Breastfeeding and Me
Breastfeeding feels like a taboo subject, there are so many opinions around it, and I want to take this opportunity to first say that "fed is best", as long as your baby is fed, I truly believe it doesn't matter how. I make no judgement about other mums in any way, but I want to share the positive breastfeeding journey that me & Hudson have had, in the hope that some of it may be useful for any pregnant or new mummas out there! I have been lucky enough to exclusively breastfeed Hudson now for 6 months (!!) and counting (although he's having solids now too of course!), and on World Breastfeeding week, I wanted to take the opportunity to share our journey.
In the beginning
When I was pregnant, having watched friends battle through all of the opinions, from professionals to friends and family, and make their own individual choices whether to breastfeed or not, I knew that the most important thing for me was not to put any pressure on myself, or my baby, and to just see what happened. I hoped that I could breastfeed, for a number of reasons, but knew that if it wasn't possible, I would have accepted it happily and bottle fed our little man with no qualms, and to be perfectly honest I didn't think that I would do it for longer than 6 weeks. We bought some pre-made bottles of aptamil ready to take into hospital, and to keep at home to take the pressure off, and Dave and I had discussed trying to feed, and if it didn't work, moving over quickly to formula. Before we had the baby, we had also thought we would likely combi-feed, so that Dave could take over some of the night feeds (I quickly realised this wasn't that simple, as even if Dave took a night feed, I would have had to pump to keep up my supply if we were using breast milk. Plus you get your best milk at night) and I could get a rest. So lets just put it out there, we were (and still are) very open-minded about what was about to happen.
I believe that we set ourselves up as best we possibly could for breastfeeding. I made sure I had a decent breast pump, nipple shields, nipple pads and nipple cream (this is an absolute essential in the beginning, and I would say Lansinoh nipple cream is one of the top 10 items you need when you have a baby).
A friend of mine who is a midwife told me about "harvesting colostrum" and I quickly did some research to understand more. Essentially, it meant hand-pumping from 36 weeks+, something I had never heard of until I was pregnant! It is beneficial incase you end up not being able to produce enough milk in the first few days - for example if you have a c-section (which I did) or if you are away from your baby for any reason - because it means you have some colostrum ready to feed them at the beginning. You cannot start doing this until 36 weeks, because nipple stimulation can bring on contractions (it didn't for me!), and not all women are successful, but it does take some perseverance. I am grateful in this instance, that we were in lockdown, because hand pumping for ~20 mins three times a day, was easy to do whilst working from home. I wasn't spending anytime travelling, so I had time to commit. I started trying it out bang on 36 weeks, and at the beginning it was quite devastating, to spend approximately an hour each day to gain around 1ml of fluid. However, I kept on going, and gradually my supply increased, to the point that in the lead up to Hudson being born, I was getting 10ml of colostrum a day. I was so excited to see my freezer stash stacking up.
After Hudson was born, I was lucky that we didn’t need to use the supply at the beginning, so having spoken to the team at the hospital, we decided to keep it for important events (it stores for up to 6 months). We gave it to Hudson when he had all of his jabs, and when he was a little under the weather. It’s like a vitamin super boost!
Hudson arrived on the 23rd January 2021, at 6.17am, via emergency C-Section. It is all a bit of a blur now, I remember the entirety of my labour in clear black and white, but the first few days afterwards all merge slightly and time seems to have gone at lightening speed, especially Dave's paternity leave (Men do not get enough support from the working world to be able to support new mums and babies enough). Having done a lot of reading in my pregnancy (let's face it, none of us can help it but use Dr. Google) I knew that there was a chance my milk wouldn't come in for a little longer, having had a cesarean. But, after heading down to recovery and having some skin-to-skin time with Hudson, he latched on, and we seemed to be getting somewhere!
