WHAT I’VE LEARNT ABOUT BREASTFEEDING THAT I WISH I KNEW IN THE BEGINNING

Breastfeeding is one of those things that when you are pregnant you think will just come naturally. Well that’s what I thought anyway. I feel like with all the excitement of deciding you are going to try for a baby, finding out you are pregnant and then everything that being pregnant brings… for me the focus was never, ever on breastfeeding. Once I was pregnant my focus was all on being pregnant, what I was eating, making sure I was being healthy and active and doing all the right things, and then the rest of the time I was spending thinking about the labour. I didn’t really spend any time at all thinking about how I was going to feed my baby, whether it be bottle or breast or both. 

At our antenatal classes that we went to with our first pregnancy, the teacher there took the men/birth partners to the side of the class and went through the basics of breastfeeding with them, for them to take it all in and then feed back to the Mums – her thinking behind it was that the Mum might be so tired and overwhelmed after the labour and delivery that it would be a good idea for the birth partner to have the tips and tricks and knowledge (her expression was “nose to the hose”) about breastfeeding to remind the Mum how to do it…. um, I think that was setting the birth partner up for failure!!! After I had spent nearly 45 hours without sleep and in labour to have Neve, I think you can imagine my response when Toby delicately tried to tell me that he didn’t think I was latching Neve on properly… I think it was somewhere in the vicinity of “F+*% off Toby”!! 

In my opinion, there should be far more focus when you are pregnant on how to breastfeed correctly then there is (or has been in my experience anyway). For a first time Mum, once I had my baby and was in the hospital I was pretty much left on my own, bar a few visits from the hospital Midwives who basically just grabbed my boobs and nipples and tried to push them in to the babys mouth, or express some colostrum (not very gently either, I felt like a cow in a milk shed). We had one “lesson” as a group in the family room at the hospital, and that was it. I was left to go home with my baby with absolutely no clue whether I was doing things correctly, if the baby was latched well, and if the pain I was experiencing was normal or not. 

First time around, I can tell you the pain was excruciating and it lasted for a good six weeks for me. The damage was done in the early days with me leaving Neve on for far to long and not taking her off when it was painful, as the pain experienced with her latching was far worse then what I was experiencing with her when she was finally on. I remember spending some of those early days in tears, toes and teeth clenched in pain, my eyes squeezed shut and swear words pouring out of my mouth every time I needed to feed her. It was agony and not anywhere near what I had assumed breastfeeding would be like. I felt at one point that I was resenting her for needing to be fed because it was so painful to feed her, and then feeling guilty because it wasn’t her fault, it was a vicious cycle. There is so much stigma and pressure around breastfeeding, and “breast is best” that I felt too scared to not do it for fear of looking like I was failing at some aspect of becoming a Mum. So I just gritted my teeth and went through it hoping that it would one day get better, and looking on in envy at Mums who looked so content sitting around feeding their babies. I ended up pumping and getting Neve on a bottle for a feed at night time after a few weeks to give my breasts a break, I was about to give up breastfeeding altogether due to the pain, and this small little act of one pumped feed was the break that I needed. Then eventually, around six weeks things started to get easier, and eventually it became fine. 

Breastfeeding definitely hasn’t come naturally to me. The pain I experienced with Neve set me up to never fully relax in to it first time around until I was a few months in to it. I was always worried that I wasn’t making enough milk for her (even though she was growing fine), or something else was wrong. It then led me to being quite worried about breastfeeding when I was pregnant the second time around – I found I was more worried about breastfeeding then I was about the labour. The pain from labour finishes, the breastfeeding pain I experienced first time around felt like it went on forever! 

Sleepy milk drunk baby 💙

However second time around it came much easier, it was definitely still extremely painful in the beginning with the same toe curling, curse word inducing, eye watering pain, but this time for around 10 days or so compared to six weeks, and then it started to get a bit easier. I think it was due to having two babies close together and I was also more aware of what I was doing and whether she was on properly or not. My mindset was different as well as I knew it would eventually get easier, whereas first time around I thought the discomfort I was experiencing was just what my breastfeeding experience was going to be and I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. 

