My Breastfeeding Journey: Finding My Style

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In honour of Breastfeeding Awareness Week (19th-25th June 2011), I am sharing my breastfeeding journey so far. I would love to hear your stories too. Please share your breastfeeding related posts in the comments feed.
Once you got past the first couple of months people talk about things falling into place and this was certainly the case for me. I was very lucky and the small one slept a good 7 hours a night from about 7 weeks old, so I was less sleep-deprived than a lot of my friends.
I was finding the daily routine of nappies, naps and nursing more manageable, and I was loving watching my daughter develop day by day.
Breastfeeding was well-established and by this time, I had recovered from a bout of mastitis with antibiotics and heavy application of warming/cooling packs. I even got through the cracked nipples thanks to Lansinoh and the much-maligned nipple shields (I do understand why nipple shields aren’t recommended, but if they give you a short term solution to stopping feeding entirely, they can’t be all bad!). What’s more, I had finally stopped waking up in puddles of milk…
But for me, this partial return to normality sparked complete panic. I had morphed into a mumsy, stained nursing t-shirt wearing frump. All of the time I had been staying at home, completely focused on my baby it didn’t seem to matter, but suddenly I was talking about going to baby groups and meeting new people or worse, seeing people who knew the pre-baby me, and I had a real crisis of confidence.
Everyone seemed to be coping better than me. I knew from people I spoke to at the baby weigh-ins that it wasn’t really the case, but I felt useless, unable even to lift my daughter properly because of SPD.
Breastfeeding was my saviour. It was the one thing that I had planned that I was actually managing to do. And I was doing it well. As the weeks went on, most of the mums I had met stopped breastfeeding, but we continued, and it gave me a huge sense of achievement, not least when I realised that some of them actually envied me.
It did have it’s downsides. As more of my mummy friends converted to formula, many started extreme diet and exercise programmes to lose the baby weight. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable dieting, but as a marathon runner, I felt very jealous of those who were starting to tone up and fit into their old clothes again.
I was the antithesis of yummy-mummy – my boobs had ballooned and I no longer fitted my maternity clothes, let alone anything else. I lived in boring nursing t-shirts.
Nothing I liked seemed to work for breastfeeding, but I had to wear something so I just bought whatever fitted. Shopping was difficult and joyless and I ended up focusing on practicality rather than style. I felt like I had a stranger’s body dressed in someone else’s clothes. For someone who uses clothes as body armour, it was a massive issue and affected every aspect of my life.
For me, mastitis was minor compared to my fashion and body issues. Feeling comfortable in my own skin again gave me the confidence to continue breastfeeding and I am convinced that discovering that I could feed through the sleeves of a certain H&M batwing jumper dress was the turning point in my breastfeeding journey!
It took me a long time to find my breastfeeding style, but it has given me real confidence to feed wherever and whenever I need to. As a result of my frustrations, I set up MilkChic, a directory of breastfeeding-friendly high street clothes and was overwhelmed by the number of people who told me they felt exactly the same way.
Lots of fuss is made over the physical hurdles to breastfeeding, but the practical and emotional issues are ignored. Once you are past the first couple of months, the mechanics of breastfeeding get easier but social pressures and other issues can get harder to deal with. Only a mum can know what works for her and her lifestyle and it is vitally important that all mums are supported to find their comfort zone if longer term breastfeeding rates are going to improve.

The other posts in this series are My Breastfeeding Journey: Pregnancy ; My Breastfeeding Journey: Breastfeeding a Newborn ; Crimes of Breastfeeding

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My Breastfeeding Journey: Breastfeeding a Newborn

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In honour of Breastfeeding Awareness Week (19th-25th June 2011), I am sharing my breastfeeding journey so far. I would love to hear your stories too. Please share your breastfeeding related posts in the comments feed.

Samuel

Photo: Raphael Goetter

I first fed my daughter in the recovery room after a c-section. I was still pretty dazed after my planned natural birth fell apart and utterly in awe of the tiny baby in my arms.

The midwife was old school and comfortingly practical, helping me to get my nipple into the small one’s mouth so she could feed. There was no checking of latches or anything else I had been told about at that stage, and I suspect the latch was horrendous, but it felt natural and amazing and didn’t hurt. I think the fact that my first experience of breastfeeding was positive made a massive impact over the next few days

I was in hospital for 3 days after the birth. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have coped if I had been fit to go straight home. The birth left me exhausted and at one stage, I was so tired that I nearly fell off the bed trying to feed. I was very lucky to have the support of midwives and nurses as I got to know my baby and learned how to feed her successfully.

My start to breastfeeding was overwhelmingly positive, but that’s not to say I found it easy. I needed help getting a good latch – newborns’ mouths are very tiny so it is much harder with a small baby. My daughter used to fall asleep within minutes of being on the breast and I had to stroke her cheek and undress her to keep her awake. Without the advice of the medical staff, I would have assumed she had finished feeding instead of encouraging her to feed for longer. None of these were big issues, but they seemed huge at the time and without access to immediate support, I would definitely have struggled.

I first breastfed publicly in hospital. It wasn’t a conscious choice – I had visitors, I couldn’t move from the bed, and the small one needed feeding, so I did it. I was too sleep deprived to worry about anyone else’s misplaced sensitivities. It was only at this point that it occurred to me that I was going to need different clothes if I wanted to be able to breastfeed without getting completely undressed each time. While I didn’t feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding I did feel uncomfortable with my body, which had lost the confidence of pregnancy and felt flabby and bloated. My mum had found me some lovely pyjamas with a wrap top which gave me good access and hid my tummy, but I still felt a little exposed. Having said that, if I’d worn the large t-shirt I would have probably chosen otherwise, I would have had to flash my knickers to feed, so it could have been worse!

