Monday, 7 February 2011

Things I can tell people about breastfeeding

Breastfeeding, I'm told, is neither straightforward nor easy. It also appears there is very little useful information being communicated to mums-to-be, which means they have to try and get it right when they're sleep-deprived, hormone-ridden, and recovering from physical trauma. I can tell you that that is not the best state to be in when you're trying to learn a new skill! Not to mention all the other new things you have to learn at the same time. No wonder a lot of mums describe breastfeeding as hard, even though it's the most natural thing there is.

In response to a lovely post on the Happy-Living Blog and a really popular thread on Netmums, I thought I'd give my view on breastfeeding. For some really good professional advice, definitely check out La Leche League.

First of all, the stuff that's on all the posters: breast is best! It's the healthiest thing around and it's especially formulated for human babies. So far so good.

My mother breastfed, and as I was growing up, she told me she never did understand why people would find bottle feeding easier: when you breastfeed, your milk is always ready when it's wanted, always at the right temperature, and you always have the right amount. I don't mind being the only one with baby's food. It makes me special. I have a t-shirt that says: 'I make milk. What's your superpower?' Even night feeds don't bother me. We co-sleep with baby so I barely wake up, and the oxytocin breastfeeding releases, helps me go right off to sleep again and wake up more rested from less sleep than usual.

I have breastfed all four of my children. I was lucky to have done an excellent ante-natal course (in my native country - not in UK) where I learned that breast milk will adjust to baby's needs and that this can sometimes take a few days to sort itself out. So there will be 'hunger' days during growth spurts and that's normal. We learned how the breast makes milk, how it is stored, the difference between fore- and hind-milk. We learned that breast milk is always nutritious as even malnourished women in developing countries will have good milk. All this information, and my mother's example, left me very confident to start breastfeeding.

And then the stuff they don't tell you:
- I learned how to breastfeed lying down while in the hospital, and then it took me days to figure out (and convince baby) how to do it sitting up! I've heard about the same problem the other way round: learned how to do it sitting up and then not being able to do it lying down. Practice makes perfect.

- I have sensitive skin and... incredibly tender nipples. The first couple of weeks my nipples were chapped, split, bleeding and stinging. I used lavish amounts of Lansinoh (I swear by this - if you take one thing from this post, let this be it!) and eventually, my nipples toughened up. And yes, I went through this with each baby. By the way the pain from tender nipples is different from the pain when the baby is not latched on properly. Do not be disheartened by silly midwives who check the latching on and declare that it shouldn't hurt or who say that if it still hurts, you must be doing it wrong. It does hurt. Even when you're doing it right. Nipples are like lips, much more sensitive than normal skin. If you spend just a day licking and chewing your lips, they'll hurt too. That's what's happening to the nipples. But after a few weeks they're fine and can take almost anything.

- Another thing that hurts is the contractions. Breastfeeding stimulates your uterus to contract. This is good for you and should speed your recovery along. But it can really hurt. This is where feeding lying down can be good because I've sometimes nearly fainted. I tend to just throw pride to the wind and cry and gasp and take painkillers. Again, this is something that passes.

All I can say is, it's worth it. There's pain, but only for a matter of days (a couple of weeks at most). There's some awkwardness because both you and baby haven't done this before, but after a while you get completely comfortable with it. Imagine all those other things you can do with your body that were awkward your first time! Stick with it.
Each and every baby, I've felt miserable at first, and just like the post on Happy Living Blog, I've been shocked at how much and often breastfed babies eat! The best way to get through it, for me, has been to focus on it as a single job. The only thing I have to do those first weeks, is breastfeed. Literally, don't do any housework, don't change any nappies, don't go anywhere... just sit around, eat and drink and feed that baby. And that works really well. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

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