12 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding

If you've been reading my blogs for a while you will know that, when Peyton was first born, breastfeeding didn't come as naturally to us as I thought it would. P really struggled with her latch when we were in hospital and just kept getting really distressed every time we tried.

Despite several nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and peer support workers coming round and trying to help, it was futile. The first 24 hours she was fed formula, only managing to latch onto me when we got home. 

I was told something different by every person in hospital who tried to get her to latch. One person even swore blind she was latched on, when really she just had my nipple in her mouth. I told the lady I didn't think she was because I couldn't feel anything, and she told me that was good. I knew she wasn't latched on; especially when she eventually did latch and I knew that you could, actually, feel something.

Before Peyton was born I felt completely clued up on breastfeeding. I'd watched videos about different positions to try and how certain foods could affect your milk. I didn't know the half of it, though.

We combi fed Peyton for the first three-ish weeks. This was for a number of reasons. Firstly, I didn't feel confident feeding her in public. We would take pre-made formula out with us when I knew we were going out for the day and she would have a bottle of that. I vividly remember eating fish and chips in a restaurant in Bridlington and her taking the whole bottle of formula but still crying for more. Tom had hold of her, as he'd given her the bottle, and as he looked up at me his face changed. "You're leaking," he said. I looked down in sheer horror to find he was right - my boobs were leaking right through my breast pads, my bra, a vest top and onto my linen shirt. Mortifying. I ended up just whacking the boob out there and then to feed her. Not only to stop her crying and make sure she was full up, but to stop my milk makers from drenching my top anymore.

Secondly, I didn't feel Peyton was getting enough milk from me (I will go through this more later); and thirdly, because I thought it would make her sleep better if she had a big, full tummy at night.

We stopped the formula after a few weeks when I got more confident, learned she was, in fact, getting enough milk from me, and when she started being really sick after each bottle at bedtime. And, from then, she's been fed solely by me (bar one bottle of expressed milk before bed; and any bottles of expressed milk when I have left her.)

I really, really wish, before I had started breastfeeding, I had been told the reality of it. The things to really expect. What it is really like. Every night when I sit up doing the night feed I have thought about writing this blog but, alas, have not yet found the time. Each night I think of something new to add, something I wish I had known before I started. I hope it helps any mums-to-be who are considering breastfeeding. I wish I had been more prepared and clued up. I remember one of my friends saying to me she'd asked a midwife why they didn't tell you what breastfeeding was really like and her reply was "because then nobody would do it."

I hope this list doesn't have that affect on anyone!

12 things I wish I knew about breastfeeding before Peyton was born

1. Cluster feeding is normal
This is probably the biggest, most important thing the midwives should tell you. Cluster feeding is basically your little one feeding from you for what feels like forever. It can be hours on end, or it can just be really regularly. Peyton was never a really long feeder, she just liked it really often. The night my milk came in she wanted feeding every hour. I remember saying to Tom that she couldn't still be hungry because I had just fed her. Yet, each time I tried, she fed and fed and fed. In the end, I was exhausted and sent Tom downstairs to make up some formula. She guzzled the bottle when it was ready and went straight to sleep. "That's it," I said. "She obviously isn't getting enough milk from me!" The next morning I carried on feeding her myself, always with the formula on standby. I was ready to get a Perfect Prep machine and had pretty much conceded defeat. One of the community midwives rang me that day to check how we were doing and I told her I didn't think I was producing enough milk for Peyton. "You are, that's totally normal!" She told me. "She's just getting your supply built up and is getting what she needs little and often. Her tummy is tiny so she gets full quickly, but then hungry again soon after, so will cluster feed like that for a while." Once I knew it was normal, my mind was completely at ease and I didn't worry again about her getting enough from me. Cluster feeding can be absolutely exhausting, but it doesn't last forever!

2. Your nipples will hurt
I'm not just talking being a bit sensitive here. Mine were horrendous. I couldn't even stand the water running on them in the shower, or the towel touching them. Definitely, before your little one arrives, invest in some balm/cream for them. I had two (which came in handy, I'll explain why later). One was a Lansinoh Lanolin one and the other was from My Expert Midwife and called 'No Harm Nipple Balm'. Both were, essentially, the same thing. I used to put it on just after each feed (when I remembered/wasn't out and about) and it worked wonders. Having two came in handy as it meant I could keep one in the fridge, for when they were particularly sore, and have one at room temperature. Another top fridge tip is to keep some breast pads in there, too. The coolness of them will be great when they feel like they're on fire and being sliced by shards of glass. While it can be really painful at first, it honestly does get better. I sometimes now can't even tell when Peyton is feeding because I barely feel anything - which is great. Until, that is, we are out in public and I'm mid-conversation and haven't realised she's popped off and has been gazing around the room for god knows how long, leaving my nip free for all the world to see.

