Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Things They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

This post deals with all the things nobody really seems to mention about breastfeeding, until they happen or you ask. If you are not breastfeeding, or do not intend to breastfeed, that is entirely your choice, and this post is not intended as a way of judging that decision. 

My view is that breast is best, and I feel very strongly that all babies should get that benefit whenever possible. Please feel free to skip this post if it is not relevant to you.

The current World Health Organisation recommendation is exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months. Some people don’t agree with this and do things differently, and they are completely within their rights to do whatever they choose – mum always knows what is best for her baby. That said, I do feel a lot of women give up breastfeeding early because they don’t have enough information on it. So here is some information.

Breastfeeding baby Single Mother Ahoy

  • Breastfeeding is better for baby than formula. This is not a debatable point; all scientists etc agree. It has benefits for mother and baby alike, including protecting you against cancer, and passing on your immunities to your baby. It also helps you to create a bond with your child unlike any other.
  • If you decide you want to breastfeed your baby, try to read up about it a bit beforehand so that you are prepared. Although it is “the most natural thing in the world,” a lot of babies will have trouble latching on. And it hurts like buggery to start with. It doesn’t mean you’re rubbish or not cut out for this sort of thing or whatever else. Expect every single member of the ward staff to come in and offer you advice, and probably grab your boob as you try to feed as well. You will lose all modesty where your boobs are concerned.
  • If you are planning to breastfeed, I cannot shout loudly enough that you should buy some Lansinoh lanolin cream. It’s a little purple tube and it costs about £12, which seems extortionate, and you may be tempted to think you can do without something that’s so expensive. And then, three weeks into breastfeeding when you’re crying out in pain every time your little bundle latches on, you’ll be prepared to pay ten times that amount for one of those little purple tubes. Incidentally, Lansinoh cream is magic and works wonders on just about every kind of skin ailment. It is the work of the gods, I tells ye.
  • It would also be prudent to purchase nursing pads, as boobs tend to leak a lot, especially in the early days. There are a lot of different ones out there, and it’s down to personal preference, but I found the Lansinoh ones were the best. And they actually stick to the inside of your bra properly so that you don’t lose them or find them floating about your neckline mid-afternoon.
  • One thing nobody tells you (I wasn’t aware until I started researching this post) is that it’s recommended to feed your baby within the first 6 hours, so as to establish your milk ducts to their full potential. Don’t panic if you can’t though; it’s not the end of the world, just useful to know so that you can at least try.
  • If you’re breastfeeding exclusively, you just kind of have to accept that your life is not your own for the next however-many months. A breastfed baby will need to be fed more frequently than a formula-fed one, and will not sleep through the night (unless you are very, very lucky). This is because breast milk is so efficient, it fills your baby’s stomach, and is then used up very quickly. Formula will sit in their stomach for a while before it is used up, meaning baby doesn’t get hungry and wake up.
  • No matter what anyone tries to tell you, if your baby is exclusively breastfed, it really can be exclusively breastfed. You don’t need to feed baby cooled boiled water or juice or anything else. If the weather is hot, your boobs will know about it, and your milk becomes more dilute so as to be more thirst quenching. When your baby goes through a growth spurt and begins to feed every half-hour, that doesn’t mean your milk is not enough and you need to get some formula or baby rice. Your boobs notice the baby is feeding more frequently, and increase your supply, so within a day or so, there’s more milk with more calories there for the first feed, and baby doesn’t get hungry again for a few hours.
  • There is no food or drink known to man that is as nutritious and calorific as breast milk. Even when baby starts solids, it will still be getting most of its sustenance from your milk until solids are properly established, around a year old.
  • Your boobs are magic. They work on a “demand and supply” principle, meaning that if your baby feeds regularly, your boobs will increase their milk production to accommodate that. Unfortunately, this does mean that you can’t “cheat” by expressing milk for someone else to feed baby while you take a nap. Your boobs can’t tell the difference between a pump and a baby, and will just assume the demand has increased. You are likely to be woken by full, engorged boobs waiting for a baby to feed.
  • If you have problems establishing breastfeeding – and you most probably will (everyone does), don’t give up just yet! Find out where your nearest Children’s Centre is (your health visitor can tell you) and go to a breastfeeding support group. It sounds odd, and it kind of is – but you can usually guarantee a cup of tea or coffee, a room full of mums in the same position as you, and some experienced helpers with boatloads of advice and support. When I went there was even jam on toast.
  • Regarding breastfeeding in public – this is now covered under anti-discrimination law, and staff/proprietors cannot legally ask you to leave or not to breastfeed in their establishment. A lot of women prefer to wear a scarf or something else to protect their modesty, but apparently you don’t actually have to. I’ve never tested that theory though.
  • Some women have a particularly fast letdown, and when their little one latches on it can come too quickly and make them gag. There are a lot of different ways to deal with this, so if you find you have this issue, it’s probably best to speak to your health visitor or midwife. Some tactics include changing the way you hold the baby, frequent burping, more frequent feeding, or hand-expressing until the flow slows down.
