Breastfeeding can be a controversial subject, and I’m not here to judge. That said, I do feel a lot of women give up breastfeeding early because they don’t have enough information about it, and some things can come as a shock if you didn’t expect them to happen. With that in mind, here is some information…
23 things you need to know about breastfeeding
This is not a debatable point; all scientists agree that breastfeeding has benefits for mother and baby alike, including protecting you against cancer, and passing on your immunities to your baby. It also helps you to create a strong and nurturing bond with your child.
2. It’s worth reading about breastfeeding beforehand.
This book about breastfeeding is a great start. Although breastfeeding is “the most natural thing in the world,” a lot of babies will have trouble latching on. And it hurts to start with. That doesn’t mean that you’re rubbish or not able to breastfeed; it just is what it is. Both you and your baby are learning, and you’ll get there in the end. Meanwhile, expect every single member of maternity ward staff, health visitors, family friends, people you barely know to offer you advice. People may even grab your boob as you tru to feed. You will lose all modesty where your boobs are concerned.
3. Buy nipple cream.
Honestly, I swear that Lansinoh lanolin cream saved my sanity. At first, you might think it’s too expensive to be bothered with, but then around three weeks into breastfeeding when you’re crying out in pain every time your little bundle latches on, you’ll be prepared to pay ten times the price for one of those magical little purple tubes. Incidentally, Lansinoh cream is magical and works wonders on just about every kind of skin ailment, especially burns.
4. Buy nursing pads.
Your boobs will leak a lot, especially in the early days. There are a lot of different nursing pads on the market and of course like anything, it’s down to personal preference. I found the Lansinoh nursing pads worked best for me – not least because they actually stick to the inside of your bra properly, so that you don’t lose them or find them floating about your neckline mid-afternoon.
5. Start trying to breastfeed early.
Apparently it is recommended to feed your baby within the first 6 hours after birth, so as to establish your milk ducts to their full potential. Don’t panic if you can’t though; it’s not the end of the world, just useful to know so that you can at least try.
6. Breastfeeding takes time and patience.
No, really. It can take a lot of time and a lot of patience to establish breastfeeding. It’s normal to feel like giving up. But if you persevere and manage to stick with it, it makes life so much easier in the long run.
7. Breastfeeding means accepting that your life is not your own for the time being.
A breastfed baby will need to be fed more frequently than a formula-fed one, and will not sleep through the night (unless you are very, very lucky). This is because breast milk is so efficient, it fills your baby’s stomach and is then used up very quickly. Formula on the other hand will sit in their stomach for a while before it is used up, meaning that baby doesn’t get hungry and wake up.
8. A breastfed baby can be exclusively breastfed.
No matter what anyone tries to tell you, a breastfed baby really can be exclusively breastfed. You don’t need to feed baby cooled boiled water or jouce or anything else. If the weather is hot, your body will know about it, and your milk will become more dilute so as to be more thirst quenching. When your baby goes through a growth spurt and begins to feed more often, this doesn’t mean your milk is not enough and you need to top up with formula or baby rice. Our bodies are incredibly clever, and they notice that the baby is feeding more frequently and increase milk supply accordingly – so within a day or so there is more milk with more calories available and baby doesn’t need to feed so frequently.
9. Clusterfeeding is a thing
Nobody told me about this, and I thought there must be something terribly wrong! As babies grow, their stomachs get a bit bigger and they need more milk – but our bodies are only used to producing as much as they need. Nature deals with it though. As the baby’s stomach empties more quickly they can end up feeding every half hour or so – and this can feel terribly draining for us mums. The good news is that our breasts work on a “demand and supply” basis meaning that your body will produce milk for them in response to demand. You will soon begin to produce more milk so that baby is satisfied. Meanwhile, stock up on snacks and box sets.
10. Breast milk is brilliant
There is no food or drink known to man that is as nutritious and calorific as beast milk. Even when baby starts solids, it will still be getting most of its sustenance from your milk until solids are properly established at around a year old.
11. Visit your local Children’s Centre
Children’s Centres will often have breastfeeding support groups. It sounds odd, and it kind of is. It’s basically a room full of women sitting around in a room, breastfeeding. But you can usually guarantee a cup of tea or coffee, and maybe some jam on toast. Plus you’ll be out of the house, and in a place where nobody stares at you when you’re breastfeeding. There are also experienced helpers with boatloads of advice and support.
12. You are entitled to feed your baby in public.
Breastfeeding in public is actually covered under anti-discrimination law in the UK. Staff or proprieters cannot legally ask you to leave or not to breastfeed in their establishment. A lot of women prefer to wear a scarf or something else to protect their modesty, but apparently you don’t actually have to. I have never tested that theory though.
