In the beginning
I didn’t give this enough thought before I gave birth. To be honest I almost laughed at the thought of going to a class or people being so passionate about it… how wrong I was. I just used to think ‘I’ll see how it goes, if I can do it great, if not I’ll just use formula…’ HA! Sorry to those people, I’m now with you!
I had Marlie at the beginning of March 2020. The week before the global coronavirus pandemic saw the U.K. go into a national lockdown. Ya know, normal stuff and just what a first time mum trying to breastfeed needs😳. (Actually joking aside, it probably was!)
Luckily she latched on straight away and fed for a good 20 minutes (at minutes old – I came to learn that said a lot about the type of baby she would be – hungry!), I even had to take her off because my mum and dad arrived. That night and the following day she fed great, although thinking about it now, the following few nights she didn’t sleep very well and it was probably because she was hungry. If ever in doubt with a breastfed baby – feed them! I learnt that babies use breastfeeding not only for food, but for thirst, comfort and to soothe themselves and to help them sleep. Hence why particularly in the first few weeks you feel like they are constantly on you. (Don’t worry I can confirm with even the worlds hungriest baby it does ease off). The cluster feeding can feel constant, I ended up listening to podcasts or watching TV series’ whilst she fed which kept me occupied and she was done usually before the end of one episode – it definitely helped get me through the first weeks.
Another tip I learned was that often babies fall asleep before they are actually finished feeding, which meant you’d put them down and they’d be awake again a short while later. To combat this I would feed until she fell asleep on me, then change her, (have a nappy caddy in the bedroom at the ready!) which would wake her back up, then feed again. This usually meant she would go for a longer period of time before the next feed, and eventually for us led to her sleeping through. I also let her use her hands to self soothe, when they wake in the night you immediately think it’s hunger, but actually it might not be (although giving them the boob usually solves whatever it is!). I noticed after a few nights running, she wasn’t waking up crying, but more at frustration because she couldn’t get to her hands. I stopped covering them over (filed her nails right down!) and then she could get to her hand, which helped her settle herself back to sleep. This is definitely what helped her sleep through from an early age (Understanding every baby is different, that might not work for some, they may need other settling techniques, or they may be waking due to hunger, it’s all about trying to understand your baby).
Also, try and feed from both boobs. You can’t over feed a breast fed baby. If they will take it, they need it. I found in the first few weeks she would only have it from one, but now every feed she needs both. You usually find your supply is better in one boob too, but keep feeding off both to try and keep it up!
Anyway, after a couple of days my milk came in (I thought it already had because she was feeding so often but, again HA, you KNOW when it comes in). I woke up one morning in agony feeling like they were going to explode (sorry, but true!). I also, because I hadn’t done ANY research, had leaked milk everywhere because I wasn’t wearing breast pads. I had no idea about expressing or sterilising bottles. I just thought I would be able to wing it. Someone once tried to talk to me about breastfeeding and advised me of a group to go to and I just thought she was being pushy about breastfeeding, she wasn’t at all and I now totally agree. Oh how I wished I’d listened. So first piece of advice – do your research. Buy breast pads and use them (luckily I had some in but just didn’t think I’d need them…!), go to an antenatal class on breastfeeding or do your research online or by speaking to others. Check the instructions of how to use, wash and sterilise your pump and your steriliser machine or look up how to sterilise properly if you don’t have a machine.
So, this happened and around the same time my nipples started to hurt. I mean really hurt. I would dread her crying because it meant it was time to feed again and the pain was bad. Even when the latch was good it still hurt. Before I gave birth, and even still now, I have nothing against formula (I sometimes add some in depending on the day and how hungry she appears but I’ll talk about that later) but when I would toy with giving up breastfeeding, something about me didn’t want to. As I’ve said, Marlie was born in the middle of a global pandemic, a virus no-one knew much about, and initially people were panic buying everything – including formula. I think that’s one of the main reasons I kept going – which I’m now so glad about. I wanted to make sure she was as protected as possible against this unknown virus and she would always be fed because she was getting milk from me. Unfortunately, that also meant I couldn’t go to a support group when it got tough. I couldn’t have anyone come and show/help me. (Fortunately, we were pre lockdown in Marlies first week so I did get some midwife support, throwing in that one of my best friends is also a midwife which helped a lot!). Luckily I came across @blossomantenatal and did one of their free online classes, it gave me such reassurance and support and I was so thankful.
So, anyway, everything about my boobs hurt which was not good. I hadn’t been using nipple cream at all (tip 2 BUY and USE lots of nipple cream!) and I wasn’t prepared for my milk coming in. I took a day off feeding and expressed for 24 hours which saved my nipples! I lathered on the cream and in a couple of days the pain had pretty much gone.
I then started to wonder about expressing and breastfeeding, people I saw on Instagram seemed to be doing it – what was I missing? The thought of being on a pump for 20-30 minutes, to then breastfeed for up to an hour, to then start the cycle again. I researched for hours about the best way to do it, but, due to the previously mentioned global pandemic I had no where to go so I didn’t see the point in expressing when I could feed her. I could have then expressed as well to build up a supply, but I didn’t see the point in that either at the time. (Even though we had all the time and nowhere to go – it felt like we already didn’t have a moment spare). I also wasn’t planning on breastfeeding for long… I do wish I had known more about this and established a good routine early on so that I did have additional supplies but hey ho. I also don’t have anything against giving her formula, so I thought if she needed it, she could have it.
