Aaaand we’re back. We’re talking boobies again, and this time I’ll be focussing on the more practical and useful approach now that we’ve got the heavy stuff out of the way.
Just incase you missed it, find Part 1 here.
So, you’ve decided to breastfeed. Ignore any images of cliche wishy washy advice leaflets in doctor’s waiting rooms that that sentence conjours up, if breastfeeding is what you want to do then goddamnit I’m going to try to help.
It’s hard. For most women anyway. Some women are lucky and everything goes well; the baby latches, there’s plenty of milk, she doesn’t feel like her nipples are being sliced off with glass, etc. If that’s you, well done, enjoy it, just don’t tell us how easy it is when baby is refusing to come near the boob or we’re tenderly smearing lanolin onto our bleeding nips. Bring us cake, we need cake.
Pain can come in many forms during breastfeeding. One of the most common pains is when the baby hasn’t got the latch quite right and your nipples get the raw (literally) end of the deal. It may feel like your nipples are being ripped from the boob, you might even bleed. It won’t last forever, honestly, and it can be fixed. lanolin cream helps in the short term, and it truly is a miracle in a tube. I even use it now on the backs of my hands when they’re extremely cracked and sore, it works wonders! In the long term, look at how baby is positioned when they latch on. Are they getting a big mouthful of breast tissue? Whip your phone out and search for latching techniques and even videos on youtube of how to get the best latch, and once baby has got the hang of it you’ll be in a lot less pain. If you’re really having trouble, call your health visitor to come round and give you some help, pop along to a local breastfeeding baby group or call a breastfeeding helpline if you feel like you just need a reassuring chat.
Another pain that you might not have been told about is a little further south. In the early days your insides are still shifting around and shrinking back to where they came from so little contractions are triggered by our lovely chemical friend Oxytocin, which is released when you breastfeed. How much it hurts can vary, as can how long for. For some it’s a few days, for others it’s a few weeks. Most importantly it’s not a sign that you’re dying, which when you are sleep deprived and already feeling battered and bruised from childbirth and haven’t been told about THIS pain, it absolutely can feel that way. As always though, if you’re concerned about pain please please call your doctor or health visitor, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Here’s one that caused a bit of stress for me, mostly because I DIDN’T experience it, but everything I read went on about it like it was the most important ever.
Have you felt the letdown? Is your letdown strong? How long into the feed do you feel the letdown?
What is a bloody letdown?!! I sure as hell didn’t have one, and in the early days when I was stressing over her not gaining enough weight and not managing to get any milk out with a pump it only made my worries worse.
Basically, the letdown is the release of milk from your breast. It is triggered by your baby sucking, mainly, and for some it can be painful. Your body receives the signal that the baby needs food, and starts the flow. For me, it must have happened as she got milk, but I didn’t get any pain, or any ‘tingles’, the milk was just there. Which is great and all but when you’re obsessing over every second of the feed and monitoring exactly how long she’s feeding for and how successfully, it’s not that helpful. But hey, I got there, and in a few weeks it was second nature, all the stress and worry went away, and it just happened.
The letdown can be triggered by other things too, which can be a bit of a nuisance, so be on guard for nearby crying babies (not just your own) or even sexual contact, as you might find yourself a little bit leaky :-/
Leaking deserves a mention. Some people have very active boobies and like to show the world what they can do. Stick a couple of breast pads in there and keep them quiet, or maybe try a ‘shell’ which is designed to catch the milk.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on magical tops and bras that unclip and reveal one boob at a time. I wore a stretchy soft bra throughout my breastfeeding time, which I could just pull out of the way easily. The same goes for what I wore over the top, i.e vests, loose tshirts etc. In cooler weather (but more difficult in the summer as if you’re like me you’ll be on fire while you feed as it is) you could try the one up one down method where you pull your vest down below your breast and then pull your top up, if you feel like you need more coverage while feeding. I’ve since discovered the Molke bra company, and while I’m not currently breastfeeding they are still amazing for everyday wear with brilliant support and comfort, and the next time I breastfeed I’ll definitely use my Molkes as they feature a useful cross-over design – great for whipping one out at a time!
Hospital Bag Tip – I read loads about what I should pack in my maternity bag, and it all seemed to say “take a buttoned nightie for breastfeeding access”. If you can find one that isn’t lavender and doesn’t make you look 90 years old then go for it. I, however, found that a pyjama top and bottoms set worked perfectly.
You’re going to be sat on your bum for a while, mama, so get comfy! Feeds can be quick and over and done with in minutes, and they can be hours long, sleepy cluster feeds. Depending on how you’ll be holding your baby to feed them, this can make a difference on the most comfortable place/position to sit in. I had an IKEA Poang armchair in Sophie’s room that I DID NOT use. Ever. Because of my humongous boobies I physically could not feed her in the cradle hold which is the one everyone goes on about and most women use, so I had to use the rugby hold. This comes with its own set of problems but I’ll go into that more later with some tips on how to make it work. The armchair or breastfeeding ‘glider’ chair (if you want to treat yourself) is one way of getting comfy if you use the cradle hold. I fed Sophie sat up in bed, with a billion cushions around me, making sure my back was supported and that she could be positioned nice and close to me. I did the same on the sofa. Nobody was allowed any cushions as I used them all. Muahaha. I took a V-shaped pillow when I went to someone’s house and stole all their cushions too.
