Saturday, 3 May 2014

10 Things They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

When I was pregnant, I went to an antenatal class dedicated solely to educating expectant mothers about breastfeeding. With medical guidelines recommending that babies be exclusively nursed for the first six months, it makes sense to fill new mums with all of the facts. Unfortunately, that's not really what they did. Don't get me wrong, the class was unbelievably helpful and took me from sitting on the fence to determined to breastfeed, but there was an awful lot that I was left to find out for myself.

Learning on the job.

I've nearly given up breastfeeding on a couple of occasions, mainly when some spanner or another has thrown itself into the works, and I've been left to work out what the hell is going on. I think that we need to stop sugar coating nursing and tell new mums the truth. And though it might read like a horror story, hopefully it will help them to deal with some of the curve-balls that are undoubtedly coming their way. After all, knowledge is power.

So, you're determined to breastfeed your new bundle? That's wonderful, I'd highly recommend it, but first of all sit back, take a deep breath and read on. There's a few things you should know...

10. It can hurt.

During breastfeeding classes, it is drummed into us that breastfeeding should never hurt if it's being done correctly. That's simply not the case. Once I had Blake's tongue-tie fixed, he had a perfect latch, yet some days I would get impossibly sore nipples for no real reason whatsoever. I assume it was just simple overuse, as he was effectively using me as a dummy when he needed comfort. It was never sore enough to need to resort to nipple shields or religious use of nipple cream, but it was far from comfortable. 

Now that he's older, we have a whole new set of nipple issues. At four months old, he is noticing the world around him and wants to see it. A distracted baby who desperately wants to look behind them isn't worried about a graceful unlatch. They will simply wrench their head away and your nipple has no choice but to go along for the ride. I've heard this referred to as 'niplash': an accurate term for a painful phenomenon. 

9. Day 2 sucks.

At no point in my antenatal class did anyone tell me about Day 2 (the second day after birth). Obviously I was aware that my milk would be coming in a few days, but nothing prepared me for the way that baby makes this happen. It was the day after I'd had major abdominal surgery and, at this point, I hadn't slept for around sixty hours, but biology stepped in and told Blake that he needed to do his part to bring my milk in. This involved feeding, and lots of it; almost constantly in fact. He was doing an important job to tell my body how much milk he'd be requiring, and therefore how much I needed to make, but unfortunately the midwives had neglected to tell me what was going on. Exhausted and sore, I let him feed for as long as possible, but after two and a half hours and my energy rapidly dwindling, my mum decided to ask the midwives for help. They simply told her that it was normal, and that I needed to try and see it through.

Luckily for me, I was still in hospital. Had I been at home (as most mothers would be) and didn't know that this should be happening, I am certain that I would have given up there and then. Day 2 sucks, but it passes and if you're ready, you can see it through.

8. It takes a long time.

At first anyway. Bottle feeds can be turned around pretty quickly from quite a young age, but this often isn't the case for breastfed babies. While Blake was getting the hang of what he was doing, and while I did the same, a feed could sometimes take an hour or more. Nightfeeds could last two when you factored in nappy changes and re-settling him. This will get better as your baby learns to feed more efficiently, but while it's happening you need to take any help that is offered. Forget your chores, don't worry about washing your hair, just make sure that someone is on hand to bring you food and water when you need it.

7. Supply issues are a thing.

A thing that is enormously played down by midwives. We are told that it's very rare for a woman to not produce enough to feed her baby, and that's about as much information as we get. Yet I know several women who had problems with supply from the very beginning. Often I think that this exacerbated by a confused Day 2 at home, with the new mother not knowing how much feeding is necessary. Many babies in this situation will need formula top-ups, and that's ok.

There's also such a thing as oversupply, which simply wasn't discussed at all in my antenatal class. That's a bit of a bummer, because it's something that I've struggled with from the off. Oversupply means that I often suffer with engorged and painful breasts, particularly in the mornings and the only option is to pump. When you pump you send a message to your breasts that more milk is being used and that it needs to up its production: a painful cycle that is difficult to break. Added to this, I also have a painful and over-active let-down which, in layman's terms, pretty much means that I spray like an open hydrant, drowning Blake and soaking everything within a 2 metre radius. Again, I had absolutely no idea that this problem even existed.