Now, when I remember (so mainly just first thing in a morning) I use the haakaa silicone breast pump – which catches milk from the boob you’re not feeding from- to build a bit of extra milk to keep in the fridge mainly if I want a drink at a weekend (of alcohol – not the milk hahaha).
So formula, I have nothing against it, and I went into this with the opinion that if I couldn’t breast feed she would just have formula – fine by me. I agonised at the start over whether to just give up breast feeding and switch to formula and I’m so glad I never (again, this is just from my personal experience). I found it really really tough at the beginning and that was with her actually being good at it! From early on, we did introduce some formula because I knew with our lifestyle it was going to be pretty impossible for me to have a good supply of expressed milk/breastfeed her exclusively. She did get slightly constipated at first but that went after a few days. Luckily, she’s not (yet) had a problem going from nipple to bottle either so it’s been great. She will have a bottle of formula as her last feed before bed. Sometimes she will need a top up from me if she’s extra hungry. As long as I can, I will just breastfeed and there will be some occasions where I can’t, and that’s fine. I have a moral battle in my head as I would rather her have breast milk if she needs a replacement feed for any reason, but I don’t know why. I think I know if I go a couple of days giving her more formula my milk supply will decrease and I’m not quite ready for that. Again, I don’t know why.
I genuinely believe that I feel the oxytocin’s when I feed. It has probably unknowingly helped me stay positive throughout this pandemic. It’s like a rush of happiness (almost like Adrenalin?) Strange – but lovely – and it’s probably why I find the thought of giving up difficult. There’s just a bond and connection there and I now really enjoy breastfeeding (I NEVER thought I’d be saying this in the first few weeks!!)
So, after writing that first section, I have now started trying to build up a supply of expressed milk. I invested in a new pump (Medela swing maxi), the feeding bra and the storage bags to make it as easy as possible. I didn’t research a pump before I gave birth and just bought a Tommee Tippee one as I’d bought those bottles and the prep machine etc. So tip 3 – do your research again! I honestly didn’t know what I was looking for beforehand either, so it really was just plucking it out of thin air. I didn’t realise how many there was to choose from! The Tommee Tippee one was OK but not the best if you are wanting to express regularly. I started by expressing last thing at night as that was when she had a bottle feed so it meant I wasn’t missing another feed and it emptied my milk before the night time. At the minute I’m only getting enough to add in one expressed feed a day which is useful now we can start going out places. I’m hoping that she knows night from day well enough to not necessarily need the formula last thing – which gives us potentially two feeds a day where I don’t have to breast feed. I have managed to get 4oz in the freezer today (yey!) and hoping I can get a good supply for times it’s needed (e.g. if I was to have a night out).
Looking back now, I should have started this as soon as possible. I’ve seen people using the Haakaa pump to build up a bit of a supply in the first few weeks (tip 4!) and then go on to express once a day to build on that. I think in the first few weeks the feeding is so irregular and feels constant, to add expressing into the mix can feel like too much of a burden. Once you’re in a ‘routine’ (I say this loosely as I’ve yet to be able to get in anything that resembles an actual routine whilst breast feeding), probably at around six weeks, you could try adding in one session, or more if you like, to express. I did try doing it after every feed one day – which was far too much and it felt like Marlie was constantly hungry – probably because she wasn’t getting enough milk from me? I don’t know, but I won’t be trying that again. I believe the advice is to try and exclusively breast feed for the first six weeks so using the Haakaa would really help, even if you’re not getting much each time. I do know people who have started earlier so speak to your midwife or a lactation consultant if you feel like you need too.
So, yeah, I’ve gone from a laid back ‘I’ll try it but I’m not bothered if it doesn’t work’ mind frame to a fully fledged breast feeding supporter. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t want too or can’t breast feed then I’m for that to – pro choice, fed is DEFINITELY best. I’ve now turned into a lazy feeder and breast feeding became so easy! It starts off being so difficult and time consuming, perseverance is key. But so is your physical and mental health. If it’s not working for you and your family don’t beat yourself up, ever. Everyone’s story is different, everyone’s is just doing the best job they can. I’ve watched people struggle with latching, tongue ties, mastitis, having to pump every feed because their baby wouldn’t accept breast feeding , having to switch to formula completely because that’s what is working best for them and their family. There’s a story for everyone and everything. You are never alone, use your support network, and build one of you can’t. I took a lot of advice from accounts I found on Instagram, but again remember everyone is different. There’s midwives, lactation consultants, breastfeeding specialists – all at your fingertips if you need.
- Do your research, go to antenatal classes or find some online advice, research breast pumps and learn how to sterilise
- Buy and use nipple cream, before you even give birth!
- During night feeds, if your baby falls asleep whilst feeding, change their nappy to wake them and carry on feeding
- Use the Haakaa pump in the first few weeks to build up a supply
- After a few weeks, when your baby is waking in the night, check it’s definitely hunger. I noticed Marlie was just getting frustrated as she could self soothe using her hands. Once we set them free she started sleeping through (note every baby is different and this won’t work for all).
Accounts I found useful on Instagram;
Also, these accounts had babies at a similar time to me so I followed their journeys and their support and advice for it all…
I also very frequently visit the NHS website for advice (how long can I store milk, how do I store milk, what do I need to sterilise…)
I now plan on breast feeding as long as I can. We’re planning on weaning at six months but obviously she will still need milk as part of that so I’ll see how it goes and use my own advice of when it’s no longer working for us we have options and support to find out what does work.
I’ll finish by saying, I hope this doesn’t sound preach-y in any way. It’s just what worked for me, and I wish I’d had some real life advice beforehand.