This last time around with Connor things have been completely different. I was much more confident with what I was doing, I was better at taking him off if his latch was uncomfortable, and the pain was more manageable (it still made me hold my breath and close my eyes when he latched and caused some tears), but it lasted for only about 5 days this time around and then became easier. 

Most people say that if you experience pain with initial breastfeeding then it will be down to your latch, breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful if latched well, etc etc. I say bullshit to that, breastfeeding is going to hurt for the first few days at least (I don’t know any Mums that would say different). You don’t know what you are doing having never experienced a little limpet on your nipple 20 hours out of 24 (feels like that long anyway ha), and your baby has never had to work for any sort of nutrition. So the fact that your baby intuitively (and quite amazingly)  knows what to do makes them more experienced then you are! Your poor nips have never experienced the constant sucking and chafing that a newborn babys mouth brings – those little suckers are bloody strong!!  Nipples are sensitive, any body part that is constantly being pulled at is going to get sore eventually, and nipples get sore very quickly. Added to the pain of initial breastfeeding, tiredness, hormones, afterpains, feelings of being overwhelmed and all else that having a new baby brings (whether it’s your first, third or fifth), it can make establishing breastfeeding very difficult for some, and I was definitely in this category first time around. If you aren’t that keen on breastfeeding in the first place I can totally see why a lot of Mums move on to bottles. 

However, after not having the best start to breastfeeding, I ended up really enjoying it. I loved the bonding time it brought me with my babies. I fed Neve until she was 8 months (she was also taking breast milk in a bottle and was also having formula every now and then) and then at 8 months old we were in Samoa to get married, it was so hot and she didn’t want to be held close to me for feeding, so she ended up stopping while we were there. I tried a few times when we came home but she just wasn’t interested so I stopped feeding her at 8 months and I was really happy to have gotten that far. Dani started to get extremely fussy with breastfeeding at 4 months, and ended up dropping a bit in her weight chart (I had the Mum guilt of having breastfed Neve to 8 months, so I felt I had to do the same with Dani). However she just wasn’t interested at all and would pull off after a couple of minutes screaming and being fussy. I ended up being in tears and it all just became a battle that I wasn’t going to win. It was stressing me out completely and became a big thing for me that she wouldn’t feed properly. I felt like I was failing. In hindsight it was completely pointless as she was totally content to take a bottle of formula or expressed milk without fuss. So Dani was more a combination of small breast milk feeds and top ups with either a bottle of expressed milk or formula (the night feeds were the only time she would breast feed contentedly). She also finished up breastfeeding at 8 months. I wish I had never put the pressure on myself (or her for that matter) to breastfeed, it caused me a whole lot of stress and I got really upset, she did too as she just wanted a bottle, I should have just given up the breastfeeding and moved on to bottles which would have made life a lot easier for us both. 

This time around it has all come very easily. Connor has been exclusively breastfed (apart from a few bottles of expressed breast milk) up until now at 6 months. I plan on feeding him as long as he is happy (or until he gets teeth probably)! As this will be the last ever time that I breastfeed a baby I am trying to enjoy every moment of it. 

After amassing now over 22 months experience with breastfeeding three babies, if I could go back to first time Mum me and tell her my thoughts on breastfeeding, this is what I would say:

