Breastfeeding: What they don’t tell you
Breastfeeding is such a controversial topic. You will only just have announced your pregnancy and everyone will already be interested in whether you’re going breast or bottle. Never has it been so acceptable to be this interested in a woman’s mammary glands!
I know many women (in the UK) who were given the impression that breastfeeding should be such a natural, automatic, easy act that they felt such a failure when it didn’t work for them. (It’s quite different in France, but that’s a whole other blog post.)
I breastfed our two daughters for 11 months each, and whilst on the whole these were great experiences, they did have their ups and downs. So, having had some difficulties myself, I decided to write this blog post for all new mums/pregnant women to prepare you for what no one seems to want to tell you about breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding: the unspoken facts
- It is highly unlikely that your newborn baby will latch on immediately. Don’t beat yourself up about this. You’re both new to the game and you will learn together. However research shows that many babies will attempt to latch on within the first hour or two, which is why uninterrupted skin to skin time is so important if you’re planning to breastfeed.
- You probably won’t get the latch right for a while. I’m sure you’ve read about how to get your baby to latch on, but in practice it can be harder. If in doubt ask. A midwife. A health visitor. A breastfeeding counsellor. Someone from NCT. Or La Leche League. A friend/family member/neighbour who has breastfed their own babies.
- It may well hurt to breastfeed your baby. It is normal to experience some pain for the first couple of minutes of nursing, but this should abate shortly after let-down, and shouldn’t go on longer than the first few weeks. If you have any doubt about whether the pain is normal, don’t hesitate to seek help from a specialist (see advice and links below). Positioning and attachment is the most common cause of sore nipples and often just requires some small adjustments.
- Let-down may hurt. It can range from tingling to feeling quite painful. But it doesn’t last long so do try and relax as this will relieve some of the discomfort. If you have done hypnobirthing this is a great time to think back to your exercises.
- Your baby may become agitated while breastfeeding. Maybe your let-down is too slow. Perhaps your milk doesn’t come fast enough/is too fast. It could be that your baby has allergies and your diet is causing them to flare up. A baby who is feeding well should put on weight fairly consistently (even a small amount), they should also be fairly happy after a feed, sleep relatively well and be producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies. If in doubt arrange to see your midwife/health visitor/breastfeeding specialist.
- There is a possibility you may get mastitis (an inflammation of the breast tissue), which is no fun and requires antibiotics. Not everyone gets it (I didn’t) but it can be very painful and make you feel really ill. It’s worth learning how to avoid it and keeping a look-out for early symptoms if you do breastfeed.
- The most important fact of them all – you are a good mum whether you breastfeed or not. I always remember my mum (former NCT breastfeeding counsellor and mum/breastfeeder of 5 children) telling me that it’s better to give a bottle happily than the breast against your will. Do not beat yourself up about it if it’s not working for you. If you do want to persevere don’t hesitate to contact the associations below.
Breastfeeding: is it worth it?
After all those (fairly negative) facts, is it really worth breastfeeding your baby?
- Breastfeeding will make your uterus get back to its former size and shape quicker than not breastfeeding.
- Nursing your baby will often help you lose weight as it uses up a fair amount of calories. I often joke about wishing I could go back on the breastfeeding diet – both times I dropped to less than my pre-pregnancy weight within 2 months of giving birth!
- It is the easy route with regards to practicality – you will always have the milk you need, at the right temperature, literally on tap.
- It is by far the cheaper option. Formula milk costs a ridiculous amount, not to mention the need for bottles, teats and sterilising kit (although not essential, as I have previously explained).
- Breast milk has numerous health and immunity benefits for your baby, whilst breastfeeding has been proven to reduce certain women’s cancers for you, the mum.
- It is a beautiful time for you to spend with your baby – just going through my old photos for this blog post has brought a smile to my face.
My message to you, new mum and to you, pregnant woman
- If you’re not sure about breastfeeding – give it a whirl. If you like it and it works for you, then enjoy. If you can’t breastfeed/don’t like it, just those first few days of colostrum will give your baby’s immune system a massive boost, then move on to formula or mixed feeding.
- If you’d like to try breastfeeding but are nervous or worried about the pain – try it out. My eldest, L, was a natural, she latched on and fed no problems. I had no cracked nipples, no pain, no blocked milk ducts, just really lovely close moments of breastfeeding pleasure. So you just don’t know until you try.
- If you really don’t want to breastfeed – tell the medical professionals. Tell friends and family. Ask everyone to respect your decision. Because it is your decision. And a happy mum is a good mum.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful, incredible, like-no-other, frustrating, upsetting, wonderful experience. Don’t suffer in silence. Ask for help. But always think about you. If you are happy and healthy it will help your baby to be happy and healthy too. And that’s all that counts really.
If you are considering breastfeeding, or are currently breastfeeding and experiencing any problems or difficulties then don’t hesitate to contact one or several of the following (whichever one(s) you feel most comfortable with):
- Your midwife
- Your health visitor
- NCT breastfeeding helplines
- NCT on feeding in general and on breastfeeding
- NCT local breastfeeding support. You need to select your local area (this link is to information about my local breastfeeding café in the Clapham & Balham area)
- La Leche League
- NHS breastfeeding help and support
- The Breastfeeding Network
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
How did you find feeding your baby? Did you breastfeed happily? Was it a struggle? Did you know you were never going to breastfeed? I’d love to hear your experiences.