  • One thing I wasn’t aware of before I had a baby and actually thought about it – there is more than one position for breastfeeding. On TV and what have you, you tend to see a woman holding the baby across her chest – but many women find it easier and more comfortable to feed baby whilst holding baby under her arm (like a rugby ball), or (my personal favourite for night-time feeding) laying down. As long as the baby is getting milk and is comfortable, it really doesn’t matter how you’re holding them. When they get older, they will choose their own position, often with one hand grabbing at your clothes, or (S’s personal favourite) clawing at your mouth and throat.
  • Regarding feeding positions – bear in mind that you will be doing this several times a day, potentially for the better part of a year. Sometimes, especially in the early days, baby can feed for 45 minutes or more at a time. It’s important therefore, that you are sitting comfortably and not leaning or straining. Use a lot of pillows to prop yourself and baby into a comfortable position. Your back will thank you.
  • Something I wish I’d been told (perhaps I was told, but I wish someone had told me it every day for the first month) is that breastfeeding can take 6 weeks to establish. A lot of women try their level best at it, and give up after a few weeks because they find it so hard, not realising that if they’d just hung on in there a couple more weeks things would have become a whole lot easier. I you intend to breastfeed, it’s best to just give your life up to it for the first 6 weeks and accept that you won’t be doing much else but getting used to it. If you need to, switch the phone off, lock the doors, and just sleep whenever the baby does. This phase doesn’t last forever, I promise.
  • Until breastfeeding is established, it is weird, uncomfortable, exhausting, time-consuming and completely alien. I was imagining giving birth to a baby and feeding it straight away and everything being peachy. It doesn’t happen like that (unless you are very lucky). It does hurt to start with, your nipples do get sore, you do wonder what the hell is going on. In order to get your milk supply up, your baby does spend a lot of time feeding. I remember a good few evenings where I was literally stuck to the couch from 6pm to 10pm with barely enough time for a toilet break between feeds. I was at a loss until someone explained it’s normal, everyone goes through it, and it doesn’t last forever.
  • Once you get through the initial bedding-in stage, breastfeeding really is the lazy person’s option. No sterilising, no panic if you’ve forgotten to buy formula in this week’s shop, no getting up to warm a bottle and checking it’s the right temperature while your baby screams in your arms, no having to remember to take a bottle if you go out, perhaps two or three if you’re out for a while. Baby’s hungry? Find somewhere to sit, and open your shirt. You don’t even necessarily need to find somewhere to sit; I know a lot of women who breastfeed with their baby in a sling, while they carry on with their day. The most difficult part of breastfeeding is finding clothes to accommodate your boobs whilst allowing easy access.
  • Breast milk is magic. Not only does it have the exact right nutrients in the exact right amounts to feed a growing baby, changing as the baby develops, it is also good for minor first aid. (bear with me on this, I know it sounds a bit odd). You know when your baby scratches her face with the nails you forgot to cut, and you feel like the world’s worst mother? Spread a little expressed milk on it, and it will be gone in no time. It can be used in ears to protect against an ear infection when baby has a cold, on nappy rash, eczema, mosquito bites, grazes, rashes, you name it. It is also good on acne, adult or infant.
  • If you breastfeed exclusively, it can delay the start of your period. This can last anything from the first couple of months right up to a year of age, perhaps even longer. An added bonus for those of us who really don’t enjoy such things (is there anyone who does?)
  • The down side of breastfeeding is that you can’t get someone else to do it for you, while you go and have fun (or sleep). The up side is that you get to sit and cuddle your baby several times a day. It’s not something you can do whilst doing the washing up, cooking the tea, ironing hubby’s work shirt or much else except watch TV and have a little drink. Make the most of having a cast iron excuse to sit down and have a break.
  • When babies are very small, you have to hold them in position and help them latch on and make sure your arm doesn’t drop or they fall away from the boob and get upset that their food supply has disappeared. When they’re bigger, you just point them in the vague direction of your boob, and they sort themselves out. S is 6 months old now, and pretty much starts to undress me when she gets hungry these days.
  • Another thing breastfed babies do when they’re older is use feeding time as a time to practise things like grabbing, raspberry blowing, poking, and other loveliness. Just recently during night feeds S had taken to feeding from one nipple while she grabs and pinches at the other, which is not very nice. It is quite fun to watch them practising their other skills though, and only a problem if you’re just giving them a quick feed before you go off out somewhere. That is the time they will spend 20 minutes blowing raspberries before bothering to actually have any milk. Try to enjoy it; they’ll be moody teenagers before you know it.
  • Breastfeeding helps you get rid of the baby weight! I don’t know why they don’t shout this one from the rooftops, seriously. It uses up extra calories from your body, so as long as you’re not shovelling a slab of chocolate down your throat at every meal, you do just lose weight from sitting on the couch watching daytime telly. It does mean that you can often find yourself ravenously hungry and horribly thirsty though, especially if they’re going through a growth spurt.
  • One thing that’s obvious once it’s been said, but still needs to be said, is that your diet will affect the quality of your milk. Your body can only make milk from the materials available to it. Obviously if you’re struggling to look after a tiny baby, your diet does tend to go out the window a little bit. But once this concept dawned on me, I started to pay more attention to what I was eating and drinking.
  • Breastfed babies can often go a long time between poos – another bonus! This is something a lot of people have never heard of, and it is not the case for all breastfed babies. Before starting solids, S would only ever poo every 5 days. If she went longer than 5 days, I would start drinking lots of orange juice, and that would speed things up a bit. Strange but true – your drinking orange juice will help your baby poo.

