I am certainly no expert at the art of breast feeding, but I have had 2 very different experiences of it now. So I'd like to share with you some of what I've learned.
My first was utterly dreadful. I had every breast feeding related ailment going, cracked, bleeding nipples, mastitis (5 cases in all I think I racked up) thrush (both in Milo's mouth and my nipples, a side effect of the antibiotics I was constantly on for the mastitis) and abscesses. Of all the things the abscesses were probably the worst. When I got the first, I dutiful turned up to see my GP only to be quickly sent straight to A and E as soon as he clapped eyes on the angry puss filled lump growing on my breast. Here I had to wait hours for a surgeon who rather painfully removed as much of the puss as he could. Bearing in mind I had been in labour less than 2 weeks prior to this, I declared it the most painful experience of my life. I spent the next few days making daily visits for more puss removal (I asked for anaesthetic injections on all of the following trips). Not long after the first was on it's way to healing (I still bear the massive scar) another little bubble appeared on the other breast. I was back at the hospital later that day, where I would return every day for almost 2 weeks. The second was worse because it was much deeper.
Feeding Milo on our first night at home.
I experienced a lot of awful healthcare professionals during that ordeal, doctors who told me 'it's really time you give up [breastfeeding] now' when I called for yet another antibiotic prescription and another who told me my milk was no good for my baby anyway and he shouldn't be drinking it as it would be full of infections, something that was declared nonsense by the doctor I saw just 10 minutes later (she was my favourite). But there were some lovely ones too, the aforementioned favourite who gave me her direct number and who I saw almost everyday for 2 weeks. The lovely receptionists and nurses who would coo over Milo whilst I was being prodded with needles, the beautiful La Leche League lady on the end of the phone who was the only person to tell me 'yes your baby is latching on incorrectly' everyone else had said 'it looks right'. My favourite GP (now retired) who declared 'of course you're miserable, look at everything you're going through' when everyone else kept telling me I had post natal depression and needed medication, something I wanted to avoid.
By the time all this was over Milo had no interest in feeding from me (I could hardly blame him) but I had kept my milk supply and I pumped and bottle fed him for 6 months, it was exhausting, hard work and my first few months of my baby boys life were not exactly the bliss filled days of motherhood I was expecting!
bottle feeding Milo in the park
I expect this was part of the reason I didn't think I wanted anymore children and why there is such an age gap between them. Ask any failed breastfeeder, there is no greater guilt than that of not being able to feed your baby. It's meant to be so natural, everyone else manages ok, why am I so useless? The simple truth is it just isn't always as easy as it should be.
When I found out I was pregnant with Effie, the first thing I said to Johhny was, 'if I decide it's best I will feed her formula from the moment she is born and I will not feel guilty for it'. As it was, as the birth drew nearer I realised I really wanted to give it another go. I had learned so much from my experience with Milo and I wanted to implement all that knowledge. You know what, this time it's easy. Yes my nipples were sore to begin, yes I was in agony when my milk came in, but apart from thrush (had to have antibiotics during labour) so far so good. This has taught me that every mother's experience of breast feeding is going to be different as will every baby's. We all have to make our own choices and decide what the best decisions are for us and our individual babies.
breastfeeding Effie - a couple of days old
From my humble experience, here are some of the things I learned, to prepare yourself for what lies ahead if you do decide breastfeeding is for you ::
- Get yourself a tube of Lansinoh. By far and away the best nipple cream! Put it in your hospital and apply after every feed right from the start. The lanolin prevents your nipples cracking and scabbing, plus it's all natural so no need to wash off before feeding.
- Do some research. I literally knew nothing about breastfeeding before I had Milo. I read a million birth stories and a ton of books on childbirth, yet knew nothing about how to look after my baby. Understanding how supply and demand works in terms of breast feeding, how you produce more milk at night time, the importance of correct latch and how to hand express will all make those first few days a little easier.
- Hot flannels and a little bit of expressing will be super beneficial when your milk comes in. I woke up on the second night with Effie with the most ridiculously huge breasts. They were so painful for the next few days, using Natural Birthing Company's engorged breasts oil (from their lovely Bosom Buddies Breast Feeding Survival kit) with some super hot water and flannels really helped. I did this a couple of times a day, I also expressed a little bit of milk off before and after each feed to ease the pain a little.
- Use YouTube! The day I spent alone in hospital I watched numerous 'latching on' videos, playing them over and over and practicing with my real life baby when she was awake. Getting that correct latch is the most important thing as far as I can tell. If it feels wrong take the baby off and start again.
- Know that it does get easier. Your nipples will get sore, but they will toughen up. It will be, literally, toe curlingly painful when the baby latches on at first (the pain should stop once they are feeding) but that will stop, I don't even remember when it did for me but at some point it did. Once you've done it a couple of times you become quite blasé about feeding in public (two tops one to go up one to go down is my best advice to retain some modesty). Sleepless nights don't get much easier, though you do get more used to the sleep deprivation!
- Babies have growth spurts. Be warned that there may be occasions where they will feed and feed and feed for what will feel like all eternity. I have never wanted to be able to get off the sofa and do the housework so much! But you know what they aren't tiny forever and you won't always have such a good excuse to sit on your bum eating all the cake (essential breastfeeding nourishment in my opinion) binge watching The Walking Dead. So make the most of it, that and the privilege of being able to demand your other half fetch you food and drinks as required.
I don't know how long I'll feed Effie for, but as far as I can tell right now, it'll be for a long time yet. Everyone talks about the magic 6 week mark. That's the time everything suddenly falls into place, so I've been told. We're not quite there yet, just a few days to go, but I can already see that the longer you stick at breast feeding the easier it becomes, but if it doesn't work out for you and your baby it really doesn't matter. Milo was fed formula (along with my pumped milk) from just a few days old, he's healthy and clever, he's independent and loving, he is the least fussy eater of his age I know and he has no memory of any of those first few months of his life. He literally couldn't care less how he was fed, the main thing is he was fed and he is loved, nothing else matters.
Milo feeding himself - at 7 months