Breastfeeding for me, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve trekked through the Himalayas… so, that’s saying something. I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to breastfeed both my kids for two years each. If someone had told me that I would feed them for that long in the first few weeks after the delivery of my first child I would never have believed them because at that stage, I was very sore, sleep deprived, and quite frankly shocked that no one had actually told me how tough getting to grips with it all would be. I thought about giving up a thousand times, yet somehow, the next morning was a new day and a chance to try again. Through a combination of patience, support, will power and sheer perseverance I eventually got the hand of the technique and despite all the pain and heartache, it was definitely worth it.
My children are older now and I always insist on talking to new breastfeeding moms about the challenges that come with taking this path, not to scare them, but to prepare and equip them on the rewarding journey that may lay ahead. It goes without saying that although the research and evidence speaks for itself in terms of the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding your child for the baby and the mother for at least six months , it’s not the only way to feed and nurture your child therefore guilt trips and judgement inflicted on yourself or by others should be avoided at all costs.
Here are some of the myths I wish I’d known.
After you’ve given birth, your milk will quickly come in
It may come in… but when this occurs is different for everyone. I am married to a pediatrician and had read all the pregnancy related books, but when my first child arrived, I fumbled around for the first few days trying to decipher whether I was still producing colostrum – the rich, creamy substance – or whether my milk had finally come through so that I could finally give my baby a proper feed. Although I knew that my colostrum was enough to keep him happy while by body got itself in order, it was stressful. After three days I felt it come through and finally got the ball got rolling.
You’ll get the hang of it after a few days
Sorry?! Did someone say a few days? It took me several weeks, maybe even a month to get to grips with the technique and process. I changed positions regularly, tried various pillows and cushions, bought nipple shields and every nipple cream known to man I kept tweaking my diet to see if the changes would help with increased milk production (I think they did but I was not in the right state on mind to conduct a controlled experiment) and tried homemade remedies such as placing cooled lettuce leaves on my sore and aching chest to help my body recover in between feeds. It wasn’t the blissful ideal of motherhood I’d been sold by mainstream media or my own naïve illusions of what breastfeeding would entail. But did it get me through the first few months? Definitely.
You’ll know when the baby has latched on
What I found difficult was that despite trying various positions and speaking to women who know/medical staff, people kept telling me that if the baby is latched on correctly I shouldn’t be feeling any discomfort or pain. But the reality is, once your breasts and nipples are sore from the new experience of it all, you will feel some pain or discomfort until your body becomes accustomed to the process. All the soreness and aching will dissipate with time and as you master the process, but it’s unrealistic to think there won’t be any tenderness if the baby has latched on correctly in the beginning.
Twenty minutes on each breast and you’re done for that feed
Ahhh… maybe some people are able to live the twenty-minute breastfeeding dream, but a whole load of others aren’t so fortunate. At first, you may have the baby on you for much longer, with plenty of breaks in between as the baby takes a break from the guzzling and musters up the strength to go back to the breast for top ups. Don’t be dispirited by using other people’s timings and experiences as a marker of success. You may be able to reduce feeding time once your baby becomes more efficient at drinking, but it may not be that way at the start.
Some people just can’t breastfeed
There are a small number of women who can’t breastfeed (true low breast feed supply, suffering from an infectious disease, previous breast surgery and so on) but the vast majority can.
If you breastfeed, the father won’t feel involved
In the early days, fathers can feel a bit like a third wheel as you and your baby bond and spend lots of time together trying to nail this whole breastfeeding business. Feeding is important but so are others activities such as skin-to-skin, babbling and talking softly with your new-born as well as help with bath time. Mom will appreciate the respite and dad will reap the benefits of getting involved.
Using a breast pump is quick and easy
I thought that expressing would be the answer to my prayers in terms of allowing other people to feed my babies with a bottle. Although I found electronic breast pumps to be more effective than manual versions, it always took me quite some time to express milk. Some women find that their milk just flows and they can be done and bottled within ten minutes and others may be sitting there with their beloved pump for up to an hour. It’s a laborious task at times but does give you flexibility and the chance for a break. People who tell you there’s ‘no point crying over spilt milk’ have clearly never accidentally spilt breast milk.
Once the baby’s teeth come through, you’ll have to stop breastfeeding
I had visions of piranha fish style attacks on my body from stories of baby teething from other breastfeeding mothers. Once my son’s teeth started to appear, he did accidentally try to bite my breast as he tried to feed, but I stopped at that very moment and emphatically said, ‘”No!” which he understood. It is normally possible to train your child to put their teeth away during feeding time if you wish to carry on.