I can understand why posters in hospitals don’t tell all. Let’s face it, “Breastfeeding – a sure fire way to make your nipples bleed,” isn’t great. But education is not about piling on pressure for women to feed their babies one way, nor just explaining the benefits in isolation. It’s about giving the facts – that sometimes it doesn’t work, that you can decide not to and your baby will be fine, that breastfeeding is indeed amazing and wonderful but not always easy.
So here goes, the things I wish I had known and I think they should mention about breastfeeding before starting…
– It can hurt at first. Why wouldn’t it, these puppies weren’t designed to be eaten (I realise they were but it doesn’t feel that way). It takes a good few weeks for this to get better. There may be blood, there may be scabs, that’s right scabs. We’ve all done it, carried on feeding when you know that the latch on isn’t quite right. You seriously can’t fix a bleeding nipple as fast as you can create one. My midwife said to think about how good my latch on was on a scale of 1-10, any less than 8 after the first few minutes then to try again. Take her off, try again, and again, and probably again. Expect to repeat about 12 times a day until one day you realise that your toes are no longer curling and you’ve forgotten how bad it was.
– Ripe melons, massive ripe melons. Can’t imagine they could get any bigger, they will. That’s all I have to say on that.
– It’s slightly scary and difficult to feed in public at first. That parent who you think is questioning your competence, they are probably just sympathising. It’s easy to say but try not to worry about what others will think. In my experience no-one ever questioned it, perhaps I was lucky, but to be fair just in case I always had a kick ass response at the ready. Yeah maybe have one of those too.
– Your body responds to how much milk your baby needs. True but service from the milk bar can be pretty poor. A growth spurt comes along and your boobs feel completely empty. “Up the supply, up the supply” you beg. Oh no, that was a one off, back up, back up. If (when?) things go wrong a hot cloth feels good. Or even better a hot bath and go on your front dropping your boobs right under the water. There’s a lovely image for you.
– Milking yourself is possible because you’ve already slipped so far in terms of self-dignity. Seeing your nipple stretched 3 inches away from your body is something you won’t forget. Neither will your partner come to think of it. Also, it’s inappropriate when weaning to squirt some direct from a boob into porridge. Apparently. Not that this happened.
– These miraculous objects come with faulty valves. One day I nearly passed out after sitting for hours in a hot meeting room in knitwear due to a massive leak. I’ve walked out of the house with a used breast pad stuck to my toddler’s leg (probably the same one that should have been in my bra the day before). Sometimes when getting out of the shower milk started dripping down my leg. My own bodily fluid – dripping down my leg. Don’t expect glamour, there’s none (do you think this happened to Kate Middleton?)
– A month or so in you get it sorted, supply issues ironed out, nipples looking more human again. Great. Honestly it does happen. So you take your guard down, you get all relaxed, you go back to chatting. Then your baby hits what is known as ‘the distraction phase’ and boom…they throw your boob into a room full of people. “Anyone miss my boob when I started breastfeeding? Fear not here it is now, in its full glory because I have stopped using feeding scarves…” Of course we shouldn’t care, it’s so natural, blah de blah. But for most of us this is far from ideal.
However, despite all of the above I’ve breast fed all three of our babies. I was still feeding my third at 12 months and dreaded having to stop.
Why? Because I love it, I love the closeness it creates, the ease of just packing my boobs for a family holiday and I like to believe that I’m giving her all the goodness she needs (notably this one is ignored when stuffing my face with cake). Of course there are times when I was so knackered I would have done anything to get a break from night feeds but then likewise when they are really upset you have this secret weapon up your sleeve (or rather your top) – a boob would settle a screamer almost always. And I love that.
I was so sad when my breastfeeding days were over, it wasn’t always the smoothest of journeys but it was one that we went on together, which is pretty cool.
If you decide to try it, stick with it past the first few weeks and know that long term it will be worth it. Know that most people find it hard at first, so you are by no means alone. Ask for help, seriously ask and ask again. Know that you’re not failing if you do. New Mums need to know this. I certainly felt the need to ask, all three times. Prepare your partner for the first few weeks, I think they too feel concerned and unknowingly might be quick to suggest that it isn’t working, the last thing you need when lacking in confidence. Try to communicate what you need; this could be anything from support in the night (everything is worse at 3am), a massive glass of water every feed or in my husband’s case another voice to ask, “give me a score out of 10” noticing when my shoulders were up to my ears and I was chanting ‘ouch’ under my breath. Buy lanolin cream in bulk, read up and know your stuff.
I write this not to put people off but because in hindsight I don’t feel that I was prepared for it being tough, because all the professional advice describes how natural it is, how wonderful, how easy. Lots of this is true but not at the beginning. Unrealistic expectations set me up to be disappointed and frustrated. I think it is always better to have the truth, to be prepared for the reality so you can get the support in place.
Note: If you experience none of the above and do find it easy then you are some sort of super mama, you should feel rightly smug and then get to teaching the rest of us!
Lastly know that it is hard but it does get so much easier – let’s be honest nothing worth doing is ever easy!