The Truth About Breastfeeding

You know when you’re about to become a parent and you think you’re not going to become one of those mums who constantly writes about their child and posts endless pictures of them on Facebook? Yeah.
It was inevitable that I’d write about parenting a little considering I spend twenty four hours of the day being a mum. (Except tomorrow when my husband works from home and I get to go swimming. Yay!) I also think this is a topic that isn’t discussed often enough, certainly not in the circles I move in but perhaps y’all sit there talking about breastfeeding all the time whilst sipping your vendi chai soy lattes. In which case, I envy you.
Before Aydin was born, I took all the ante natal classes the NHS could throw at me and those included lots of tips and hints about breastfeeding. I distinctly remember one class where a middle aged midwife was demonstrating a correct latch-on technique using her hand and a crocheted boob. (She was brilliant by the way.) From personal experience though, until your newborn is right there, clamped on for dear life, you just don’t know how much hard work it will be. I certainly didn’t and naively thought that if I positioned the baby’s head like they showed me it’d be plain sailing. Ironically though, one of the most natural things in the world doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill that both you and your baby have to master.
The First Six Weeks
Let me first stress that this isn’t me judging anyone who did/does not breastfeed their child. In fact, it’s me now realising why so many people don’t and why breastfeeding in this country is so unsuccessful, something I didn’t understand before. This also isn’t about the benefits of breastfeeding; I’m assuming here that this is well documented enough for me not to harp on about it though I may touch on that later.
From the first few hours of his birth I started breastfeeding Aydin and according to the lactation specialist at the hospital we were both great, in fact if they were giving out grades, we’d have gotten an A+. He seemed to latch on correctly and apart from the constant worry of whether he was getting enough milk, I patted myself on the back for paying attention in those ante natal classes. I hadn’t even contemplated feeding him formula milk at this point until a doctor told us our baby was severely jaundiced and would require phototherapy. He also told us this was probably caused by “poor feeding” and we’d need to supplement his feeds with formula milk. Cue pangs of guilt and feeling like a complete failure, thanks Doc! We did so to get his bilirubin count down but when we left the hospital a few days later, I thought that was the end of the formula and breastfeeding could continue without further hiccups. Naive moment #2! A couple more days of breastfeeding and that’s when the pain kicked in. Something was obviously not right as I was in constant pain and really dreaded the next feeding session which came around every two hours (bless newborns and their tiny tummies!)
When Aydin was born we were living in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets where they have a very strong “Breast is Best” policy. This meant that a lactation specialist called me soon after I got home from the hospital and when I explained the problems I was having, she came to our home the very same day to give us some advise. She followed up every day that week but things just weren’t getting any better. A week after the birth, we moved house and consequently boroughs too. The level of support in our new borough isn’t quite up to scratch and although I mentioned the ongoing problems to the health visitor, I felt pretty much stranded at this point. The pain intensified and I found myself spending most evenings in a weepy state and very close to giving up and grabbing a bottle for my constantly hungry son. What kept me going? Probably a mix of fear that my baby would get constipated with formula milk (a friend of ours had an awful experience of this with her first born) and sheer stubbornness.
I felt two distinct types of pain:
1) Latching on had me in agony. He wasn’t latching on properly I’m told, but no matter how many videos I watched and forums I visited for advice, the pain didn’t get better. Lansinoh HPA® Lanolin was my saviour here, a tip from one of the dads who works with my husband. Gawd bless my husband for being so open about his wife’s nipple issues with his colleagues…
2) After burn of the milk ducts refilling (at least I think that’s what that was). My cousin who kindly stayed with me during this time will testify to me often having a hot water bottle stuffed into my bra to soothe this particular pain.
After Six Weeks
I’d like to say that overnight everything just became hunky dory but the truth is that around the six-week mark, each day the pain became a little less and where I was using the lanolin cream after each feed, eventually I started using it less and less. At some point the pain completely went away. We both obviously were learning how to do it right and/or my body was adapting. Whatever it was, I’m so glad I stuck with it and didn’t give in (despite the push towards formula milk from well meaning people). I’m happy (and a little proud – I get to be a little proud right?) that my son is now a happy, healthy seven month old and I still breastfeed him. It’s feels so easy now, I don’t even had to think about it. And the lazy person in me is glad I don’t have to sterilise bottles and all those shenanigans. I even breastfed my son in the Olympic Stadium the other day – one of the more interesting places, except perhaps, Stonehenge. Yes, really.
I would also say that a breast pump is an absolute must for a breastfeeding mum if you want any kind of flexibility. Think of it like leaving your boobs behind while you go watch a movie or grab lunch with friends! It’s also a good idea to express milk in the first few days to ensure your flow increases and also to avoid becoming engorged. Engorgement isn’t just uncomfortable, it can cause infections such as mastitis which are really painful and can leave you hospitalised if serious enough. I personally have and would recommend the Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Electric Breast Pump which I’ve found easy to assemble, clean and operate. Tommee Tippee’s customer support has also been exemplary and I find myself buying a whole host of their products for our little one.
The point of this post was to share my experience and I talk about it often to friends and families because I wish people had talked to me before I went through it all. It may not have made a difference to my experience but it would have helped to know that I was not a failure for not getting it right from day one. This is a request to you to share your experience with others too and if you’re new to it and struggling I can only say hang in there and seek expert help soon and often. It does get easier, in fact, it may end up being one of the best things you’ve ever done.

One comment

  1. You actually get a gold star from me, because you never really let on how bad the pain was… Aww… I know how hard it was for you, but you are stubborn! Good work girlie, I’m glad the dairy farm is fully functioning now 🙂

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