Breastfeeding is one of those things that you think *should* come naturally. It looks simple enough – stick baby on boob, baby sucks, milk comes out, voila! For a lucky few, it does happen like that. For most, it’s a steep learning curve that can be difficult to negotiate.
There is lots you can do before baby arrives, and in the immediate weeks afterwards to help you hit the ground running. Breastfeeding is undoubtedly tough at the start, and we shouldn’t be frightened of admitting that. That said, the benefits – on a practical, physical and emotional level are beyond compare. You might not feel like the tears and swollen, hot, aching breasts are worth it when you have a half baby/half gremlin latched on to you during a growth spurt. And it might all feel rather unfair while you sit up for the 1286th time that night to feed your baby while your husband snores peacefully beside you (it’s ok. You’re allowed to think about smothering him. Just don’t pick up that pillow….)
But it is worth it, and it does get easier with time. I won’t say easy full stop, as the challenges change as your baby gets older, but the newborn stage is what I’m going to concentrate on in this blog post. Otherwise we will be 10,000 words down the line and you will all have given up and put the kettle on long before the end. In fact, go put the kettle on now, get a cup of tea and get comfy, I might be a while….
Do your research
There is a lot of breastfeeding support out there. Some is more accessible than others. NOW is the time to find out about breastfeeding services in your area. It’s far easier to suss it all out beforehand, rather than when your elbow deep in nappies trying to figure out what the heck a breast pump flange is. Email your local NCT branch – do they have peer supporters/breastpump hire available? Are there any lactation consultants in your area? Where are the local breastfeeding groups? Pop along to one when you are waiting for baby to arrive – then it won’t be such a daunting thought to go when your baby is here. Write down the breastfeeding support line numbers and stick them on your fridge – much easier than trying to find the right number late at night.
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212
The Breastfeeding Network – 0300 100 0210
NCT – 0300 330 0771
Knowledge is power
You wouldn’t go in to an exam without doing any studying. The same rule should be applied to breastfeeding. Facebook breastfeeding groups and Twitter are an absolute life saver during the night – there is ALWAYS someone awake to hold your hand and boost your morale (search for #nightfeeds or #3amclub to find other awake mamas). Attend your NHS or NCT breastfeeding class – ask your midwife for more information if it hasn’t already been offered. Speak to friends who have breastfed for advice and support – you can trust them to be honest with you!
Read, read and read some more. I found Baby Led Breastfeeding one of the most straightforward books to follow and understand at 3am in the morning when I was desperately searching for an answer, closely followed by The Food of Love by Kate Evans (which also has fabulous cartoons). My go to websites during the early days were Kellymom and The Breastfeeding Network – worth having them bookmarked for easy reference. By learning about the process of breastfeeding, how it works, and what is normal for a breastfed baby, it will help massively.
The truth is, you don’t. You have to accept that your job for the next few weeks is to feed your baby, establish your milk supply and look after yourself. This might mean grabbing a massive sports bottle, enough snacks to feed a rugby team, the remote control and creating a nest on the sofa where you remain for the rest of the day (if you don’t already have netflix/fire tv/sky on demand, get them, get them now) If you can bear to tear yourself away from the delicious cuddles and taking photos of your little one’s milk drunk face, then having a shower is a massive achievement. Anything above and beyond that catapults you to superwoman status and you would be wholly entitled to don a cape and run around with your pants over your pyjama bottoms.It can be really hard to get your head round just how much a newborn feeds. Not every 4 hours, or 3, or 2…but sometimes hourly. You will wonder how exactly you will get anything done.
Remember all that research you did pre-baby? Utilise it. If your midwife has said things are ‘fine’, but you are still in pain/struggling, call in the big guns. The right kind of support can often mean the difference between being able to breastfeed and having to stop.
You need to make sure your partner knows what he can do to help, and how much his support means to you. Yes, he can’t help with feeding, but there are lots of jobs that he can take responsibility for. He can make sure you are well fed and watered, change nappies, wind baby, bath baby and take them out for walks while you take a quick cat nap as well as generally lavish love and adoration on you. It’s his job to make sure you know just what a fantastic job you are doing, and not be waiting in the shadows with a tub of formula the moment you start to wobble. He needs to don his rara skirt and pom poms to be your ultimate cheerleader.
Adopt the 24 hour rule
When it all seems too much, and you want to stop, promise yourself you will keep going for one more day. Often, a day later, whatever it was that was making you want to stop yesterday will have passed and you will feel strong enough to keep going for another 24 hours.
The right tools for the job
Things like a good nursing bra and heavy duty nipple cream can really make all the difference. Ask mums in your local breastfeeding group what they found useful – there’s lots of stuff on the market that is more of a hindrance than a help, but there’s plenty that can make things just a little bit easier.
It can be a vicious cycle – baby won’t latch, you get tense, baby still won’t latch, you tense up more, baby then won’t latch because you are so tense and upset. If it’s all getting a bit too much, take a few big deep breaths, and blow out long, slow and relax all your muscles If you need a ‘mummy time out’, it’s ok to just go grab a glass of water, compose yourself and start again.
Pull the plaster off
Breastfeeding in public can be a terrifying thought. The reality is far less scary. Even if you don’t feel confident, fake it. Once you have that first feed done and out of the way, it will get easier each time. Invest in some good breastfeeding tops or try the vest down/top up method (wear a vest under your normal top – then you can pull the vest down to ‘unleash’ your boob, pull your outer top up and latch baby on without flashing). There are also nursing covers available, but some mums find these a bit restrictive. Babies can also have their own strong opinions on them!
Speak to other breastfeeding mums
They’ve been there, done that and have got the milk stained t shirt. Having a good network of breastfeeding mum friends who you can Whatsapp at 3am will keep you going through some of your hardest nights. Mum to mum support is invaluable – don’t underestimate its power!
What are your top breastfeeding tips? What helped you most in the early weeks?