I’m not going to lie, I never gave much thought to breastfeeding before having Rio, other than it being something I really wanted to do. Little did I know how difficult it was going to be, and what an unexpected journey and experience, I certainly hadn’t realised I would have to deal with just days after giving birth (when your body is already so sore and all over the place, your hormones are through the roof, and you’re overwhelmed to the max). I can safely say, had it not for being incredibly stubborn and persevering with it, I would have probably had to stop breastfeeding after a few weeks. One of the main incentives for writing this blog post, is that there are so many things I wish I knew beforehand! Not to mention the difficulties and issues so many of us mama’s experience. Of course, not everyone wants to breastfeed (which is up to each and every mum – no judgement), then there are the ones who wants to breastfeed, but physically can’t do it due to supply (and certainly don’t need any added pressure on top of that), and then there are the ones like me, who was fortunate to have lots of milk and desperately wanted to breastfeed, but with a baby who wasn’t able to latch on properly… So here is my story, along with some personal advice which I hope might come of use to fellow or new mummy’s-to-be…
The First 24 Hours
I never forget the first time I tried to breastfeed Rio. The first few hours are all pretty hazy to be honest, but I remember it was within 15-20 minutes after giving birth. I was moved into a ward, and he was placed on my breast straight away. It seemed to me that he latched on instantly, whilst I was in and out of deliriousness with Sam by my side (oh the joys of being drugged up to the max). Come that same evening, I forced Sam to go home to get some sleep (we both hadn’t slept for nearly 2 days), and I was suddenly all on my own, and moved into a private room for the night. I instantly regretted sending Sam home, as I have never felt more fragile and vulnerable in my life. It was pitch dark outside, I had been moved into this secluded and nearly empty ward, all whilst having this precious little bundle with me, with no clue what I was doing. Although I was still a bit out of it at this point, I had started feeling a bit better during the last few hours, so I was more conscious about continuing the breastfeeding. This is when it first noticed how difficult it was. The midwifes were milling around, and there was a bell by my bedside I could press if I needed any help. I called for help 2-3 times that night, as I realised he wasn’t really latching on properly (although at this point, I thought it was all down to me doing something wrong). The midwives were showing me different techniques, but it wasn’t really working. Then one very firm and authoritative midwife, basically held and squeezed my breast and placed it ready for Rio. He then latched on properly, and the feeling was amazing. A bit sore, of course, but I was just so relieved that he was getting his milk! The following afternoon the midwives were satisfied that I would manage it on my own when I got home (although I wasn’t sure about this, but I was also desperate to get back to my house), and they discharged me.
The Week After & Discovering Rio was Tongue-tied
In the days after coming home, the breastfeeding was a real hit and miss… Something just didn’t feel right. Of course, this was all new to me, but I just found it so hard! I always just envisaged that he would latch on straight away, and it would be a bit sore, but pretty straight forward! On the second day of my midwife home visit, she wondered if Rio might be tongue-tied. I was swiftly referred to a lactation specialists who also did home visits, and the following day she confirmed that Rio was indeed tongue-tied, and did the procedure on him at the comfort of our own home. In the following days we just assumed that the latch would now be sorted, and although it did get a bit easier, it was still ridiculously painful, and my nipples were literally being chewed up (I won’t go into too much detail, but it was pretty grim and a very sore sight). After a few more days, something still didn’t feel right, and then (unfortunately) I developed Mastitis (inflammation to the breasts). I would possibly say that my personal experience with having Mastitis was as bad as childbirth! I was already all over the place, my breasts were in the worst state, and then suddenly I had 40+ in fever, with hallucinations, feeling of having to faint and like someone was holding a lighter on my nipples. It was the most painful experience ever. I quickly realised this was not something I couldn’t ride out on my own, so I was put on antibiotics (ones which were safe to take during breastfeeding), and thankfully I started feeling better within a few days.
At this point, I guess I could have stopped breastfeeding. Rio was still not latching on properly, it was excruciatingly painful every time he was feeding, and I was still so weak after the child birth, all combined with the Mastitis (which makes breastfeeding ten times more painful). We got the lactation consultant back in again, to help with the latch and take another look at Rio and his tongue. In disbelief, she confirmed that the tongue-tie had come back again (it’s rare, but does happen). So poor little Rio had to have the tongue-tie incision again. This time, I was hoping it would solve everything, and that his latch would be sorted, and it did, but it took time…
The lactation consultant suggested using nipple shields, which turned out to be our saving grace, but also something which I ended up resenting months down the line. After lots of trial and error, Rio was now finally getting more milk (I used the MAM Nipple Shields). Fortunately he was born a big boy, and was still gaining weight week-by-week. There are some that suggest that nipple shields can hinder your body’s ability to pass on antibodies to your baby, but honestly, even if that is the case (I’m still not so sure), I couldn’t have done it without them! So we went weeks, months, only feeding via the nipple shield. At first it was great, as it obviously protects your already sore (in my case, chewn down!) nipples, but after a few weeks I tried to start weaning him off the shield – and that’s when the problem started. Where he had become so reliant on the shield (it’s much wider, more elongated and easier to grip), he now had no idea what to do with my own nipples! This went on for months and months. I tried so many different techniques to wean him off it (starting off with the shield and trying to switch half way, elongating my own nipples to get him to grip onto it, going cold turkey with no shield, etc..), and nothing seemed to work. I felt like such a failure, and even though I was so grateful that I had so much milk to offer in the first place, it felt so frustrating that he wasn’t getting it via my own skin (if that makes sense). But one day I decided to dedicate a whole day to making this work (something I had been recommended to do from the lactation consultant). I stripped us both down so we had full on skin-to-skin contact, and gave it a go without the shield, and after a few seconds of fumbling around, he latched on! I cried. I was literally sobbing of joy and disbelief. From there on onwards, it was pretty much smooth sailing in terms of latch and feeding (he was a hungry boy!).
