Breastfeeding, and what I wish I’d known

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but I knew it wouldn’t be a quick one. I’m not sure why breastfeeding is a controversial topic, but it really is.

A bit about me: it is safe to say that I was more worried about not being able to breastfeed than giving birth itself. I knew I wanted to breastfeed and I knew I would not cope well at all with the guilt of not breastfeeding.

When Jared and I went to look around our local midwife-led unit the first question the touring midwife asked me was:

…” Are you going to breastfeed?”

….and I sheepishly replied: “Yes, I’m going to try my best”.

…then she said: “If you say you’re going to try you won’t – you have to decide to do it”.

…to which Jared replied: “She meant to say: she definitely is”.

Most people might have been offended by this conversation; but I was grateful for it. It was this conversation and further conversations I had with my sister and Mum that made me realise that there must be more to breastfeeding than simply giving birth and latching on. I did so much reading and ordered the whole sch-bang of La Leche League leaflets when I was just a few months pregnant…they have a leaflet about absolutely everything to do with breastfeeding – weight loss in babies, cracked nipples, tongue tie, C-sections, mastitis, blocked ducts, premature babies etc.

I got so worried when I spoke to and read online about woman after woman who suffered from all manner of feeding problems. What if I couldn’t? What if it wasn’t meant to be? I am by no means a breastfeeding expert and have only had one baby but I certainly learnt a lot in the first few weeks and months of breastfeeding. I also feel like there is a lot of preparation couples (yes, get your partner involved) can do before the birth to make breastfeeding a less confusing experience. Hubs is into anything that is free!

Taken a while ago - on a breastfeeding stop which for some reason was on a roundabout!

Here are 10 tips I’ve put together from my breastfeeding experience: 

1 – For most people it doesn’t feel natural and very few people really enjoy it. It is without question for most people a skill that can take weeks to establish and months to perfect. If you think about how unnatural our daily routines can be and life in general – it is no wonder that very few women feel that breastfeeding comes naturally…our daily lives are no longer as connected to nature as they once were. Don’t worry if it feels only practical rather than natural – that is absolutely fine and lots of women feel like that.

2 – The advice given by midwives and health professionals is so mixed. It is essential to do lots of reading and know what the correct information is. Winston didn’t latch on until day 6 but there was no pressure and certainly no “wake him up every 3 hours” – my breastfeeding adviser and midwife were still so relaxed about everything saying that for some babies it takes time…but I know not all women are told this and are made to feel a failure so early on. We tried multiple times a day to encourage him but for the first 5 days we used an array of syringes and cups until he finally latched on. I remember my husband and I cheering when W finally decided to latch on then both quickly going silent in case we’d frightened him into coming off!

3 – There are so many support groups all over the country. Do not hesitate to get in touch – they have dealt with all manner of breast feeding scenarios and really know their stuff. When Winston wasn’t latching on for days, the breastfeeding lady advised me to take a bath with Winston and kind of sweep him around in the water to ‘remind him of birth’. Sounds a bit random and nothing to lose I thought…he latched on after the bath. Chance? Who cares? It worked.

4 – Buy a decent electric breast pump – just do it.

5 – Do your research about growth spurts. Some weeks your baby will seem to want to feed twice as much as they did the week before and women worry that they don’t have enough milk – this is completely normal and it’s essential to persevere.

6 – I’m very pro breast feeding but that doesn’t mean I feel ok about getting my boobs out in public. I’m a pretty shy person and very body conscious so I bought a nursing cover in plain black to be discreet and to ensure I felt confident I wouldn’t be flashing any unwanted flesh. My midwife suggested taking a few breastfeeding snaps – no thanks! I have fed confidently on buses, trains, benches, in parks and wherever I’ve needed to.

7 – Make sure you and your partner know the signs of mastitis and other breastfeeding related problems. I narrowly missed a bout of mastitis because my husband pointed it out – I’ve never felt so awful but we acted quickly and prevented it from getting any worse.

8 – You really need your partner 100% on board. There will be moments when you simply do not want your child attached to you (sounds awful I know) because you’re sore or just need some space. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong or it’s not meant to be. Make sure your partner is informed and you’ve discussed together how you want to feed your baby. Once my husband suggested going to the shop to buy some formula and I shouted at him quite badly (the poor man, he was only trying to help) – he didn’t suggest it again but I remember feeling devastated that he didn’t think I could do it. A few times he took W out for a midnight pram because I just needed some ‘boobs to myself time’.

9 – Read about the health benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby – they are endless and may influence your decision. Midwives might not tell you all of the reasons why they appear so pro-breast feeding but it is with good reason. I read that bronchiolitis is 70% lower in exclusively breastfed babies. Having a baby that suffered terribly with bronchiolitis within his first year (read about it here) I’m not sure I could have coped with the illness plus the guilt of knowing I might have been able to prevent it. It would have been a heavy burden to bear.

10 – However you feed your baby; make sure it is a decision you and your partner are 100% comfortable with – really discuss your reasons why, your motives, don’t feel pressure or worry about judgement from other people, don’t feel the need to justify your decision to anyone else or feel the need to ‘cover up’ when it is an arrangement that you are completely happy with. Do what is best for your family.

