This week, in case you missed it, is/was apparently World Breastfeeding Week. (Go Le Boobs!)
I personally met this news with relatively mixed emotions, as I am reaching the end of my own breastfeeding journey.
Yes, as the Small Small Person wobbles into toddlerhood, her interest in the boobies is waning day-by-day, and things are definitely getting generally emptier and dryer. (Apart from my throat and eyes, which need no encouragement in getting fuller and wetter).
I’m going to miss it. A lot.
So I thought this was as good a time as any to share with you 9 things I have learnt about breastfeeding.
FED is best
I had one baby that I was determined to breastfeed. It tried to starve itself, got hospitalised, and I ended up bottle feeding it. I then had one baby that I swore to bottle feed from the word GO. I mix-fed for a bit, and then ended up exclusively breastfeeding it.
Meh. I know this: Breast is not best. Fed is best. Whatever is getting you all through the day is best.
And aren’t we bloody lucky that some genius out there invented formula so if and when things go tits up, so to speak, your baby can eat, and grow and thrive?
2. It’s hard.
Nope, harder than that. And IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS.
When I first thought about breastfeeding in an NCT class more than four years ago, I thought I knew it would be painful etc, but that I was strong and tough enough to power on through it.
Ha ha ha ha ha! I was so cute. Stupid, but cute.
The bleeding nipples. The thrush. The mastitis. The hot and cold chills, the hallucinations, the sweats. The bullshit cabbage thing. All of that. But then also the fact it’s a knack – a physical trick of coordination – that for someone who can’t throw, catch or even hold a pen properly – was never going to come particularly easily or naturally.
Instinct? PAH! I have no instincts. If I’d have been born in a time where people needed basic instincts I’d have been strangled at birth, or I’d have eaten the wrong berry, cuddled the wrong sabre tooth or fallen off the wrong cliff. And the baby IS RELATED TO ME. By, like, birth.
Basically, neither me nor the Small People had a Scoobie Dooby Do what we were doing. I expected the babies not to sleep. I expected them not to want to be put down. I had no expectation at all that they would not eat.
Which brings us to 3.
There is no right way to do it.
Nobody else will tell you this. When things got hard, you see, I sort of expected there to be actual answers, and for people in the medical profession to give them to me. You know, in order to do the best for me and my baby and stuff.
In fact I received so much conflicting advice from the endless rounds of midwives, health visitors, healthcare workers, Doctors and breastfeeding support workers, based on so many different organisational, social and personal agendas, I – a relatively intelligent and heavily educated woman of some maturity and experience – couldn’t make head nor tail of it.
Here, you try.
– No, love, use the cradle hold.
– Don’t put your hand there.
– Support the head.
– Make sure she can move her head.
– Don’t put your fingers there!
– Use the C shape.
– Support her back!
– Try the rugby hold.
– Try it lying down.
– Don’t lie down! You’ll suffocate her!
– Make sure she’s got breathing room – press down just by the nipple to create a space.
– What are you doing? Get your hand out of the way!
– She’ll eat when she’s hungry, let her sleep.
– What? Why haven’t you fed her? Wake her up every two hours to feed her!
– Every three hours.
– Every four hours.
– Three hours from the last feed.
– Three hours from the end of the last feed.
– Three hours from the start of the last feed.
– Four hours from the division of the last hour of sleep you got, plus the number you first thought of.
– Feed her on demand.
– Babies don’t starve themselves you know!
– What do you mean she won’t drink anything?
– Your latch looks good to me.
– She’s not latching properly!
– Wake her up by tickling her feet.
– Wake her up with a cold cloth.
– Try an ice cube.
– What are you doing with that ice cube??? They don’t do that in Guantanamo Bay!
– Pump after every feed.
– Pump before every feed.
– What are you doing pumping before a feed? She won’t get the foremilk!
– Pump until you get to the hindmilk.
– Foremilk and hindmilk isn’t really a thing anymore, love.
– Why are you still pumping? It’s time to feed again!
– Keep it in the fridge for six days.