  1. Be prepared for some pain initially. It will hurt. Maybe more then you thought that it would. But it will get better eventually, if you can birth a baby, you can definitely get through pain from breastfeeding!
  2. Break the latch if it doesn’t feel right! It might hurt re-latching, but more damage will be done if not latched correctly.
  3. Do some research before having your baby. Especially if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. There are some good videos on YouTube that show how to get a good latch, and what a babys mouth should look like when positioned correctly. Or talk to friends or family members
  4. When you’re at the hospital ask a Midwife to come and check each time you latch your baby. Get them to show you different holds. Ask them lots of questions – even if you feel like you are being annoying! If you feel uncomfortable while feeding, press your buzzer and get them to come in to check if what you are doing looks OK. Keep asking until you feel comfortable. Make sure you feel confident with what you are doing before you go home. 
  5. As much as I think breastfeeding will hurt in the first little while no matter what you do, you really do need to make sure your latch is correct. If you get home and are not sure, ask your Midwife, or see a lactation consultant, or Plunket nurse. There are so many people out there that can help you if you are having trouble or experiencing ongoing pain. Have your babys tongue checked for tongue tie. We haven’t experienced this with any of our babies but I know many people that have had babys with tongue tie that was interfering with their feeding. At the end of the day, you will know yourself if something isn’t right. First time around I just soldiered through it (naively) as I thought it was the way it was meant to be for me.  However I would definitely have sought help second time around if the pain persevered as long. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are people out there that specialise in breastfeeding, they wouldn’t be there if breastfeeding was a piece of cake for everyone. 
  6. Try out different positions to see what suits you best. There is the traditional cradle hold, crossover hold, rugby hold, laidback position, side lying position. Changing positions can help any discomfort you are feeling whether in your shoulders or in your breasts and it can also stimulate different areas of your breasts and relieve the sore area. 

7. Stretch! Get some good stretches for your shoulders and back. It’s quite physically demanding breastfeeding, so make sure you look after your posture. Get your other half to give you some shoulder massages and neck rubs, or better yet, make sure you book yourself in for a postnatal massage!

8. Don’t clock watch. With my first two babies I used an app that timed every feed. I think I became too focused on the time and whether they had fed for long enough or not. With Connor I don’t clock watch. But I do use my notes app on my phone and note down the times of his feedings, and wet/dirty nappies etc, but that’s just my personality, I like details! It’s also helpful in the very early days to know when they last fed, and also to make sure you are switching breasts etc.  I keep it pretty basic though and don’t time feedings, I just note things down. Whereas the first two times around I was far too focused on timing feedings and I think it just adds a stress you don’t need, your baby should be able to give you all the cues you need rather then an app. 

9. Don’t compare to other women that are breast or bottle feeding. Everybody is different, and every body is different, some babies take more or less than others. Just focus on what you and your baby need.

10. Try to relax! It will help with your milk flow, and in the end everything is easier when you are relaxed.

11. Wind your baby well. Even if you need to stop a feed mid way, burp your baby. Sometimes you need to wind them as long as you have fed them.

