I love the NHS breastfeeding awareness posters and leaflets. Calm, serene mothers gaze peacefully down at beautiful babies, or laugh with friends as they both breastfeed on a park bench. I wish that had been me.
A more accurate poster might show a mum holding a newborn to a breast with one arm and using the other to change a toddler’s nappy, or trying to load the dishwasher with the baby clamped in place.
I’m no expert in breastfeeding, but I have done it for a total of 28 months (14 months for each of my babies) and I’ve noticed some gaps in the advice I was given. Forewarned is forearmed, so here is the stuff I think all new mums need to know.
1. It Can Hurt. A Lot.
I can’t remember midwives telling me "if it hurts then you’re doing it wrong", but that just isn’t true.
Yes, if your baby is not latching properly then it will hurt and you need to get help before you end up with an infection. But there is a certain amount of toughening up that your nipples need to go through in order to breastfeed successfully.
When my second baby was brand new I actually had contraction-like pain when I breastfed, as the hormones caused my uterus to shrink – I hope poor Olly can’t remember me biting on a pencil and hissing obscenities.
But don’t be put off, it doesn’t last long. And – see point 11 – there will come a day when you are sad to stop.
2. Breastfeeding Covers Are Not Subtle
You can buy all sorts of specially designed covers and protectors to hide your breastfeeding from view. Let me tell you now that the most discrete way to feed is to forget all that stuff and simply stick the baby’s head up your jumper when it’s time for a feed (this gets easier as you and the baby get better at feeding – in the early days you may need a bit of practice).
If you start unfolding a breastfeeding tent then people will stare. I remember the first time I breastfed Harry in public I ended up putting a blanket over my own head, so I could see what I was doing. Trust me, people stare more at Blanket Woman than they do at a quietly breastfeeding baby.
3. It’s Really Hard To Remember Which Boob You Fed From Last
By the time you’ve been feeding for a few months this will be just instinctive but in those first few weeks it is really important to feed evenly from each breast.
When you’re tired and the baby has been feeding for what feels like five hours, this can be pretty hard to manage. I used a charity wristband and simply switched it from arm to arm depending on which breast I began the feed with.
4. You Forget That Nipples Are Private
I’m not saying that breastfeeding mums should flaunt their nipples all over the place, but when your boobs are doing something so very functional, you sort of forget that they could ever be considered sexual. I remember feeding Harry in the car when a wasp flew in through the window, so I leapt out of the vehicle, flailing my free arm.
A group of squaddies stopped and stared at me and it took me a moment to realise this was probably because my breasts were entirely uncovered.
It was embarrassing, yes, but once they realised my predicament they actually helped get the wasp out. See point 3, people are nice!
5. People Are Mostly Supportive
There are so many stories in the press about café owners telling mums to feed in the toilets, or strangers telling mums to cover up. Well, I have spent more than two years breastfeeding and I have never, ever been told I should cover up.
Once, in a café, an elderly man came over frowning and I thought I was in for a fight, but he was actually bringing me my purse, which I had left on the counter. People are overwhelming good and supportive, so don’t be put off by the media horror stories.
6. You Have To Get Creative In Bed (TMI Warning)
Okay, this is awkward to talk about but somebody has to warn new mums. When you’re breastfeeding, sex can be a bit awkward. Seriously, nothing kills the mood like a sudden gush of milk. So unless you intend to live like celibates for the first six months then you need to work out a plan.
I recommend feeding the baby first to reduce the chances of being interrupted, which also reduces the chance of leaking. Next, I have personally found that wearing a bra during sex for those first few months makes everything feel a bit more romantic and a bit less yuck. And I don’t mean a massive breastfeeding bra with clips, I mean something lacy and attractive that can make you feel temporarily less like a life-support system to a human tamigotchi.
7. Pumping Is Easier Said Than Done
“I’ll just express so I can still go out while my husband feeds him,” I said airily, just before I gave birth to my first. This is a good plan – anything that allows your other half to do a feed while you sleep is a good plan.
But expressing is not as easy as it sounds. I used an electric pump which was too noisy to do in front of the TV and too gross to do in front of my partner (it’s not a good look for your nipples). You’ll spend hours and barely express anything, but gradually you’ll be able to pump far more so stick with it.
8. Babies Grow Teeth
If you’re breastfeeding properly, the baby’s teeth won’t be able to close around your nipple. That’s the official advice and it is true. But what it fails to mention is that when babies are teething, they will bite anything they can reach and so you should expect the occasional gnash.
I found that removing the baby from the breast and saying "no" in a firm voice helped, especially when combined with sending my husband abusive messages about his demonic child.
9. Get A Bottle In Them
Neither of my sons took a bottle, not even of expressed milk. I am pretty sure this is because I followed the official breastfeeding advice and didn’t offer one until they were six weeks old. But that meant that for the first six months I could not go out, could not sleep through the night, could not leave the baby with my mother and spend the day with my partner.
So, wait until breastfeeding is established and going smoothly but then get a bottle in them!
10. Formula Is Not So Bad
We are all so obsessed with how good breastmilk is that we end up thinking that bottle-feeding is ‘bad’. Well, it isn’t, it’s designed to provide adequate nutrition to your baby. If you can’t breastfeed, or you decide you want to give it up after a few days or weeks then don’t beat yourself up over it, it’s about what works best for you and your baby.
And if you don’t want to breastfeed full-time then you can always combine bottle and breast, it’s not as black and white as it’s made out to be.
11. You Won’t Want To Stop
If you’re at the start of your breastfeeding journey then you’re probably a bit sore, a lot tired and already looking forward to the day you can put away the breastpads and go back to using bras without hideous clips. But trust me, when it comes you will feel a little sad.
Because by the time your baby can crawl or walk, those lengthy newborn cuddles will be a distant memory. Breastfeeding will be a rare moment of quiet; a loving peaceful cuddle amid the chaos, and you will miss it.
What tips would you share with a new mum? Tweet us at @YLifestyleUK.
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