It is World Breastfeeding Week, and it’s got me thinking about my own experiences with it…
Breastfeeding didn’t exactly work out for my daughter and I. So you can imagine my surprise that I’m still breastfeeding my son.
I’d resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed him (given how excruciatingly painful I found feeding my daughter). My in-laws bought us a Perfect Prep Machine, we had bottles and formula ready to go.
Day one arrived and I fed him (wanting him to get the colostrum), but mostly he slept.
Day two arrived and it started to hurt to feed him.
Day three arrived and along with it, my milk, and the pain went from ‘this is sore’ to ‘someone is grinding glass into my nipples’ immediately. I spent twenty-four hours almost solidly crying. Chris figured out the prep machine and we supplemented a feed with some formula so I could get a break from the intensity of it. I prepared my speech for the health visitors (‘I know breast is best but …’)
Day four arrived and the pain disappeared.
I wish I could explain it, but I really can’t.
I don’t know what happened. I woke up, and it didn’t hurt anymore. Nothing had changed with his latch, or my positioning. It was as though someone had given me a new pair of boobs.
And so it went on. And I’m still breastfeeding him! Madness.
As wonderful as this is (and it truly is), it’s meant that there’s a big element of parenting that I was once again a total noob at. It’s so important to be real about breastfeeding. In my opinion, increased pressure to breastfeed from health professionals + lack of realistic information about what it’s like + lack of breastfeeding support + the shock of parenthood = a perfect environment for PND to thrive in.
So, in the spirit of honesty, here’s some things I have learnt along the way:
Breastfeeding can hurt even when the latch is right
I want to preface this by saying: make sure you get someone to check your baby’s latch, preferably more than one person. It’s so important. If you’re unsure, I’m going to leave a list of places you can go to for support at the end of this post. Bad latch = unnecessary pain and, in the long run, potential further problems.
Also, please get someone to check your baby for tongue tie. I can’t believe midwives don’t do this automatically, but they don’t – so make sure you ask someone.
My daughter had breast milk for four weeks and not once during that period did it stop hurting. It just hurt. Expressing hurt too. My Mum and sisters found it the same. I remember seeing my sister crying whilst feeding my niece, unable to fathom why it was hurting so much, and I naively thought ‘well, that probably won’t happen to me.’
I’ve always had hurty boobs. They hurt at the slightest provocation. I can’t even lie on them when I’m on my period, they hurt that much. It should have twigged somewhere in my thought processes that having someone sucking on them with an unbelievable amount of strength would, you know, be at the best mildly uncomfortable.
You’re not a failure, if you find it hurts too much. It might, or might not settle down (as it did for me with my second.) Just don’t go into it believing that ‘if the latch is right, it won’t hurt.’ Because for some women, it just does.
Sometimes you feel like you just don’t have enough to satisfy them
Again, it’s vital to get support if you feel your baby isn’t getting enough. I’ve heard horror stories of women refusing to get their babies checked and then their babies having to be hospitalized due to weight dropping. Not to freak you out, but – there’s a reason why you need to weigh them. Mostly, you can tell if babies are okay by how often they wee and poo.
But sometimes, they feed. And feed. And feed. Your boobs will feel like deflated balloons, totally void of any substance. And they cry. And they latch on again. And so on.
Babies feed constantly like this in the early days because they are training your body to increase its milk supply. Babies automatically understand when they’re going to need more milk, for example, before a growth spurt – and so they feed like crazy trying to get more milk to come in. It’s annoying, but it happens. I’d say, realistically, it took the first three months of my son’s life for him to finally settle into a reliable pattern for feeding – and even then he had blips of wanting more or less than usual.
Mastitis hurts. A LOT
Mastitis. The mere word sends a shiver of dread through my heart. Did you ever wonder what it’s like to have a hole in your boob?
Because I know what that’s like.
Anyway, keep an eye out for blocked ducts – if you’re feeding and it hurts on one side, that might be a sign. Sometimes there might be a lump there, or some redness. At that stage you need to get in contact with your health visitor or GP. A blocked duct can turn into mastitis (essentially a raging infection) really quickly and you will need antibiotics to clear it.
Unfortunately, not feeding makes it worse. Feeding during mastitis hurt so much I wanted to faint, so I switched to a breast pump on the bad side for a while in order to keep hold of my sanity. That is my pro tip. (Also, savoy cabbage leaves in your bra. The sheer relief is immense!)
