I had a breezy pregnancy, no morning sickness, no food cravings, limited weight gain, in fact apart from my growing belly and absent periods I wouldn’t have known any different. Obviously once my baby started fluttering in my belly I was elated and couldn’t wait to meet her. I always knew I wanted to breastfeed and so after a two-day labour that resulted in an emergency caesarean I put my baby to breast.
The following are 11 things I wish I had known as it would have made my breastfeeding journey so much easier and less stressful.
11 things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding
1. How to unlatch
I actually attended a breastfeeding workshop a few weeks before I gave birth but post-labour in the recovery room without a midwife in sight all knowledge evaded me and I moved my tiny baby into position and let her latch on. I didn’t know if I was doing it right, I didn’t know how long to let her feed on both sides, I literally just pulled her off when I thought she’d had enough or it was hurting.
It wasn’t until day 3 that a midwife came into the room as I was sitting in a chair steeling myself to feed her again and I started crying because of the pain. She said she would get a lactation consultant to see me who promptly informed me my nipples were shredded and I should hand express for 24 hours to let them rest. She also showed me how to put my little finger in the corner of my daughter’s mouth to unlatch her suck.
2. If a tongue-tie is suspected, have it investigated
The lactation consultant diagnosed that my daughter had a minor tongue-tie but then the male paediatrician said she didn’t and it wasn’t mentioned again. Five weeks after my daughter was born I received a call from a clinic to inform me they had a referral I hadn’t followed up on, apparently the LC had made a referral but forgot to tell me. I asked when the next appointment was and was told in four weeks, I replied if I have to wait four weeks I won’t be breastfeeding anymore, then I was told there was a cancellation the next day. Why didn’t they just lead with that?
My daughter’s tongue was clipped and maybe the pain was slightly reduced but I believe because she had developed a way of sucking for five weeks that this is the reason why it continued to be painful. In hindsight I would have had it clipped immediately. If a tongue-tie is suspected it’s good to have it further investigated before the feeding style becomes established. It’s a simple procedure, two seconds, small cut of the frenum, straight on the boob, no tears. The risks of leaving it until later are breastfeeding, eating, digestion, teeth, speech development, kissing and social skills can be adversely affected.
3. Nipples can become very sore!
Breastfeeding can hurt! All the advice is that it shouldn’t be painful unless you’re doing it wrong, I’ve had two babies and even doing it right it still hurt, I just think I have extremely sensitive nipples and having them sucked on day and night was excruciating. With my daughter it felt like she was biting me every time she sucked, I would set the time for 20 minutes each side and I spent the first weeks sitting in my glider feeding her and googling every article I could find about breastfeeding.
With my son I still got cracked, bleeding nipples and I used nipple shields for seven weeks before I felt I could stop using them, he also had dropped down on the percentile graph so at his eight-week check-up I was told to give him formula top-ups in the morning and at night. I continued to do this until his top four teeth came through at the same time a couple of months ago and he refused the bottle for days so I stopped giving them, he’s 10 months now and our breastfeeding bond is strong.
4. You can learn a lot from lactation consultants
Over the course of both pregnancies I saw a few lactation consultants and I can say that each one had different techniques to show me. Because my boobs are on the larger side one suggested rolling up a face washer and placing underneath my breast for support. Others showed me the different feeding positions, I liked the cross-over hold with a pillow underneath or the football hold, I also liked the reclining position as my babies got bigger. I was using a nipple shield in the hospital but the midwife wouldn’t let me take it home saying I needed to buy my own, which I did but when the LC visited me at my home visit she said that was wrong and they should have given it to me. She also said the shield size was too small and was causing the shield to pinch when my baby sucked, she gave me a larger size and it worked better.
When I was pregnant with my son a few weeks prior to his birth my midwife gave me a referral to see a private lactation consultant, who coincidentally turned out to be one of the LCs I’d seen when I had my daughter, as she also worked shifts in the hospital. I explained my breastfeeding experience to her and she told me I should feel proud of breastfeeding for five months and she wrote up a breastfeeding plan, similar to a birth plan but for breastfeeding, that would help me get through the first weeks and feel more in control.
