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.
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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€œdo thingsâ€ 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 â€“ 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 â€œexpertsâ€ – 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.
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 â€œyou’ll know what to do when the baby arrivesâ€. 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.