My Breastfeeding Story: I Read All The Breastfeeding Books, Yet Still Had Some Surprises!
Next in our series of real mums’ breastfeeding stories, we hear from Steph, who shares her breastfeeding journey after her son was born in March 2019. Although she felt she was prepared after reading many breastfeeding books, once little George arrived, she learnt new things week by week, including all about those dreaded night sweats!
Before George was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed if I could. I told myself, my friends and family of my plans to attempt to breastfeed and read all of the breastfeeding books out there! Although I did consider alternatives, my brain was telling me something different – I was so determined to persevere because I knew the benefits of breastfeeding and I’d also got a pump I didn’t want to go to waste!
In my normal life, I thrive on knowing my stuff and being prepared – being pregnant and having a baby was no different. I read up and immersed myself in all things breastfeeding – I even made my own summary notes! My reading and endless Googling did provide me with information to help to prepare me somewhat, but nothing could prepare me for the experience itself!
What I was prepared for:
- Latching – I had learnt about different positions for feeding and getting baby to latch. I knew that this would take time and practice for us both.
- Painful let-down – my let-down was teeth-clenchingly uncomfortable for 10 seconds or so in the early weeks. This was nothing to do with latch and it did ease after about 3-4 weeks.
- Sore nipples – this will happen – nipple cream was given to me as a (very handy!) baby shower gift. I had it at the ready in my hospital bag and then on my bedside table – I applied after almost every feed in first few weeks. A product that is a definite must-have for any breastfeeding mum!
- Engorgement –by day 3-4, I had the rack of Pamela Anderson (it looked great but it didn’t feel particularly fantastic). I’m sure it couldn’t have been that great for George either, who was now feeding off the equivalent of a bowling ball rather than the supple surface he had enjoyed in his first few days. A friend had advised me to freeze some savoy cabbage leaves to help relieve the pain – and boy did it help! In addition to massaging in the shower and putting a hot flannel on them. The engorgement only lasted for a week or so until my body was able to regulate the supply.
What I was not prepared for:
- Leaking – I didn’t buy enough breast pads and only had one nursing bra, which was not comfy for bed. I would leak so much during the night I resorted to putting a towel on the mattress to sleep on and was having to change my nightie every day. By day 3 I was paying for next-day delivery for a pair of night feeding bras. In the early weeks I also became a ninja with a towel – as I learnt the art of drying after a shower in record time. Leave it too long and risk the ducts dripping on freshly washed skin!
- Night sweats – the towel in bed not only helped with leaking milk situation but I would wake during the night shivering and soaking wet! Apparently, the hormones produced by breastfeeding causes night sweats for some mums and as if the shell-shocked, knackered look of having a newborn isn’t glamorous enough, then imagine the sweaty hair look too! Lush!
- The intensity – breastfeeding is hard!!! It is wonderful that you are feeding your baby and your mother-baby bond grows deep. But on the flipside, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE who can feed the baby. It’s not something that can be shared, unless you are expressing. So, when I was knackered, sore and emotional, I couldn’t pass the buck when it came to feeding. This feeling lasted a matter of weeks and for me it was about taking each day as it came. The thing that kept me going was that George was gaining weight (after his 7% loss in week one – which was within the normal range) and my sheer determination!
- Cluster feeding and growth spurts - Around day 5, I was starting to adjust to my new life and new routine of feeding, when a growth spurt hit and my baby no longer seemed satisfied. He would cry and nothing seemed to console him. Despite being rested, clean and fed not too long before – the only thing I could assume was that he wanted more milk. The problem was the when I sat down to feed, he refused to latch! I felt a failure. I obviously couldn’t provide what my baby wanted, otherwise he wouldn’t be crying- right?! I sat there getting worked up, tears rolling down my face and a red-hot desperation to give my baby what he needed! My partner arrived with a calming influence, reminding me of positioning of the baby to encourage a good latch (just as the midwife had told us) and telling me how much of a good job I was doing. After a few attempts…success! Baby latched for a few minutes, enough to pacify him. Afterwards my medicine was to head to bed for rest and to allow me to unwind from the anxious state I was in, whilst baby was settled by daddy. This was the start of cluster feeding to bring my milk in… and I would also experience this during other growth spurts too. I got to learn that grouchy George was typically the sign that he wanted more milk!
On the whole I have had a very positive experience, but the differences can be categorised into 3 time periods:
- The first 5-6 weeks
- After 6-8 weeks
- Now at 19 weeks
The first 5-6 weeks
This was the time spent in the trenches: fighting through the fog of having a newborn, adjusting to the significant lack of sleep and the recovering wounds of a body that has born a child. In amongst this, you and your baby are learning how to breastfeed and what works for you both. This period is when the learning curve is at its steepest and when breastfeeding was at its most difficult, for me.
My mindset during this time was to take each day as it came and for the days that were a bit of a write-off, I was able to remind myself that ‘tomorrow is another day’. If I was able to breastfeed for one more day it was an achievement, and then a day would turn into a week, into two …and before I knew it I had been doing it for five weeks! I remember being sat on the side of the bed, baby on the boob, when this realisation hit me. I felt so proud to have gotten that far! It was from then that it slowly started to get easier and started stretching my goals to getting to the end of another week.
As the weeks ticked by, I felt our bond deepen and I was able to start enjoying the experience of feeding after the 6 week point.
At 2 weeks I started expressing, which was another routine to get into and initially was hard to integrate. This for me was the best thing for us as a family, as my partner was able to give George a bottle of expressed milk at one of the feeds each day – providing valuable bonding time for them and a bit of a break for me. I was even able to build up a decent supply of frozen milk just in case!
After 6-8 weeks
It was at this time that the fog started to lift, and I felt that George and I had started to nail the technique of latching and feeding. Our confidence grew from here on out. I now knew my baby and his needs and wants – for most of the time! I was also feeding in public with confidence and pride – practically a pro!
It was at 6 weeks that my partner and I had our first date night and thanks to expressing I was able to head out for a good few hours, whilst baby was fed and looked after by the grandparents. My first step towards feeling human – heck it was the first hot meal that we had eaten together since George was born!
Now at 19 weeks – I still can’t believe we are here, still breastfeeding! My next milestone will be to feed until he is 6 months, until the next set of challenges await: teething and weaning! Watch this space.
Thank you to Steph, for sharing her breastfeeding experience. If you would like to share your breastfeeding story please email, firstname.lastname@example.org