So there we have it: a rather lengthy post of all the things I thought might be useful to know about breastfeeding.

Apparently only 3% of UK women are still breastfeeding at 5 months, which is a sad statistic that we can hopefully improve if we all share our knowledge and personal experiences.

This post is part of a group of Things They Don't Tell You About... posts. The others are:

Things They Don't Tell You About Pregnancy

Things They Don't Tell You About Childbirth
Things They Don't Tell You About Motherhood
Things They Don't Tell You About Babies

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  1. This is fascinating, Vicky! None of my friends who have had children talk about this sort of thing (I'm sure they would if I asked though) and I imagine it is pretty confusing and scary when you have to figure it all out for yourself - so thanks for such a well explained post. I think it would come in handy for men to read if their partners are breast feeding too!

  2. Thanks Caroline! The thing I found with breastfeeding is that all you really ever see is a woman feeding her child. You don't realise the baby has to learn how to latch on, and if they don't then it bloody hurts, and that it can bloody hurt even if they do latch on correctly. The BBC documentary on Tuesday evening was the first time I've ever seen the media mention that breastfeeding isn't just something that automatically happens. It takes a bit of work at the start, but it is 100% worth all the pain and discomfort!

  3. Wow! This is an extensive and brilliant post. I'm a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and would definitely recommend going to a support group as soon as possible after birth as it is possible to avoid cracked nipples with good support. Also, if you have a sling you can do dishes and breastfeed :D takes a bit of practice but a local sling library can help. I've nursed my sons walking round Asda without a sling but only when they were tiny and less wriggly.

    The only point I might add is that you can breastfeed for as long as you like and the longer you do so, the more benefits for Mum and continued benefits for baby/toddler. 2nd time round we're still going strong at 21mth :)

    You've done exceptionally well breastfeeding as a single mum as it can be harder without a partner to run round after you especially in the early days. Amazing job :)

    1. Thanks Kate.
      I tried the sling thing but I'm too short/my arms are too short/I was doing it wrong - couldn't reach the dishes!

      Am still breastfeeding S now, but only when putting her down to sleep. Would love to hear more from people who do what is referred to as "extended" - I worry now if I breastfeed her too much she won't want her dinner!

