Whenever you see images of women breastfeeding online, they always look so tranquil don’t they? A perfectly presented Mom (with not an eye bag in sight and normally wearing a pristine white trouser suit!) sits gazing down at her newborn, his tiny hand curled around her fingers, both of them calm and content as he suckles happily upon her chest.
Is it any wonder that the reality of breastfeeding comes as a bit of a shock?
We are constantly presented with this image of what breastfeeding should look like; that when the reality is somewhat different, it can make women feel like a failure. I think it’s important to start your breastfeeding journey with your eyes open about some of the challenges you may experience along the way. Here are some of the things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding takes practice for Mom and baby
Different to how they’d have us believe, babies aren’t always still and calm during feeding. In fact, they can wriggle and move a lot. You may find they kick or wriggle on the breast, tug pull or unlatch from your nipple or even scratch and claw at your chest.
In those early newborn days when your baby is still learning how to feed effectively; it can feel like you spend more time positioning and helping them latch effectively than they do actually feeding. It can take a while for both you to find a rhythm and until you do so; it’s a little like trial and error and takes practice to get it right.
Breastfeeding divides opinions
Almost everyone has opinions on the right way to breastfeed, how you should hold your baby, how often they should feed and how long to feed them for. The frustrating thing is that even medical professionals can have alternative views, meaning you can feel bombarded with information over load from well-meaning individuals trying to help. It’s important to remember that how, when and till what age you continue to breastfeed your baby is a very personal choice; and ultimately it is your decision. Whilst advice and support can be helpful, you should also take it at face value and work out what suits you best.
Cluster feeding is relentless
I was prepared for the sleepless nights and fully expected regular wake ups for feeds, but no one warned me about cluster feeding. Those evenings where your baby won’t be put down and it feels like they are permanently attached to your breast, leading to exclamations of “She can’t possibly still be hungry!!!”. These moments can make lots of women panic that their milk isn’t good enough, when in reality, cluster feeding is a phase that most newborns go through whilst they regulate their feeding patterns and encourage milk stimulation. It’s exhausting but thankfully it doesn’t last forever.
Breastfeeding can be messy
No one ever warned me about the necessity of breast pads. I remember the first day my daughter went slightly longer between feeds, resulting in a huge unsightly wet patch on my t-shirt as my breasts decided it was time for a feed (whether my baby was there or not). My let down was particularly strong, meaning that at times my breasts would literally spray milk in multiple directions. Breast pads very quickly became one of my diaper bag essentials!
The Love / Hate Pendulum
There will be times when you want to stop. When you’re tired of the constant wake ups, being the only person who can settle her and feeling like you never get a break. Then other days, you’ll sit in that chair before bed with them asleep on your chest after a feed and want time to freeze. These special moments just the two of you are precious and the thought of stopping isn’t something you want to entertain. It’s quite common to flick between these two emotions on an almost weekly basis!
One thing is for certain, when I started my breastfeeding journey with both of my girls, I never expected to breastfeed until they were 2. There were lots of ups and downs along the way, but quite simply, I wouldn’t change it for the world.