5. Stay in hospital until breastfeeding is established, use the midwives expertise
I stayed in hospital for seven days with my daughter, three-four days is expected with a caesarean and then they suggested I stay until I had my breastfeeding issues sorted out. I would recommend staying in hospital as long as possible as you have expert help on hand from a range of medical staff if you need it, once you go home you’re on your own, apart from the midwife visits for the first week. With my son I stayed five days and I felt that was right for my recovery and establishing breastfeeding. With my daughter the midwives hand expressed me to give my cracked nipples a rest, one night I had two midwives sitting on either side of me hand expressing one breast each, I felt like a dairy cow but will be eternally grateful for the midwives’ kindness in my weakened emotional state.
6. Have a back-up plan but don’t give up
I always think it’s good to have a back up plan, I had bottles and a steriliser ready at home which I needed as I was expressing my milk in between feeds. I also bought formula and was giving my daughter top-ups to get her weight back up. With my son I exclusively breastfed for eight weeks until they told me at his check-up he needed formula top-ups as he wasn’t gaining enough weight. Instead of beating myself up I bought formula and was grateful there was an alternative to supplement my milk and that my baby was healthy, happy and well fed. With top-ups always breastfeed first and then give the bottle if they are still hungry, don’t skip breastfeeds as your milk supply will decrease. Also, use a peristaltic teat, that mimics the sucking motion of breastfeeding to avoid nipple confusion when mix feeding.
7. Take advantage of breastfeeding clinics
The early childhood clinic in my suburb had a breastfeeding clinic on Thursdays at 11am for 1 hour. You will need to go to the clinic for the weekly weigh-ins and for the mothers group meetings so I recommend going to the breastfeeding clinic even just for moral support. The first one I went to the nurse watched my daughter latch on and saw how I hunched my shoulders and tightened my body in pain, she said relax your shoulders, lean back, breathe, she got a cold washer and put it on the back of my neck, she said it’s obviously very painful for you but you’re doing an amazing job, it will get better and it did over time.
8. Listen to your intuition when getting advice from doctors
The same male paediatrician who said my daughter didn’t have a tongue-tie also told me on day three that because she had lost 10 per cent of her body weight I had to start giving her formula or she might die. Great bedside manner! As a postpartum, hormonal mother I was distraught that I might be hurting my baby but I pushed back and said I wanted to try expressing with the hospital pump to bring my milk in quicker.
Sometimes it can take longer for your milk to come in after a caesarean. All night when I wasn’t feeding my daughter I was expressing on the machine, my milk did come in but they also suggested I give her some formula on day four to supplement my milk, which I did but I was adamant that I wanted to breastfeed first and not be steamrolled into giving formula. You know your body best so take the advice of the doctor and do what is best for you and your baby or get a second opinion, I asked so many questions of every midwife I saw in the hospital to gain as much information as was possible while I was there.
9. Invest in some good maternity/nursing bras
Usually one of the first signs of being pregnant is your boobs start to feel heavy, then they grow and after you have your baby and your milk comes in, boom! your boobs will look and feel huge, you need good support.
It’s good to have 2-3 bras you can rotate, especially if you end up with vomit or milk on you and need to change quickly, you will be feeding so regularly that a nursing bra you can unclip to feed and change breast pads is a must for convenience and modesty.
10. Don’t be ashamed to breastfeed in public
Babies need to eat, there’s no routine to when they will sleep or wake up screaming with hunger, life goes on and things need to get done. Don’t isolate yourself at home for fear of having to breastfeed somewhere. Just be prepared, wear an easily accessible top with a nursing bra, take a light scarf if you prefer to provide a modesty cover while latching your baby and if you have to feed somewhere do it. It’s not a big deal and should be celebrated as normal life.
11. The sense of achievement you will feel having survived your breastfeeding journey
I breastfed my daughter for five months before she refused the breast and I switched to formula. I was sad that I couldn’t do it for longer but at the same time I knew the monumental effort and determination I had needed to get that far, at any point especially in the first few days and weeks I could have easily stopped but I was resolute in my desire and belief that breastfeeding was in my baby’s best interest so I continued. I actually didn’t feel external pressure to do it as in all honesty they were pushing for formula in the hospital and there was no shame in that apart from my own feelings of inadequacy.
I am still breastfeeding my 10 month old son, the first couple of months were difficult but I persevered and I’m glad I did because I wanted to experience the bond of feeding my baby into toddlerhood. I will take my cues from him when he’s ready to stop in the next year.
Breastfeeding your baby may not be everything you imagined it to be, it may be painful, sweaty, messy, extremely time-consuming and emotionally draining as well as rewarding. Give your body and your baby time to adjust to each other, don’t be too hard on yourself and feel proud that you can feed this glorious being that will call you Mummy.