Mastitis & How To Try To Avoid It
As mentioned, I was very unfortunate to develop severe Mastitis twice within the first 3 months, the first time was less than 10 days after giving birth. The first time I got it, was due to Rio not draining my breast properly, which left me with blocked milk ducts, which causes the infection. I did have it very bad though ( several friends of mine who got it, only had tender breasts without any of the other symptoms). Anyways, Mastisis is another thing I wish I knew more about in advance. So at least I could prepare, and be aware of at least manually draining the breast as much as possible in the early days, so not to get those clogged milk ducts. Fortunately my GP spotted that it was Mastitis as soon as she saw me – I was put on (breastfeeding friendly) antibiotics, and within a few days it was cleared. The second time I got Mastitis around 3-4 months in, it was the same symptoms, burning sensation, hallucinating and high fever (and was again, due to a blocked milk duct). Again, another round of medicine nipped it in the bud, but throughout both rounds of Mastitis, breastfeeding was extremely painful. I did do some pumping to relieve some pressure off the breasts, which definitely helped. To sum up this section, if you’re planning on breastfeeding and you’re concerned your milk is getting stuck, be conscious of massaging the breasts as much as you can in the beginning – either manually, using warm cloths or in the shower. Even regular pumping can help! Anything to keep it flowing.
Why I Love Breastfeeding
Now that I’ve spoken a lot about the truth and reality about my breastfeeding journey, I want to focus on all the positives! Whilst I did have a rather dramatic and painful experience with it during the first few months, I persevered because breastfeeding is SO WORTH it. Not only is it the most amazing thing you can do for your baby if you’re able to breastfeed, it can also protect your baby from a range of illnesses early on and throughout their lives, as well as lowering your own risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. It’s super convenient, it can give you more sleep, it helps you bond with your baby, and last but not least, it’a a great calorie burner! Not that this was my main incentive to breastfeed, but it felt good being able to eat what I wanted the first few months (breastfeeding makes you very hungry!) and the weight still dropping off.
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. I think because it took us so long to get pregnant in the first place (we had help with conceiving in the end), I now more than ever wanted to be able to breastfeed. Fortunately my body was ready for it too, and once we got the first few months out of the way, I loved every minute of it. There’s something to precious and rewarding about it, and I hope I can do it all over again if we have a second baby!
Having a Routine (& Feeding Out and About)
When you’re feeding on demand, which is the case for the majority of us in the beginning, your breasts are constantly producing milk (hence why they’re so big and full the first few months). After some time, they get into more of a rhythm, especially if you start with a routine quite early on. This is one of the things I find so fascinating with breastfeeding; the fact that they tune into your body and routine, and automatically start producing milk for when you need it. I started a routine with Rio at 7 weeks, and this definitely helped with the flow and created a more regular milk production. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to feed on demand, but for me personally, I wanted more structure and fortunately, Rio thrived off being in a more set routine. He was getting less agitated, when thinking he could have milk all the time, and he also started feeding for longer during his main feeds. Read more about my month to month routines in my Mummy Diaries series.
I’ve had a lot of questions about feeding when out and about. I think breastfeeding is the most natural thing you can do, but personally, I preferred to keep myself covered up using a nursing cover (or a giant muslin). I did struggle a bit in the beginning doing it in public, and I was quite self-conscious about the whole thing, but after a few months I got so used to it that I never gave it much thought! During my 14 months of breastfeeding, I have never had any comments or stares (that I was aware of, anyways!). And if I had, I would definitely say something. Breastfeeding your baby in public is 100% normal and natural, and I hope you don’t let anyone ever make you feel otherwise.
Feeding To Sleep & How Do You Know When They’ve Had Enough?
There’s so much talk about whether it’s good or bad to feed your baby to sleep. In my opinion, do what works for you! Personally, during the day time, I never fed him to sleep, but this always happened during the evening feed (which was great, as he would go straight into his cot after the feeding, fast asleep). The months when he did wake up 1-2 times a night, I would transport him into bed with me, feed him (I stayed awake), and transported him back into his bed after, fast asleep. When I decided to start cutting the nighttime feeds, I would just go into his room and soothe him whilst he was still in the cot, until he went back to sleep. This was easier said then done, and although it worked eventually, there were several times I was too tired, so I caved in by giving him a little top up. But I persevered, and eventually (and especially after 6 months when he began on solids and he was more full up), he started sleeping right through.
