Guest Post: Breastfeeding - What I Wish I Had Known
This week, Catherine, mum to 13 month old Daisy, shares her breastfeeding story and top tips... Don't forget to get in touch if you'd like to write a guest blog post - no experience necessary!
If you had told me within the first six weeks of me having my daughter Daisy that I'd still be breastfeeding over a year later, I'm not sure whether I'd have laughed or cried. Despite how easy it looked in the textbooks, neither me nor Daisy were naturals, and the start of our breastfeeding journey was tough. I knew that formula-feeding was a healthy alternative with loads of its own amazing benefits, but I had really wanted to breastfeed and could see that Daisy also wanted to. I'd never considered that breastfeeding may not work out for me and my baby, but that was starting to look like a very real possibility. 13 months later and Daisy is now a certified boobie monster. Ironically, we're now struggling with the reverse problem: how to stop breastfeeding! By no means am I a feeding expert, even if I do now have 'golden boobs' status (yes, it's a 'thing' apparently), but I've definitely picked up a few tips along our journey that are hopefully worth sharing with other new mothers who have made the decision to breastfeed.
Seek help! Daisy had been diagnosed with a 'mild' tongue tie at birth and was added to a NHS waiting list to have the tie divided (cutting the short, tight piece of skin connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth). We did skin-to-skin immediately after birth, and Daisy latched on, so her tie didn't seem to be causing her any immediate feeding issues. However, she really struggled to stay latched on or even stay awake during a feed for the first few days and subsequently lost lots of weight, and even had a very scary looking 'brick dust' wee (this was due to dehydration but is actually very normal in newborns). My husband and I were starting to worry that Daisy's tongue tie might be affecting her feeding and we just couldn't bear to wait another long week for our NHS appointment. My midwife recommended finding a private lactation consultant via the Association of Tongue-tie Practitioners and I'm so glad we did. It cost a whopping £150 for the consultant to visit us at home with very short notice, but not only did our consultant diagnose Daisy's tongue tie as actually being quite significant and divide it for her; she also gave loads of helpful advice and ongoing telephone and email support. Alternatively, there's loads of free support and advice out there so take advantage of breastfeeding helplines such as NCT and La Leche, and find your local breastfeeding cafe. Breastfeeding may be the natural way to feed your baby but it's still a skill that you both need to learn and you can't expect to get it right straight away. You don't have to do it alone, but I certainly found that you have to actively seek the help you need.
Don't worry too much about how the latch looks. In the beginning, I obsessed over different positions but no matter what I tried and even after her tongue tie division, Daisy still had a 'shallow latch'. It took a lot of patience and perseverance, but what worked best for us was plenty of skin-to-skin contact and letting Daisy use her own instincts to self-attach. Some mums find it helps to use nipple shields until the baby really gets the hang of it. Remember, they're learning a new skill too! To this day, Daisy has never got that textbook 'fish lips' latch look down but this hasn't stopped her from piling on the pounds. I think it's safe to say that how the latch feels, together with your baby's weight gain and nappy output, are clearly the best indicators of how breastfeeding is going. That being said, during the first few weeks it would pinch momentarily as Daisy latched on for a feed and I was constantly applying Lasinoh (best nipple soothing cream ever!) to my sore nipples, but she soon got better with practice. It shouldn't hurt beyond the first couple of weeks, so be sure to seek guidance if it does.
Don't supplement. If you're intent on breastfeeding, resist the urge to supplement with formula in those first few weeks (unless, of course, you have been advised to do by your medical care provider) as the first six weeks are crucial to establish your milk supply. Your body produces milk based on how much your baby needs; the more they need, the more they feed, and the more milk you produce. If you interfere with formula, you could unintentionally affect the amount of milk you make. The thing I found hardest at first was not knowing how much milk Daisy was getting from me and I really struggled to gain confidence that my body was even making any milk, especially as my milk came in a couple of days late (probably due to haemorrhaging during labour). As I couldn't see how much breastmilk Daisy was drinking, it was such a comfort to watch her guzzle down a bottle of formula. I could see how easy it would be to give up on my choice to breastfeed and switch to bottle-feeding, but as the lactation consultant pointed out to me, a baby's normal response to having a free-flowing bottle put in their mouth is to drink it, and is not necessarily an indication that they have been starving. The number one reason women give up breastfeeding is because they think they don’t have enough milk, but this is actually a fairly unusual problem. If your baby has plenty of wet nappies and seems content then have faith in your boobs! I was still determined to breastfeed so I put the bottle down and took that leap of faith. I soon found out at Daisy's next weigh-in that I was actually making plenty of milk for her, and I can't tell you what a rewarding feeling that was after our shaky start.
