Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding Week (on a Thursday, yes, that is odd?) but I never really considered writing a post in honour of it. I’ve read a lot over the last seven days and I always enjoy hearing about other people’s breastfeeding experiences but, really, I didn’t feel I had anything to add. Plus, I’ve already written about my feeding journey in various posts so I felt like I’ve said what I wanted to say.
I’m not breastfeeding now. I stopped when Gwenn was 40 weeks. I feel that was a mistake but there’s nothing I can do about it now. Having breastfed, I totally get why people rave about it. I honestly feel like I was never as complete as when I was breastfeeding and I will never feel as whole ever again. At the same time, having had a lot of problems with feeding and having used formula alongside the whole time, I totally get why a lot of women “give up” in the early stages. I don’t really like the phrase “give up” because it kind of suggests laziness which I would imagine is 100% not the case and that the ladies who can’t carry on cry a lot of tears over the decision.
If I were to have another baby, then I would intend to breastfeed again and I’d like to think it would go more smoothly because I know what to expect now.
And that is the purpose of this post.
Know what to expect.
I’m an honest person. I scarred a pregnant woman indefinitely at Center Parcs by saying “When I was in labour, at times if I’d been given the choice between being humanely killed or carrying on, I’d have gone with the former”. (Basically, NEVER EVER ask me what labour is like!)
So, my advice to anybody who is pregnant and wants to breastfeed or isn’t pregnant but thinks they would breastfeed if they had a baby is this:
Establishing breastfeeding is hard.
Most newborns will want to feed every two hours. So if you start feeding at, say, 12, and the baby feeds for maybe 45 minutes then you will have an hour and 15 minutes before the next feed. And this might go on for 24hrs for weeks. You might not even get an hour and 15 minutes between feeds. You might get more. But prepare yourself for the fact that, if you want to give it a real go, you are best off sitting on the sofa with no top on for at least a month. And it might hurt a bit at first. If it really hurts, the latch might be wrong, so ask for help, but even if the latch is correct, feeding constantly does nobody’s nipples any good and the best cure is to smother them in Derma Mum and go braless (which is such an amazing look when the father-in-law comes over).
If you want to breastfeed exclusively, then you can’t really be separated from your baby or your breast pump for very long. If you go out, then you might find yourself hand expressing in a toilet cubicle after leaking all over your top. If you plan to leave baby for a long time, then you’ll have to plan where you’re going to express in order to avoid painful boobs or worse, mastitis.
Breastfeeding, exclusively or not, involves a massive personal sacrifice.
But nobody wants to tell you this. The NHS wants breastfeeding rates to rise so, understandably, health professionals want to skirt around the gory details. Not all of them; I don’t want to generalise unfairly. I moved just before birth and my new HV said that she wished she had met me before I had Gwenn so she could have prepared me for how hard breastfeeding could be. I just thought it would be so easy because it’s natural and I have boobs so, you know, sorted. WRONG!
I don’t mean to put anyone off. Why would I? I loved breastfeeding (eventually) and the fact that we combination fed meant that I could get a break sometimes and Andrew could help out. I would combi feed again in the future; it worked for us. But, if you think that breastfeeding will look like that Aptimil advert – all white furniture, glossy hair, and serene smiles – you are probably going to be disappointed.
I am hugely pro-breastfeeding and I think that it’s worth enduring a bit of discomfort in the beginning in order to get things started. I largely suffered in silence but there are loads of places you can get help and my HV was always trying to get me to go a breastfeeding drop-in at my Sure Start.
At the same time, I don’t think there’s any shame in deciding that breast isn’t best for you. I felt genuinely devastated in the beginning when we used formula but now I look back and I’m not bothered. What seems like the end of the world at the time will seem fairly unimportant in five years from now.
I have spoken to lots of people who, like me, thought that because breastfeeding was “natural” then that equated with “easy”. For some people it is mega straightforward but for most, or at least most people I have asked, it is not.
So, I truly wish all the breastfeeding mamas a “Happy Breastfeeding Week”! We got there in the end!
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