3. If baby doesn't latch straight away it's ok
As I mentioned above, when we were in hospital after Peyton was born we weren't able to breastfeed at all. I was so adamant that I wanted to feed her myself, but thankfully had taken some pre-made bottles of formula in just incase we couldn't manage it. It's a good job we did, otherwise we wouldn't have been let out until she fed from me successfully - and god knows how long that would've taken! I remember one nurse coming to me and being quite funny with me. I kept saying I was struggling and she asked what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to persevere and keep trying, but was worried that she wasn't feeding and was getting really hungry. She told me to give her a bottle then and, when I did, she said I looked relieved and she was glad I had finally made a decision about what to do. She probably didn't mean anything by it, and it probably sounds like nothing now, but after not sleeping for over 48 hours I just picked up a weird vibe. From then, nobody really tried to help me get her to latch. It's only because I persevered with skin-on-skin when we got home that we managed it. I was so adamant I wanted to breastfeed her and, had I not wanted to keep trying, we'd never have got there. When the community midwife came out a couple of days later she was astonished I was feeding her myself. She said my notes from the hospital said I was bottle feeding, so I explained to her what happened. Her whole tone suddenly changed when she knew how hard I was trying to master breastfeeding. It's so bad how people can be when you tell them how you feed your baby.

4. Don't be scared to ask for help if you are struggling
We really struggled with Peyton's latch in the first 10 days. This was another reason why we combi fed, because feeding her was like a form of torture. She latched fine onto my left side, we had no issues with that. But my right, holy hell. It was not a pleasant experience. I asked to see the midwife again for extra support and help with our latch and positioning. Without being too graphic (probably too late to be worrying about that now!) Peyton was just feeding from the tip of my nipple, rather than getting the whole thing in her mouth. Before embarking on this feeding 'journey' that's how I thought that breastfeeding was done. But, no, they need to get the whole nipple in their mouth. You'll know when they do, it's much less painful. It is also a bonus when feeding in public because it means that anyone having a stare can't see anything. Anyway, I digress, my point was to ask for help if you need it. I took photos and videos of how Peyton latched on to me and how she fed, so I could show the midwife when we went. She was able to advise me on what to do and what to try. It was really helpful taking Tom with me, too. The midwife showed me the position to get into with a knitted tit and a doll - all well and good me watching her, but it was a different angle that I'd be seeing it all from when feeding myself. Having Tom there meant he could watch how I did it when we got home, and compare it to what he saw the midwife demonstrating. He was such a big help in those early days. He says he felt useless, because I was predominantly feeding Peyton, but he helped in so many other ways. There are also loads of really helpful support groups on Facebook. I found I never needed to post on them to ask anything I was struggling with because someone else had already posted asking the exact same question. I find UK breastfeeding and support to be fab for advice, help and support (even without me having to ask for any of it!)

5. Your entire wardrobe will need to be adapted, once again
You might be rid of the bump, but it's not as straightforward as slipping back into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe. High neck tops, jumpers and dresses all pose very real problems when it comes to breastfeeding. 'One up, one down'* will probably become your best friend - it's my go-to now - and you'll find yourself looking at clothes when out shopping and thinking 'can I breastfeed in this though?' then getting super excited when you realise you can. My advice, if you don't mind spending lots of money on new clothes that are easy to nurse in, is to join the Facebook group 'Can I breastfeed in it? UK'. Here, mums share their top tips, high street finds and some great bargain dresses from eBay that you'll find yourself purchasing at 3am while up feeding.
*'One up, one down' involves wearing two layers of clothing - usually a vest top underneath your other top/jumper. That way, when you lift your top layer of clothing up to release the boob, you just flop it out over the top of the bottom layer - meaning your belly stays covered as does the top bit of your boob. Genius.

