To mark National Breastfeeding Week, the fabulous collective that is the Irish Parenting Bloggers have organised a blog march in keeping with this year’s theme, ‘Every breastfeed makes a difference’.To mark the occassion you can enter a competition to win Nuk Breastpumps. Enter here and also head over to www.mama.ie for a full round up of this weeks’s related posts: a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway
My own contribution to this is as a mum who was determined but struggled to feed her first baby. However with sheer stubbornness, paracetamol and support my breastfeeding story has a happy ending. I am now expecting my third baby and come March my third (and last*) stint as a breastfeeding mum will begin.
*said solely for the benefit of my husband and doesn’t mean I say what I mean, or I mean what I say!
So the best I can add to this often (unhelpfully) contentious debate is add what I have learnt and would tell any expectant mums and dads, who maybe haven’t decided just where they stand on the whole breast or bottle decision.
I believed I would, and I did
I believed from the start of my pregnancy that I would breastfeed. I come from an extended family where breastfeeding was ‘the norm’. I saw babies – siblings, cousins and friends, fed all the time and genuinely never gave it a second thought. I assumed that breastfeeding was the simplest and easiest thing in the world and that, when the time came, this mammal would be able to get her milk on!
Because I believed I would feed I never prepared for an alternative! As a compulsively organised person it sounds mad but when my son was born we had no formula in the house. I had bought a few bottles and borrowed a steriliser but I thought of these as things I’d need ‘down the line’. It wasn’t any sort of milky-politico stance, I just never thought why I’d need formula when surely I’d surely have plenty of my own milk to go round!
It’s hard but not impossible to learn something new
I don’t know about you but I would probably have cancelled a driving lesson if it had coincided with nights of interrupted sleep, an aching fanny, a few hemorrhoids and sore boobs. Particularly if I didn’t even know where the steering wheel was! And I was working to a deadline of about two days. But these are exactly the realities of how a woman learns to breastfeed.
It’s a new physical skill for mummy and baby and yet we typically give ourselves a ridiculous deadline to get it right – and all while mastering that simple collection of tasks involved in keeping another human being alive.
So relax. It takes time. Real time – and you simply need to put your feet up, learn what you’re at and – if it all goes wrong, ask for help. That’s where I think the tagline ‘Every breastfeed makes a difference’ really has two meanings. How many times did you practise reversing around a corner before you stopped mounting the kerb? Not only is every feed you can muster great for your baby but with every feed you are getting better at this and closer to a time when its literally as easy as 1,2,3.
Tough at the start, easy in the end
My start to feeding my first born – aka The Guzzler was fairly typically and it was pants. I got the expected discomfort when my milk came in, but did as advised and continued to feed on demand and also wandered around the house bra-less (to this day it amazes me that no-one lost an eye!).
Within those first few days I had problems on one side – deep and sore blisters and a slow let down meant my eager hungry little boy was working away at raw, broken skin. Between us we were frankly doing a brutal job of getting the old latch sorted. I had taken to crying as quietly as I could (not very) and bearing down on a wooden pencil when he latched on and off. I completely snapped the head off my poor husband when he suggested that the crying mama and baby maybe just needed a bottle of formula.
Five or six days it was all looking a little ominous. We were clueless and for the first time I genuinely started thinking about giving up. So I went looking for help. In fact I demanded some. And thankfully I got it.
My District Nurses told me to keep going, try different feeding positions and consider nipple shields. They suggested coming to the local Breastfeeding Group the following week but I knew I couldn’t keep going that long. I called the lactation nurse in the Rotunda who offered to help me that day. I’ll never forget the awfulness and the amazingness of that half hour. Asking me to do the impossible, the nurse got me to repeatedly put the baby on and off the boob. The sore boob. It was pure awful but in that half hour she got us to crack the elusive latch and we left that nurse (who had given up her lunch for us) having taken a big step forward.
By the time I went to the community support group the following week, my raw blisters had – through the high shine of about 2 inches of Lansinoh, started to heal and the impossible was looking possible.
Invest time in learning to feed
With help, and a realistic timeframe, we made it! Three weeks in I suddenly noticed that – though one shoulder still felt munched, we were at last starting and finishing feeds without much drama.
From that point on it was genuinely plain sailing and I cruised through a mountain of breast pads and fed my son for 11 months.
A year later, when I had my daughter, my feeding journey was simply a walk-in-the-park. There was a baby, a mouth, some boobs, and lots of milk. There was no hassle at all and I may even have said it was a nearly idyllic experience. We walked it – but all because I’d done it before and knew what the hell I was at.
