Despite wanting to, I couldn’t breastfeed my first-born, so, when my teeny little daughter, Indi, latched on the first time, I was made up. I remember thinking “my body isn’t broken after all!”
Just a quick disclaimer: this post is not intended to come across as a breastfeeding-bashing session or breast-is-best preach. I’m of the fed-is-best clan, and I will never judge another for their feeding choices. This post is just an honest account of my experience with my second-born child, with a few hints and tips along the way. And this blog is called REAL parent for a reason, to be as honest as possible, to help other parents realise that pretty much everyone finds parenthood challenging 😉
Before I had Indi, I had no real insight into what breastfeeding should be like. I didn’t really have any in-depth conversations with friends about it, and I think it’s one of those things that until you have experience of it, it’s hard to really take it all in. To outsiders, it’s kind of like, ‘stick the baby on ya boob and they drink’. That was pretty much my school of thought, too.
Funnily enough, it’s a lot more complex than that! I’m going to throw some words around that might make an experienced breastfeeder smile (or grimmace). Hopefully these 15 things will give you a little insight into the challenges that breastfeeders face, and tackle, daily (and even hourly, if you have a hungry baby!)
1. Nursing clothes can be very hit and miss
I don’t feel comfortable getting my boobs out in public, so it took me a good few months of practise before I could confidently feed in public without feeling like I needed to errect a four person tent around me in the middle of Pret. To get over my fear of feeding in public, I invested in a load of nursing clothes from asos. They do an ok range of nursing and maternity clothes and underwear, and I took advantage of their occasional sales to save a bit of cash. Turns out nursing clothes don’t come cheap, especially if you have any level of passion for looking good!
When you buy specific nursing clothes, you usually get concealed panels of fabric that save your modesty a little when having to breastfeed. I also found these clothes handy when family and friends were round, as I felt a bit weird feeding under a cover in my own house. The only thing I would say, is that the extra layers of fabric don’t really help when you’re feeling a little body-conscious already. It depends on the cut of the garment.
2. Nursing bras don’t have to be boring, but they do need to be functional
Nursing bras can look really old fashioned, so, if you want comfort, function and fashion I would recommend getting your nursing undies from Asos again, or Mothercare. I liked to wear Emma Jane nursing crop tops at night (or two whilst working out), and fancier Mothercare ones when I could be bothered to leave the house. I also liked this Asos own brand bralet style, but a tip – the support was not there for the bigger boobed amongst us, so steer clear of that one if you are a D cup or bigger.
3. Engorgement, aka boulder boobs, can strike when you least expect/need it, and are a pain in the…boob
When I first started feeding, my poor boobs didn’t know what they were doing from one minute to the next. When Indi was having a growth spurt, and feeding more than normal, they would fill up with milk and turn into rock-hard boulders – this is totally normal, but is a bit of a head-f*ck, because you can’t really get on top of it, and it’s really unpredictable. It’s also amazing how your body just adapts to how much your baby needs.
I will never forget when Indi was about a week old, she was fussing around and couldn’t latch on to my boulder boobs whilst I was on my own in Pret. I was struggling because I was trying to not expose myself to strangers, and hadn’t gotten the hang of this breastfeeding malarkey yet. I was simitaneously trying to not soak my top with excess milk and trying to stop Indi from having a hangry crying fit, and in the struggle, I accidently knocked my salad onto the floor! When I went to pick it up, with Indi still trying to latch under a muslin that I was failing to use to cover myself, I tipped the buggy (with all my shopping and general crap hanging off it) over! At that moment, I fliped, did my bra up, scooped everything up and walked as fast as I could to the toilet and cried my eyes out. I was hormonal, embarrassed, upset and flustered that I couldn’t feed properly in public and exhausted, and my boobs hurt. I sat on the disabled loo, tried to calm myself down, and managed to feed Indi, and release the ridiculous pressure of the boulder boobs! Then I scurried out of the shop, phoned Andy and cried again, proclaiming that I was a ridiculous failure of a mother.
4. It might take a while to get used to feeding in public
Unless you want to stay in your house all day every day, when hunger strikes, you have just got to do it! I have been keeping a mental list of all the odd places I have had to feed Indi. I’ve breastfed sat on a hay bale on the back of a tractor, whilst watching a lamb give birth, and in front of my poor Grandma’s dead body. Yes. It’s hideous, but it was an emergency, it was past Indi’s bedtime, and I had absolutely no choice at that moment.
I can recommend some things to make your public feeding sessions a little bit less daunting.
