Breastfeeding. It’s the most natural thing in the world… apparently. So why is it that every mother I’ve ever met has found it so hard? Whether it’s the lip-biting pain in the early days, recurrent bouts of mastitis, leaking boobs, feeling embarrassed to do it in public or all of the above – it’s rarely a smooth ride.
With my firstborn, we got off to a great start. She emerged after a 36-hour labour, took a few breaths of hospital air then immediately started scanning for my nipple. She located it, latched on without a fuss and began happily suckling. We stayed this way for two weeks and the weight piled on. She didn’t lose an ounce.
But at three weeks, the mastitis kicked in. It was excruciatingly painful, exhausting and emotionally draining. And it kept coming back. Our great start was now a breastfeeding journey fraught with tears and anxiety (for us both). Fortunately, we got through it and I continued breastfeeding her until she was 15 months.
With my second, I knew it would be easy, as long as I didn’t try to do more than my body was ready for. It was over-exertion that had caused recurrent mastitis the first time. Things would be calmer with my second, easier. I was excited.
But he couldn’t latch properly. The pain was unbearable; like lightning bolts striking from his mouth into my breast. My nipples were bleeding. I cried during night feeds. But, with lots of emotional support and practical help, we nailed it. It felt like the biggest achievement to get through those early weeks. He’s still exclusively breastfeeding, at six months.
So, with two varied experiences – each with their own challenges – I have discovered some excellent ways to make your breastfeeding journey smoother…
I often compare the tips of your nipples as you embark on breastfeeding to the fingertips as they learn to pluck the strings of a guitar. Initially, the skin is so delicate it feels really painful – but with practice, it hardens and you no longer feel it. To help soothe sore nipples, invest in some nipple cream. It really does help.
In the early weeks, while your body is getting into the swing of milk production – and it turns from watery colostrum to thick, creamy milk – you will probably leak a fair bit. It will soak through your bra and your top. So get yourself some breast pads to pop in your bra and absorb the milk.
Talking of bras, nursing bras are a necessity. With a little clip on the strap, they pull down at the front – on each side – to allow easy access. This means you don’t have to undo your whole bra and lift it up awkwardly or remove it for feeds. Also, they’re super comfy and won’t hinder milk production, like normal underwire bras do.
I didn’t bother with one first time round but with my second I did and it was AMAZING. It hugs your stomach and the baby’s body rests on it while they feed. It means you don’t have to hold them up with your arms, which puts a real strain on both your triceps and your back/neck.
These seem really strange and useless until the baby emerges and suddenly you use 20 a day and can’t wash them quickly enough. They can be used to wipe up leaky boob milk, baby sick, your tears… you name it, a muslin cloth can clear it.
When I had mastitis, it was sometimes easier to pump milk and feed my baby from a bottle (breastfeeding through an infected boob can be really painful). For this, you need a breast pump. They are also great for collecting milk so that your partner can help with night feeds (though I’m yet to persuade mine to do this).
Be kind to yourself
Breastfeeding can be a lovely way to feed your baby – and it’s full of nutritious goodness. But for some it can be a challenge to establish and maintain. So be kind to yourself. Throw as much money as you can afford to at it, because being comfy and pain-free is imperative. And just be kind to yourself. You’re doing an amazing job.
Disclaimer: this post is sponsored by Asda.