(Before you read this, please be aware that this is based on my own experience only. I am not a trained expert, and provide useful links at the end of the piece directing you to people who are. I also think that however you feed your baby is great, whether you’re doing breast or bottle; I’m of the opinion that fed is best. Keep on keeping on, and if this isn’t useful to you I hope I’ll write something else that will be).
It’s a thorny issue, how we choose (or are forced by circumstance) to feed our babies. I was very clear during my pregnancy that I wasn’t going to put myself through the wringer if breastfeeding was too hard. I’d had the most dreadful pregnancy I could have imagined that still had a healthy outcome, and I wanted to let myself off the hook. I felt roughly the same about it as I did about labour vs c-section; however it happens is how it happens. However, nobody beats themselves up quite like a mother.
It was a bit of a surprise to me that Arthur really took to breastfeeding. It was really interesting that he didn’t seem too bothered about what the kind, NHS midwives and breastfeeding experts had told us about how it was supposed to work. We got into the recovery room, lovely Mary the Midwife put the baby onto my chest and helped him to my nipple; and that was that. He was on. He didn’t ‘scoop a big mouthful of breast’ as we were told. He just opened his mouth and sucked. Of course, there was a little more to it later. That would be when I’d start second-guessing myself and wondering if I was doing it ‘right’. I suspect literally every mother with access to Dr. Google goes through that stage, however hard or easy they find it. And make no mistake, some people DO find it hard, but there is a lot of excellent help available.
“If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong”
This is one of the things spouted when I was pregnant that makes me a bit cross in retrospect. My friend summed it up best when she said “Some babies find it easy, some find it hard, but the reality is your nipples have gone from having nothing sucking on them for 24 hours a day to having something sucking on them for 24 hours a day, They’re going to be a bit sore.” This was absolutely the best advice I received. Yes, it can REALLY hurt if your baby is struggling to latch, and if that’s the case you need help, but to suggest you’ll just blithely experience absolutely no discomfort if you’re “doing it right” is rubbish. If your baby is producing wet nappies (and the occasional dirty one) you’re grand. Just keep trowelling on the Lanolin cream until this phase passes, which it will.
“If they can’t do it straight away you need to move on to formula”
Not unless they’re not producing nappies and they’re losing weight. Babies need to learn everything. They even need to learn this. Yes, it is instinct, but they’ve never done it before. If you’re committed to the idea of breastfeeding, keep going and keep feeding on demand.
“It’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding”
Right, so if I try to latch him onto the side of my breast, that’ll work, will it? I was so confused by this one. My husband and I spent that first day convinced Arthur was doing it wrong because he didn’t have a “big mouthful of breast”. Everyone who stopped by took one look at him, nodded and told us he had the measure of it. We couldn’t understand it. What had they all been going on about then?
It was only recently (7 months into breastfeeding) that I realised if I was away for a while and needed to relieve a bit of pressure that it was my nipple I should squeeze to get milk out. Literally, this happened last week. Up until then I’d been kneading the whole thing like I was making bread or something. I’m pretty ashamed of how long it took me to get this. I used to be quite bright.
“ You’re feeding him too much”
No, you’re not. You can’t. If he wants to feed, let him feed. It doesn’t matter if it’s because he’s hungry, or tired, or because he just wants comfort; WHO advice is to offer the breast if your baby cries. If they don’t take it, they’re not hungry. Just smile, nod, and tell the kind advice-offerer you’re following current guidelines (rather than those of 40 years ago, add that if you’re really fed up). It’s really important to understand that at the beginning, as one wise midwife put it, your baby is “putting his order in”. At the beginning there’s no proper milk, only colostrum, and so baby needs to spend ages at the breast. When your milk comes in (and my, isn’t that unpleasant, sorry ladies) it’s supposed to calm down a bit. In my experience, that meant Arthur went from feeding all through the night to maybe 70 per cent of it. It was fine. It was normal. I was just terrified that it wasn’t.
“You need to start her on solids”
There’s a lot of guff about this. I decided to start giving Arthur some solid food at 5 months, and almost immediately wished I hadn’t. He wasn’t ready. He had IGE Mediated Allergic reactions (red rash on his face) to pretty much everything at first, and I have been kicking myself for doing it ever since, because now I have something else to worry about. Now I’m worried that I’ve caused the intolerance by starting him on food early. Pretty much impossible, but hey, Mum Guilt. NHS advice now is that milk feeds are the most important way a baby gets nutrition until they’re 1 year old. If only I had trusted the good old NHS and really waited until I was sure. The bottom line here is you know your baby. Trust yourself, because you are the best expert here, even as a first-time mum. Nobody else has raised your baby, after all. There are babies that sleep round the clock, there are babies that barely nap. There are babies who walk at nine months, and there are babies who refuse to lift a hoof until 18 months. They are all different. Trust yourself, and if you need to, seek expert medical advice.
“You need to move on”
This is really a judgement call. I thought that once you hit six months and the baby miraculously took to eating like a pro, drinking out of a sippy cup as if swigging a pint of best bitter, you could just, you know, stop. Boy, was I naive.
Babies have to learn to do everything.
Arthur doesn’t really understand what the sippy cup is for. He likes the bright colours and enjoys putting it in his mouth the right way, but when the water comes out he jumps, amazed. What’s this stuff? Weird, wet stuff I have a bath in. What’s it doing in my mouth, then? Curious. Maybe I’ll just bash it against my high chair instead. Ooh, nice noise. Do you like, Mum?
Even just today, I got it in my head we needed to start giving him a bottle of formula to give me a bit of a break every now and then. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought. Well, for starters he’s forgotten how to take a bottle so just chews the teat and squeezes it, and cries for boob. He also appears to have had The Reaction around his mouth, meaning I can add ‘dairy’ to the list of things to give a wide berth for a while. I called my Mum, expecting her to tell me to keep trying and it would be fine, but as ever, I was surprised.
“He’s a breastfed baby” she told me. “If it’s working, why would you change it?”
Why, indeed. Good luck with it everyone, and remember, there are a ton of really excellent places to go to for advice. Here are the best I’ve found.
https://abm.me.uk/ (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers)
https://www.laleche.org.uk/ (La Leche League UK)
http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/ (World Health Organisation)