I am pretty sure that the first thing that comes to mind when you think of breastfeeding is “I must breastfeed, everyone says so”. It is easy for outsiders to pass judgement about breastfeeding but you can’t really understand it until you have tried it yourself. Every breastfeeding journey is different and none are easy. This is a short account of how I got started on our breastfeeding journey and what I found really useful!
The preparation before due date
I wasn’t able to go to the breastfeeding classes at the hospital before my little one arrived. And with the benefit of hindsight, I definitely wish I had gone. I think that the information you get at these classes is really important to help get comfortable with breastfeeding.
I didn’t buy a breast pump before and I am really happy I didn’t. As much as you want to breastfeed, it might not always go to plan. If it doesn’t, you don’t want to have incurred the expense of a pump needlessly (and they are not cheep). If you need to pump in hospital or shortly after it, the hospital does rent pumps that you can use, so there is no need for a mad dash to the shops if you need one.
I did however purchase a Haakka pump. This is a really convenient non-mechanical pump, with no moving parts just one piece. It will only set you back €20 and is perfect for expressing while feeding on the other side. I found the pump really handy, especially in the early days while your milk is still coming in. You can buy it online here.
The first latch
Skin to skin is the most important thing to do to get breastfeeding started. It not only calms your baby after their long birthing journey but it helps to get mum and baby comfortable together to help with their first latch. I remember sitting on the post labour ward trying to get breastfeeding started, with the nurse stuffing my nipple into my little ones mouth. It was such a nerve wrecking and stressful time. But when the suckling started for the first time, it was such a relief…. until you had to feed him again and you were back to square one.
The first few days
I was discharged from the hospital early into the community care. All I was ever told was that breast is best. I did not know that sometimes (especially with new mums) your milk does not come very quickly and you might not actually have enough to sustain your little one. Your milk can take up to 5 days to come in for first time mums and while you have colostrum, that is not always enough. Less than 36 hours after arriving home, we were back in the hospital, our little one was less than 50 hours old and he was starving! He had lost over 9% of his birth weight, his blood sugar levels were low and he was quite jittery because of it. We had no idea that we should have given him a formula bottle top up during those early days. Luckily it was an easy fix, a night of bottle feeds in the hospital and our little bundle of joy was back at home with mummy and daddy having put on weight over night!
So when preparing for your little arrival, it is always useful to have a bit of formula just in case. I would recommend buying the pre-made formula so you don’t need to worry about making formula in the early days, just for convenience.
The first 6 weeks
Breastfeeding is painful! It is amazing how sensitive your nipples can become and you dread the next feed! Nothing gives relief. And not only that, but as your milk is regulating I found I could wake up at night with way too much milk and desperately needing to feed to relieve the pressure (the Haakkaa will also help with this). There are however some things which can help and are good to have to hand.
Lanolin nipple cream – this is great to use at night time. The books all say wear maternity bras always but I found that made me worse. All you need is a nice loose T-shirt to let the air get at your nipples.
Multimam pads are little pads of cooling gel which are great to have on during the day. I stored the new ones in the fridge to make them extra cool and soothing. Though I have also heard that cabbage leaves left in the fridge have the same cooling effect.
The turning point
During the first 6 weeks when you are so uncomfortable you feel like the pictures of babies looking up at mums lovingly while latched on are all just a lie. I remember being in a lot of pain, trying to feed and wondering how I would ever get past that day of feeds, let alone make it to six months. And then the magic 6 week point is hit, and for some reason it all just stops hurting. It is fabulous. That was the moment at which I could relax into feeding. I also think surrounding yourself with other breastfeeding mums is so important. In the early days I was super shy, I was trying to cover up with blankets etc. if I was feeding out and making my little one over heat. But once I started going to breastfeeding support groups and meeting other mums, it normalised the whole process. It was probably the best thing that I did. You can find breastfeeding support groups for free in your local health centre (they have a public health nurse at every meeting in case you have questions) or you can attend other meetings with groups such as Cuidiu.
If you are trying to get breastfeeding established and you are in the first six weeks, my biggest piece of advice would be if you can hold on in there, there is light at the end of the tunnel! But if you can’t, don’t stress, babies thrive on formula just as well!