and you can only sit down when it’s on a donut pillow. And boy was I lucky with the support group I had. My mum and mother-in-law were priceless and picked up the slack so that I could focus on nothing more than nursing Mush. Mack, was incredible and he ran around making sure that wherever I was breastfeeding I had water (you feel so thirsty when breastfeeding), food and entertainment plus he took all the nappy changes etc so that I could make the most of the time Mush was not on my boob (usually with such luxuries as a shower, nipping to the loo or putting some washing on).
My local NHS brestfeeding support network were great in that they checked in regularly and came round to check my latch and tell me what a good job I was doing (hearing this from a stranger truly bolsters you when you just want to quit)! But perhaps my biggest source of comfort were my 2 cousins who had had babies a few months before me and an old college friend that I re-connected with at an anti-natal class whose baby is 12 days older than Mush. Having people to turn to for advice or reassurance, to ask those stupid questions of and to moan to at 3 in the morning who are going or who have recently gone through the same thing is so key. It reminds you that you are not alone, that it is often the same for everyone and – this bit is important – once you hit 7 days post partum EVERYTHING will hurt much less.
This leads me nicely on to time. That 7 days is horrible but (again TMI warning) once my nipples scabbed over (I bet Giselle’s nipples didn’t scab over) and my milk settled down I truly felt better. I didn’t feel completely back to normal but I started to. So if Mack and I have another baby, I will be focussing on that 7 day mark as I can endure anything for 7 days. Given that the worst of it for me (I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t had an infection) was that short period and coincided with the usual post partum complaints, I found paracetamol to be a great relief and would take a couple when the pain was particularly bad half an hour before a feed (this is my ‘batteries not included’ bit – all medication should be taken in accordance with the instructions and doctor advice). Breastfeeding has become easier and easier in the weeks since Mush was born and it doesn’t hurt at all now. The only exceptions being when both Mush and I got a cold meaning she wanted to feed more and my supply was down a little thus increasing ‘on the boob’ time and when Mush forgets that my nipple is in fact attached to my breast and she pulls at it or generally messes around instead of peacefully eating.
In those early days of feeding, I was overcome with a massive love for my newborn daughter and a more intense love for my husband when watching him hold our little baby girl but my third love at that time was definitely Lanolin Cream. Using this on my poor nipples helped so much and soothed so much – I nearly used a tube in my first week. It isn’t the cheapest thing to buy but worth every penny as it is safe to use when breastfeeding and doesn’t have to be washed off before feeding again. I also used it lightly on Mush if her lips became chapped from feeding. Buy it in time to put in your hospital bag and re-stock way before you actually need it (you don’t want to be without it). In fact, I had 2 tubes on the go – one for upstairs and one for downstairs/changing bag as tackling the stairs at that point can sometimes take a herculean effort.
You had time to take a bath, I hear you ask? Yes because my lovely husband worked it out that way and what a difference they made. Apart from the loveliness of having that 40 minutes to yourself, I found hot baths to be wonderfully relieving for my sore boobs (more on the engorgement side of things as opposed to nipples). Steam and heat do relieve full boobs and encourage let down and when I couldn’t have a bath I would sometime lay a hot, wet flannel over my boobs for 5 minutes pre and post feed which also offered a degree of relief. For maximum healing potential, throw some Epsom Salts into your bath – good for upstairs and downstairs! I did, to air on the side of caution, rinse my nipples with clean water after such baths though to ensure that there was no salt residue on my nipples before the next feed.
On a side note and speaking of downstairs, I found baths to be a much better way of cleaning the carnage than showers plus, if you are struggling to wee after birth, my midwife gave me the oh so glamourous tip that you should wee in the bath (perhaps at the end and not the beginning) which should be a much more comfortable experience!
Dismfort aside, the other thing I wanted to address is supply. I don’t know a breasfeeding mum who doesn’t at some point (usually in those early days when the Health Visitor tells you that our baby has lost weight) question their supply. Biologically, there is only a tiny percentage of women that actually have supply problems that cannot be bolstered. For the rest there are several things you can do, as follows:
Feed on Demand:
Breasfeeding is like Pringles, the more you pop, the more you can’t stop. The more you feed the more milk your body will create. In the first few weeks I used boob as the first port of call. Eerytime Mush cried or fussed I would see if she was hungry/wanted that comfort. Some days this would result in days where Mush was on my boob the entire day but gradually as my milk supply was established, we settled into a routine. When I’m ill or she is though, we still have the odd easy day on the sofa feeding and sleeping to make sure that the milk is there.
You can buy actualy breasfeeding tea filled with Fennel and other milk boosting goodness and they actually work. I found that when I was struggling to express, a couple of mugs of tea through the day would mean I could express much more milk.
Attend feeding groups/meet with other mummies
As above, that support will reassure you that you are doing a good job, that there’s nothing wrong with your milk and that your baby is thriving becase of it. I had several moments of self doubt when Mush had put on barely any weight between weigh-ins but other mums reassured me that growth spurts, sickness, vacciantions are all much more likely to have affected Mush’s weight and that my milk was fine. So long as your baby is consistenly putting on some weight I was reassured that everything was ok.
I hope my account reassures and helps. Every day you breastfeed is another day in the bank and another day you can pat yourself on the back. You’re doing a great job. And the day you decide to move to formula/if you do then you can continue to pat yourself on the back because despite my pro-breastfeeding leaning so long as your baby is happy and healthy; you’re doing a great job!