– No! Are you mad? Freeze it for six days, and keep it in the fridge for 24 hours once it’s been opened.
– 12 hours if it’s steralised.
– Take away another three hours.
– She’ll take as much as she wants.
– You’re not feeding her enough!
– Try a pipette.
– Don’t use a pipette! Try a feeding cup.
– Don’t tip it up so much – she’ll choke.
– She’s not getting any like that is she? You need to tip it further.
– Don’t obsess over the millilitres.
– What do you mean you’re not counting how much she’s had?
– She needs at least eight feeds a day.
– She’ll let you know when she’s hungry!
– If you use a bottle now you might as well give up – it’s a slippery slope.
– Why aren’t you topping up with formula after the breastfeed?
– Before the breastfeed.
– Halfway through.
– Just mix pumped breastmilk and formula in the same bottle.
– Don’t mix milks! Are you mad??
– Have you tried a Nuk/Nimby/Dr Browns/other expensive brand?
– You need a latex nipple.
– Boil the water first and refrigerate.
– No – the formula powder has to be made with boiling water to get rid of the bacteria!
– Let it cool on the side.
– Don’t leave milk on the side! Put it in the fridge!
– You’ll have to throw it out now.
– Let’s look at this latch again.
– Try flipping your nipple in.
– Not like that.
– No, wait for her to open her mouth!
– Open her mouth for her.
– Always bring the baby to the breast.
– Always bring the breast to the baby.
– Support the breast with your hand.
– Don’t lift the breast!
– Try and catch her bottom lip.
– She might have a tongue tie.
– There’s no evidence of a tongue tie.
– Try nipple shields.
– Nipple shields are the work of the devil! You’ll just end up on bottles!
– It’s not thrush.
– It’s definitely thrush.
– Go and see your GP about the thrush.
– Ask your midwife about the thrush.
Etc. Repeat to infinity.
Confused yet??? Well I was. Until I figured out that despite all the research and the science and the medical professionals etc, you basically just have to apply common sense and do what feels right for you and your baby.
Which sucks, as nothing feels right because you’ve just had a baby and three nights/weeks/months/years of ZERO sleep.
If you made it through the above, this might seem nonsensical to you. But once you’ve cracked it, there’s no denying that breastfeeding really is very convenient.
The first time around, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong with my formula fed baby to stop her crying. Or desperately trying to make, warm or cool bottles in time to stop the crying.
Second time, I just gave my breastfed baby a breast. Sad? Boobie. Wet? Boobie (and then change). Overtired? Boobie. Wind? Boobie. It solved all problems, always. And life was much calmer and quieter as a result.
I’ll give you that it’s a bit of a tie. I’ve done all the night feeds, and all the early mornings. I’ve missed weekends away with friends and any opportunity for a real lie-in. But the fact remains, overall, it IS easier.
You’re programmed to have a sleep cycle that matches your infant (ACTUAL science, people), and for me that meant that getting up and getting out of bed didn’t feel as deathly as it did with baby number one and the bottles.
Literally, with the first baby, I was homicidal for the first five minutes of being awake, then suicidal for the following five minutes. And then just depressed forever.
Forget all the shit about having the baby weight sucked right out of you etc etc – the big sell pro-lactivists ought to be pedalling to women is this – you’ll find it slightly easier to get up and go back to sleep in the middle of the night.
And sleep – after your baby – will soon become THE most precious thing in your life. (For approximately the next 5-10 years).
Breastfeeding with big boobs (conversely) SUCKS
Having dragged my double Gs around for a good two decades (there isn’t enough alphabet left to explain to you what happened to them when filled with milk), and having spent years spending upwards of £30 on each ugly bra with two inch shoulder straps, I naively thought they would finally come into their own when it came to the real life work of boobs.
Nope. Turns out that that all the extra fatty tissue gives you no lactating advantage whatsoever, and can in fact get in the way.
The logistics themselves are challenging. The sheer ratio of boob to newborn head (approx beachball:apple) is a physical nightmare. The nipple angles and positioning of baby involves both contortion and a lot of propage.
