Breastfeeding. ‘The most natural process in the world’. But boy oh boy, it’s a minefield; a minefield for discussion and in practicalities. I always assumed unless there were any extreme circumstances, the only obstacle in the way of breastfeeding was the decision not to. I have many friends with kids and you know whether they breastfeed or bottle feed, but I had never delved deeper than that or even asked why they made their decision. And outside of your circle of friends, you have your ‘breast is best’ warriors, and you have the formula fans but even they don’t go into much more detail than the sales pitch; ‘it’s more natural/cheaper’ or ‘you can share the load more/its easier to get into a routine.’
I discussed the decision early on with my partner and we were immediately agreed that I would breastfeed. My personal reasoning is essentially that I’m quite traditional in nature, the whole point of breasts is to feed a baby…and I truly didn’t give it more thought than that.
Cut to nine months later and I’m sat in recovery after the emergency c-section and it was time for that first feed. As always, it’s not quite like they portray in the films, or even how they portray in the leaflets. Being two weeks early, I was told it might take a bit longer for my milk to come through. However what I never even anticipated, somewhat naively and arrogantly, was that my little one wouldn’t be able to latch on and there was some manual expressing to be done to get things going.
I won’t go into too much detail, but my memories of the hospital based breastfeeding include quite a lot of bleeding, a lot of pain, a tiny syringe pulling places I’d never expected a tiny syringe to go. Still my milk supply came through and with the aid of shields to help baby latch, I was breastfeeding. I have to quite shamefully admit that when two mothers in my ward gave up at various points, I also felt a ridiculously undeserved sense of pride at persevering. And a pride that had me believing that at least the hard part was over. (Oh how deluded I was!)
Nearly four weeks on, I’m still using the shields despite hoping to have ditched them by now. There’s still some bleeding, there’s still a lot of pain but there’s now an added side to things.
Sleep deprivation is a completely expected side effect of having a baby and so that wasn’t a surprise. What I hadn’t anticipated was quite how draining feeding would be on my body. It takes 500 calories a day to breastfeed which apparently is the equivalent of how many calories running a 5k burns. I also didn’t realise how relentless it was. At the moment, Scarlett is a constant cluster feeder, over the last few days, apart from in the morning for maybe two stints of two hours at a time; she wants to feed…constantly. I’ve had to get my husband to do all manner of ridiculous things even just to occupy her long enough to run off for a quick toilet break! The most she seems to stand, is to allow us to change her, then the familiar mouth cue followed by screaming if a feed doesn’t immediately follow!
At first I was worried, she was underweight for the first few weeks, did I not have enough milk? Was I just not able to provide for her? I started having thoughts creep into my head that I obviously wasn’t a ‘natural’ Mum, breastfeeding is the most natural process in the world and I was clearly no good at it. What I didn’t realise is that I hadn’t done one of the simplest of things…I hadn’t asked any other Mums about it. Worried they’d look at me in abject horror at my confession, I imagined them confirming my fears, “she feeds constantly?! My God the poor child needs to be taken from you, you’re starving her,” (I also imagined this being said whilst they casually fill up a few milk bottles with their own ample breasts because…you know, it’s that natural.)
I first tentatively looked online, and…immediate relief. Not only did I not receive hate emails, I wasn’t the only one, in fact the only thing I could be sure of, was that I was boringly average! It instantly made me feel better, and a bit stupid to say the least. But being the over thinker I am, I then immediately realised I had a different issue – this is something nearly all breastfeeding mothers go through, so why did I feel like I couldn’t hack it?! Yes ok so I’d been back in hospital for a second operation and was fighting off an infection but Christ, I certainly didn’t have it that bad realistically! But on closer inspection, it seems most of us feel like we can’t hack it from time to time, and, as it turns out , that doesn’t necessarily make us awful people!
You may be asking yourself whether I’d opened any books or found out any of the (now seemingly) obvious, whilst pregnant? Well, yes I did, but the benefit of google searches once you actually have a baby is that you know what you’re looking to find out. There is so much information about, before you have a baby you have absolutely no idea which bits will apply to you. You wonder, will my child have allergies? Skin conditions? Colic? Cradle cap? You can’t possibly find it all out when you may only need to know 10% of it. God knows I didn’t have enough brain power whilst pregnant to look into it all. (and even know all the possible things to look into!) it’s only really reactively you can learn along the way.
So for some, breastfeeding does come naturally and without much incident and without the intense frequency. For me, one of the challenges has definitely been breastfeeding, but after driving myself insane, although I’m nowhere near having cracked it, I am at least a bit more relaxed about it. If she’s still screaming at me every 5 minutes for a feed in 10 years time I’ll know something’s gone horribly wrong(!) but in the meantime, a few points that currently help me, please feel free to send me some of your own!
1) Above all, relax as much as possible. We will all get through it, whatever the problem; and every day we’re one step further along.
2) Drink and eat little and often, you need the extra calories and it’s so easy to forget to eat when you’re constantly otherwise engaged with a child attached to you. But having being close to fainting on a few occasions only to realise I need some more water or a snack, I’m now putting my husband in charge of making sure I eat and drink enough.
3) Whilst feeding, read magazines/watch TV/catch up on films/start a blog, anything to keep your mind going enough to not make the time drag or be too void of activity so as not to distract you from any pain. Personally, although an avid reader normally, reading doesn’t work for me as it often just makes me even more tired so find whatever works for you.
4) Savour the time, if I have a second child, I may have to try and keep up with a small toddler as well as having a baby permanently attached..or whatever individual challenge the second brings. It seems like madness right now but as tiring, and as painful as it is, it really won’t be long before she doesn’t need or want her Mother, and I’ll look back at this time and cherish the closeness. I’ve mentioned my little brother almost a decade my junior many times before, but I will forever painfully remember a moment when he was about 5 and I was a teenager and he desperately wanted to spend time with me and I wanted to go and see my boyfriend; he came over playfully for a cuddle and uncharacteristically I pushed him away and walked out. The noise of him crying and looking up at the window and seeing his heartbroken crying face pleadingly looking out at me will forever haunt me. The boyfriend is long gone, but so is that precious time with my baby brother who is very soon to turn 21 and not all that bothered about me anymore. (rightly so!) That one experience is enough to bring tears to my eyes every time I think about it and ensures that despite anything, I never take this time for granted.
5) Talk to others, whatever the issue, you are definitely not alone!
Five is all I have I’m afraid, I’m still trying to find ways of making it easier, still learning and having huge highs and challenging lows. But one thing I vow never to do is tell any new Mum that breastfeeding is ‘the most natural thing in the world.’ That’s as may be but there’s no quicker way of making an inexperienced Mum feel inadequate!
Motherhood IS an innately natural thing, but it takes time to find your own style, work out how it works best for you. Each tiny new creature is brand new, doesn’t come with instructions and will come with their own individual issues and difficulties. Nobody will go on the same journey you do, but reassuringly at the same time; I’ve said it hundreds of times (and even then I keep forgetting!) we’re all in it together.
Whatever the problem, chances are you’ll be dealing with it or thinking about it in the middle of the night, which is a lonely time of day when you can’t settle your baby, but one of the wonders of the internet is that if you want to, there will always be someone also awake somewhere in the world with a similar problem. So if you happen to be struggling with feeding, put the kettle on, get comfy, I’ll meet you in cyberspace later…