6. Feeding in public isn't as bad as you think it will be
I was really worried about feeding in public. I was scared people would stare, I was anxious someone would say something. And I was just scared about flashing my tit at a load of strangers. At first, I always covered up. I used gigantic muslin cloths and would bury myself and Peyton underneath them to get her latched on, before burrowing out and leaving her covered to feed. This was all well and good, but she was born in the hottest summer I can remember and she wasn't such a fan of being covered - obviously - and got really hot. I can't remember my turning point for feeding in public. I used to try and time my trips out places when I knew she'd sleep so I'd be back home to feed her. But, one day, something just changed and I suddenly felt so confident feeding her out and about. I've been really lucky and nobody has ever said anything to me about it. I've never noticed anyone staring - not in a bad way, anyway. I've caught other women looking before and when our eyes have met they've smiled and given me a look that makes me feel less 'on edge'. And, in terms of worrying about the world seeing my nipples, I really couldn't care less. Obviously I don't whack them out with the intention of everyone in Costa getting an eyeful, but I definitely don't panic as much as I did at first. If someone catches a glimpse as I'm scooping them back into my bra I don't have a meltdown like I would have before. It's strange how you stop seeing your boobs as a sexual object once you've used them to feed your baby.

7. Invest in shirts with buttons
These are invaluable when it comes to feeding. At first, I used to button from the top down, as you would expect to. However, after seeing on a Facebook group a woman suggesting a new method, my life was changed. She suggested buttoning from the bottom up, meaning that your shirt stays fastened at the top and keeps the canons covered. I always wear a vest top underneath, to keep my gut in check, but it means you get maximum coverage and is a really discrete way of doing it. I've been having a conversation with a group of friends before and undone my shirt, got Peyton latched on, and fed her without any of them even realising.

8. You'll really question why men have nipples
Many, many nights I have sat up feeding Peyton, pinching myself to stay awake, while Tom has snoozed alongside me with his non-lactating nipples. I've lost count of the amount of times I have Googled 'why do men have nipples if they can't feed from them?' and I am still no closer to finding an answer. Apparently it has something to do with the fact that we all start out the same, and it's not until a few weeks in when our gender is decided that we begin to develop separately. Nipples are apparently part of our original make-up, before it's decided whether we'll be male or female. It's all well and good, but you'd think they would have some use. I've never been a fan of science and this doesn't make me like it any more.

9. Sometimes you'll resent breastfeeding, and that's ok
Some days I really, really wish Peyton wasn't solely dependant on me. It sounds awful, I know, but it can be such hard work. Growth spurts are particularly difficult periods of time, and often I feel like I am just constantly feeding. It's exhausting and leaves my boobs feeling like deflated air bags. The days I'm tired, or not feeling well myself, it's hard. However, for every day when I sigh every time she wants feeding, there are dozens of days when I love it. I love that she is solely dependant on me (yes, I know I sound like a maniac switching from one to the other!) There are the odd times when I wish we'd not persevered with breastfeeding, but I read a really good piece of advice on a support group I'm a member of which said to never quit something on a bad day. If you leave it until the next day you'll find that everything is ok again and you'll not want to give up. I keep remembering that now with everything in life, not just feeding.

10. Get a good stockpile of snacks, squash, boxsets and a long phone cable
All of these will be super important in those early days when your bubba is cluster feeding. Make sure you are sat comfortably with plenty of snacks (breastfeeding makes you so hungry, it's unbelievable!) and lots to drink (it also gives you a thirst like I have never experienced before, the second P latches on and I am suddenly desperate for a drink!) ready for your feeding session. Get a good boxset lined up, you'll spend a long time on the sofa stuck under a feeding baby so you may as well make it worth your while. A long phone cable is important, too.

11. It's hard, but so worthwhile
I thought breastfeeding would be the easy option - no bottles to sterilise, not having to wait for the kettle to cool, no faffing with re-heating bottles or having to work out how much milk to take out for the day - but I was wrong. Sure, when she wakes in the night I can feed her straight away without getting out of bed and I always have enough milk wherever we go - but it's not easy, by any means. As I've mentioned, you'll have difficult days. You'll have days where you want to give up. You'll have your doubts that you're doing it right, or that you're giving them enough. You'll wish others could help. And you'll long for the days you can wear a turtle neck again. But it's all worthwhile. It's one of the most empowering things I have ever done. It makes me realise just how amazing the human body is and I am so glad that I didn't give up on those difficult early days. I will definitely be sad when our breastfeeding journey comes to an end.

12. It will get easier
I remember people saying this to me at the start and I didn't believe it ever would. But, honestly, it does. One day you will suddenly realise that everything seems to fit into place. My original goal, when pregnant, was to feed Peyton myself for six months. When she was first born I just wanted to get to one month. When I got there, it was to make it to two, then three... Now she's four months and my goal is almost in sight. Having small, manageable goals is the best way to look at it. When you make it to those original milestones you'll set yourself another small target and, soon, it'll become second nature. It may not seem it at first, but it really will.

1 comment:

  1. Wrote with such honest advice and experience. It's nice to hear real life moments of struggle and joy x