I lay on my bed the other morning, sprawled out like a Greek woman in one of those old-fashioned paintings while my daughter popped on for a feed and off for a play with whichever toy had taken her fancy that day, then back on for a nibble again. It dawned on me how strange it was that it didn’t feel strange at all.
It lead me to thinking about breastfeeding, and to all the things I hadn’t known at the start â€“ things that may really have been quite helpful. Here are a few to get you started.
It would probably have been good to know before my daughter’s birth how much of the first few weeks I was going to spend doing nothing but feeding. I don’t think I moved off the sofa for much of the first few days. I did go out â€“ grocery shopping, to show the new baby off to friends and so on, but my time at home was spent on the sofa, learning to feed my baby, learning to be her mother. After a few weeks feeding became quicker, and now she can drain a breast in about 7 minutes!
Breastfeeding can be hard
People often talk about breastfeeding being difficult in the beginning. What they don’t always mention is that difficult doesn’t only apply to the beginning. For me it wasn’t difficult. We had a drug-free birth, and Ameli fed within a couple minutes of birth. We never had a problem with latching or with milk coming in or anything like that. But sometimes my breasts would be so full that she couldn’t latch properly, and I had to either express a bit, or squash the breast at the nipple area to help it in to her mouth.
My nipples sometimes hurt. Sometimes she sucked so long I felt raw. After a growth spurt she fed less and my boobs felt like they were exploding. Sometimes I leaked everywhere. Sometimes milk would spurt out of me if a baby on the bus was crying.
Then she had teeth.
Breasts and teeth aren’t friends
At four and a half months her first two teeth showed up. The first time she bit me it was so sore, in shock I ripped her right off the breast with a large yelp and a loud NO! She began crying and wouldn’t feed for a full five hours after that, and cried every time I tried to get her to feed. Eventually she fed again and didn’t bite again for a long time. The next time she bit she took a bit of flesh with her and that hurt for days, every time she fed I felt as though someone was pulling a limb off. But I endured and within a week it was fine again. I have realised that she tends to take little ‘nips’ when she’s not really that hungry.
Breastfeeding can be painful (if the above didn’t convince you)
For mastitis â€“ crazy as this sounds â€“ put cabbage leaves in your bra. Apart from the cooling effect of the leaf, something in it actually draws out the infection. The leaf will warm up and go limp after a few hours, so change it out from time to time.
The best cure I have found for engorgement is to get in a warm shower and leaning slightly forward, massage the breast gently, squirting the milk out. Of course, if you want to save it for freezing, you’ll need to express, which might hurt a little but is achievable.
Plugged ducts really hurt too, and sadly the most effective way of unplugging a duct is by simply feeding through it. It stings and is very unpleasant but effective.
Breastmilk is a wonder drug for mamas too
Never minding the benefits for the babies, breastmilk is good for mama’s breasts too! Breastmilk has healing powers. Rubbed on it makes pimples go away, and gets rid of small scars super quickly. And it helps the healing along when baby draws blood too.
Low milk supply
A lot of women think they don’t have enough milk. I’ve experienced this too, and it’s frightening. What we must realise is that babies drink often initially, and the breasts reservoir milk to make sure there’s enough. After about six weeks the reservoir ‘dries up’ and the milk is produced on demand, making it look like we might not have enough.
Also, expressing isn’t an indicator of milk supply. I find expressing really easy, but even so, I might only express a few ounces when I know my breasts are full, then try to feed and have milk literally squirting all over my baby’s face. Useful as expressing is, it simply doesn’t have the physiology of feeding and therefore is simply not an indicator.
If you are worried though, try some herbs to increase milk supply, make sure you’re eating regular healthy meals (or try lactating biscuits) and drink plenty of water. Primarily though, keep feeding â€“ demand creates supply!
Do you do it in public? Do you cover up? Do you sit in the toilet? Be prepared, pregnant mamas for a world of pain â€“ if you allow yourself to get involved in it. Once you’ve become confident enough to feed your baby in public, you might find yourself confronted with all sorts of opinions.
My suggestions? Sometimes people see you feeding and they smile encouragingly. To those, you smile back. Sometimes they pull faces and frown. Those you roll your eyes at. Sometimes they comment â€“ have your responses ready so that you don’t find yourself at a loss.
If you are feeding in public, do you use a cover or not? Some women will be ‘offended’ if you don’t cover up and some will be offended if you do. You can’t win, nor can you please everyone, so do what you’re comfortable with.
I cover when my husband is around as he’s the shy type, I don’t when he isn’t as I don’t mind. Both are my choice. I am also led by my daughter. Sometimes she is too distracted by what’s going on around us – then I cover the outside world by putting a nursing cover over her. When she’s not distracted, I don’t need to hide the world.
Some women will say you should cover up for modesty sake, others say you should cover up to highlight the fact that you’re breastfeeding. Again, if you ignore the politics you’ll have a much happier time of it.
The only thing that does bring out the savage beast in me is when people imply that babies should be fed in the public toilets. They don’t serve my lunch in there, why would I serve my baby’s?
The bond, the health benefits to mother and baby and the emotional closeness are beyond what you could have imagined in a life before child. That’s not to say that mothers who bottle feed love their children any less or don’t have a bond, but the bond is, must be, different. (Anyone had experience of both?)
Well, I’m sure there are plenty more things that ‘would have been nice to know’, but in the end we muddle through and must all work it out for ourselves!
How about you?
What would you have liked to know or wish that someone had told you?