Breastfeeding: What I wish I knew

For some reason I have always struggled to write about breastfeeding. It’s been the one thing I am most proud of in my life, and yet I can’t bring myself to share words in a way which is helpful and not upsetting to those who didn’t breastfeed (whether though choice or science).

But, it’s World Breastfeeding Week, from 1st August through to the 7th; a week to celebrate all that breastfeeding is, and all that it can give mothers and children now, and for their whole lives. And so, all this week I will be hosting guest mummies on A New Mum’s Mission, all who will be sharing their own stories, in a celebration of breastfeeding. I hope you’ll see that breastfeeding looks very different for each family, each child. I hope you’ll see that breastfeeding is something worth celebrating.

What I wish I knew before…

It seemed only right that the first post of the week was from me and, as I still can’t quite put into words how I really, truly, deeply feel about breastfeeding, I thought I’d give a brief account of what I wish I had known before.

1. It can hurt in the beginning.

I’m not sure why, but I had the idea that it wouldn’t hurt at all. Perhaps because of everything I’d read which talked of how natural breastfeeding is. I also read a lot saying that it only hurt if their was something wrong with the baby’s latch. The truth is, however that for some people it hurts even with a good latch… and for some people it doesn’t hurt.

Why was I surprised that it hurt? If something is going to suck on to one of the most sensitive parts of your body for hours of the day, your body is going to have to get used to it.

2. Lanolin is amazing.

You can buy lanolin as Lansinoh in the Uk at most supermarket pharmacies. It is AMAZING. I put off buying it for a week or so after my daughter was born, but I wish I’d heard of it and then bought it as soon as possible.

It is incredibly soothing, and you can put it on and not have to wipe it off for baby to feed. On a side note it is also incredible for other issues. Eg. I had really dry lips and lost my lip balm. Problem solved! Nipple cream is worth the pennies.

3. The hunger is real.

I have never known hunger like that of my early breastfeeding months. Top tip from my friend Gemma is to have snacks in every room, just in case. I thought she was being a bit over the top, but oh my goodness she turned out to be so right!

The release in hormones during breastfeeding can make you extremely sleepy, hungry and thirsty too. It’s why I will always return to a little cafe nearby my parents’ where, upon clearing our plates away, the waitress offered me a glass of water because she saw I was breastfeeding.

It happens differently for everyone, of course, but for me the 2am feed was the killer. If I didn’t eat something between 2 and 4 o’clock in the morning, I would wake up at 7am ravenous to the point of being barely able to stand. And so, I would bring a single pack of Belvita Breakfast Cereal Biscuits to bed with me. Then, around 2am I’d eat all 4 of those little biscuits whilst I fed my daughter. It was an extra 400 calories that would see me through the early morning cluster feeding without eating my own arm.

4. Be patient.

It can take 5 days for milk to come in. And in the meantime the baby’s tummy is only the size of a marble. It only needs the tiniest amount of colostrum, and will need topping up regularly with more colostrum.

We painstakingly hand expressed colostrum onto a teaspoon because we weren’t sure of the latch (again, because I thought it was wrong due to the pain, when actually the latch was perfect). I remember telling the midwife on day 1 that we had managed to get 50ml of colostrum and she was thrilled (if not also amazed). I see now, without the new mummy exhaustion, that it was perfectly normal for her to only need such small amounts. It was only from day 4/5 when her stomach was enlarging to that of an apricot that she would need more than colostrum… and that’s when my milk came in.

5. What you pump isn’t what baby gets.

In that first fortnight I recall being quite distressed that I wasn’t able to express very much. It really worried me that she wasn’t getting enough when was on the boob, because you can’t see what’s going in like you can with a bottle.

However, I now know that your baby is far more effective and efficient at sucking milk from your breast than any machine. The amount you are able to express is not necessarily an indicator of how much milk your baby is drinking.

So there you have it. 5 things I wish I had known before I started breastfeeding. None of these pieces of knowledge would have prevented me from breastfeeding. It would have merely given me reassurance in those early days.

Finally, the one thing I wish I had known before I started, the one thing which really matters…

Breastfeeding is hard work, a sacrifice, but it will fill you with infinite joy and pleasure as you see your child physically grow and develop and you know that you did that. Your body did that.

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