It took me a while to get used to using slings to feed Indi in, but as soon as I figured it out, I carried her around in them on school runs, whilst at the park, on public transport. Feeding in a sling on public transport is an absolute genius idea, as you don’t need to ask people for a seat on a busy train or bus.
Muslins / Covers
Whilst I was breastfeeding, I was obsessed with the massive 1 metre square bamboo muslins that you can buy. They were great for being breathable whilst using as a feeding cover, to mop up baby puke, to use as a light blanket, as a super-soft pram comforter… I didn’t go anywhere without one. They were so versatile, and kept the stuff you have to carry around to a minimum.
5. Nipple thrush is a thing
In my 35 years of life, I didn’t even know this was a thing. I didn’t actually have it, but my GP thought I did, and treated Indi and I for it (wrongly). The symptoms I was experiencing were actually my old friend, Mastitis. Thrush is a very common ailment for breastfeeders (which is usually coupled with oral thrush in your baby’s mouth). I would recommend reading up on it before going to your GP, as I have experienced quite a lot of contradictory information about thush whilst breastfeeding, and how to treat it. Hopefully your GP has great breastfeeding knowledge, so you don’t have to worry.
6. Frequent feeding can be exhausting
I wasn’t used to a baby who just wanted feeding all the time… Up until about 6 months, it would be every 1.5 hours. Some people couldn’t believe the amount of times I had to feed Indi, but she was, and continues to be a hungry girl. Takes after her Mama! It’s pretty tiring to have to latch a baby on that often, but if you just settle down in a nice chair, play a mobile phone game or do your online shopping, ahem, I mean gaze lovingly into your baby’s eyes, you’ll be done, and your babe will be happy for a little while. I am self employed and I started working again when Indi was 8 weeks old, so my mum (who has been looking after her a few hours a day) would bring her down to me to feed, then take her back up… I would be updating a spreadsheet, or writing an email with one hand, and holding Indi with the other!
7. Clusterfeeding is a bitch!
Clusterfeeding was what nearly made me give up breastfeeding. True story, I found myself googling “what are the benefits of breastfeeding” many a time in my first couple of weeks of getting my supply established. From birth, Indi would feed from about 6pm until 3am CONSTANTLY. With no break. From one boob to the next boob, to the next boob, to the next boob…needless to say, my nipples were absolutely screwed.
My near breaking point was when Indi was a week old, and Andy went out to his Sister’s 40th birthday party (that I desperately wanted to go to, but couldn’t). He left me feeding about 6pm, and rolled in at 2.30am when I was still feeding. He obviously passed out whilst I was left desperately tired and emotional in the corner of our bedroom, trying to get Indi to settle and be satified with what felt like the longest feeding session in the whole world.
Back then, I honestly didn’t know why on earth she was doing it, and until I desperately text all my breastfeeder friends asking them “WHAT THE HELL?!?!?” that I felt reassured that her behaviour was in fact very normal. Once I knew that, I then started to try to get on with it, and hope this phase would pass. It did indeed, but it was really, really, REALLY tough. One thing that got me through that phase was online shopping………oh hi Asos at 2.10am, I’ve missed you. (I don’t recommend that!)
8. Feeds can take aaaaaaages
When you’re a few months down the line, the time it takes to breastfeed does get less, but at the beginning, be prepared to have someone pretty much permanently suckling. Feels went from an hour long in the first couple of months, to 5 minutes in months 5 onwards. I have no idea if that was normal, but that was our normal.
9. Nipple pain is sometimes crippling
Yikes, like toe curlingly crippling. Again, I have no idea whether it was normal, but there were some days (stretching into weeks), where I wanted to scream in pain. There were blisters, blood and scabs. I had absolutely no idea that could happen. It did all settle down, though, and I experienced absolutely no pain whatsoever whilst feeding from about 8 weeks onwards.
10. Breastfeeding rooms sometimes smell…BAD!
Any breastfeeding room is my BFF, and I am so grateful that some companies supply them. They were my absolute saviour in the early days when I just wanted to escape the crowds and do our thang. Sometimes, though, we share a breatsfeeding room with a warm nappy bin. That’s all I need to say on this matter. Get a nose peg.
11. Good nutrition is encouraged, but it takes effort
Throw in a new baby, sometimes siblings running around, holding down a job…and a busy life can sometimes lead to a lack of self care. There are some days that I don’t pee for a whole day! To keep on top of my health, I have been taking vitamin D (Futilium Daily D3 Capsules), and eating lots of fruit and veg, so that I can try to at least nourish myself enough to stay clear of illnesses. I also use Futilium Daily D3 Drops in Indi’s food and water – especially handy to keep a stock, as you can buy it in Tesco where I do my weekly online shop (and other supermarkets and pharmacies of course). Read up on the importance of vitamin D in infants and adults.