Along with feeling comfortable you’ll find a survival kit useful. My bedside table was equipped with:
– Cereal bars (and at times cake, flapjacks, chocolate)
– Fruit (ha)
– Headphones (for late night feed netflix binges)
– Lanolin cream
– Muslins (for all sorts of milky dribbles)
– Remote control for the fan (vital for hot flushes, could keep it simple and have a handheld fan)
– Phone (charged. You may want to disable your Amazon account, the middle of the night is dangerous for sleep-deprived impulse buys. Plus nobody else is awake at night so facebook is a boring wasteground, you’ve got to do something online.)
And most importantly, DRINK! Seriously, that oxytocin makes you THIRSTY. I guess the only way I knew that my letdown was happening was that I was suddenly insanely thirsty, and had to down a pint of squash then and there. So keep a bottle of water on your bedside, tell your other half that if they’re awake and in the room, they must retrieve a drink for you whenever they notice you bring the baby to your boob (and if he could bring you a piece of toast or a few squares of chocolate that’d be tickety boo too…), and if you’re on your own make sure you get this one vital item at the very least.
Oh and the TV remote is one thing that I ALWAYS used to forget was across the room (why?!) when I had just latched her on. On more than one occasion I’ve been known to scoop Sophie up, still latched on, and shuffle carefully across the room to retrieve the remote. There’s only so much scrolling through your phone that your thumb can take.
How to Make Positions Work
The Cradle Hold seems fairly straightforward for many women, can be done one-handed, but you might find it more comfortable to sit in a chair with comfortable arms to support baby’s weight. Pop baby into the crook of your elbow and feed them from the same side boob. Cross Cradle is similar but you use your hand to support their head (you can get your fingers right on the bony bit of the back of their skull to help position a baby struggling to latch right, helps them get a better mouthful if you can tilt their head chin-first towards the nipple) and can work if you’re sat in a less-than-comfortable spot in a pinch.
The Rugby hold is my saviour, as previously mentioned the ladies are on the large side and my arms are literally filled with boob, leaving no space for baby. Team that with nipples that haven’t been part of the northern hemisphere of my boobs since I was a teenager, the rugby hold was the one for me. While I used countless pillows to get comfy at home, it’s not quite as easy when you’re in Costa or in the park. Your changing bag has a whole new use now. Use it to prop baby up wherever you’re sat, in a nice wide armchair, on the grass, on a bench, and if you need a bit of extra height consider taking a nice comfy blanket around with you, I used to have one tucked underneath the pushchair if it was too warm for her to be wrapped up in one. Have a scout around for coffee shops and restaurants that look like you’ll be able to get comfy for a feed with a way of fitting a bag next to you, it’ll be worth it knowing there’s somewhere nice you can go to feed little one if they start giving feeding queues.
The Laid Back position is great for small boobs, lay on your back, lay baby on you tummy to tummy and latch them on. Nice and comfy. I did not manage this one. I had a couple of feeds lying on my side though, which worked well for both of us and was very relaxing and comfortable. Not entirely practical at your mate’s house, though…
I realise that this is one of my longer posts, and they’re already long enough as it is, but I’m coming to the end of my ramblings. Let’s finish with:
Troubleshooting. Of the boob variety.
Things don’t always go to plan, baby doesn’t always want to feed, boobs don’t always want to provide milk, and these could be for all sorts of reasons. If you find yourself with a stressed-out baby who won’t latch, try a few of these to see if you can calm him down:
Take a little break, that was one of my issues at the start when I couldn’t get the latch right and I was trying desperately to feed her. It wound us both up and a short breather was a great help. Take advantage if you’ve got someone there to take baby for a cuddle while you regroup.
Squeeze a little bit of milk out and touch your nipple to baby’s top lip. Sometimes when they can smell the milk it prompts them to open wide.
If you find yourself stressed and struggling for the milk to letdown, smells and emotions can be a big help. Take a big whiff of baby’s head, look into their gorgeous little eyes and take yourself back to that moment you first felt that overwhelming love for them. If you’re not with baby and are trying to pump milk, looking at pictures of them on your phone and smelling their clothing or bedsheets is also a good one to try.
Do what you can to feed in relaxing surroundings. Low light, no noise and a comfortable temperature will all make a big difference.
If you need a confidence boost and you have somebody to reassure you, talk to them! In the eye of the storm it feels like you’ve failed and just can’t do it, but having someone to remind you of how well you’ve done so far and to look at the bigger picture is so important, it’s easy to get lost in the fog of uncertainty when baby is screaming at you.
Believe in yourself. It’s so, so common to not think you’ve got enough milk, I thought it of myself countless times. Remember that milk is made on a supply and demand basis. If baby needs it, they will feed more frequently to send signals to make more milk. Don’t take more frequent feeds as a sign that they aren’t getting enough, they’re clever little things that know by instinct how to put their order in!
Don’t be disheartened by cluster feeding, comfort feeding or long feeds in general. They won’t need your milk forever, this is such a short time in the grand scheme of things and hopefully you’ll look back on your breastfeeding journey as a time of love and comfort, feeling like a badass and most importantly how great it was to watch so much tv (good and bad) guilt-free!