Going home was a big step and I felt very nervous. Having only ever fed in bed or a high armchair in hospital, I encountered new issues. Our sofa made it difficult for me to stand up after a feed and I needed cushions at my back, under the small one and under my elbows just to make breastfeeding possible. Often, by the time I had found the energy to stand up, she needed feeding again, so I spent days glued to the sofa. I was constantly starving but had no time to make myself meals, supplementing leftovers from the night before’s dinner with terrifying amounts of chocolate and cake.

With hindsight, being physically unable to do much was a good thing. For many of my friends, the pressure to get out of the house to visit people or “do things” was immense and they did not get the opportunity to recuperate or to spend time getting to know their babies’ cues. By the time I was out and about, I was confident in my ability to recognise hungry from tired or uncomfortable which meant that usually when I offered milk, she was content to feed.

Most of the information you receive about breastfeeding is about benefits. There is very little about the reality. It is hard to know what is normal. Nearly every mum I know had a hiccup at some stage – mastitis, cracked nipples, pain while feeding, slow letdown, fast letdown, uncomfortable letdown, engorgement… When you hear about all these problems it sounds daunting, but no one has all of these issues. If you have access to support, they are just blips. Without it, they can be insurmountable. The best support is immediate, practical, non-judgmental and ideally face-to-face. It doesn’t necessarily come from “experts” – other mums are a great resource.

As a first time mum, it is hard to imagine how much life changes. Just being a new mum is overwhelming and you don’t have time to read all those books that you thought would be so helpful during pregnancy. For reliable information in bite-sized, readable chunks at any time of day or night, I find Kellymom brilliant.

My tips:

  • Your first feed doesn’t need to be perfect. I am grateful that my midwife prioritised the psychological benefits of success over technique. Knowing that I had already done it once made the next few feeds less overwhelming and I was more receptive to support.

  • Don’t believe people who tell you that “you’ll know what to do when the baby arrives”. It’s a lie that can leave you feeling inadequate. You don’t magically know how to drive a car just because there’s one parked outside. Breastfeeding is no different.

  • Supportive friends can make all the difference to your first feeds in public. If no-one makes a big deal of it the first time you do it, you have more confidence the second time. If you don’t feel sure of your close friends, go to a breastfeeding group where you know you’ll get a 100% positive response.

  • Be selfish. Your needs and your baby’s needs are more important than anything else in the first few weeks. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Establishing breastfeeding takes time and energy and it may be the only task you can manage at first.

  • If it doesn’t feel right, ask for help. There is no one size fits all breastfeeding technique and you may have to try a lot of things before you find your comfort zone.

  • Remember that even if you knew everything in the world about how to breastfeed, your baby would still be a novice. Give yourselves a break and take a day at a time.

The other posts in this series are My Breastfeeding Journey: Pregnancy ; My Breastfeeding Journey: Finding My Style ; Crimes of Breastfeeding

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My Breastfeeding Journey: Pregnancy

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In honour of Breastfeeding Awareness Week (19th-25th June 2011), I am sharing my breastfeeding journey so far. I would love to hear your stories too. Please share your breastfeeding related posts in the comments feed.

My pregnant wife
Photo: davhor

I always knew I was going to breastfeed. My mum had breastfed and I knew the benefits, so formula feeding didn’t really cross my mind. My antenatal classes were pro-breastfeeding and all of the women in my group planned to breastfeed too, so I had nowhere to learn about anything else, even if I had wished to.

As the decision was already made, I didn’t give the matter much thought. I attended a breastfeeding class which explained the mechanics and armed me with a list of local support groups. Rather naively, I assumed that breastfeeding would just happen and that the midwives would advise on any minor problems.

As my due date approached, my preparation was minimal. At 38 weeks, I spent a fortune on gorgeous Hotmilk nursing bras in appropriate sizes (I was advised to go down a back size and up 2 cup sizes) and scoured every available hospital bag checklist. I packed a carton of ready prepared formula and a bottle, as advised by my local hospital and we also bought a cheap manual breastpump. Just in case.

I wish I’d known:

  • You don’t need formula in your hospital bag. If needed, my partner would have been able to buy it at the nearest supermarket. In a real emergency, hospitals do have some. As it was, that carton was a little too convenient. In the middle of the night when I was struggling, even Mr MilkChic suggested that I use it “just this once”. In the end, I threw it away. I found that having formula at hand gave ammunition for people to undermine me and I was fed up of people testing my willpower.
  • Bottles aren’t essential. You are better off using a syringe, teaspoon or open cup while you get breastfeeding established. If you buy a breastpump, use the bottle that comes with it. If not, leave buying the bottles til you need them. I wasted money on bottles that were never used as the small one wouldn’t drink from them.
  • Initially your nursing bra size is, at best, an educated guess. There is nothing more depressing than having gorgeous lacy bras in your drawer when your boobs have exploded by 6 cup sizes and you can only wear a “supportive” Royce Jasmine. Buy cheap for the first weeks.

Other posts in this series are My Breastfeeding Journey: Breastfeeding a Newborn ; My Breastfeeding Journey: Finding My Style ; Crimes of Breastfeeding

 

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