In terms of knowing when they’ve had enough, this can be quite tricky – again, especially in the beginning! Rio was (and is) a very hungry boy. But I soon realised when he had enough milk, and when he was just chomping away for the comfort. Firstly, a good way of knowing when your baby is done, is when your breasts feels nice and empty. Other than that, your baby will usually feed until he/she is done, and if they’re still going after 40-50 minutes you can pretty confident that they’ve had their fare share, and you’re probably safe to latch them off (or keep them on, until they decide to pull off themselves – totally up to how you feel about it). I would usually let him go until he was ready, but when breastfeeding was really established 6-7 months in, I would simply have to de-latch him (for practical purposes).
They say pumping is great for milk production and supply, but as I had oversupply, it was a great way to relieve my breasts when they weren’t being drained properly (mainly in the beginning). After that was sorted, I was conscious not using it too sporadic or frequent, as the more you pump, the more milk your breasts will produce (however do bear in mind, that this might be essential for some – we are all different). For me anyways, the breast pump was a lifesaver for the times I was away and I had to prepare milk bottles in advance, or for when I was away without Rio and had to relieve my breasts, or when I was sick and unable to feed him myself. As we also wanted him to get used to the bottle (which was a challenge in itself), I started pumping and freezing a lot, so Sam could get involved giving him milk too. To sum it up, the breast pump is great (I had the Medela Swing), and something I personally couldn’t be without in my breastfeeding journey.
When, Why & How I Stopped
Without putting too much pressure on myself, I always envisaged myself exclusively breastfeeding for at least 12 months. After managing to get over the first few months and going through two rounds of Mastitis, I pretty much felt invisible when it came to breastfeeding (I swear it made me a stronger person, overcoming those issues). I decided to not put a specific time or deadline to finish, and just go with the flow. I had been told that Rio might let me know when he’s had enough (by either biting or refusing the breast). Fortunately, neither of those things happened. However shortly after his 1st birthday, I happened to have a foot operation, which meant I would be away for a day, combined with the anaesthetic being in my system (which meant I was unable to breastfeed for 24 hours), and then I had to be in bed for 4-5 days after to recover. My husband and I agreed that this would be a good test, to try to wean him off the breast (although inside, I wasn’t quite ready). As he was now over 12 months, it was safe to go straight onto full-fat cow’s milk instead of giving him formula, so that made it an easier and more straight forward transition – seeing as we had never made up a bottle of formula before and he LOVES cow’s milk. From one day to the next, he switched to the bottle. It all happened a bit too fast for my liking, as he seemed to have just forgotten about my boobs! In one way of course, we were very lucky, that the transition was very straight forward and smooth, but a small bit inside of me was a bit sad.
However, after I had recovered from my operation, I went back to the morning breast feed, and then a bottle of cow’s milk at night. I did this until he was just shy of 14 months, and then we switched to two bottles (morning and night). I could have easily continued the morning feed for several months longer, but he seemed to happy with the bottle and my breasts had started to feel, and look quite empty (although I still had milk left), so we decided to stop alltogether. I say ‘we’, as Sam was part of the process too. He wanted his wife back I guess!
I’ve had a lot of questions whether it was physically hard to stop and if I had any clogged milk ducts, and the answer is no. As I gradually cut it down, and the process was so slow and gentle, it was a natural and non-painful stop for me. I’m sure if had I stopped months ago, when my breasts were much bigger and fuller, it would have been a different story. I also think it helped that I cut down the feeds over the course of several months, step by step, so it wasn’t such an abrupt end to it.
Medela Nipple Balm – To relieve cracked and sore nipples, ideal for the first few weeks/months.
Lansinoh Breast Pads – Essential for the first months – you will leak a lot!
MAM Nipple Shields – My saving grace in the beginning, and ideal for when your nipples are cracked and sore.
Medela Breast Pump – The best breast pump I’ve tried. Easy to use & clean.
Medela Breast Milk Storage Bags – Great for freezing and building up some back up milk storage.
Nursing Cover – Ideal to cover up for when you’re out and about. Lightweight and easy to use.
Bravado Nursing Bras – I’ve been through my fair share of nursing bras, and the brand I found the most flattering, is Bravado. They’re simple, comfortable and easy to use.
Aden+Anais Muslins – You can never have enough muslins when you breastfeed!
NOTE: As you know, I’m not a Doctor and I don’t have any medical qualifications – so this post is merely based on my own personal breastfeeding journey. Always consult with your local Doctor/midwide/nurse if there is something you are concerned about, or have any specific questions. I am however, as always, more than happy to answer questions/share more details about my experience with you guys – just leave me a comment below!