If you’re trying to breastfeed a newborn, first of all, congratulations! You have successfully brought a brand-new human into the world and that is no mean feat – whichever way you did it. Secondly, I’ll really try keep this fairly concise – I know how knackered you are, and the last thing you need is a great long article wanging on about the joy of breastfeeding. I understand how frustrating, exhausting and downright difficult breastfeeding can be. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, so why on earth do so many of us find it so hard? The first weeks are no doubt the hardest; both mum and baby are novices and newborn babies have tiny stomachs, which mean you can feel like the feeding actually never stops. Ever. But it does get easier, I promise and that’s when the joy of breastfeeding becomes apparent.
Here’s my guide to surviving that first month of breastfeeding…
1) Ask someone at the hospital to check your baby for tongue-tie
Nobody checked my eldest. I didn’t discover until his 6 month check that he had tongue-tie, despite repeated requests for help with poor latch, initial failure to thrive and later biting (your baby can’t bite if they’re latched properly = it’s your fault). If only I’d known he had tongue-tie, our early experiences of breastfeeding could have been so much easier and less stressful. You can find out more about tongue-tie here. No sooner was my youngest out of the womb, I collared a midwife in the recovery area after my c-section and got them to check her. No tongue-tie. Breastfeeding was so unbelievably easy because of this.
2) If you’re finding it painful or difficult, get a midwife or health visitor or breastfeeding consultant to check your baby’s latch.
Even if they say it’s okay and you and your baby keep on having difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask again. And again. If your baby has shallow or poor latch you can guarantee they will do a perfect feed when a health professional is watching. It’s when you’re pacing the house in your gigantic granny pants at 3am willing your baby to latch on properly that it can feel like neither of you will ever get it right. It’s normal to experience a little bit of pain at first (brilliantly articulated by Fran here), after all, your nips are doing a brand new job but if it doesn’t feel right, get checked.
3) Accept that you are not necessarily going to be out and about any time soon
Breastfeeding takes time to master, you need lots of time, and space where you can feel comfortable and have your boobs out all day if you need to. I found the sofa, or bed was my natural habitat for the first few weeks. But that’s easier said than done when you are fighting the urge to get up, get out and achieve something with your day – especially when you are used to working full time. Don’t feel bad about resting, recovering, taking time getting to know your baby and learning how to feed them. Your milk supply improves when you allow time to rest too. Do you need any better reason to chill out on the sofa or take a nap?
4) Embrace Netflix and iPlayer
TV is your friend. While you’re marooned on the sofa with a newborn on your nork, you can race through an entire series in a day, or catch up on all those films you wanted to see but you were too busy working/watching One Born Every Minute to prepare yourself for childbirth. Ditto books, if you’re not too tired to concentrate…
5) Have a little tin of snacks and a water bottle by your side
Cake is also your friend – as are flapjacks (oats are great for your supply). Healthy snacks like bananas are good too. I had a lunchbox-sized tin filled with cereal bars, dried fruit, biscuits and chocolate treats, because breastfeeding makes you so damned hungry! Don’t risk getting stuck on the sofa for a mammoth feed with no food and water. Feel free to take the tin with you to bed at night as well – when you’re feeding all night the hunger pangs can strike!
6) Prepare for cluster feeding
I should explain why you might get stuck on the sofa: cluster feeding. This Motherload blog explains it brilliantly. Essentially your baby will want to feed a lot – maybe for many hours at a time. This can happen periodically or really regularly. Roll with it. It’s serving a purpose: boosting your milk supply.
7) Try not to worry about not knowing the exact quantity of milk your baby has consumed.
It’s not the same as bottle feeding. Your breasts are working on a supply and demand system, and your clever baby will know how long they need to feed for to not only take enough milk for now, but stimulate your breasts to increase the supply for the next feed. This means you will never know exactly how much milk your baby is drinking and that is fine. Are they wetting their nappies and doing poos? Are they gaining weight? If you answer yes to both of those questions, it is highly likely that your baby is getting exactly what they need. This also means that if the baby wants to feed, let them feed – even if you think your breasts are empty. They’re not – suckling will help the baby release more milk and drive up that supply for the next feed.
8) Talk to other breastfeeding mums
Becoming a new mum is a bit like being blasted in the face with a high-pressure hose at short-range: it’s an assault on all the senses and can leave you wondering whether you are getting anything right. Join an online group, go to a breastfeeding group, text a friend who has breastfed a baby – no one will mind sharing their experience with you and it might just help you feel more confident in what you’re doing.
9) Share the load.
Feeding a newborn every two hours, which when you factor in the feed, burping and change of nappy can leave you with little time to do anything else – and it can feel like the burden is solely on you. Especially at night. I think my lowest point was when I only managed 20 minutes sleep between feeds (damn you, reflux) at night. I got my other half to take on burping and settling duties and we worked out a way that I could do a feed at 8pm, go straight to bed, then my husband would bring the baby for a feed at 10ish, then take him away until the midnight feed. This gave me four, precious, broken hours of sleep to survive those totally bloody hardcore nights of breastfeeding.
10) Remember, it does get easier
The gaps between feeds grow, baby becomes more adept at feeding and you grow in confidence, because the evidence is right there before you – your baby is contented and thriving. I always imagined I’d breastfeed for six months, but found that like everything in parenting, the first six months is the hardest, the second six months is payback for all that effort. By that point breastfeeding was so easy that I couldn’t see the point in giving up and actually, your baby is still very much a baby. If you still enjoy it when you get there, keep on going as long as you want to.
If you’re really worried about how breastfeeding is going, do contact your health visitor for advice. There is some really helpful information from Unicef here.