A reality check on breastfeeding
Many of us think about breastfeeding as a time of peace and relaxation where you and your baby share a closeness. The light hits you just so and your hair falls beautifully over your face. A scene of serenity and perfection.
A bit like this (and our cover image):
The reality is something very different and funnily enough, not something captured on stock photo sites.
Screaming baby who’s too worked up to eat, frustrated mother on the verge of tears, helpless partner who doesn’t know what to do and a messy bun at best with hair that hasn’t been washed in weeks.
Yep, breastfeeding sure isn’t an idyllic picture.
Here’s five home truths about breastfeeding that every about to be mother needs to know:
You need to teach the baby to breastfeed
This is natural, right? It’s eating. Your baby should come out of the womb knowing how to do this. Unfortunately not. Babies, quite literally, need to be taught everything including how to feed.
You need to teach your baby how to latch on properly (turns out it’s more than just sticking a boob in their face). There is the perfect amount of the breast that needs to go into the baby’s mouth in order for them to be able to get the milk out.
You’ll need to learn how to hold your nipple so that it’s easy for your baby to find it. You’ll need to learn how to hold your breast so the baby doesn’t suffocate. You’ll need to learn how to stroke your baby’s bottom lip while gently pushing down on their chin to get them to open their mouth. You’ll need to learn to be firm but not too forceful otherwise, the baby might get scared and refuse to feed.
And like everything, it’s going to take practice, practice, practice.
The milk doesn’t just flow
Again, the assumption that the baby will arrive and milk will naturally flow to feed them is wrong. Firstly before there is milk there is colostrum. This is a thicker, yellow fluid that is incredibly nutritious (more so than regular milk) and is high in antibodies. Your body produces colostrum for three to four days and then, your milk should arrive.
Be warned, colostrum can also take some time to arrive as well. Your baby probably won’t be strong enough to suck it out on their own so you’ll need to massage your breasts to start the flow (because colostrum is so thick, pumping is not recommended). Stanford Medicine has a great video that gives you the step-by-step on how to hand pump.
But what’s really weird is you will be able to feel your milk arrive.
It’s called the “let down” and it means that your milk is ready to flow. Women have different sensations when they have a let down and it can range from barely feeling anything to something that is quite painful and off-putting. Most women describe it as a tingling or pins and needles going through their breasts.
Nipples get sore, they crack… they can even bleed
I can feel you all grabbing your chest as I write this. If the baby is in a poor position or not latching correctly then your nipples can start to feel really sore. If this continues, the skin on the nipple will be irritated and inflamed, resulting in grazes or cracks and sometimes even bleeding.
If this does happen, there are different creams and guards out there that can help with the pain. It might also be worth investing in a lactation expert to get some pointers on positioning and latching (as really, breastfeeding shouldn’t be this painful). They will also be able to assess if there are other physical issues at play like a tongue tied baby or an infection.
While incorrect latching is the most common reason, there are times when you’ll need to consult your GP.
It’s mind numbingly boring
No one ever talks about this but breastfeeding is actually mind numbingly boring. You are sitting there for up to 45 minutes (sometimes longer!) with nothing to do while the baby feeds.
A quick scroll through various mum blogs and you’ll see that women do feel guilty doing things while their baby is feeding but many acknowledge that it’s a fact of life. It's also a great time to get things done while the baby is distracted (like shopping for Christmas gifts, one handed eating or binge watching Gossip Girl).
It isn’t for everyone
The final thought is breastfeeding isn’t for everyone and that’s OK.
Some babies are tongue tied and the corrective operation is more than a mother wants to put the newborn through. Some women don’t have enough glandular tissue to breastfeed (a condition known as mammary hypoplasia). For some women, it’s just too much with all the other changes in their lives and that’s OK too.
We all know the motto “breast is best” (and it is designed to be the best thing to feed your baby) but there are challenges to the studies that claim there are long term effects of bottle feeding. The most important thing is that the baby continues to put on weight and the mother and baby are happy.
If you are having trouble breastfeeding or do want some support and advice, check out the awesome lactation experts in our consultation section.