E xx

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14 Comments

  1. Valerie
    30th July 2014 / 2:52 am

    I love this post! I agree with that nurse who told you not to simply “try.” While I think that being in that mindset could certainly help a woman who was physically unable to nurse for whatever reason, the majority of us who can (but will face many obstacles) need to feel like we aren’t trying – we’re DOING. 😉
    Your list is perfection, for real. So many things I think women need to know! I breastfed my three children and they were all different experiences; my youngest was weaned last fall, but I still enjoy writing about nursing on my blog. I joined in the link-up, by the way – how I found your post! 🙂
    Off to share on FB and Twitter.

    • 30th July 2014 / 7:48 pm

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment and thank you so much for sharing! Breastfeeding is a total minefield and advice is so mixed. You are so right that everybody will come across obstacles and it certainly doesn’t mean breastfeeding is over. The body is such an incredible creation and is so much better at adapting than we think. I feel like both health professionals and new mothers need to be more relaxed about it. My health professionals were brilliant and I certainly would never have allowed them to make me feel guilty. My first only had a few drops in the first 24 hours. He was SHATTERED from the birth. Thanks again x

  2. 30th July 2014 / 6:36 pm

    This was a good read. I have to say I didn’t know what to expect with my first, but I did NOT enjoy it one bit for quite a while, with both. I think that alone can make people want to give up, and it’s good to know it’s not necessarily “fun” going into it.

    Also, with my first, the hospital insisted she eat every 3 hours (and no, she was nowhere near under weight) while we stayed in the hospital, and I feel like it set a horrible pattern for the months to come. She didn’t stop waking up to eat every 3 hours on the dot for 4 months. With our second, the hospital was far more relaxed and let our newborn sleep and eat as he wanted. He’s slept 6 hours through the night since week one, and I truly think the first few days for both my children helped determine their pattern throughout their newborn phase. And it may not work that way for everyone, but I’m convinced that influenced my experience, personally. I think it’s important to know it’s not necessary to feed every 3 hours as long as baby is eating so many total times/hours within a 24 hour period. I did know that going in but wish I would’ve known to stress letting our firstborn eat and sleep on her own schedule in the hospital.

    So glad you discuss all of this and more. This would’ve been a perfect read for before I started breastfeeding 2 years ago! It’s all of the things I wish I’d known or I’d want to tell someone else. Perfection.

  3. 30th July 2014 / 8:09 pm

    I can relate to so much of your comment – thank you so much for writing it and I’m glad you enjoyed reading my post. It is so important to recognise that for a lot of women it isn’t enjoyable (at all). Not for the first few months anyway!

    What a brilliant sleeper you have! and like you said, every 3 hours is not right for every baby. As long as they’re getting lots of feeds, it doesn’t matter if they’re in clusters or at the recommended 3 hours. My sister had a stressful breastfeeding experience with her first so she encouraged me to do lots and lots of research. I was so thankful for that. She also told me about breast pumps which for long car journeys was the best thing EVER.

    I find it all so fascinating. My first was an awful sleeper but I think it’s because he wasn’t comfortable on his back, but we didn’t have the confidence to let him sleep on his belly (he still sleeps on his belly now). My second has slept on his belly since day one and he is a fab sleeper.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. 1st August 2014 / 11:34 am

    What a great read Esther. I completely agree with everything you’ve said, especially having your partner on board, it can make or break breastfeeding. I’m lucky that my hubby sounds a bit like your’s, loves free things too. Thanks so mauch for linking up with the Breastfeeding Diaries this will help so many Mum’s

    • 2nd August 2014 / 7:02 pm

      My hubs is definitely into anything free – we are from Yorkshire after all! His support definitely made breastfeeding work for me. He was (and still is) fantastic! Thanks so much for taking the time to read it! x

  5. 2nd August 2014 / 10:00 am

    Fantastic post! My midwives were absolutely useless and it was a local support group plus fellow bloggers and my husband who saved breastfeeding for my son and I. Totally agree with everything you’ve said, thanks for sharing with #BFingdiaries xx

    • 2nd August 2014 / 6:59 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂 Breastfeeding is so confusing! I am so glad that you managed to get sorted despite your midwives being useless. Once you’re set – it gets so much easier. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks again xx

  6. Bec
    6th August 2014 / 1:58 pm

    I wish I’d read this three years ago – when I was pregnant and people asked if I would breastfeed I would reply, “if I can, yes,” but was secretly thinking, “but, really, how hard can it be?” The answer, of course, is VERY HARD! I wish I’d properly prepared like you, maybe then the difficulties of the first two months wouldn’t have seemed so bad. Still, I persevere anyway and still going 31 months later so I guess my lack of preparation wasn’t a total disaster!

    • 6th August 2014 / 10:44 pm

      If you’re still going at 31 months it’s certainly no where near a disaster! What an achievement. You are so right – VERY HARD…and much more physically, emotionally and mentally draining than you could ever imagine. Especially when you’re a newbie. Second time round it has been a million times easier because the first time round taught me so much. I find it all absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for your comment 🙂 x

  7. 28th February 2015 / 4:32 am

    That midwives comment is excellent. I think it’s so true. You really do had to decide you’re going to do it so that you push through the times that are hard and I totally agree that being infomed and having a supportive partner is vital. We had almost exactly the same situation with the formula suggestion with out first. He only tentitively mentioned it, poor chap, he didn’t mention it again!

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