So I am not claiming to be the expert on breastfeeding and I am not a lactation consultant. But I have trained in breastfeeding support as part of my GentleBirth Childbirth Educator training and I have breastfed my two boys. I have been through the leaking, the cluster feeding , the feeling of being touched out (it’s a thing), the anxiety of first time feeding in public, the praying I can pump enough so I can leave the baby for 2 hours, the joy, the tears, the” is he getting enough?” anxiety. Breastfeeding is natural but that does not mean it is always easy. It is sometimes wonderful but also sometimes anxious and sad and exhausting. So these are my tips on how to survive and thrive through your breastfeeding journey no matter how long or short that may be.
1. Rest. No stress
Adequate rest is essential for breastfeeding. If this means sleeping when baby sleeps then do that. If it means saying no to too many visitors in those first few days or weeks then do that. Or better yet, get your partner to do it. Practice it now and set up your friends and relatives with the expectation that they may not have immediate visitation rights. “We are not planning on having too many visitors until we have breastfeeding established” is a simple but firm way to put it. Also those first few days you are pretty much going to want to sit there with your boobs hanging out 24/7. If having visitors seeing you like this is going to stress you out then say no.
2. Know about the Second Night
Most babies will sleep a lot in the first 24hours after birth as they are exhausted. They may not feed a lot in that time for this reason. But between 24 and 48hr after your baby is born they going to realise that they are out in the world for good and they have lost the lovely warm, cosy home they were used to. Everything is different – smells, sounds, sights etc. So cue lots of crying and wanting to be as close to as possible which means on your boob a lot. And I mean a LOT. My first boy spent 40 minutes out of every hour feeding during his second night. Luckily I knew that it wasn’t about food, it was about comfort and wanting to be as close as possible to me. So when I was offered a “top up” of formula by the midwife! I knew to refuse. So don’t stress it this happens to you. Your baby is not starving.
3. No Weight gain stress
Babies, especially section babies, can lose weight in the first few days. Don’t stress about it and start worrying do you need to top up with formula. As long as baby is wetting nappies 5/6 times as day and is alert they are getting enough milk. Breastfed babies do not poop as much as formula babies so urine output is your best guide.
4. Learn the co sleeping rules
There is a lot of controversy about co sleeping with your baby. But research has shown that it is safe as long as you practice the co sleeping rules (https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/co-sleeping/). Even if you think you will NEVER co sleep with your baby you should still know these rules so that if you do fall asleep accidentally with your baby in the bed they will be safe. I was worried myself about co sleeping when I started breastfeeding. But I was more worried that I would find myself dozing off if I just sat up in bed or in a chair feeding in the middle of the night and that I would drop my baby. So I fed him lying down and if I was still awake when he finished then I transferred him back to the cot. If not, then I knew he was still safe as I had my bed set up for him. And I got a lot more sleep as I could happily doze while he fed.
5. Get support
Research shows that the majority of women give up on breastfeeding not because they want to or because they don’t have enough milk but because they don’t have enough support. You will need support from lots of people during this journey. Your partner needs to be on board to do everything else in those first few weeks when you are establishing breastfeeding. So that means all the cooking, cleaning, other kids etc etc. Your job is to feed. His job is everything else. If you are lucky enough to have friends or family who breastfed then have them on standby for advice if up do need some help. Unfortunately many women of my generation were bottle fed because our mothers were incorrectly told at the time that bottle feeding was better. But what that means is that we have lost that knowledge and understanding of breastfeeding that used to be handed down from generation to generation. So if you don’t have someone you know who can advise you then consider getting a postpartum doula or lactation consultant to support you. LaLeche League and Cuidiu both run breastfeeding support groups throughout Ireland and they have amazing lactation experts who can help you. I always advise my clients to go to a meeting while they are pregnant so they can get to know them before they have baby. It’s also a great way to meet other breastfeeding mums and share experiences.
6. No Pain/Bleeding.
We have all heard the horror stories right? Some tenderness and/or dryness is normal when you start breastfeeding. Excessive pain or bleeding is not. These are a sign that baby may not be latching properly and/or has a tongue/lip tie. Get your baby’s latch and tongue checked if this happens to you. Don’t just hope it will go away.
If you are anything like me you will be starving in those first few weeks of breastfeeding. Feeding your baby uses up a lot of calories. Dads need to be ready to feed your partner at all times even the middle of the night. Have dinners prepared and in the freezer. If you are having visitors and they ask can they bring anything? Say yes, bring me a dinner please!
Buy 1 or 2 nursing bras initially as your size will change in the first few weeks. Everyone thinks that tops that button down are the best but I found that tops that pull up where better for keeping my breast covered in those initial stages when I was nervous about feeding in public. If you are belly conscious then wear a nursing vest underneath your top or one of those pregnancy belly bands that you can just pull up over your belly.
When it comes to breastfeeding equipment then more expensive is not necessarily better. I bought an expensive electric pump for my first baby and it was fine. I broke it after a few months on my second and as I couldn’t justify spending the money on another electric one when I really only pumped once or twice as week, I brought a 40euro AVENT hand pump instead. To my surprise I found I got much more milk in a faster time than with the electric one. If like me you are planning on only pumping occasionally then maybe go with a manual pump first. If things change you can always get an electric you need to. I found that Boots milk bags were the best for freezing milk and after trying different breast pads and finding no real difference between expensive and cheap I stuck with the cheaper TESCO ones.
10. Be Present
Finally, no matter if you breastfeed for a day, a week, a month, a year or longer, do take time occasionally to be present and enjoy this precious time. Yes you will end up doing a lot of TV watching/Phone scrolling/ reading as you breastfeed. And yes, it won’t always be fun I agree. But now and again take the time to look at your baby, breath in their smell, thank your amazing body for what it is doing. You are building every cell in your baby. You are giving them nourishment but also love and comfort and joy. You will miss this when it’s over. I know I do.