      And thanks for saying I've done a good job. I think for me, it was the lazy option - no bottles to clean, and she sleeps in my bed so I don't even need to be conscious! (and the partner never ran around after me even when he was here!)

  4. An excellent post, thank u for taking the time to share ur experience. I am only in my 3rd week of breastfeeding and finding it difficult esp regarding the lack of sleep. Reading this has made me determined again to keep going. It can be difficult when u have people saying to you that u should give the baby a bottle so that u can have more rest! Breastfeeding can be difficult but i believe its worth it :)

    1. Thank you for your comment. Don't give up! Ignore the bottle-toters, sleep when baby sleeps and leave the housework for another day/week/month/year! I promise promise promise, after the first few weeks it gets a lot easier, you get used to it, and you're not so knackered x

  5. I found this post while looking through Twitter and as a first time mum 3 weeks into breast feeding it made me feel a whole lot better! I enjoy the feeding and am loving bonding with my son but the frequency of demand feeding has made me question giving up on more than one occasion. Determined now to make it to at least 6 weeks and hopefully it will get easier and space out a bit! Thank you!

  6. A great post thank you - lots of interesting information, I have shared with my followers on twitter.

  7. I loved this, all very true but hardly any of it I knew before I researched it myself (during nightfeeds no less!) I've been nursing my first baby for 7 weeks now and luckily didnt have too many issues, but I know people who just didnt get or seek the help they needed!
    Off to read the rest of this series... My experience is here:
    Sorry I can't hyperlink it as I'm on my phone!

  8. Just wanted to say this is such an informative and helpful post, without being preachy (if thats a word!) Well done for writing it. I am completely with you on it being the lazy option though! Im currently breastfeeding my second daughter who turns one next week, and the thought of weaning her seems so much more hastle than just carrying on, so I'm taking the lazy option!

  9. I'm going to read and re-read and re-read this article between now and March, just to keep me motivated to persevere x

  10. I'm going to read, re-read and re-read this article so many times between now and March just to keep me motivated when the going gets tough x

  11. I must of read thorgh this post 5 or 6 times in the first 3-4 of weeks of breastfeeding and it hellped a lot to keep me going when I was very close to giveng up! all so hellped that I am one of the lucky few that have a exclusively breastfed baby that sleeps 8hours a night! Celebrating 6 weeks of breastfeeding today! :) definatley glad I stuck with it and have very good support from my partner and of course my amazing sister :)

  12. Found this very interesting, even though I'm way past the need for the info - being well into my Third Age. However, even at this stage, to have known half of this would have been might helpful when I had my two babies. Alas, I was not able to breastfeed the first one - developed an abcess on one breast, so it was taboo obviously from then on. The second one, I starved the poor thing for a month, and once on formula she was not interested in what I might have been able to produce. While breast may well be best - it's simply not possible for everyone.

  13. I have a similar post lined up for my blog - my third on the subject and I'll keep banging on about it too because nobody tells you! Thankfully, my midwife gave me a Bump to Breast DVD and told me it takes 6-8 weeks. Without her I would have felt I was doing something wrong. It actually took 9-10 weeks, but 7 months later we're still going strong and after a LONG HARD SLOG it is now the easy, natural process we all expect it to be in the beginning. Hardest thing I've ever accomplishmed and by God, have I learnt that I have some serious resolve. Great post to spread the word for new Mums :-)

  14. This is a brilliant post! Everything you have written is so true. I am one of the ones that stopped breastfeeding at 6 months, I won't lie that the feeding every 2 hours all day and all night simply killed me and yes formula did change all of that but I am totally pro breast feeding for as long as possible. I certainly missed it so much when I stopped (although I liked the extra sleep!!) - you'll never get those cuddles again (well unless another baby comes along!) xx

  15. This post is brilliant and so so true! I won't lie, I didn't make it beyond 6 months but for those 6 months breastfeeding was the most wonderful thing in the world. It hurt but I loved it. It took ages but I loved it. It was frustrating being pinned down on the sofa, needing a wee and a cup of tea while baby cluster fed but I loved it. it is a magical thing and the best we can do for our babies no matter how long we manage it for. And there's one thing for sure, those cuddles don't last forever, so ladies, make the most of every single milk drunk cuddle!!!


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