Feeding from day 1
I was over the moon with our positive experience, Hudson was instantly ready to feed, and it all seemed to be working, and the midwife who was looking after us said that she was amazed at how easily we had both taken to breastfeeding considering the labour we had been through, and that it was my first time. I told her that I had been harvesting colostrum, and she said that made sense, and may have had something to do with how easy it had been to feed. Because normally, when a baby is born, they are working hard to get your body used to producing milk, it can be frustrating for both parties. But as I had already built up a supply, the 1ml a day my body had been producing at 36 weeks had increased in supply to ~10ml a day, so Hudson didn't have as much of a hard job to get the colostrum out - this was more than enough to feed his tiny tummy. I was so happy that the hard work had paid off.
The first few weeks
The first few weeks of having a newborn baby is utter bliss, and the hardest few weeks of your life, all rolled up into one. I didn't sleep once we left the hospital for around 4 days, for fear of keeping him alive! And every time a midwife or health visitor came to visit (they come a lot at the beginning) I was relieved that someone was checking that we were all doing okay. They checked my latch, and as Hudson began to gain weight quickly, we were happy that breastfeeding was going well. The scariest part of breastfeeding a baby, even now, is that you have no idea how much food they are getting, so when someone tells you they are putting on weight, you know that they are getting what they need. There were quite a few times when I felt that he wasn't getting enough, but we persevered and he managed to increase my supply, and all seems to have worked well to date!
What I will say, is finding the right position for me & Hudson to feed in was so important. There were (and still are) times when it was really tricky to find the most comfortable position to feed in, especially when we're out and about. I usually find the best way for me is sat on the floor! And when we're at home, lying on the bed with him lying next to me is the easiest, but this is mainly because of my fuller bust, it might not be the same for everyone. If we hadn't been in lockdown for the first 10 weeks of his life, I'm not sure we would have continued, purely because I would have found it impossible to feed him out & about without all of our cushions and support.
Whilst we were doing well at the beginning, it always took a few attempts for him to latch on and stay on. I remember around week 8, suddenly thinking, "we've got this" as I think it was when it became natural to both of us. We had worked together to figure this whole feeding thing out, we could get into the right position and we could stay that way until Hudson was full.
The tough side of things
The thing you hear everyone talk about, and I have to re-iterate it, is the pain. In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, it's like putting on a new pair of shoes and walking around and trying to walk through the blisters for miles. Your nipples are agony, it's like someone is slicing them with a sharp object every time your baby latches on (but once they're on, the pain does go away) and they bled and were cracked for about 2 weeks. Lansinoh nipple cream will become the most important thing in your life, apart from your child and partner! But once you're through the other side, they toughen up and the pain completely goes away, it's worth it!
At the beginning, I felt like all I ever did was feed. Hudson would feed every 30mins to an hour, for a good 6-8 weeks, and each time he was on, he could feed usually for 1-2 hours. It felt never ending. But I promise you, it does get better. They become more efficient, and all of a sudden you're worrying because they're feeding for 5 minutes, every 3 hours (or whatever works for your baby) and you can't understand how they're getting enough. (This happened for us around 12 weeks). And then the weather changes, it's 30 degrees and they're super thirsty and want to feed from you all day again. It's complete and utter guess work!
I nearly gave up, I can't remember exactly the time, but somewhere around 3 months I found it really hard knowing that I was the only one who could get up with Hudson in the night (he only ever wakes with hunger), and that I couldn't be away from him because I never knew when he'd need feeding (he's fed on demand) and I was shattered, and I didn't think he was getting enough food because he was crying with hunger so often. I told Dave I was going to buy some formula. I am so glad that Dave put me off, reassured me that my supply was fine, and that Hudson was clearly a happy, healthy baby who sometimes just needed to increase my supply. Because now, my body just seems to get it. I don't ever even really feel like there's milk there, but it just works when Hudson needs it.
Before my boobs calmed down, and figured out what they were doing, there were times when they were really full, and painful. I remember right near the beginning, Hudson slept one night for 10 hours (sadly, this happened once, and has never happened again - he wakes every 2-3 hours now) and my boobs were rock solid, and so so painful. But within 10 seconds of him feeding, they were fine again.
