If you are pregnant, have recently been pregnant or know anyone who is/was pregnant you may have heard the term 'Breast is best'.
As I am currently breastfeeding, I wanted to share my experience and what I wished I known beforehand.
If you have followed our journey so far you may remember this post that detailed our experience of NHS antenatal classes, while we loved the general parenting class this was the summary of our breast-feeding class:
'The room was packed so there was very little space for practical exercises and the class tutor was insistent that breast was best (until age 3!!) and dismissed questions about bottle feeding. 'With most things in life I like to be prepared, to have a Plan B in case Plan A doesn't work and with breastfeeding it was no different. Plan A was to breastfeed but I wanted to understand what happened if that wasn't possible. It was surprising to me that we had to pay for a different class to get that information as the NHS is so focused on 'breast is best'.
I mean, we get it, breast milk is packed full of nutrients but what isn't considered is what if the baby can't / won't latch and feed or what if the mother doesn't produce milk....or enough milk. It makes sense to us to understand what is involved with formula feeding and all of the things you need to know about sterilizing equipment. Even if you are expressing breast milk you need to know the basics!
One campaign run by the NHS over the years included this one:
Anyway the paid for class gave us the basics and made us feel a lot better.
However what both classes failed to tell us was exactly what breastfeeding is really like - especially at the start. They taught us the practical advice, how to hold the baby, how to encourage a good latch etc but here is my experience.
Day 1: Annabelle arrived and within the hour was ready to latch and try to get milk - for me it was a weird feeling and over the first few hours it went from a novelty to a feeling of frustration as Annabelle clearly wasn't getting anything and was crying to feed every 45 minutes or so.
|The calm between the feeding|
Day 2: With less than 3 hours sleep, day 2 started with me crying when Laura walked in with Maccy D breakfast. Over our time together we have always dealt with challenges together and this was the first time I had to go it alone (partners aren't allowed to stay overnight in the ward). I had missed Laura. As soon as Laura arrived she took charge, changing Annabelle and making sure I had everything I needed. What Laura couldn't help with was Annabelle needing to feed.....almost constantly.
A breastfeeding consultant visited us on the ward and checked Annabelle's latch, which was thankfully good, and taught me how to bring on the milk by hand with massage. It was a crazy moment seeing my boobs actually producing milk (or really, colostrum).
The technique of hand expressing my milk made Annabelle's latching quicker as she could smell it, and also reassured me that she was now being fed something.
What was challenging was that every time Laura picked Annabelle up she screamed - in fact, she screamed if she was anywhere except my boob. It took every bit of love, support and teamwork to get through day 2. At one point I needed the loo and due to the c-section wound the walk there and back was slow. It meant Laura had Annabelle for 20 minutes. The first 5 minutes were fine, the next 15 were awful. Annabelle screamed at the top of her lungs, nothing settled her. Laura cried too in frustration, not being able to soothe her! It wasn't until I was back and able to feed that she calmed down.
By this point the thought of continuing to breastfeed was an unpleasant one. My boobs hurt when Annabelle latched to the point that I needed a deep breathe before starting every feed. If someone had offered me a bottle at that point I would have been very tempted.
Over the day I was able to nap as Laura supervised Annabelle feeding - thankfully once feeding, the pain subsided and didn't stop me sleeping!
Night 2: After night 1 I was more prepared at what to expect, or so I thought. Annabelle still required feeding frequently but with 4 ladies on my ward (the first night had just been me and 1 other) the nurses visits were less frequent. Worse still my 'call button' was stuck behind the bed so I had to find a way to pick up and put Annabelle down without pulling my wound. It was an added challenge as Annabelle would decide to scream within 10 minutes of me putting her down.
When I popped to the loo Annabelle decided to test her lungs and wake up the entire ward - I felt terrible and from 4am I picked her up and kept her in my bed. That way I could deal with whatever she needed.
It did mean that when Laura arrived I was once again in a state and had very little sleep.
Day 3: Home time. Laura arrived with another Maccy D's breakfast - my hero! We were on the ward until 4pm so had most of the day waiting on checks to be sent home. The feeding had slowed to every two hours as my milk had properly come in (great job, Annabelle!) but it was now my engorged boobs that were the challenge. Putting on a bra was painful, even with the cream my boobs were still in pain. It was becoming a real mind over matter situation to continue the feeding.
Once home, Laura set me up on the couch with cushions as support and went into caring mode. We ordered pizza for dinner (and caught up on Love Island!) and started to figure out what life was now going to be like.
My Mum popped over with cushions and pillows to make the couch a comfortable throne. What Mum also brought was invaluable advice, my now engorged boobs were agony. Add to that the latch was awfully painful and I was ready to quit breastfeeding. Mum, however, told me how a cold cloth would reduce the pain, and it really did. Laura provided a constant supply of cold cloths and I honestly think it is the only reason I could continue.
Night 3: My c-section wound meant I couldn't make it up the two flights of stairs to our room so we stayed in the guest room. Laura had set up the 'beside me crib' next to the bed and it worked so well when Annabelle needed feeding - which continued to be every 2 hours. We didn't really sleep but we survived. Laura did all nappy changes and I did all the feeds.
Day 4: The midwife visit assured us that everything (all the pain) I was experiencing was normal. Surprising as the classes had played down the pain. Also the level / frequency of feeding was totally underplayed. Annabelle was feeding every 2-3 hours and the amount of nappies being used was WAY higher than we expected. Thanks Aldi for super cheap nappies! We plan to use cloth diapers but want to first get to a point where there is more of a routine.
My sister came over and allowed us the opportunity to have showers, another tip was that warm showers also help relieve the pain from engorged boobs and it really did. I also tried using our expressing machine and that reduced the pressure too. If it wasn't for my Mum and Laura's support breastfeeding would have been impossible.
We are now 21 days in and I can say that the experience is totally different. It changed gradually, as Annabelle got into more of a routine, we now feed every 3 hours and that gap between feeds has meant the pain has reduced significantly. The Lanolin cream works a treat and I still use it after every feed. The amount of milk produced has also equaled out so I can now feed from one boob at a time instead of having to use both. That has also eased the pain.
|My birthday breakfast involved public breastfeeding|
|We all got to enjoy milkshakes ;)|
The only thing left to sort out is the leakage - during the day I wear a nursing bra with pads and it is under control but at night it's a different story. That's the next thing to address!