LET'S TALK ABOUT BOOBSI had a tough start when it came to breastfeeding, but we got there in the end. We wouldn't have got there without formula, and we still use formula for some of Elliott's feeds - it's good stuff!
|We got there in the end|
But yes, if you can make it work, breast milk is the optimum stuff for your baby. Yes, it's the most natural thing in the world. Yes, it's cheaper and more convenient. But no, in the majority of cases it's not easy. Or certainly not as easy as you're led to believe during any antenatal sessions, which annoying tend to focus on WHY you should breastfeed, rather than the practicalities of HOW to actually do it.
Once you've made the decision to give breastfeeding a go, I personally wish the experts were honest with you about what to expect, and some obstacles you may have to overcome. I truly believe that there must be a large chunk of women who actually choose to give up breastfeeding once they've started for fear that the niggles they are experiencing are unique to them, when chances are they're perfectly normal. Here's some truths about breastfeeding that I wish I'd known before I gave birth:
Breastfeeding CAN hurt
The gurus tell you that, if you're baby is latched on correctly, it won't hurt. And yes, after a couple of months this is absolutely true. However, in those early days and weeks it can be very painful, or at least it was for me. I mean, there's a tiny creature gnawing on one of your body's most sensitive areas, it's not going to be magically painless, is it? When your baby latches on and they start sucking I often experienced a sudden, searing pain in my boob which is referred to as the "letdown reflex" and is basically the muscles in your boobs contracting as the milk starts to flow. Or something. It's all very clever, but also very sore. The feeling doesn't last long once a feed is underway - maybe five to ten seconds or so - but it can be eye watering. Thankfully this gradually improves over time and goes away entirely after a few weeks. But some degree of pain is NORMAL. Of course, if you are concerned about the pain it's always worth seeking professional advice.
You get bloody hot (and cold)
When I started breastfeeding I was in the hottest hospital room in the world, which didn't help matters, but the hot flushes I got in those early days were extreme. And the cleavage sweat!! Those boobs of yours are working hard to produce milk so it's no wonder they get somewhat toasty. All this milk-producing malarkey also makes you exceedingly thirsty - drink drink drink (and have someone to pass you the fluid as you'll have your hands full. Straws are your friend. At one point I even considered buying one of those baseball caps with cupholders and straws attached to it!). On the flip side, do remember that having your boobs out for a large portion of the day is going to get a bit nippy (arf). I actually suffered from severe chills in the early weeks and no amount of jumpers of blankets would warm me up. I got paranoid it was a symptom of mastitis but, again, it was just one of those things that eventually went away.
None of your nursing bras will fit
I'd heard you should get measured for nursing bras at week 38 of pregnancy. Baloney! Don't bother - your boobs are going to get massive and there's no predicting how much they will grow. They'll also change size at different times of day depending on how full of milk they are, and it will take weeks to "settle" into a regular size, and even then they'll still fluctuate. I stupidly got measured at week 35 and it quickly became apparent that the lovely lady in M&S was just guessing what size I might end up being, and needless to say she was wrong. My advice would be to invest in one or two of these fabulous stretchy and comfy bras from Bravado (or these cheaper versions), and wait a few weeks before you get measured properly. This blog post sums it up nicely, and I wish I'd read it before I spent any money.
If you're away from your baby for a while your boobs will get really hard AND leak
Some boobs spray, some boobs drip, but if you miss a breastfeed for whatever reason (in my case, if you're watching Bristol Rovers in the play-off final at Wembley), or if you're lucky enough to have a baby who sleeps for long stretches, be prepared for leakage. I honestly had no idea this would happen. Breastpads will only do so much, so you may find you have to express milk to relieve the pressure. Speaking of which...
Expressing milk's a pain in the arse
Over four months in and I still can't figure out when in the day you're meant to find the time to pump, unless I stay at home all day every day and use the small amount of spare time my son allows me to attach a mechanical device to my chest whilst sat bolt upright (I don't know about you, but given the opportunity I prefer horizontal positions when I'm trying to rest). The only time I get to do it is at around 9pm, when Eb's asleep and before I go to bed. It's a crap time of day to do it, and I only get around 60ml, but it's helped me to build up a stash in the freezer, and relieves the pressure while he sleeps in the night.
You need a million cushions and / or pillows
Got a breastfeeding cushion? They are fab. But, even if you do have one, you'll still need more cushions and/or pillows than you could ever imagine. My breastfeeding spot on the sofa ended up resembling the captain's chair of the Starship Enterprise with all the cushions positioned around me. If you've got a pregnant friend and are are trying to buy them a truly useful present, buy them a cushion, as you can never have enough of them.
Breastfed babies need to be burped just like bottle-fed babies
There seems to be some kind of myth out there that breastfed babies don't need burping because they supposedly create some kind of vacuum when they suck. But, unless your baby magically latches on instantly, when they fuss at the boob or get distracted during feeds, they'll be taking in air as well as milk. So if they're anything other than super sleepy and floppy after a a feed, a good, satisfying burp is usually required (and Infacol before feeds can help with that).
You don't have to choose between breastmilk or formula
Combination feeding really is the poor, lonely and forgotten cousin of breastfeeding and bottle feeding. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with using formula for some of the feeds in addition to breastfeeding. Not only will it stand a baby in good stead for being able to take a bottle, but it also means that feeding can be shared, relieving the pressure off mum. And if, like me, you had a tough start and need to recover physically, this is a Godsend. The main thing to bear in mind with combination feeding is that it can play havoc with your breastmilk supply, so to ensure your boobs produce enough milk you should ideally pump for every formula feed given so your boobs know how much milk your baby needs each day. I wrote more about combination feeding here.
Breastmilk has a million uses (and actually doesn't taste too bad)
Yes, I've tasted it! It tastes like...milk. Does your baby have a sticky eye? Put a drop of breastmilk in it. Bad case of nappy rash? Breastmilk. Baby acne? Boob juice. Wear contact lenses and run out of solution? Breastmilk (though this is a step too far for me I must admit). My favourite tip is to make lollies out of frozen breastmilk which can help babies when they're teething. Might just have to give that one a go...
But it doesn't last as long as you think out of the fridge, especially on hot days
...as we discovered to our shame recently when we realised the bottle of expressed milk we'd been dreamfeeding Eb was on the turn when he'd already necked half of it. Sorry little man. Just keep sniffing it - if it smells fine it is fine.
If you've managed to establish breastfeeding you're doing brilliantly. If you've not manage to establish breastfeeding and are formula feeding instead, you're also doing brilliantly and should feel great about having made that positive decision so you can focus on being a fab mum. Just remember that it's better for everyone to have a happy mum and a fed baby than a sad mum and a hungry baby.
Other useful resources that I found helpful for breastfeeding tips:
The timeline of a breastfed baby (SO useful)
List of breastfeeding essentials for new mums
Random uses for breastmilk
National breastfeeding helpline
NCT breastfeeding support
La Leche League GB breastfeeding support (they also run local support groups, as do many local councils, so do check your council's website)
NHS breastfeeding support page