'What I didn't know and wish someone had told me about'...Breastfeeding
by Martina Minarik
Growing up in Sweden - where 98% of children are breastfed (according to a report published by UNICEF in 2018) and breastfeeding in public is perfectly acceptable - it seemed obvious to me that I would breastfeed my children. Besides, “mother nature takes care of it, so why wouldn’t I?!”, I thought.
The parenting course my husband and I dutifully attended - to find out everything there is to know about the early stages of parenting - held an extended session solely dedicated to breastfeeding. And whilst I don’t blame the teacher for advocating breastfeeding, she did paint a rather rosy picture of it.
Personally I find breastfeeding amazing when it works. Holding your baby, watching them feed and smelling that newborn scent makes my heart burst with love. All goes quiet and the crying that typically precedes a feed stops... As your baby gets more efficient and faster at breastfeeding, it’s also quick and convenient to walk around with all their meals readily available.
But few women experience breastfeeding entirely without pain and frustration. Here’s what I didn’t know and wish someone had told me about breastfeeding:
Although breastfeeding shouldn’t technically be painful if it’s happening correctly, in reality it is painful for many women. Either precisely because it’s not working correctly (incorrect latch is the most common cause of breastfeeding pain) or because of issues such as cracked nipples (which can be caused by poor latch or simply because nipples aren’t used to being munched on), mastitis (a condition that causes a woman's breast tissue to become painful and inflamed) etc. Few of my friends found breastfeeding so painful that they dreaded every session...clearly, they are not alone!
Many women feel shame when they realise breastfeeding isn’t happening naturally and therefore choose not to speak about it initially for fear of looking like a lesser mum and woman. Few dare to whip out the bottled formula in front of a table of breastfeeding mums, because the breastfeeding advocates of this world - whilst doing a good job spelling out the benefits of breastfeeding - have also managed to paint a picture of formula as near poison and turning to the bottle as an irreversible offense.
Even if your baby latches on like a pro from the get go and you find breastfeeding wonderful, it can be frustrating at the same time. For the first couple of weeks I spent anywhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours each time I breastfed my daughter. Experts might say that she wasn’t feeding, she was soothing or possibly cluster feeding (i.e. taking several feeds close together), but to be honest I couldn’t really tell the difference. All I knew was that she would scream if I took her off the breast, so I let her get on with her “on-demand” feeding. Sometimes I couldn’t get dinner going or leave the house or get back home if I had gotten stuck feeding out and about.
You might have a wonderful experience from the start, I just wish someone had prepared me for the fact that breastfeeding doesn’t always happen naturally or doesn’t always feel like the best thing in the world.
Breastfeeding Tip #1. Make sure you have nipple cream in your hospital bag and start applying it as soon as your nipples feel sensitive. Here are a few nipple creams that have been reviewed by madeformums.com. Alternatively you can apply your own breast milk. Some mums swear by it, but personally I found warming up a bit of cream between my fingers before applying it to be most effective.
Breastfeeding Tip #2. When feeding at home, make sure you have a comfortable set up, such as a comfy chair or sofa, that allows you to maintain a good posture. I used a Brest Friend breastfeeding pillow. It’s great because it stays in place but I found that I needed to bring it up higher to avoid hunching over, so I kept a folded towel in my “breastfeeding basket” along with a few essentials: a phone charger, a big bottle of water, some snacks, books, magazines, and remote control. You could there be a while…
It is important to have a comfortable set up that allows you to maintain a good posture when breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding Tip #3. Out and about...It’s all so personal. In the UK I felt more self-conscious about breastfeeding in public than in Sweden due to the fact that most breastfeeding mums seemed to use some sort of “cover”. I remember fumbling underneath a large scarf, trying to get my daughter to latch on on a scorching summer day whilst she was screaming, covered in sweat, wriggling and flapping her arms and with fabric getting in the way of her meal. If you’re trying to be relatively discrete, here are a few options:
- If it’s not too hot, a wide, boyfriend-style shirt works pretty well (just unbutton the middle bit). You can also wear a regular button down tank underneath, for added discretion.
- Similarly, a button-down tank under a loose top or sweater works pretty well (unbutton the tank and pull up the top).
- Breastfeeding tops have been tailored to facilitate breastfeeding. There are a few options but my favourites were double-layered breastfeeding tops (with a wide opening in the inner layer), because from the outside they look like a regular top. Nothing frumpy or obvious about them. As a result, I still wear some of my double-layered breastfeeding tops eighteen months after I stopped breastfeeding (not a bad investment afterall!). Breastfeeding tops also save you carrying around yet another item in your changing bag. NINE+QUARTER offers a range of on-trend, organic, easy to rock, double layered breastfeeding tops.
Breastfeeding Tops allow you to feed discreetly.
Breastfeeding Tip #4. If breastfeeding hurts or you’re worried about your baby’s weight, please seek help! Whether you turn to mum friends, local mums groups, facebook or other social network groups, breastfeeding support groups, lactation consultants or health professionals (you name it!), you should find plenty of non-judging women willing to help! Please don’t be afraid or embarrassed to open up and reach out, you’ll soon realise just HOW MANY mums struggle to breastfeed!
Breastfeeding Tip #5. If you can get through the first three weeks it often gets easier. BUT if it doesn’t and you decide to bottle feed instead, don’t beat yourself up either! You’re NOT a bad mum! You’re not poisoning your child and you can still give him or her plenty of skin to skin contact, love and comfort, right?!
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding and reluctant to discuss it with anyone, please read this honest recount by NINE+QUARTER contributor Amy, “What I didn’t know and wish someone had told me about..Motherhood and finding your feet.”
Martina is the founder of NINE+QUARTER, a brand new range of maternity and breastfeeding clothes.