For some reason, everyone seems to have an opinion on how you should, or shouldn't feed your baby, regardless of whether they have children, ever plan to have children or have absolutely no interest in children at all. For me, it's really important to stress that as long as you are feeding your baby, it really doesn't matter how it happens, they will all grow up to be happy and healthy, and their friends are not going to ask them how you fed them! But when you are talking to a mother (or father), no matter how she is raising her child, be supportive. If it's not the route you went down, so what, everyone is different!
I have had times where I've felt guilty for breastfeeding my baby, and I've had times where I've felt I need to explain myself to others, and nobody should be made to feel that way. In my opinion, i've got it easy, because when Hudson wakes up at 4am and needs food, it's instant for us. Those of you who are bottle feeding, amazing work - it's much harder having to get a bottle ready with a crying baby at any time of day, let alone 4am!
6 months on
I am so proud, that I grew Hudson for 9 months, and then when he was born, I continued to be his sole source of nutrition for nearly 6 months of his life. He is now starting to wean onto solid foods, and whilst I am planning to breastfeed him (at least at night) until he is 2 (unless he decides otherwise!) I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Don't get me wrong, I adore him, and I love the closeness that breastfeeding him has brought us (and the money we've saved on formula!). But I haven't been able to be away from him for much more than 2 hours in the last 6 months (he's not super keen on a bottle) and I am still only able to have a very small amount of alcohol (I hate pumping, so the idea of pumping & dumping is just too heartbreaking for me!).
Some of our best buys
We are in the fortunate position that I had a lot of Boots points, and treated myself using them to an Elvie Breast Pump (which I would have sold, had it not worked for us). Despite the fact that I hate pumping because it just feels like an extra chore, this pump is the bees knees. It's well worth the investment if / when you know you are definitely going to be breastfeeding.
Your breastfeeding best friend. You cannot live without it. I put this on many times a day, and it's safe for babies. When they get dry / cracked lips when they're little you can use it on them too - it's amazing!
I started out with disposable nursing pads and they were SO uncomfortable. These stay in place, are much more comfortable, and better for the environment! It's a win win!
Get yourself an extra large muslin/swaddle (this is just one of our favourites). They have so many uses, but when you're feeding out and about, they're so helpful. When they're little, it's great for shielding from the sun. When they're bigger, they're perfect for stopping them getting distracted by other people and noises. Plus, if they're sick, you've got a muslin to hand!
Get yourself a decent nursing bra (or 2). They are a must. I really struggled to find one because I have such a large bust, but I finally got one from this Australian company and it's amazing. The most money I've ever spent on a bra, but totally worth it.
6. The Milky Tee Company T-Shirt - £27.99
You don't need a huge nursing wardrobe, as you can use a lot of existing clothes cleverly (vests will become your best friend!). But it's definitely worth investing in a few staples, and these guys do some really lovely breastfeeding friendly clothes (they have zips) including plain white, black and grey t shirts. I wear mine all the time.
You decide to breastfeed your baby, and realise you can't wear a single one of your dresses. Juno Jacks make the most beautiful dresses (and if you're having a girl, you can even get twinning dresses for them) which are breastfeeding friendly. And you can barely tell, so you will definitely wear them after. If you've got a special occasion, or just want something nice for spring/summer, this is the place to go.
Dungarees are the best thing since sliced bread. Period. But they're even better for breastfeeding, as it's so easy to access. Turtledove make the best, organic cotton dungarees that stretch to fit your size. Get them whilst your pregnant, they will last throughout pregnancy and into beyond. I'm obsessed.
No matter what you decide to do, just remember not to put pressure on yourself. You’re doing an amazing job, raising a tiny human is hard, but the most rewarding thing I have ever felt, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way than exactly how we’re doing it right now 🤍 oh, and don’t worry, you get used to whacking your boobs out in public quite quickly!