Essentials

  • Get yourself comfortable. If you are planning on breastfeeding, I really think investing in a comfortable chair is well worth it. We bought a lazy boy for our nursery and it was one of our best buys.  You spend a lot of time sitting and feeding a new baby, so being comfortable is important. Make sure it has a comfortable back and armrests. Sit in it before buying and make sure you can get up and out of it easily (in the early days you will be sore from delivery and your arms will be full of baby so you want to make sure you can get up without needing to use your arms. Set up a little table next to it for your water and other bits and pieces. 
  • Buy a good nursing pillow. Not only do they make feeding your baby more comfortable, they are also good for your baby to doze off on if they have a little nap on you, even just holding your baby for a cuddle is made more comfortable as you can rest your arms on it, and when your baby is doing tummy time you can rest them on it, as well as putting it around them when they start sitting – a product of many uses!
  • Keep a water bottle with you. Make sure you have one with you at all times. You get super thirsty with breastfeeding! Keep your fluids up. Water can help boost your supply – drink when baby drinks.
  • Snacks. Keep them handy as you are pretty ravenous especially in the beginning, you can burn an extra 500 calories a day when feeding, so you need to eat to keep the calories and nutrition in your milk for your baby – breastfeeding will help to keep the weight off.
  • I personally like using a cover up when I’m out in public but that’s personal choice – if you are comfortable having your boobs out then you wouldn’t need one. I bought one from here and it was a great buy. You can see babys face due to the rigid neckline, and feel completely comfortable in what you are doing. It’s made feeding much easier for me because I can feed whenever and wherever needed without feeling like I need to go and sit in a corner somewhere (when I was a first time breastfeeder, I once went and sat in the bathroom at a restaurant because I was so nervous about feeding in public – this cover up would have saved me from doing that)!
  • Reusable breast pads are also really handy. I use disposable ones in the early days when your milk has come in and is all over the place (literally). Once it settles I use the reusable ones – better for the environment and also saves you money in the long run, win win. You can get some really lovely patterned ones which make you feel a bit more feminine when you have pads on your boobs! I bought these which are really lovely and soft and wash really well, although I do think they are quite big under some bras.
  • Medela Purelan ointment is a must (I still use it as a lip balm). Look after your nipples in the early days and it will set you up for a good start! I put this stuff on constantly, before, after, and between feeds. I also used these hydrogel breast discs which are a lifesaver. I put them in the fridge and they were really soothing when nipples are painful in the beginning. Fresh air on your nips is a must. You can pretty much expect to have your boobs out completely for the first little while when you get home, sometimes it is the only way it is comfortable! My Midwife always told me to get outside and get some fresh air and sun on my boobs, haha. 
  • A breast pump, whether manual or electronic is handy – I use this Avent Electronic Single Breast Pump. They can be pricey but worth the investment if you are going to pump. I bought this when I was pregnant with Neve and it has served me well through three babies now. I also bought the haakaa breast pump this time around and it is excellent. I use the electronic on one side and put the haakaa on the other and catch any excess milk -sometimes as much as I get with the electronic. I also sometimes put the haakaa on the opposite side to what I am feeding on and catch any extra milk. I think it is super cheap and convenient, and if you weren’t planning on expressing very often it could be all you need. It is also cheaper then buying a double pump if you buy a single electronic pump along with a haakaa. You will also need a steriliser – I use an avent microwave one. I also bought these breast milk storage bags that are sterile and great for not taking up much space in the freezer.
Breastfeeding pillow, muslins, water bottle, cover up, haaka breast pump, manual breast pump and bottle, breast milk storage bags, medela nipple cream, bibs, and reusable breast pads. Basically the only things you need to successfully breast feed your baby (plus a steriliser if you wish to use the pump and bottles).
  • A good post pregnancy / breastfeeding vitamin. I use one by lifemum Post Pregnancy.
  • It is also good to know your babys cues and try to feed them before they are starving. If their little fists are clenched they are hungry, when unclenched and relaxed they are satisfied. If they are producing a good amount of wet nappies then they should be getting sufficient amounts of milk. If you are at all worried about what they are getting – talk to someone.
  • Muslins and bibs – the more the merrier! Depending on how spilly your baby is you may need these with you at all times.
  • Comfortable nursing clothes – including comfortable bras and tops / dresses. It doesn’t all have to be nursing specific clothes, a lot of ‘normal’ clothes are nursing friendly with buttons or necklines that can easily be pulled down. Nursing friendly bras are definitely important though, along with sleep bras that are comfortable to sleep in as you will need the extra support at night time.

There’s lots of positives about breastfeeding, although it can be really hard for the first few weeks, after a while you will know what you are doing, and so will your baby and it will become really easy. It’s convenient, no messing around with sterilising and making up bottles in the middle of the night, it’s portable and sterile, its got the perfect amount of nutrients for your baby, tailor made to their needs, it’s always the right temperature and it’s free, it also helps add to post pregnancy weight loss, and gives you even more precious bonding time with your little baby. 🙂 

At the end of the day though, whether you choose to bottle feed or breastfeed, who cares – as long as your baby is thriving that is the most important thing, fed is best, and a Mum who is enjoying feeding her baby is happier. If breastfeeding isn’t for you, don’t feel pressured to keep going. There is nothing wrong with formula feeding. Your baby isn’t going to get upset or hate you for it. The only thing they will be upset about is if they have a hungry tummy! Don’t let the bottle shamers out there get to you. 

And if you do decide to go ahead and breastfeed, and especially if this is your first time, hang in there. It is one of the most natural things to do, but it is also quite difficult – with some perseverance and learning the technique, it gets easier and sooner or later it will just be second nature to get your boob out and feed your baby. 

You got this Mumma!!

xox 

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