Almost every post I write about parenting mentions how crazily underprepared I felt for Ted’s arrival. So apologies for the repetition, but it’s true, and the matter of breastfeeding was just one area that made me feel like the most incompetent person on Earth; that everything I’d ever known or learned or done before that point was insignificant.
Never mind that I’d moved to the other side of the world or built my own business or hosted an awards ceremony (badly) or been a good friend and a good sister and a good daughter, or an excellent lager drinker.
All that mattered from 30 May 2017 onwards was being able to keep my baby alive and I found it bloody hard work. In the beginning at least. And it’s relentless, if you choose it. There’s no let-up. (Let-down? That’s a breastfeeding term, for the uninitiated; I still don’t really know what it means, and my unfamiliarity with the lingo – the tongue-ties and the rugby ball hold and the hindmilk – felt symbolic of my uselessness.)
Labour is rough, of course; even the ‘best’ births must surely still make the mother feel like her body has been turned inside out, and the exhaustion of a long labour, followed by the realisation that you’re not going to be able to catch up on sleep for the next 18 years, takes its toll mentally too, unsurprisingly.
There’s no time to take stock of any of this though, before your milk ‘comes in’. Another odd turn of phrase, to describe the arrival of your breast milk proper, shall we say, a few days after the initial colostrum.
It makes it sound like you’re retrieving bottles of silver top from the doorstep, not that your boobs have suddenly quadrupled in size and are like rocks. Maybe this doesn’t come as such a shock to everyone?
Maybe I’d taken my eye off the ball; maybe other, more diligent new mums tend to be more aware of the miraculous, if uncomfortable, development occurring on their chests – rather than looking down and being taken aback by the arrival of two giant bazoombas that definitely weren’t there ten minutes ago. Or maybe mine were particularly giant, and fast-growing?
I don’t know.
I remember sitting down at our dining table en route to the kitchen – possibly out of fear that I would topple over, due to sudden, uneven weight distribution – and Googling on my phone ‘how to hand pump’. How on earth would my tiny baby guzzle his way through all of THIS?
Getting to grips with breast pumping/expressing felt like a whole other, overwhelming puzzle to solve. I had an electric pump, and in those early days, mastering it felt as likely as running a marathon or remembering my address. To give me my dues, my pump was second-hand and I don’t think it came with instructions, but even if it had they’d have made my brain explode. (Thank heaven for YouTube.)
I wonder now why I was so concerned with pumping/expressing at that early stage. I assume it was because I had in my mind the fact that we’d planned a night out (!!!!!); we’d bought tickets for a gig for five weeks after Ted’s due date. This turned out to be more like two and a half weeks. Agh.
Anyway, it was all fine. Like breastfeeding itself, the pumping became second nature, eventually. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and I reckon many of us go into motherhood thinking that feeding is going to be a doddle. I don’t think that any ‘official’ support out there – antenatal classes; initial advice from midwives etc – really underlines how hard it can be, which is crap.
So this is just to say that if breastfeeding is very far removed from being a doddle for you, don’t panic. That mum mantra of ‘THIS TOO SHALL PASS’ – which should be embossed onto every piece of maternity-related bumf given out – is never as essential for sanity than when it comes to feeding. (And also sleepless nights, but they’re closely related.)
As with a lot of the content on here, I’m writing this as much for my own benefit, as I get ready to embark on (hopefully) another breastfeeding journey with baby 2. (Apologies for the use of that terrible phrase ‘breastfeeding journey’.)
So here are a few things I’ll be keeping in mind.
See above. There is a lot of pressure – from external sources, from ourselves – to breastfeed, and to do it all with a beatific smile and just-washed hair while wearing a lovely clean smock dress. I think we’re all starting to realise that it’s not like this, thanks to Instagram and the fact that sharing honest tales of motherhood is much more common these days. But the pressure’s still there. Pardon the cliché, but fed is best – however it is done. It is not worth breaking yourself if breastfeeding isn’t working out.
I got myself in a tizz about the pumping when I should have focused all my energies on not freaking out about my ginormous alien boobs, and keeping my baby fed that day. Get through the hours and the days before concerning yourself with what may or may not happen in two weeks’ time.
