At the close of evening on this first day of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m in my bed and thinking about what I would say to a new mum or a second or third time mum even who is about to take on this journey.
I didn’t necessarily make the decision to breastfeed, I mean to say I didn’t debate whether I would or wouldn’t. It was simply the obvious and straight forward option for me. I was pregnant so what would happen next? Well, I would have a baby and that baby would be breastfed. Simple.
I can’t tell you honesty where that instinct came from. I knew absolutely no one who had breastfed. My mother hadn’t; I didn’t know of any relatives who had and being one of the first of my friends to become a mum, I also didn’t know anyone in that peer group who had. I don’t think I had ever even seen real life breastfeeding happen anywhere ever in my life. But yet it was my strongest instinct.
It didn’t work.
I mean, it worked in so far as for the first seventeen days of Lily’s life she was feeding and content and doing great.
I was not content.
I was not doing great.
I was utterly lost.
Seven or eight straight days of agony when she latched on; chapped nipples and bleeding breasts; engorgement followed by a close brush with mastitis. Add to that dreading hearing soft little grunts of her starting to wake because waking meant feeding, feeding meant hurting, hurting meant crying. My crying. After all of that I just couldn’t face another feed. I sent her daddy to talk with a pharmacist and bring back everything I needed from bottles to formula. I genuinely couldn’t face another day and I had nothing left to give.
This is not a normal breastfeeding journey. This is not successful breastfeeding. This is not how it should be or will be for you.
This is breastfeeding without the most vital and necessary component.
If I spoke today to a mum who is counting down the days until contractions and waves and grunts and pushes lead to her new baby in her arms then I would say first and before all else, breastfeeding absolutely requires SUPPORT.
Support for everybody.
Dad needs support because honestly and with much respect, he’s just going to be doing his best without really having a clue what he should be doing! Dad will be running as much of the show as he can because mum will be sitting and nurturing and tending to baby and in those first couple of weeks, baby needs a whole lot of mamma nurture. So accept offers of help from visitors. If your neighbour asks do you need anything then tell her you’d be delighted if she emptied the dishwasher. She did offer! If granny asks what she can do, tell her the washing machine is filled with stagnant burp clothes you just can’t get around to and your last clean one is on your shoulder. People love to be needed and it’s definitely alright to ask for or accept a hand!
Mum needs support. So, so much support! Everything is new and you’ll worry half to all of the time about what you’re doing wrong, what you should do better and what if you break the baby? Breastfeeding in along with that is a brand new skill; it’s not one you can realistically practice until you’re thrown in the deep end. What do you do?
- Reach out to others who have conquered the skill already. Maybe at some stage of the third trimester you might start getting in touch with some online groups or local support groups. Don’t be afraid to go along to a local Cuidiu or La Leche League groups and talk to mums and breastfeeding councillors there and even if technically speaking you don’t have a baby, he or she is cooking away in there and now is a great time to calmly chat with new friends who will support you when baby is in your arms.
- Read up. There is some super website full of information which is accurate and reliable like Kellymom or Dr. Jack Newman at the International Breastfeeding Centre.
- Give some thought to where your confidence levels lie. You can’t and shouldn’t hide at home for months and you will want to get out seeing friends and civilisation again, you will also need non microwaved coffee once in a while. This all means breastfeeding in public to some extent. If you feel you need it, there are many places that offer a feeding room in shopping centres and such. There are options on what to wear to make you comfortable with lots of nice nursing and maternity tops and dresses in the shops. And one more thing to remember? It is your legally protected right to nurse your baby in any place and at any time that you so wish. You cannot be asked to stop, move or leave and in my personal experience, over ten years of this, I have never once been asked to do any of those things nor have I had any negative feeling towards me while nursing my babies.
- Go easy on yourself. This is not an easy time, it’s pretty intense for a while but it’s not a long while. You might hear talk of the magic six week mark and trust me, when I went ahead with breastfeeding the second time around I armed myself with my support and focused on week six. I tell you, the moment it all clicks is almost audible. You’d swear you heard the pieces fall gently and beautifully into place and from six weeks on it is all so much easier. Go easy on yourself.
So, who else needs support?
Siblings. If this is not the first baby in the house then chances are the little one who previously held the Centre Of Their World crown might be feeling left out. New babies pull a lot of focus and attention both from mum and dad and the many visitors. Siblings will need a little extra support, maybe keep a favourite book close to where you sit to nurse so as to make the best of cuddling baby and reading something fun and heart-warming to the big brother or sister. A bit of extra fuss and reassurance added to heaps of praise will support siblings through mum’s breastfeeding journey.
And my last suggestion when it comes to who need’s support for a successful time with breastfeeding has to be:
Get yourself on down to your favourite department store in the final few weeks and get the girls measured and fitted with a hard working but pretty maternity bra. Pretty is still important, even more so at this time! Your size will change significantly in the first weeks after baby arrives, when your milk really comes in around day three you might be shocked when you pass the mirror and do a double take at the double D’s! Get two or three really good nursing bra’s to start you off and maybe revisit the size guide after magical week six when your body regulates milk supply to baby’s demand.
So, that’s it. If I was to say one thing to you today it would just be surround yourself with loving support and trust your instincts. When you worry that something is not working or you feel something is uncomfortable then go to your tribe, ask for help and keep on believing in yourself and what your body is wonderfully equipped to do. By taking this advice myself I went on to nurse the second time for three and a half years and the third baby for another three years. Not everyone will want to do extended breastfeeding but when you consider I lasted three weeks with my first born, to get three years means that I did something right. I found my support.