No one really prepared me for how tough breastfeeding would be to start with! I had this interesting perception that we would both just glide smoothly into a blissful portrait of mother/son feeding and bonding. I know for some mothers this might actually happen and good on you! But for myself and most of the brave women in my antenatal group breastfeeding was a huge challenge. There seems to be so much focus on preparing for a labour which realistically isn't going to last more than a few days, however the preparation I got for breastfeeding was minimal.
Here are some of the things I learned while taking my breastfeeding journey:
1. It can hurt, expecting it to go perfectly immediately will set you up for failure
2. The right latch is essential, but every baby's mouth is different as every boob is different and practice makes perfect. Getting ther perfect latch is the single one thing you can do to prevent issues with supply or nipple damage.
3. Most areas have a lactation consultant either at the hospital or as part of plunket. Their services are usually subsidised by the government and are therefore free. USE THEM
4. Talk to other women who are feeding, get their stories. Sharing a problem truly makes it easier to cope. kellymom.com is a great website with a whole lot of useful info on successful breastfeeding.
5. Lean on your partner or support person, let them bring you snacks and drinks or hold flailing baby arms while you try and latch a small hungry mouth
6. Lanolin cream is great to use but it is not an instant cure, put it on the nipples before they start to get sore, I found the pain didn't kick in for a few days.
7. Calendula is a godsend for nipple cracks, It's natural and speeds healing. If you have an all natural lotion you don't necessarily have to rinse it off before baby's mouth goes on the nipple.
8. Get a great set of breast pads, for the first month the only ones that didn't stick to my poor sore nipples were disposables but now I have a great set of silk lined merino ones that have a hemp core. You can make these (more details in later blogs) Breast pads help keep nipples dry and protected and let them heal in between feeds.
9. If you need to use a nipple shield or express then bottle feed to get through a week of extremely sore nipples then you need to. Don't let anyone pass judgement on the decisions you make to cope. If it works it works.
10. Have everything you may need to cope with breastfeeding BEFORE you have the baby, there is nothing more delightful than heading out on a cold wintery morning with a screaming baby and boobs that feel like they have been hit by a bus to scout out lanolin cream or nipple shields.
11. You will get advice and information from a lot of different sources, take only what you need and always get another opinion if what you have been told doesn't feel right.
12. For engorged sore breasts cabbage leaves really do work!
13. Ignore the naysayers, there will be a whole host of people who encourage you to give up or make back handed comments about your decision to breastfeed, your baby's weight or even how they feel about breastfeeding in general. They may mean well but they are not taking your journey and therefore have no business undermining your effort.
14. Contact the La Leche League before you have your baby, before I had my son I was given the impression that mums from the LLL were militant and over opinionated. I couldn't have been more wrong. They are friendly, helpful and offer a whole range of supports for new mums including a lending library, meetings and mums who would happily come and help you get your latch right or offer advice over the phone.
15. Get really good maternity bras, try them on before buying and wait until your supply has settled before investing in a whole bunch. One or two will get you through those first few weeks. avokado.co.nz is a great site for larger breast sizes and comfortable supportive maternity bras.
16. And finally, have faith in your boobs, they were after all built for this and even if it's tough, perseverance usually wins the day.
The single most important aspect to a mothers success in breastfeeding is knowing that physically she is capable and that if things do go wrong with the correct support she can overcome the issue.
One thing a lactation consultant told me that really rang true and helped me understand how babies work is that sleeping and feeding are very much one and the same. If one is not going well then you can't expect the other to go well either. The thing to bear in mind is that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the most important thing is firstly a happy healthy baby and secondly a happy healthy mum.