In the early days, Ted’s latch wasn’t quite right but we muddled along and my nipples got v sore indeed. The midwives who visited in those first days gave me some guidance, but I remember hating not being able to ‘do it properly’. Then one midwife suggested trying nipple shields and I tried them and suddenly feeding got 3000% less painful.
This time around, I will (try to) not be so hard on myself if it’s not working out. There is plenty of help around from feeding counsellors and there’ll be local groups in your area (see below).
I went along to a local breastfeeding group, at a café near me, two weeks in. Things had improved since those first few days but I wanted to check I was ‘doing it right’ and meet some other mums. The breastfeeding counsellor there was lovely and reassuring (I was indeed ‘doing it right’ – hurrah) but I felt intimidated by the mums who were all a bit earth mother and had their babies in slings and one was feeding a two year old. (This blew my mind; I was horrified at this being my life for the next TWO YEARS.)
It was all so alien at a time when my body was alien and life in general was alien and it was probably not the best experience I could have had at that time, but again, it was something I felt I SHOULD do.
Now I know that there are tons of groups and also online communities, and I won’t be putting pressure on myself this time around to join the earth mothers if I don’t feel like it.
A midwife suggested I try nipple shields to help save my sore nips. I immediately sent G out to Boots to get some (Boots ones aren’t great) and then bought some Medela ones (much better). And then, for reasons unknown, I spent a lot of time Googling nipple shields, I think to find out if they were in anyway harmful to my baby? It seems a bit mad to me now, but there you go, newborn fog will do that to you.
I found VERY little info on the subject matter. I found an article that said that shields should be used with caution because they didn’t allow a certain hormone (I think?) to be created, as there is no direct contact between baby and mum.
Of course this upset me and all I was concerned with from that point onwards was feeding without the shields. (Even though we’d just started feeding successfully with the shields, and ONE DAY AT A TIME LAURA YOU PRAT, and one of the midwives told me that she fed her baby for 11 months with shields. Agh. And the info in the article appears to be unfounded anyway.)
I also worried about the shields affecting Ted’s teeth and his ‘bite’ development – again, I’m not sure there’s any evidence for this (I recently asked a health visitor and she couldn’t confirm either way) – and also that he would never take to feeding without the shields. We stopped using them after a few weeks but I know mums who have used them to two years and beyond.
There’s quite a bit of info out there about ‘nipple confusion’, when breastfed babies are offered bottles ‘too early’, and then don’t want to go back to feeding from the breast because it’s easier for them to take milk from the bottle – and I worried it would be the same with the shields.
I think a midwife told me to wait six weeks before offering a bottle, but then this was the same midwife who suggested the shields to me just a few days in. (We ignored the bottle advice: Ted was offered a bottle at two and a bit weeks and was fine with it, and went back to boob fine…and plenty of mums combi feed with breast and formula milk so….)
BOTTOM LINE, THEN: feed your baby however you can in the way that works for you, and try not to stress about it.
On the downside of nipple shields, they’re not the most convenient for feeding while out and about. And they’re also a bit of a faff at night, in the early days at least, until you get used to them.
But if they help baby to feed and they prevent your nips from falling off, then GO FOR IT.
I didn’t buy anything like this before Ted’s arrival, obviously. Who wants to be prepared when you can spend the first week of parenthood on Amazon paying over-the-odds for Prime delivery for all of the things you could have bought weeks ago?
I guess I didn’t know if I would get on with breastfeeding, and so buying nursing bras hadn’t occurred to me. When I first left the house it was in a bandeau tube top because I didn’t have any other bras that fit that I could feed in.
I eventually got a couple from ASOS. Also, buy reusable breast pads – available at Mothercare and Boots and various other places – because you’ll go through lots.
And there we go. I might write something separate about breast pumps (sounds riveting I know) – mainly because there’s a new one on the market which costs £250 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and I feel like there’s a lot to mull over with that, regarding the loss of freedom that comes with expressing, and whether that sort of money is ever worth spending.
But as this post is already almost 2000 words we’ll leave it there and I’ll go enjoy one of the few mornings I might have left for the foreseeable future that doesn’t involve feeding a human from my baps. (I say that with a lot of gratitude.)
Thanks for reading, and bye for now x
Hello, I'm Laura. I write about parenting, life, style, building a business and finding success on your own terms.
You'll find plenty here to get your teeth into. (Useless pun very much intended...) X