The Truth About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a new mother's life. However, the lack of truly helpful and accurate resources and support can cause some poor women to give up within the first couple of weeks.
If they were told, "Yes, you will feel uncomfortable. Yes, this may happen and that may happen - but it's completely normal", more women would persevere and realise that once feeding is established, it becomes easy, pain-free and very, very gratifying.
Let’s be honest. When you breastfeed for the first time, it hurts. And don’t let any well-meaning expert tell you otherwise. After all, unless you’ve had your nipples permanently clamped between a vice-like object for the past few years, of course they’ll be tender. For the first two or three weeks anyway.
Yes, if the baby is latched on incorrectly, it can hurt more, but that excruciating pain you get that makes you grit you teeth each time your baby latches on, is perfectly normal. Despite this, I am constantly reading articles that state, “It shouldn’t hurt” and, “If it does, then you’re doing it wrong”.
Nobody is really honest about how many hours a day is taken up with feeding your baby. Remember the old-fashioned baby books that set out a silly timetable of feeds that should take place at six, ten, two and six again? Ha! Ha! More like, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve and so on – day and night.
I’ve never come across a single pregnancy book that gives a truly, accurate view of what breastfeeding is really like. The attitude seems to be that all you need to do is to lob out a breast, pop it in baby’s mouth and, hey presto, that’s it! The baby sucks for ten minutes or so each side, until he or she is satisfied and then falls happily asleep. If it were that simple, then the manufacturers of formula milk would go out of business.
The experts advise you to rub your breasts vigorously with a towel after each bath or shower when you are pregnant, “to toughen up your nipples in preparation for breastfeeding.” I think that attaching the vacuum cleaner nozzle onto the end of them and then switching it on and leaving it for several hours a day would be more appropriate advice.
Now, if you were not the world’s greatest drinker before you became pregnant, you certainly will be once you start breastfeeding. For all the months that I was nursing my children, I suffered from the most unquenchable thirst each time the baby began sucking. Make sure, therefore, that you have a huge jug of water or squash within reach before you sit down to breastfeed your baby.
With breastfeeding also comes the possibility of experiencing after-pains, especially if it is your second or subsequent baby, but what the books don’t warn you about is how this can feel like enduring labour all over again, but this time without any pain relief.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that so many women give up within the first couple of weeks when they are led to believe that, because they are in pain or because the baby is demanding feeds every hour, they are either failures or they are not producing enough milk, or that they are simply just not cut out for breastfeeding.
I presume that the argument the experts would use would be that they don’t wish to alarm first time mothers-to-be, but I am convinced that not being totally upfront can lead to many women feeling disillusioned, shocked, cheated and abnormal. Above all, they are unprepared and probably less able to cope as a result.
And before you say, “Who do you think you are?” I don’t profess to be an expert, but I have had four children, all of whom were breastfed for extended periods. In fact, my youngest daughter, now aged one year, is still being breastfed several times a day.
Yes, it was agonising for a while, yes I did suffer from severe, labour-like after pains and yes, I did develop cracked nipples. But it did get better and, after about three weeks, feeding was completely pain-free.
Now then, here is my version of what it is really like for the first few weeks:
· Struggle to unfasten your impractical and highly unattractive nursing bra
· Spray milk everywhere, including your baby’s face, as you attempt to hoist your engorged breast from the open flap in your bra
· The let down reflex will guarantee loads of leakage – usually when you’re in the middle of the supermarket - and the permanent odour of sour breast milk
· Suddenly remember that your breasts are still covered in an over-generous application of soothing, antiseptic cream and have to put screaming baby back in crib in order to bathe your nipples
· Remove baby from crib, sit down and then remove your jumper from your baby’s eager mouth and replace with your nipple
· When baby obligingly latches on, clench your teeth and bum muscles tightly, avoiding the use of expletives if you are in company. If you are alone, yell, cry and use every swear word you know. Great for the pelvic floor muscles, not so good for your pain threshold
· Realise that you are in a highly uncomfortable position and blindly fish around for extra cushions to support your arms and back
· The sudden onset of unbelievable thirst reminds you that you forgot to position a ten litre jug of cold water or squash within easy reach
· Answer the urgently ringing phone, whilst supporting baby in crook of one arm, with your unsupported breast flopping around the baby’s face, threatening to suffocate him or her. Spit with fury when you discover that it is only a double-glazing reptile spouting some moronic sales’ patter at you
· Prod baby’s cheek to wake him or her up after he or she falls asleep within two minutes of latching on
· Begin to nod off to sleep yourself after the first few minutes, but be brought back to your senses by sounds of your baby choking from an over generous supply of milk flooding the back of his or her throat
· Interrupt baby’s feed when the curry-like contents of his or her nappy seeps through the babygrow and onto your lap
· Answer the door, after someone has impatiently pressed the bell five times within the same number of seconds, before you’ve had time to replace either breast back into your bra or struggled to secure the flap catch
· Swap sides and repeat the entire procedure above
· When baby has stopped feeding and is just sucking for comfort, try with great difficulty to detach breast from between baby’s gums. This is almost impossible if you don’t bite your nails and, consequently, risk impaling the baby’s tongue on the end of one of your talons
· Remember, your partner believes that your breasts were his before the birth. He will still want them afterwards as well and will assume that they are only on loan to the baby
To conclude on a brighter note. When your bottle-feeding friends are padding around the kitchen at 2am warming up feeds, you are still snug in your bed, with milk available for your baby “on tap” and at the right temperature.
You are providing your baby with immunity to undesirable diseases and you don’t have to ruthlessly scrub your nipples out with a bottle brush after each feed, or soak them in sterilising fluid for hours on end.
After years of having to put up with those two lumps in front of you, of feeling dissatisfied with their size, shape and appearance, of having them ogled at by men or envied by other women, of wearing clothes that either hide or enhance them, they are now ultimately performing the function that nature intended. Nurturing the new life that you and your partner created.
And that is where size, shape and appearance having absolutely nothing to do with your ability to nourish your baby.
If you do decide to give up breastfeeding in favour of the bottle, do not feel a failure. What is important for you and ultimately your baby, is that you are relaxed and happy. You could breastfeed your baby for a year, but if you are uncomfortable or unhappy doing this, then your negative emotions will be conveyed to your baby and that is not beneficial for either of you.
Remember, nobody who has carried and nurtured a new life inside of them of them for nine months or so, could ever be regarded as a failure.
Take heart and, above all, enjoy your baby!!