12. Your independence takes a temporary holiday
Breastfeeding is a lovely thing, it really is, and I wouldn’t have changed my experience of it for the world. But, it can mess with your independence a bit. I think where I went a little wrong, was that Indi woudn’t take a bottle until she was 7 months old (I tried them all, then weaned her onto a sippy cup with expressed milk in). Throughout those 7 months, I was the only one who could feed her at night (very tiring), in the day (very tiring), through growth spurts (very tiring)… I think you’re getting my drift. If I had a bottle to throw in the mix, I could have had the break I craved. Looking back now, 7 months flew by anyway, and I soon got my me time back!
13. Car journeys can become problematic
Countless times I have had to pull over to wrench Indi out of her car seat and feed her in the comfort of my car. I’ve been on the side of the M25 a number of times, I’ve breastfed in rest stops on French toll roads, I’ve been in traffic, unable to pull over, and have just had to listen to Indi scream until I’m able to stop. Careful planning is the key with this one!
14. Allergies can sometimes strike, which tests you beyond all belief
Where do I start with this one… I am pretty convinced that Indi is allergic to cow’s (and some other animal’s) milk, soya and beef. I’ll write another post all about this, but when you’re breastfeeding, there are some proteins passed through your milk, cows milk protein being one of them. During weeks 1 – 6 (week 6 being the realisation that Indi’s weird symptoms were caused by my milk), my poor baby’s face swelled up, she got rashes, eczema under her eyes, projectile liquid squirting out of both ends, green slime in nappies and nose, coughing, frequent hiccups…this all caused a hell of a lot of washing, and more than a few sleepless nights. If your baby is experiencing any of those symptoms, a trip to the GP may be in order. I was fobbed off a few times by health visitors, but it was a food diary and lots of gross photos that got me a referral for tests…which we’re still waiting for 😉
If you suspect your breastfed baby is allergic or intolerant to something you’re eating, it is good to eliminate it from your diet. You’ll usually see an improvement in symptoms within a few days. As a vegetarian, it was tough to give up milk and soya products, but I managed it, and I would do anything to keep Indi healthy. Now Indi is eating food, she gets similar symptoms when she eats beef, so that’s off the menu for her until we know for sure.
15. Hormones can bring joy and misery all in one moment
The postnatal hormones that I was experiencing whilst I was breastfeeding were making me feel elation one moment, and misery the next. I was a snappy dragon some days, and happy-go-lucky the next. I know hormones can mess with your head, but honestly, I didn’t know how I was feeling from one moment to the next. It was annoying! I can’t have been very good to live with, and now I have stopped breastfeeding, I feel much more in control of my emotions. Towards the end of our feeding journey, I was expressing milk, and every time I attached the pump, I could feel the rush of oxytocin screwing with my brain.
Although the hormones screwed with me a little, I absolutely loved the bond that breastfeeding created between Indi and I. I was gutted to stop at 7.5 months, but it was a natural time for us, and Indi decided one evening that she wanted expressed milk from a sippy cup instead of my boob, and I went with it.
16. Other people’s opinions on breastfeeding can piss you off
As far as I am concerned, unless I’ve asked for someone’s opinion, they can stick their opinions where the sun doesn’t shine. That includes commenting on my two pet hate subjects, such as how long I plan to breastfeed (it’s my choice how long or short my breastfeeding journey is) and how many times my baby wants milk (which in the early days could have been a few times an hour).
17. Weaning can be emotional
My last point here is when you decide to stop. My only experience of stopping breastfeeding is when I stopped at 7.5 months. The first time Indi took the expressed milk from a sippy cup at night, I sat thinking “oh my goodness, I’ve been trying to get her to do this for 2 months, but what do I do now?”. I wasn’t sure whether to just offer her the occasional cup, or to just stick with the cup and end breastfeeding. I decided after a couple of days to go with the latter. It took some very real mummy guilt, and a few emotional moments when I realised what giving up meant, but I think I made the right decision. Indi is happy as Larry, and that’s the main thing.
All in all, my breastfeeding journey has been a pleasure, a pain, and an experience I am very proud of. I am so proud that I have been able to give my baby what she needs from conception until she was 7.5 months old. It’s amazing to have been able to cut out all her hurt and pain caused by allergies, by just controlling my diet, and I’ve also saved the NHS a pretty penny by not having to prescribe special milks. I formula fed Fin, and I cherish the memories from both journeys.