Before becoming a parent I had a very idealistic impression of breastfeeding. Probably from brief glimpses of mum’s feeding their babies in quaint little coffee shops, by the lake or in the park, the birds singing sweetly in the background. You get the idea. The feature photo for this post sums up my impression pretty well. I can assure you though, that the reality when this photo was taken, was actually quite different!
The first time I heard that breastfeeding could be hard, I couldn’t get my head round it. How? It looked so natural, so easy. Surely it’s simple; your baby is hungry, your breasts produce milk, your baby drinks. What’s so hard about that?
So how did my expectations match up with reality?
Well in summary, my initial expectations of the simplicity and ease were accurate, but I found this the case once breastfeeding was established, after lots of perseverance and support.
I found the first six weeks of Heidi’s life especially hard. Despite being warned that the feeding would take time to settle, with the interrupted nights and recovering from labour, there were moments when I really wanted to give up. At two weeks the thought of feeding for six weeks felt overwhelming, let alone feeding for six months. When my husband Berno took the feature photo for this post, I was really struggling. Struggling to get Heidi latched on properly and having little success getting into a comfortable position. Looking back, I would of been gobsmacked if I knew I would still be breastfeeding now.
We just weren’t ‘getting it’
There were moments when I was close to throwing in the towel. I felt we just weren’t ‘getting it’ and I was really sore. It didn’t help that some of the advice I was given at the start seemed to contradict itself. I struggled to piece the different guidance together and to grasp exactly what it should look like. I was getting frustrated and just couldn’t work out what I needed to change to make it comfortable.
I was told in a breastfeeding workshop leading up to the birth that if you are in pain you are doing something wrong. Now there is certainly truth in this statement, as an improper latch can cause damage, however looking back, this information alone was not particularly helpful. If anything, recalling it just made me think “well I’m obviously getting it wrong, it’s just not working, I can’t go on like this anymore”.
It was during this time I contacted my auntie (a midwife and lactation consultant) to ask for her help and advice. We don’t live close by but were able to chat over the phone and WhatsApp. Knowing I could speak to someone who knew what they were talking about made a big difference in itself, but after getting clear guidance on the latch and ideas to help with positioning, things started to go much more smoothly.
I’m very aware that often mums don’t receive the support they need, let alone have an expert they can contact. So to follow-up this post my auntie will be featuring on the blog, sharing her expertise and guidance to help new breastfeeding Mummas – watch this space! In the meantime to end this post, here’s what I can share from my experience:
What tips & advice can I share from my journey?
If I could add to what was said at the breastfeeding workshop, it would be to remember that both you and your baby are learning. Before having Heidi, I just thought babies were born knowing what to do, that feeding would come instinctively. The reality is however, that your baby has to learn how to latch on correctly and you are their guide. The thing is, because you are learning too there is going to be some trial and error! With this in mind, let’s be honest, when your baby is born and starts suckling on one of the most sensitive areas of your body, feeding every 2-3 hours (or more), if things aren’t quite right you are going to get sore. The key is good attachment, but that will take a bit of time to get right. Be kind to yourself!
TIP 1: SET YOURSELF A GOAL
Before Heidi came into the world, I decided I wanted to breastfeed for the first 6 months of her life. If I could, then maybe that would stretch to a year, but initially I just wanted to focus on getting to six months. It’s definitely worth setting yourself a goal, it doesn’t have to be six months, it could be less, but it gives you something to focus on and work towards. At the start when it was tough, my goal felt unrealistic, so I focused on getting to a smaller target, then my initial goal became more achievable.
TIP 2: GET SUPPORT
Once you have had your baby this is the most important thing you can do. Get support, and the earlier the better. That way when you have questions or concerns, or if you just need some reassurance, you have someone to help guide and encourage you.
You should be fully supported by your midwife or lactation consultant, especially in the early weeks, but it is also worth considering connecting with a breastfeeding support group if you have one nearby. These groups are so helpful for talking to other mums who may either be going through the same stage as you, or who are further on their journey and can offer advice and encouragement. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group setting or if you need some advice before meeting with a group, there is also the national breastfeeding helpline.
TIP 3: NIPPLE CREAM
It is definitely worth buying nipple cream. You can use it as often as you need, applying both before and/or after feeds. It really helps! Personally I’d recommend using Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream, but there are other cheaper creams out there. Apparently it also can be used as a baby safe lip balm – so don’t throw any unused cream away you’ll be able to use it later!
TIP 4: NURSING CLOTHES
You don’t need to buy special feeding tops or shawls to be able to feed in public, although obviously if you want to go for it! Alternatively you can layer up, for example by wearing a strap top underneath your top/t-shirt. Nursing bras are definitely a worthwhile investment, they just make life so much easier! I bought mine from M&S although Mothercare is another place to look. In my experience H&M has the best maternity/nursing range on the high street, most other stores only have their maternity range available online now. It makes things a bit tricky if you want to try before you buy! I’ll be covering my best breastfeeding buys in a separate post soon.
YOUR JOURNEY & EXPERIENCE
There is much more that could be said on this topic and everyone’s experiences are different. I’d really love to hear from you! Please do comment below if this post has helped you in anyway, if you have had a similar or very different experience, or if you have any tips to add!