Persevere. If you are lucky enough not to have any serious issues with breastfeeding (some babies just won't latch no matter what, for one thing!) and can persevere with it enough to make it through the first six weeks, then you can probably go long-haul. Find some shows to binge-watch on Netflix, cancel everything else in your life and just go with it. I know that's easier said than done when you don't have a maid or a personal chef, and you have other children to look after (how DO you people cope!?) so obviously it helps to have a lot of support if you're really going to get things going. Daisy was a slow eater in the beginning. I'm talking 30 minutes on each breast, and then she was hungry another 30 minutes later. And then there was the dreaded evening clusterfeeding, which was the most testing for me. I highly recommend preparing one pot meals earlier in the day that you (or, ideally, your partner) can heat up for dinner and eat one-handed with a spoon. Our first few weeks with Daisy were bit of a blur but it helped to just accept that I wouldn't be able to put our little leech down for six weeks. After that, breastfeeding got so much easier, almost overnight, and it was such a doddle from thereon that I'm still doing it a year later. There is a light!
Invest in a good quality electric breast pump. I could never express even a drop of milk with my hands or a manual pump, but I borrowed a friend's Medela Swing and it was a godsend. Don't freak out like I did if you can't express much at first. I soon worked out that the best time to express was in the morning, or after a hot shower, and sometimes I'd need to look at pictures and videos of Daisy for my milk to let-down. Keep in mind that babies are much more efficient at expressing milk than even the best of pumps, so how much you express is not really the best indication of how much milk they are getting. Also, try not to express within the first six weeks unless you've been advised to do so by your healthcare provider (i.e. if you're having trouble with your milk coming in), as again it could confuse your milk supply if you do it too early on. The last thing you want to do, when you have a break from relentless breastfeeding, is pump yourself, but it's worth it in the end and it gives dad a chance to help out. If you can get baby used to drinking milk from a bottle at least once a week, then you're less likely to have issues with your baby accepting a bottle further down the line if and when you decide to switch to formula. Make sure you use a teat designed for breastfed babies and stay as far away as possible when dad feeds, as baby has a nose like a bloodhound for you and your milk, in which case only you will do! It's not advised to feed baby from a bottle yourself in the early months in case they decide they prefer the bottle and start to refuse the breast (not uncommon as the latter is much harder work for their little mouths initially).
Don't try to breastfeed on a schedule. I learnt the hard way that this makes little sense for breastfed babies. Like I said, breastmilk works on supply and demand so you need to follow baby's lead to ensure you make enough milk for them, especially as you can't see how much they're getting. Besides, babies don't just breastfeed when they're hungry: they breastfeed for comfort; for pain relief; to fall asleep, and just because they love to suck out of pure boredom! As Daisy got older and she was nursing less often, she developed a more reliable schedule that I was able to work her routine around, but some days she would be extra hungry when she was having a growth spurt or just needed some extra comfort when teething etc. (she just wasn't interested in a dummy!).
Don't beat yourself up. We were lucky enough to overcome our initial breastfeeding challenges, but there are many mums out there who are presented with much more complicated physiological difficulties which mean they are unable to breastfeed. It may not be your first choice, but bottle feeding is a healthy and wonderful alternative, and comes with many of its own advantages, so don't beat yourself up if you wanted to breastfeed and it doesn't work out for you. Even if something is out of our control, us mums have a tendency to blame ourselves for everything (I believe the term is 'mum guilt'). Or, you might just find breastfeeding isn't for you. How you decide to feed your baby is a very personal choice and I strongly believe that whatever makes you, as a mother, feel most happy and comfortable is ultimately the best choice for your baby.
http://www.tongue-tie.org.uk/ - Find your local Tongue-tie Practitioner / Lactation Consultant.
https://www.nct.org.uk/ - Free breastfeeding advice. You can also speak to a friendly breastfeeding counsellor by calling their helpline on 0300 330 0700.
https://www.laleche.org.uk/ - Find your local breastfeeding support group or speak to one of their breastfeeding counsellors on 0345 120 2918.
groups/canibreastfeedinit/ - Helpful Facebook group where women all over the country share recommendations of high street/online clothing items that are practical for breastfeeding in. You really aren't limited to clothes that are specifically made for nursing.
themilkmeg/ - Meg Nagle is a renowned breastfeeding guru and I always recommend her Facebook page to new breastfeeding mums. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, a breastfeeding blogger with a large international following, and author of the amazing 'Boobin' All Day Boobin' All Night: A Gently Approach to Sleep for Breastfeeding Families'.
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