But…. expect bumps along the road
Having established feeding with the Guzzler, I expected (and deserved) easy sailing all the way. Then at 10 weeks the little sod stopped feeding leaving a bulging, leaky mama who couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong.
Happily my pro-feeding GPs examined him and told me all about ‘nursing strikes’ and – checking out his hard earned thigh folds, commented that once he was weeing and pooing, all was right with the world. There was no suggestion that he needed or should be offered formula. I continued to offer feeds and sure enough all was well in no-time. Again, we were given time and that was all we needed.
Your family is a blended family
My husband and I were together for about 8 years before we had our first baby. It was only in the haze of those first few difficult weeks though that I really realised our little nest had a mummy and a daddy who – though from very similar backgrounds, were from different families.
Whereas my family were au fait with the ins and outs of feeding, my son was the first breastfed baby on my in-law’s side. There was no familiarity that feeding-on-demand wasn’t over-feeding; that it was ok that my baby could only be fed by me; or even a real appreciation that we -as parents, had both chosen this way of feeding our son and – as clueless novices, we needed unyielding support.
In time though, as the novelty of my feeding a baby passed, my in-laws have done a complete U-turn and declared breastfeeding to be the best thing ever! Having once asked was I ‘still’ feeding my weeks old son, my mother-in-law last year asked if I wouldn’t think of giving my 15 month old daughter a ‘bit longer’ on the boob! Now there’s a nice bit of breastfeeding promotion!
It was strange for my husband too. Without being able to offer milk to a crying baby he says he admittedly felt a little left out but went about creating a niche for himself and finding his way to get on with this new little man. He came into his own and became an expert baby walker and burper. By the time the sister arrived, my hubbie was an old-hat at being a ‘hands on Dad’ and the fact our babies are fed has never been a point of any contention between us.
Revel in the hands free
One really understated advantage of breastfeeding is all the stuff you don’t need to drag around with you. With a baby in tow, you rarely (never) go anywhere without bags of stuff. Happily you can’t forget your boobs so without the stress of warming and preparing bottles, breastfeeding becomes one the easiest and lightest aspects of parenting! I’ve always hated it when solids came along and suddenly I had to remember to pack something more than my cleavage for a day out!
Enjoy the special times
I often think the most under-stated part of the feeding experience though, for me has been the snuggles that goes along with feeds. I have lost track of the countless hours I spent simply staring at my feeding / dozing son on his feeding pillow. Likewise, when my daughter arrived into a busy house with in-house toddler entertainment, feeding gave us time away from the madness to just be together – albeit while reading / constructing the latest train track or lego empire / providing other distractions.
These were special times for me. I loved them. And when they are 30-somethings who really need to give me my house back and start paying rent somewhere, this is the stuff I’ll remember.
Relax. They are just breasts.
On a final note, we all need to lighten up. Having toughed out those hard times – which included having to stare down a good number of frowning prudes, I am prone to taking it all a bit seriously. But I laughed out loud at Caitlin Moran’s article Breast is Best, when she points out that if it does nothing else, breastfeeding gives you good anecdotes and a few self-depreciating laughs.
So here’s some highlights from my breastfeeding ‘walk of shame’….
I have carried out numerous conversations with a sodden breast pad stuck to some part of my décolletage. And no-one ever mentioned it.
I have gotten home from days / afternoons out to discover I’ve mislaid breast pads somewhere. To date, none have been returned!
I have answered the door to countless postman / visitors / ESB man with some part of me exposed and no baby in sight. Must have looked like they’d interrupted something more than a sleepy feed in front of Homes Under the Hammer.
I have sprayed at least two of my friends in the face. That I am aware of.
I have flashed most of my friends and a whole host of strangers.
I have utilised my large boobs to reach a crying baby in a car seat from the adjoining passenger seat WHILE remaining in my seat belt.
I have woken at 4am in a tent to a crying toddler with both my husband and myself shouting ‘Where’s the boob? Where’s the boob? ‘.
I have shocked my un-shockable brother with the uuuum-splash of pump first thing in the morning. To this day that sound haunts him.
So do what works but give it a try
Simply, for anyone starting out I’d say, keep your options open and give breastfeeding a try. Whatever you decide, do it from a place of sanity and not because pain and tiredness get the best of you. Your body is designed to do this job if you just give yourself and that bubba a chance to learn – a real chance, then this can be one of the most rewarding times in your parenting career.
Ask for help. Beg for help. And if needs be, pay for help. It’s the key to getting it right.
Put your feet up, grab a bottle of water and use that next feed to practise that skill and get closer to the easy times. In that respect every breastfeed definitely makes a difference.
Good luck – and enjoy.