Other people might have an opinion on your feeding
I’ve noticed people glancing over at me during a feed, which is fine, obviously. But one time a woman saw me feeding in a restaurant, tutted, turned on her heel and left. I didn’t see her, my Mum spotted her. It’s a good thing she left sharpish because you do not want to cross my mother when she’s defending one of us.
Unfortunately our society prefers to think of boobs as sexual objects rather than tools for feeding small children, and so breastfeeding in public can feel a bit daunting. I get that. Mostly I use the one-top-up, one-top-down method to feed baby boy, or if I want to wear an outfit that doesn’t allow for that, I have a breastfeeding cover thingy. However – you have the right to breastfeed. Wherever you want. It’s the law. Anyone who wants to complain presumably has working eyeballs and can therefore turn them in their head to look the other way.
However – to comfort you – that lady was a one-off. Other than that, people have been lovely about me feeding in public, which is nice.
You might also get comments as your baby gets older along the lines of ‘shouldn’t you be stopping by now?’ but again – personal choice. You know your baby best – other people’s opinions don’t matter when it comes to how long you breastfeed!
Sometimes you want to share the load
Some people believe that mixed feeding = the devil. And yes – if you start feeding your baby formula you might find that you end up, eventually, giving them formula completely (which in my opinion is fine anyway, but that’s another topic).
Mixed feeding is probably the thing that saved me from jacking it all in on day three when it hurt so much.
The ability to occasionally give my baby a bottle has been so useful. For one thing, it means that I can occasionally go out without him, knowing that I don’t have to express milk (see the next point). It meant my husband could do more in the early days, taking over completely so I could sleep. It meant that when I got a bit ‘touched out’ and needed a break, someone else could feed him. It meant that when I felt really sore, I could have a rest from it.
And do you know what? It worked for us, and it works for a lot of people. Baby rarely has formula now – I can’t actually remember the last time he did. But it was a lifesaver right at the start, and is probably a huge factor in why I’ve managed to keep it going for so long.
Expressing doesn’t work for everyone
Oh my goodness. It just doesn’t. Some boobs just don’t give out that much milk unless a baby is attached to them. I can feed my son until he actually pukes from having too much (that sounds like I force feed him. I don’t. Sometimes he just gets greedy.) In fact, sometimes, he latches on and I have so much milk that, when he inevitably pulls away, it squirts. Everywhere. Into his eyes. On the walls. All over my clothes. It’s like a fountain.
And yet at the sight of the breast pump? Nothing. I can pump for 40 minutes and end up with two ounces. I persevered with expressing milk for my daughter for four weeks and it was the longest four weeks of my life. If you get on well with it, great! If not – I really think life is too short to be stuck to a pump.
But just in case all this negativity is putting you off…
Breastfeeding is amazing
I don’t feel I’ve bonded better with my son than my daughter – we’re equally close. But I do love the physical closeness of feeding him. I like being able to curl up with him at night and doze while he feeds. I like having milk on tap, being able to go anywhere and do anything knowing I can just pop him on a boob if he gets hungry. I like how cute and grumpy he gets when I get out of the shower and he realizes I am just getting dressed and not actually offering him food. I like how sweet he looks when he feeds, when he closes his eyes and settles down to sleep, when his feeding starts to slow. I like how his eyes lock into mine while he feeds. I love how I can reassure him when he’s sad. It’s a relief to know I can get him to drink when he has a cold. In the early days when he was small, I loved being hands-free with it: I used to be able to write for ages, do my make-up, all sorts, whilst feeding him. (I also like not having to spend £11 a week on formula, but hey).
I’m grateful – so grateful – to have experienced it. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry when it comes to an end. To have this experience after having a terrible time with our first is such a huge blessing to me.
Some resources to help
You may think ‘hey, breastfeeding is natural – I’ll get it, it’s what my body is designed to do.’ While it’s true our bodies are designed to do it, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Some babies don’t help matters by being a bit confused about what to do. Check out La Leche League if you want to do some research or if you need some support!
Hi! I’m Meg – wife to Chris, mother to our three year old daughter and five month old son. I am a writer, bookworm, Christian, feminist, and sleep enthusiast!
Image credit: Megan Bidmead