When I was pregnant on my first I read a few different baby books, however none of them covered breastfeeding too much, and it turns out there was a huge learning curve! If I could go back I would tell myself to read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding instead (terrible name, amazing book!) and to go to a Cuidiú meeting! But instead I learnt ‘on the job’ the first time, but I learnt a lot and as a result feeding my second has been a breeze.
So here are 7 things I learnt nursing, that I wish someone had told me when I was still pregnant on my first!
1. Newborns Breastfeed A Lot!
All newborns are different but it is very normal for them to breastfeed both very frequently and for long sessions. C, my first, would nurse for 40 minute sessions as standard. He also fed about 15 times in a 24 hour period … so, yeah, a lot of nursing! I basically sat under him for the first few months until it calmed down. But rest assured it is normal and this phase does pass! By contrast, K, my second, was a very different feeder. I had myself all prepared to camp out on the couch with her for the first 6 weeks or so feeding, and watching netflix, but much to my surprise she only fed in 5 minute sessions! She fed at about the same frequency as C had, but she just seemed super efficient, so there wasn’t quite the marathon tv sessions I had been expecting!
2. Not All Medical Professionals Have Breastfeeding Training
Nursing C hurt a lot at the beginning. I was told by countless midwives, nurses and doctors that he had a ‘perfect latch’ and that breastfeeding did hurt at the beginning and it was normal / because I was so fair / because I had flatter nipples / because it was my first etc. etc. Pick a reason and I heard it. But EVERYONE insisted he had a ‘perfect latch’. Meanwhile my boobs were being torn to shreds and my once abundant supply starting tanking. Luckily a friend had had a baby the previous year and told me that I could get a lactation consultant out to the house to help (I didn’t even know lactation consultants existed! Never mind that I could get one to my house!). The lactation consultant was amazing and saved our breastfeeding journey! Turns out C had tongue tie, so although his latch looked ‘perfect’ from the outside he wasn’t latching at all properly inside and in his efforts to latch with his tongue tie he was damaging my boobs and also finding it hard to get enough milk. Anyway, we got the tongue tie released and like magic breastfeeding didn’t hurt at all any more! Apparently, medical professionals receive little to no breastfeeding training (sometimes as little as an hour across all their years of training!) so just because they tell you something doesn’t mean they are correct. If you have problems, please contact an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant)!
3. Breastfeeding Is A Supply & Demand System
When my boobs were so sore from feeding C we supplemented with formula as I was in so much pain feeding him. I didn’t realise how much this would affect my supply. Breastfeeding is supply and demand, so if you give a bottle instead of nursing, then your boobs don’t know that your baby just ate, so they slow down the milk production. My supply got completely out of sync with C’s feeding habits and it took a lot of work, over weeks and weeks, to get it back up so that I could exclusively feed him. I knew better second time round and fed K on demand with no supplementing (and got her tongue tie released early!!). This time I have an amazing supply. It really makes such a difference to the newborn period, not having any breastfeeding worries.
4. Babywearing Is Life Changing
You’ve probably heard the first few months of a baby’s life referred to as the 4th trimester. It is basically the first few months after birth, the period where your baby adjusts from living inside your safe, warm, dark, quiet womb to living in the scary, loud, bright, busy outside world. As a result of this huge environmental shift, newborns want to be held, a lot. They don’t really understand that their mother is a separate entity. They feel happiest and most content when being held by their mother. C wanted to be held all the time. As a new mom, experiencing lots of breastfeeding difficulties, and recovering from a c-section, I found his need to be held all the time very challenging. When I discovered babywearing it was literally life changing. I got my hands back! I could make a sandwich, get a drink, fold laundry, cook or do whatever, and he was still happy and content next to me. As a result, K basically lived in a woven wrap her first few months! She napped great, could feed whenever she wanted (helping keep that supply up!), and I could eat, move around and play with my toddler. Amazing!
5. Co Sleepers Get More Sleep!
Co sleeping is something I was terrified of on my first. I knew that a baby was supposed to sleep on the mother’s side (not between the parents) but I was scared he’d fall out of the bed. Sometimes he ended up in bed with us as he wasn’t a great sleeper, so he would fall asleep nursing but I wouldn’t be able to transfer him without him waking up. I could never drop off, no matter how exhausted I was, and trust me I was severely sleep deprived, but my terror at something happening kept me awake. So on nights I couldn’t transfer him back to his bed, I lay wide awake all night with him in my arms. Fast forward to this time around and we have a co-sleeper attached to the bed. Also life changing! K falls asleep nursing and I just shuffle away and go asleep. No need to transfer her anywhere and risk waking her. No risk of her falling out of bed either. Magic! There is actually a study showing that co-sleeping not only aids in breastfeeding but results in more sleep for the mothers – I well believe it! (Obviously you should always follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines).
6. You Do Not Need An Expensive Breast Pump!
Honestly, I don’t know why everyone who wants to breastfeed thinks they need a pump, I think we’ve all been brainwashed into believing it’s necessary. I bought one on my first and they are very expensive. I also discovered that it was an open loop system, which means milk can get into the motor, go mouldy and then get back into the pumped milk! This could obviously make your baby very sick! So I ended up having to buy another, closed loop system (I got this one, which was cheaper than the open system!). I’ve realised this time though that I don’t need a huge freezer stash, so the only time I’ve pumped has been when I donated to the milk bank! I realise that this wouldn’t be true for everyone, but in Ireland we get 26 weeks maternity leave so there’s not a huge rush back to work for most of us, so the pressure to have a large freezer stash of milk isn’t the same as it is for people who live in places like the US. You can also learn to hand express and I know some women who find it much quicker than a pump. Also, there’s this new ingenious little manual pump called a haakaa that works amazingly well and is only £15.99!
7. You Do Not Need Lots Of Breastfeeding Accoutrements
And, on that note of not needing things … you don’t need to buy lots of ‘stuff’ to ‘help’ you breastfeed. I think it’s just companies trying to make money off of something that doesn’t make them money! You don’t need special pillows, normal ones work just fine, and often better. You don’t need nipple shields. You don’t need breastfeeding covers. You don’t need special tops (a vest top underneath a normal top – pull top one up and underneath one down, instant peek-a-boo feeding ensemble!). You don’t need a baby scales (yes, seriously I’ve seen this recommended as a ‘must have’ so you can weigh your baby before and after a feed to see how much s/he is drinking!!). You don’t need special clips for your bra to tell you which side you fed on last (just feel which breast is fuller!). You don’t need a special bottle designed for a breastfed baby (you can feed your breastfed baby from a cup, shot glass or syringe!). You may want, or prefer to have some of these things, and that’s fine, but you don’t need them. And you should probably wait till the baby arrives to see if you would actually find a use for them!
So that’s my top 7! I’m sure I have loads more to be honest! Let me know in the comments what you’d add to the list.