We’ve done it! Breastfeeding, I mean. Three months of keeping our baby alive with just my body, DONE. Seems as good a time as any for a bit of reflection.
As a brief introduction – we decided I would probably breastfeed before we conceived. The primary reason? We’re really lazy. Breastfeeding sounded incredibly convenient and low maintenance. Bottle feeding a baby involves bottles, washing, drying, storage, powder, boiling, sterilising, and so on. Compared with… whacking a breast out, wherever you happen to be. No prep, no kit, no tidy up. And you don’t even need to have showered. Breastfeeding was easy, all straightforward, we thought. WRONG.
Here’s six breastfeeding challenges we experienced during the first three months, along with the solutions and strategies we found helpful.
1. Breast engorgement / milk coming in
My milk came in on day three after giving birth. I spent all three days fretting about whether I would know. Turns out, I couldn’t have missed it – engorgement is not a subtle thing. My boobs, which are usually handful sized, swelled up to my chin and out into to my armpit, packing out glands I didn’t know existed. I looked like a real life barbie doll, and felt rock solid and sore. My bosom was so solid, in fact, that our baby – who had, in three days, learned her way around my breasts – found it tricky to latch. This meant she shouted in my face with frustration and kicked me in the boob. Which hurt. A lot.
Did anything help with the discomfort around my milk coming in? Nothing magic, I’m afraid: sleeping on my back; feeding my baby; knowing that this wouldn’t last forever; and time passing.
2. Nipple soreness
The cheerful woman on our antenatal course had chirped that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, and I believed her. Turns out that having a baby’s toothless gums gnashing away at an incredibly sensitive body part for hours a day does take its toll. Breastfeeding hurt me more than I was ready for, whilst we were figuring it all out.
Things I found helpful for dealing with the nipple sorenesss: our baby (and her mouth!) getting bigger; positioning adjustments; a breastfeeding pillow (I use the bbhugme nursing pillow); soft fabric breast pads; natural nipple cream; advice from the NCT infant feeding line; my husband cheerleading me for days at a time; and a giant dose of sheer boneheadedness.
3. Breastfeeding whilst out and about
I’m not used to getting my boobs out in public. Nuff said. The only words of wisdom I have are that muslins are your friend whilst you’re getting used it all. Juggle them wisely.
4. Keeping track of breastfeeding
I couldn’t remember anything as a new mum; three months on and I still can’t. I love this Baby Feed Timer app – it helps me remember when my baby last ate, how long for, and reminds me which side our baby needs to eat from next. It was particularly helpful whilst health professionals were querying whether our baby was putting on weight. I’m still using it to log every feed. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it.
I got mastitis three times in three months. It was really painful and can be dangerous. I think this was due to some quite extreme weather and temperature fluctuations, meaning our baby was eating erratic amounts – her eating sometimes varied by 3 or more hours per day. I ached in my boob, ached all over, got a raging headache, and my temperature skyrocketed.
Things that helped: my husband as a cheerleader, paracetamol, a digital thermometer, the NCT infant feeding line, massaging the sore bit, very hot showers, and feeding my baby from the sore side and in lots of different positions.
6. Breastfed baby’s weight gain
Newborn babies can lose 10% of their birthweight in the first five days. The midwife came on day 5, and our baby had lost only 9% of her birthweight, so we patted ourselves on the back. On day 14, she still hadn’t put the weight back on again, which the chart said she should have. Our baby was born in a heatwave – at one point it was 30 degrees at four in the morning in our house. I had visions of her blood drying out and thickening to the point of syrup, and her little brain dessicating and sticking to the inside of her tiny skull.
Our health visitor didn’t hold back, and waded in immediately with talk of percentiles, feeding plans, weighing schedules, and supplementing with formula bottle feeds. All the suggested strategies and interventions from the midwife and health visitor were geared around not breastfeeding, and it broke my heart. We wanted to breastfeed, and had received a lot of antenatal advice that breastfeeding was the best start we could give our baby. She was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and we were following her cues and feeding her 17+ times a day. She couldn’t eat more – feeding often made her so exhausted she fell asleep. I felt like my body had let all of us down.
I was frightened I was starving our baby, but we listened to our gut and decided to carry on breastfeeding. Our baby hit her birthweight by 21 days, and we graduated off the midwife and health visitor’s at-risk list.
Things that helped during the scary bit when we weren’t sure if our baby was gaining weight: advice from my mum; advice and reassurance from the NCT infant feeding line; and our local NCT breastfeeding support group. Someone told us that there was usually a breastfeeding solution to a breastfeeding problem, and this felt like a particularly helpful sentiment to hang onto – and one which flew in the face of much the standard advice and practices.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with feeding your baby in the comments. How did you go / how are you going with breastfeeding? Did anything surprise you? What were your biggest breastfeeding challenges, and did you find anything helped?