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When I was pregnant with my eldest son, almost four years ago, I devoured every single piece of information I could find about pregnancy and labour. I read every blog, forum and book that I could lay my hands on, and fell asleep every night listening to podcasts that promised me a serene and perhaps even enjoyable birthing experience.
As it so happens, apart from a really unattractive case of swollen ankles, I had a pretty textbook pregnancy the first time around, and my (mostly) calm water birth was an incredible experience.
But the one area that I really failed to prepare for, and that I struggled with the most in those daunting early days was breastfeeding.
Both of my children were born with severe tongue tie which automatically meant that neither breastfeeding journey got off to the smoothest of starts, but I also faced a number of other challenges – challenges which when I spoke my friends were actually pretty common (and in many cases normal!) but they were still challenges that we had not been expecting and that we were all pretty unprepared for.
So now, as a mum who has exclusively breastfed one baby for a year, and is still feeding an eight month old today, I want to share my experience. Think of it less as ‘top tips for breastfeeding’, because after all, I’m no expert, but more ‘thing I wish I’d known beforehand’….
Breastfeeding is not only new for us as mums, but it’s also new for our babies too! Don’t expect to crack it straightaway – you both have to learn together. I remember reading about women who breastfeed whilst typing or whilst reading to their older children and feeling so incredibly intimidated – for me it still required my full attention and focus. But once you’ve both mastered the basics, it can become second nature (guess what I’m doing as I write this!)
CLUSTERFEEDING IS NO JOKE (I’m putting this in capitals because I can’t stress it enough)
Think of your breasts as a milk factory – the more your baby ‘orders’, the more you will produce. My husband would sometimes come home from work at 6pm and find me still sat in my pyjamas, trapped under a feeding baby, in the same spot he left me in at 8am. It’s totally normal. Just make sure you have everything you need to hand – the TV remote, your phone and phone charger, water, snacks, tissues…
Breastfeeding in the very early days can most definitely be uncomfortable. I still remember curling my toes and trying not to yelp as my newborn baby latched onto my super sensitive nipples. Coupled with the ‘after pains’ of delivery that can be exacerbated by nursing, breastfeeding in those very first few weeks isn’t always the relaxing moment with your baby that I had first imagined. But, if your nipples are getting damaged or you’re consistently finding it painful, chances are your latch isn’t quite right. The only way to improve it is to keep readjusting your position and keep trying. And it’s always worth getting some advice from an expert. Which leads me onto my next point…
There are definitely some great websites out there (www.kellymom.com is an absolute treasure trove of information) but nothing really replaces real life support. For me, the midwives at Healthbay on Al Wasl Road were absolute angels. They supported me through tongue tie, poor latch, damaged nipples, milk blebs (yep, sounds gross I know), mastitis, pumping when I’ve gone back to work, pumping when I’ve been away from my baby for 3 nights, and ultimately my decision to wean my firstborn.
Even when you’ve got it cracked, breastfeeding is still hard work. It’s really important for your own wellbeing and for your milk supply to stay hydrated, eat well, and rest when you can. And just because you’re breastfeeding, it doesn’t mean that other people can’t still help out. In those early weeks, when I was up all night feeding the baby, my husband would take over in the morning before work, giving me a few hours to rest. And our nanny has incredible winding skills, so baby number 2 always goes to her directly after a feed.
Breastfeeding is great for your baby. It’s free. It’s convenient (no scrabbling around making up bottles in the night) BUT there are a lot of reasons why it’s not the right choice for every woman and every baby. We are lucky enough to have lots of options available to us and there’s nothing wrong with choosing them. After all, we are all just trying to do our best – the best for ourselves and the best for our babies.
Written by Katy Granville, mum to Leo (3yrs) and Caspar (8mths)
Hi Mummy Katy,
Hello, I’m Jackie a first time mum of 3 1/2 months baby boy. I experienced what you wrote and felt like it was yesterday. I felt useless and very depressed because I was unable to breastfeed my son on the first few weeks. I was so desperate not because its free and all but I wanted yo give the best for our rainbow baby. Breastfeeding is really a tough and requires a hardwork especially I’m alone with my husband who is working and I still have to do all the laundrying but luckily my husband does the cooking.
A lactation consultant from where I gave birth was the one who helped me boost my confidence ans after 1 1/2 month I was able to exclusively breastfeed my son until now. And by next month May, I’ll go back to work and praying that I can still breastfeed him. He refused to drink on a bottle though he was used to it during the first month.
Thank you, I am so moved by your blog,