13. Sometimes babies gag when they latch.
Some women have a particularly fast letdown, and when their little one latches on it can come too quickly and make them gag. There are several different ways to deal with this, so if you find you have this issue, it’s probably best to speak to your health visitor or midwife. Some tactics include changing the way you hold your baby, frequent burping, more frequent feeding, or hand-expressing until the flow slows down.
14. There are different positions for breastfeeding.
On TV or in movies, you tend to see a woman holding her baby across her chest – but many women find it easier and more comfortable to feed a baby whilst holding baby under her arm (like a rugby ball), or (my personal favourite for night-time feeding) laying down. As long as the baby is getting milk and you are both comfortable, it doesn’t matter how you’re holding them. When they get older, they will choose their own position!
15. Choose a comfortable position for breastfeeding
When you’re first beginning to establish breastfeeding, it’s easy to find yourself contorted into all sorts of weird positions in order to just get your baby to latch and feed. Bear in mind though that you will be doing this several times a day, potentially for the better part of a year. Sometimes, especially in the early days, baby can feed for 45 minutes or more at a time. It’s important therefore that you are sitting comfortably and not leaning or straining. Use a lot of pillows to prop yourself and baby into a comfortable position. Your back will thank you.
16. Breastfeeding can take 6 weeks to establish.
The assumption tends to be that you have a little trouble in the first few days, and then everything is hunky dory from that point on. The truth is that it can take up to six weeks, and in some cases longer to establish breastfeeding properly. A lot of women try their level best at it, and give up after a few weeks because they find it so hard, not realising that it’s normal to take 6 weeks to establish. If you intend to breastfeed, it’s best to just give up your life to it for the first 6 weeks and accept that you won’t be doing much else but getting used to it. If you need to, switch the phone off, lock the doors and just sleep whenever the baby does. This phase doesn’t last forever, I promise.
17. In the beginning, breastfeeding is weird, uncomfortable, exhausting, time consuming and completely alien.
I was imagining giving birth to a baby and feeding it straight away and everything being peachy. It doesn’t happen like that unless you are very lucky. It does hurt to start with; your nipples do get sore; you do wonder what the hell is going on. I remember a good few evenings when I was literally stuck to the couch from 6pm to 10pm with barely enough time for a toilet break between feeds. I was at a loss until someone explained that it’s normal, everyone goes through it, and it doesn’t last forever.
18. Breastfeeding is the lazy person’s option
Once it’s established, it really is a lazy person’s dream. No sterilising; no panic about running out of formula or having to remember to buy it. No getting up to warm a bottle and checking it’s the right temperature while your baby screams; no having to remember to take a bottle if you go out, perhaps two or three if you’re out for a while. Baby’s hungry? Find somewhere to sit and open your chirt. You don’t even necessarily need to find somewhere to sit; I know a lot of women who breastfeed with their baby in a sling, while they carry on with their day. The most difficult part of breastfeeding is finding clothes to accommodate your breasts whilst allowing easy access.
19. Breast milk is magic.
Not only does it have the exact right nutrients in the exact right amounts to feed a growing baby, changing as the baby develops, it is also good for minor first aid. Bear with me on this; I know it sounds a bit odd. Babies are often prone to scratching their faces, but if you spread a little expressed milk on a scratch it disappears quickly. Breast milk can also be used in ears to protect against ear infection, when baby has a cold, on nappy rash, eczema, mosquito bites, grazes, rashes, you name it. It’s also good on acne – adult or infant.
20. Breastfeeding can delay your period
If you breastfeed exclusively, it can delay the start of your period. This can last anything from the first couple of months right up to a year, perhaps even longer.
21. Breastfeeding means more cuddles
The down side of breastfeeding is that you can’t get someone else to do it for you while you go and have fun (or sleep). The up side is that you get to sit and cuddle your baby several times a day. It’s not something you can do whilst washing up, cooking tea, ironing hubby’s work shirt or much else except watch TV and have a little drink. Make the most of having a cast iron excuse to sit down and have a break.
22. Breastfeeding helps you to lose the baby weight
Breastfeeding uses up extra calories from your body, so it can help you to lose weight just by sitting on the sofa watching TV. It does also mean that you can find yourself ravenously hungry and horribly thirsty too though!
23. Breastfed babies can go a long time between poos
This is something a lot of people have never heard of, and it’s not the case for all breastfed babies. Before starting solids, S would only poo every 5 days or so. One time she went 17 days without a poo, and showed no sign of discomfort (I did consult a health professional, and day 18 was not fantastic).
This is one of a series of Things You Didn’t Know lists. The others are: