Before getting pregnant I always knew I wanted to try and breastfeed if I could, but never did I imagine it would be something I would become so passionate about. As time went on and I spoke to more mums who had been able to breastfeed, some who hadn’t and some who didn’t want to, I realised that actually nobody really tells you the gods honest truth about the journey. Midwives will tell you “breast is best” from the moment you get pregnant but nobody tells you that whilst it might be the best nutrition for your baby, breast isn’t always best for Mummy and one of my friends even described it as “breast is stressed,'' which is pretty accurate for some mums.
And whilst I have honestly loved every single second of my breastfeeding journey, even the leaky boobs, sore nipples, cluster feeding, smelling of stale milk all the bloody time and yes, even that time I soaked the bravissimo changing room whilst trying on a new bra, I wasn’t truly prepared for it and have found out so much that I didn’t know beforehand.
So as this week is national breastfeeding week I thought I would share some of the things I wish somebody had told me before I embarked on this big boobie journey.
Breastfeeding isn’t a choice
Well it is if you choose not to, but actually you can’t guarantee that you can choose to breastfeed. I think before giving birth you are wrongly made to think that babies arrive with this innate ability to wriggle their way to your nipple, latch on and away they go. WRONG! Yes, babies are born with the ability to wriggle in the direction of your boob, but they actually resemble something more like a slug sliding down your chest and when they find the nipple they look like they are trying to have their first high school snog. Tongues everywhere, sucking on every part of your boob apart from your nipple, eyes closed, completely and utterly overwhelmed. It’s funny in between the tears of frustration, honest!
Some may have tongue tie, others with mouths too small to latch, so it’s not a case of, “Yes, I am going to breastfeed”, it’s not a given. It’s more of a “I’ll give it a bloody good try and if it works for us, great, and if it doesn’t, then that’s ok too.” Don’t beat yourself up over it. As long as you and your baby are happy then that’s all that really matters.
Utilise the support
There are dedicated teams and midwives at MKUH, and I am sure it’s the same at others too, whose sole responsibility is to help you master breastfeeding so make sure you use them. They can help you with latching, positions, increasing milk supply or just generally the mental and physical strain that comes with breastfeeding sometimes. One of the best bits of advice I was given was by a breast feeding support volunteer at the hospital who told me that breastfeeding isn’t ‘pain free’ but it shouldn’t be ‘painful’. This gave me so much confidence that I wasn’t doing it wrong as I had previously been told by plenty of midwives that breastfeeding is painless. Let me tell you that in the early days that is utter bullshit. Latching does hurt as you learn how to get it right and your letdown stings a little for the first few times, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Telling people it’s completely pain free is just making Mums think they are doing it wrong. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll work out how to make it comfortable. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help because if you really want to breastfeed there is plenty of support out there to help you get over the hurdles. You can also go to breastfeeding meet ups or cafes like this one in MK.
Don’t buy a pump
One of the things I said before having Pepper was that I wanted to express straight away so Joss could help with feeds. Oh now naive I was to think expressing was a five minute job that filled a bottle with milk and fixed my need to be around 24/7. I was so wrong. For me, expressing just didn’t really work. I would sit there for half an hour clutching the milking machine to my boob to get less than 1oz of milk. It was not only depressing, but so inconvenient. I did however invest in a haakaa, which is honestly the best thing I bought pre pregnancy. They are cheap and easy to use, you just pop it on when you feed and it collects the milk from your other breast. I would always get three or four times milk using this than I would an electric machine. So my advice is to borrow an electric pump or hire one before you invest in one of your own as you might not even end up using it and they aren’t cheap purchases.
It really is on demand
As a new Mum you are told about the intervals between baby feeds, so they explain how they should feed every two or three hours and as they grow the intervals get bigger. Nobody really explained that breastfeeding doesn’t exactly work like this and that it’s actually on demand - they say for the first 6 weeks, but I still feed on demand now - and when I say on demand I really do mean on their demand. Your baby will tell you when it wants your boob, and believe me it’s less likely that you will be worrying about when they had their last feed as instead you’ll be wondering when the baby wasn’t last attached to your nipple (in the first few weeks anyway.) So this was maybe one of the biggest things that I am passionate about when it comes to breastfeeding, is that if you commit to breastfeeding you are committing to being your baby's ultimate comfort and that really can mean anywhere, at anytime.
If you can’t get your head around ditching intervals then it will also be hard to get your head around breastfeeding. It doesn’t matter if the baby isn’t “due a feed” you still have to be there, ready with the boob as they may have not drunk enough the last time, maybe they fell asleep mid feed or actually they just want some comfort. And this goes for the nightimes too. I still have a baby that feeds to sleep and that’s ok, that’s what I have committed to. She still sometimes feeds every hour or cluster feeds if she wants to sleep longer at night and that’s all normal too. Don’t get me wrong it’s exhausting some days but it’s also baby led and for me that’s what breastfeeding is all about.
It can feel like boobie prison
It felt a bit like this in the first few weeks when I couldn’t express and for some strange reason felt like I was failing if I gave her any formula (I realise that was stupid now!) So for anyone feeling this in the early stages, or walking round ASDA alone for two hours before the next feed just to get some freedom (yep, I did that) please don’t give up, it doesn’t last forever and actually once your milk supply is established you can go ahead and mix bottles, formula, expressing etc if you want to - you aren’t a bad Mum for doing that. I know I felt trapped at the very beginning as this little person could only be fed and comforted by me, but if you flip it on its head then actually that’s pretty awesome. You really are their everything.
You can dream feed
I read a lot about dream feeds in some parenting books and for ages I just assumed you could only dream feed with a bottle, but I was wrong. Ok, so what is a dream feed? It’s the feed in between putting the baby down to bed and you going to bed. Don’t be under any illusion that this is a first few weeks kinda thing, it’s not! We only managed to get it to work at 5 months. So we put P down somewhere around 7pm and cross all our fingers and toes she stays asleep. Then when we go to bed around 11pm I pop her out of her bed still asleep, get her latched on and let her ‘dream feed’. She stays asleep for the feed and then I put her back to bed and if I am lucky she will wake about 6 hours later for another feed. Unless you are going through a sleep regression, in which case, hello every two hour feeds!!!
Queue the haters
You are going to come across someone during your breastfeeding journey that makes a comment about you doing it in public, when you are going to give up, how it has no nutrition after a certain age and any other negative comment they can think of. But ultimately you are doing what’s natural and only you know how and when works for you and your baby, so screw everyone else. You feed for as long as you want to, when you want to and where you want to.
For me, breastfeeding has been one of my favourite things about motherhood. The sleepy baby afterwards, the post feeding smiles, the cute little strokes they give you when they are enjoying the comfort and the fact it’s something that only you and your baby can share. It’s like a private little moment you have together making memories that are all yours. I also think it still amazes me to this day that my body produces everything P needs to survive and thrive. She was born at a diddy 4lb 7oz and all my milk has helped her to keep her growth up and stay healthy, even though she was tiny. And yes, you do have days where you feel like a cow or you want to give them a bottle just for a bit of freedom, but on the whole, I have loved every single second.
I really do count myself as one of the very lucky ones to have experienced such a great breastfeeding journey so far and don’t have any plans to give up any time soon. I am even thinking of becoming a breastfeeding peer support, so watch this space.