Tuesday, 29 September 2015

My First 6 Weeks As A Breastfeeding Mother

Hey everyone! Hope you are all well and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Long may it last!

As you know I have been super busy myself with a newborn! My little girl was born on 19/8/2015 and is just perfect. I got my lovely Gentle Birth and had a beautiful drug free birth - exactly as I hoped for. I cant believe she is 6 weeks tomorrow! It has flew by in a haze of Pampers and night feeds and I want time to slow down so I can enjoy my little bundle as long as possible!

I have decided to write this post about my breastfeeding journey to date. Tomorrow marks my 6 week anniversary of our first feed and I felt it was a good thing to post on given that National Breastfeeding Week begins on Thursday next the 1st October 2015.

For me, breastfeeding was always something I was going to do for this baby. I unfortunately did not even attempt breastfeeding my now 12 year old. I was young and it wasn't even on my radar at the time. I did not understand the significance of breastfeeding and assumed formula was the same.  This time around though I knew it was the only way I wanted to feed and I was determined I would do it.

As a Nutritionist I am profoundly aware of the huge importance of breast milk for gut health, the prevention of autoimmune disease, development of healthy immunity and brain. It is one of the first questions I address during consultations with clients, as being breastfed has such long reaching effects on health. As someone who truly credits nutrition as a gateway to health, giving my baby formula was not something I wanted to do. It just wasn't for ME.

In saying that I know that many women struggle with breastfeeding because of lack of support, lack of education and sometimes other issues such as hormonal imbalances. I was acutely aware of the benefits but would I succeed?

The Challenges Of A First Time Breast feeder

My journey has not been plain sailing. I am not going to lie - at one point I did exclaim "If this is natural why is it so hard"?! I wasn't naive about how tough it would be. I had read the books in preparation - I knew about cluster feeds and mastitis. About the milk taking a few days to arrive. I had read about the baby's tiny tummy and the adequacy of colostrum during the initial days. I knew the importance of skin to skin, of taking to my bed and enjoying my baby and trusting my baby and I on this lovely journey of mutual learning. However I still wasn't prepared for the huge task of being the only one able to feed my baby. To having zero nights off in the beginning, despite being absolutely shattered. Of doubting my supply and my ability to persevere. Of painful nipples which seemed like they might never heal. It is hard work!

However that incredible feeling of hearing their weight gain and knowing YOU helped to grow her with your body is amazing. That she has survived every moment from conception to this because YOU exist. That feeling of love as she latches on and looks right into your eyes, her hand stretched out on your breast as if in a whisper "I love you Mam". That pride that you are giving her the best chance at preventing disease and illness through life, nurturing her as nature intended.

And the cracks healed. And the nights become more achievable. And the feeds less difficult. And one day you wake up and you realise you've made it. You got over that initial hurdle and you finally feel you can keep going. You finally feel like you're not a novice any more. You are a breastfeeding mother..

Our journey is only beginning in many ways, I know that. But I often hear that the first weeks are the most difficult and I believe that. Here are the tips I feel helped us in our journey to this point:

1. Preparation is Key

For me, preparation during pregnancy stage for breastfeeding was key to my success to date. I often hear people say that there is nothing to it - "Just latch the baby on". If only that was it! In order to have full knowledge of normal newborn behaviour, understanding cluster feeding, having the confidence to know your body can and will be able to this as well as the knowledge to know when to get help, you need to be prepared BEFORE the birth.

  • Read books - the best one I could recommend is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which is written by The La Leche League (LLL), an international league of breastfeeders and support. It really is the bible of breastfeeding and covers everything you need to know
  • Establish Your Support Network - Attend a local meeting while youre still pregnant. They welcome pregnant ladies and will offer you information, guidance and sense of breastfeeding as the norm. I actually attended my local one while in labour! You can find a group in your area on their website here www.lalecheleagueireland.com Talk to other family members who have breastfed.
  • Check out online resources - www.kellymom.com is one I have found great. 
  • Join an online support group - I found a great facebook group for Extended Breastfeeders in Ireland which I joined while still trying to conceive. This allowed me to have lots of time to see the common issues which arise for breastfeeding ladies and how to address them. There is also always someone there who has been through the same as you so you don't feel alone. I also joined an online Mother group and really benefited from the advice of other experienced mothers. 
2. Trust Your Body

Unfortunately we live in a society which is very familiar with formula feeding and often lacks in its knowledge of breastfeeding. Well meaners will often give their tuppence of advice and a common misconception is that because breastfeeding babies feed little and often and not in fixed three hour spurts like formula feeders they are "not getting enough". Do not listen to this! Your body knows what it is doing and it is doing as nature intended. Babies are not designed to go for extended periods without feeds, especially at the beginning so trust yourself. Unless that person has actually breastfed themselves take their advice with a grain of salt. It takes time for both you and your baby to learn this art so do not be hard on yourself. 

3. Get Help Early

There is nothing wrong with needing help. It is better to get help than to struggle and give up. Seek out a lactation consultant in your area while still pregnant and call if you need to. It was the best money I ever spent and meant my painful nipples finally healed. If budgets are tight consider buying less clothes or other unnecessary baby items or asking for the consultation to paid for as a gift. It is money well spent. LLL volunteers are often very helpful too so get their contact details early. 

4. Never Quit On A Bad Day
I have been told this many times and I am glad I listened. I have had days I questioned whether things would ever get easier. Days that the allure of a 3 hour gap between feeds sounds amazing but I am reminded that all babies are hard work. Formula is not the fix all many claim it to be and colic, reflux, constipation and wind are issues many formula fed babies struggle with. Anyone I have spoken too who gave up when things were bad regretted it so stick with it and take it one day at a time! 

5. Invest in a Sling
This is the best advice I got. I purchased a Moby Wrap during pregnancy and it has been a life saver on more than one occassion. While a clingy baby is not a breastfeeding issue per say, keeping baby close supports good milk production and bonding. It also means you get work done with 2 hands! You can buy one here

Update: One Year On (Almost!)

I cannot believe I am updating this post almost a full year later! It has been an amazing year, filled with pride, love and laughter. In typical maternal style I can't quite believe how fast this year has gone, we are just 2 weeks away from Amelia's first birthday and still feeding.

When I wrote the post above at 6 weeks post partum I remember feeling I had turned an important corner, that I could finally envision continuing long term. I still had a lot of journeys to overcome but I am so happy and proud to have got this far.

My new advice?
Keep feeding, ignore the nay sayers and enjoy every milky cuddle. Surround yourself with people who understand and accept you. Avoid those who don't.

Because before you know it those babies will need us less and less and even the cluster feeds will feel nostalgic (seriously!)

Take it one day at a time, don't worry about "when" you are finishing and ignore what society thinks you "should" do.

When will I stop? I don't know. But I DO know it will be when my baby and I are both ready. And not a second before that.

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

1 comment:

  1. Oddly, I found your site when struggling with being very hungry breastfeeding twins and struggling with not being able to eat any of my old 'go to' healthy snacks. So for me, your Christmas cake was a top tip. Agree with your other tips too. Also found networks of other breastfeeding mums helpful.