Breastfeeding. Is there anything that represents motherhood more than the image of a mother calmly nursing the child cradled in her arms?
Funny how the image never includes leak pads and an army of nipple creams as the mother pushes herself through another seemingly never-ending feed that feels something like deep trance meditation with nipple clamps.
Breastfeeding is a sneaky challenge. Before giving birth, I had often assumed that breastfeeding what ‘simply natural’ and ‘my body would know what to do’. I had taken the trouble to attend some breastfeeding support groups where I heard new mothers voicing their troubles and concerns.
I had picked up some tips and techniques on baby head and mouth positioning, stimulating the breast and protective nipple creams. I collected information booklets from NHS workshops that praised the benefits of breastmilk nutrition to the newborn baby. I felt positive, motivated and prepared.
If you are reading this post then I assume you are either planning on / considering breastfeeding when your little one arrives or have already begun your breastfeeding journey and find yourself faced with questions.
If so, congratulations! You already know that much research has confirmed that breast is best for baby and you are full of positive intention and are equipping yourself to give your little one the best start to life.
If you have already begun the breastfeeding journey and find yourself slapped with some hard truths that the midwife and health visitor somehow left out from their leaflets praising the joys of breastfeeding, take heart! I hope this post gives you some tips, guidance and reassurance you need that will get you back on track and give you what you need to make it just through those key first weeks.
A common concern for first-time breastfeeding mothers is that breastfeeding in reality feels nothing like their expectations. As such, let’s go through some expectations vs reality.
Expectation: Breastfeeding is a serene activity best performed in a floaty white kaftan and fills you with a feeing of calm and existential enlightenment.
Reality: Breatsfeeding can be a teeth-grinding effort that can fill you with dread (and much guilt for said dread!)
Expectation: a baby will know exactly what to do.
Reality: a baby has to learn how to latch and suckle, just like you have to learn how to nurse!
Expectation: my body was made to breastfeed…
Reality: …but not for 12 hour marathon clusterfeeds!
Expectation: the milk just comes and I will see clearly if my baby is satisfied
Reality: you are anxiously inspecting every nappy, squeezing yourself and googling everything at all hours of day or night. paranoid whether your baby is getting enough.
Expectation: your nipples are made for breastfeeding and can take a bit of tugging
Reality: your nipples may hurt, crack or even bleed unless attended to properly (nipple creams, airing etc)
Expectation: breastfeeding helps you bond immediatley with your baby
Reality: like all relationships, the nursing relationship takes some work!
Expectation: breastfeeding helps to calm the baby down…
Reality: …. and that’s why they seem to fall asleep on you at the most inconvenient times, just as when you are desperate for their toilet and their elbow seems to be magnetically attracted to your bladder region
Expectation: It will get easier
Reality: it will get easier!
Expectation: I will be glad when it’s over
Reality: you miss cradling that fuzzy little head and having your warm potato of a baby snoozing in your arms.
In summary, breastfeeding is full of ups, downs, mood swings, guilt, pain…. But also reward, happiness, cozy bliss and a sense of personal pride as you give your little human everything they need as they begin their life in this strange new world.
If you are exhausted and grumpy as you seem chained to your little miracle and are not floating about in maternal bliss as expected, then remember this: breastfeeding might be ‘natural’, but, like in labour, natural sure doesn’t mean easy!!
If someone had told me in the early days and weeks of motherhood that I will be just popping wee Leo on my breast as I casually continued a conversation in a café or, in some more extreme moments, nursed him under my scarf as I walked through town (!) or fed him as he clung on to me in his sling, I would have laughed like a banshee.
There was nothing about my cracked and sore nipples or occasional blocked milked ducts or the fact that the little one was set on staying, well, little and took his time regaining his birth weight that screamed I was ‘born to do it’.
But hey, six weeks after birth, lo and behold, things did work themselves out! And now, more than six months later, I am confident that deciding to breastfeed was the number one best thing I have done for my son and for our relationship and bond as mother and child.
Breastfeeding beats formula on more than nutrition. No messing about with bottles and teats, raiding every pharmacy in search of the one he will finally take to; no sterilizing; no warming up things in the dead of the night; no spending pounds / $$$ on pricey formula; nothing to clean up. Hey, even breastfed poo smells better than bottle fed babies! And less colic, wind and tummy problems on top. Breastfeeding may be difficult, but who said formula feeding was easy?
If you are experiencing significant problems establishing the nursing relationship, including (but not limited to):
- baby not latching on properly
- suspected tongue-tie
- baby not gaining weight as expected
- blocked ducts
- you feel your milk may not have come in or is drying up
please see your lactation consultant / midwife / health visitor / physician as soon as possible. You require the real-life examination and care of a qualified professional in this area.
However, if you are still able and willing to breastfeeding, but find the journey hard and are looking for support, reassurance and advice, then help is at hand! In my next post I will share with you the top 10 tips for breastfeeding might give you just enough encouragement to keep going until you are out of the woods and things click into place.
Good luck, mama! You’ve got this!