Plus, it is completely impossible to breastfeed discreetly. You are not flashing a sliver of mammary here, you have to drag an entire boob clear of your clothing in order to get your nipple pointing in a direction that’s vaguely latchable.
There’s a word for this process.
And that word is Flollop.
No one want to have to Flollop out a boob in front of their father-in-law. It’s undignified, to say the least.
That of course meant a lot of time sneaking off to the car/bedroom/back room, or planning my day around places with enough cushions, camouflage or other breastfeeding women to feel vaguely comfortable.
Of course it was really terrible for a extro-introvert like me to have to go off on my own all the time for baby cuddles, Facebook time and naps. Awful. Terrible. I don’t know how I got through it, really.
One of the things that ended my breastfeeding journey with the Big Small Person was how utterly gross I found the process of pumping. Seeing my nipple pulled into an inch diameter and rhythmically sucked two inches down a tube, was not how I thought of my breasts or wanted to see them.
It was ugly, and it was graphically reminiscent of a school trip to a Dairy when I was about 7, which I also found pretty disgusting. (In fact to this day I can’t drink milk and think about udders at the same time. I bet you can’t either. Try it and see).
I also went with a cheap handheld version which only did one boob at a time, which cost 40 minutes I didn’t have in between the two hourly feedings, and which had to be spent with my baby cuddling someone that wasn’t me.
Second time around I hired a hospital-grade pump which did both boobs at once in under ten minutes, I got over my udder phobia, set my alarm for two nighttime pumps on top of nighttime feeds, and I built up my milk supply until demand and supply finally evened out.
Pump up the jam, baby. Or milk. Whatever.
Everyone has an opinion: Ignore it.
Breastfeeding provokes strong, strong opinions. People will share these with you, whether you wish to hear them or not. Some will be pro. Some will be anti. All will be influenced by their own personal choices and experiences. (They often will wish to tell you about these, too).
I am opining about breastfeeding in this bloody article.
My very best advice to you is to stop listening – hell stop reading – and do what you want, where you want, how you want.
This is harder than it looks (are you still reading???) because you’re tired and weak and want definitive answers that don’t exist, and the people telling you stuff are often medical professionals and friends or family that you respect and want the best for you.
I’m yet, for instance, to have a conversation with my (lovely and supportive) Dad that doesn’t include the phrases ‘You’re not still breastfeeding that baby are you?’ and ‘It’s time to knock it on the head, love’.
I’ve found it incredibly hard to articulate to even my husband – even to me – why winning at breastfeeding the second time around was so very important to me. And how much it’s meant to me all these months on to be able to do that for my baby.
Yup, I’m going here, despite no 7 on this list. Sorry, not sorry.
I have loved, loved, loved being able to breastfeed my second daughter.
The fact is that breastfeeding is an incredibly easy way to bond with a baby – the skin-to-skin contact, the pleasure/pain of the love that you can literally feel ‘let down’ and swell your breast with milk, the instinctive need your baby has for you, just you, and the succour and comfort only you can provide.
It is not by any means the only way to bond with a baby, but it’s instant and it’s easy and it’s amazing.
You can definitely also bond with a baby over bottle feeding. You get the same eye contact, the same closeness, the same reward for satisfying a need, and the same milk-drunk, floaty-eyed bliss and gratitude.
If I have one regret about breastfeeding it’s that Dadonthenetheredge didn’t get to spend as much time with this baby, in the long, dark, terrible/wonderful hours of the night, the hours your souls touch each other.
Just you, your baby…
…and your smartphone.
Smartphones are the real key to breastfeeding success
What THE FUCK did breastfeeding mothers do at 3am in the pitch black with a baby stuck to their boobs, chronic sleep deprivation, and burning isolation, self-doubt and hormones?
These must have been dark, dark times indeed.
Now we can all Google ‘green poo’, laugh at the passive-aggressive dickheads on Mumsnet, cry at the news, read trashy books, and Facebook our friends.
Happy World Smartphone Week, everyone!