6. It's more portable... but only if you're confident about it.

Yes, breasts are a very portable feeding system. You have no bottles to sterilise, formula to mix or boiled water to cool, which means that you can feed your baby anywhere that you like, at absolutely anytime. I found that it was particularly handy for long drives, as you could stop anywhere and be ready to go.

You do, however, need to be confident. It's amazing how vulnerable you can feel when you have to feed in public when you're alone. This even happens to me, one of the most outspoken people you could meet. After all, you do actually have your boob out. I find that exuding an air of "Don't even bother challenging me," is very effective at combating this issue.

5. It takes a while to 'get it'.

Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but it isn't easy, and it certainly doesn't always feel natural. In fact, it took me a good eight weeks or so to really find my groove with it. Before that, I found the whole thing a bit of a battle, and I nearly gave up on several occasions. Luckily for me, I have a friend who is five weeks ahead of me who was able to assure me that it would get better. I'm here to do that for you: it does, don't give up yet. 

4. It doesn't mean you're going to be thin anytime soon.

One of the big ways that health professionals try to persuade us to breastfeed is by telling us about the weight loss benefits. And there is something to this. Actually, my body snapped back far quicker than some I know who have bottle fed, but it hasn't snapped back all the way. 

Many women's bodies will keep a certain amount of fat back as a reserve, which makes sense really when you consider that it has to feed two humans. Though you might initially lose a large portion of your pregnancy weight, be ready to be stuck with some of it until you stop feeding. 

3. You will have ups and downs.

Breastfeeding floods your system with feel good hormones, and many report a feeling of calm and, sometimes, euphoria when nursing their child. I have felt the elation of sitting with my baby, gazing into his enormous blue eyes as he gently and effectively feeds and then drifts off to sleep. However, I have also felt the frustration of a fussy, cluster feeding infant, and had to fight the urge to just wrench him from my breast and stuff a bottle into his mouth.

Breastfeeding has its ups and downs and it's unrealistic to assume that it will always be a perfect bonding experience. More often than not, it'll be wonderful, but there will be days, when you're tired and the baby is messing about, that you will resent every second of it. Hopefully, you'll be like me and be too bloody stubborn to give up once you've reached a certain point. Hang in there, the beauty and bond will come back around, just be patient.

2. It's selfish.

And that's ok. It's fine that you secretly relish the fact that no one can help you, and that your baby instinctively looks for you when anyone else holds him. What you're doing is wonderful, you deserve to take a little pleasure from that extra attachment. 

1. People can be complete dicks about it.

Whether it's disapproving of public feeding, or criticising the age to which you decide to continue nursing, it will seem like almost everyone has an opinion about what you're doing. The best thing any women who wishes to breastfeed can do is grow an extra thick skin. The world wants to talk about women who breastfeed, and it isn't always kind. There are facebook pages calling for breastfeeding in public to be made illegal, with one actually claiming that it is 'mouth rape' of children, akin to paedophilia. Added to that lunacy, you have older people who simply have no experience of it, raising their own children at a time when formula was the norm. This lack of understanding can be frustrating, but you have to put it down to simple misinformation and move on.

Your breastfeeding journey is exactly that: yours. If you want to continue nursing until your child is five, then go for it and don't let anyone tell you that what you're doing is wrong. Listen to your body and your child, not the words of those around you. 

Most importantly, enjoy it. Now that you are armed with the real facts, there is nothing to hold you back.

You can do this, Mama.


  1. Great post! You've summed it all up a treat. Mums need more honest information

  2. Thank you! I'm a new mom and we're on day 10. I hope I can do this, each day I feel a little bit more confident, and my baby girl seems to also:)

  3. You absolutely can. I believe that if you can survive day 2, you can survive anything! Just stay strong through the trickier moments and remember that the good stuff is on its way back around. Breastfeeding is the most wonderful thing I've ever battled with. It's so worth it

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