Making feeding more comfortable

You can spend forever holding a newborn baby, particularly if you are breastfeeding, so if you want to go with the flow, then expect to be out of action for long periods several times a day. Accept it. It won’t last forever! Here’s some tips to make it more bearable:

  • Find some way of marking which breast you last fed from. A hair bobble, scrunchy, rubber bracelet on the wrist are all good options. Transfer it from the left to right wrist to mark which you last fed from. It saves clutching at breasts trying to work out which one is fuller!
  • Keep a pile of cushions anywhere you might need to breastfeed or hold your baby, they can be put behind your back, under your elbow, it’s worth spending 10 seconds getting comfortable to avoid a bad back. Get help adjusting things, you’ll get better at doing it yourself eventually
  • An occasional table might come in handy, so that you can have things within reach
  • When you sit down to do a feed, gather together your kit: a muslin, glass of water, remote control and/or something to read, phone(s)
  • Treat yourself to a couple of games on your mobile that you can play silently with one hand (or even better, get an email/internet/facebook/twitter friendly phone that will keep your sanity during those long lonely feeding sessions)
  • Think ahead to when you need to eat and fix a sandwich or cup of tea before you pick baby up. Its ok to let baby cry for a few minutes if it helps you be a more effective mum in the long term
  • Identify meals you can eat while holding baby: foods eaten with a spoon are usually messy, so find foods you can eat with a fork or with one hand

Breastfeeding and pain

Here’s the secret: it can hurt.  Sure, it’s natural, it’s best for baby, and it’s best for mum, but so is labour and so are after pains. Remember your first time having sex? Maybe that hurt a bit too, the first few times! Life isn’t always painless. The first few weeks of life hard work for mother and baby, and breastfeeding is part of it.

Don’t be disheartened by the idea if baby is latching on then it shouldn’t hurt at all.  Expect some discomfort and even some pain but know that the pain will pass. Obviously there are cases where women find it difficult or impossible to breastfeed I can’t advise on that that’s consider that the human race has got this far without bottles for most of human history.  Start from the assumption that it’s natural but that, like lots of things in life, it’s not completely painless!

I feel strongly that the polarisation of breast vs bottle is very unhelpful for all mothers, whatever way they choose to feed their baby. The strange thing is that despite keeping us alive as a species, we have spent so little on understanding how and why it works. Perhaps because it works so well there’s no money to be made from improving breastfeeding knowledge? Who knows! But be aware this whole area is laden with bias and can be quite emotive.

In my experience the first suck of any feed might hurt the nipple and you could feel the pull in the breast uncomfortable. This is especially true in the first few weeks. When baby latches on and sucks I take a deep breath and count to 5, then decide whether to remove him using my little finger. When my milk first came in (day 2/3/4), most feeds hurt like this, but I knew it would get better.

That said, take care of sore breasts, particularly:

  • Shooting pains in breast (as opposed to tenderness and the feel of the pull of sucking). This could be mastitis, don’t let it build up, seek advice
  • Blisters. Use a balm you can leave on during feeding. I use lansinoh.
  • Very pink and itchy nipples, and baby starts gagging on feeds and/or vomiting them up. This could be breastfeeding thrush so seek advice.

Don’t soldier on, as things can get worse if you don’t take care of your breasts.
This is useful: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/baby/breastfeeding/problemsandsolutions/

As time went on with baby#1 I got to really enjoy breastfeeding, I’m sure I got a hormonal feelgood reward from it. Despite bad engorgement and fast flow, plenty of tears and doubt, I came to really enjoy it, and only stopped at 9 months when I had to because the feeding routine didn’t fit with my working hours. I am already enjoying feeding with baby#2 and I’m in the worst bit!

When i updated this when son#2 was 4 days old this was the situation: “My breasts are like cement and make me look like Katie Price, poor baby#2 has to be very brave about facing the gush of engorgement, and most feeds are a bit painful, but seeing him finally start the slow contented gulping makes it all worth it!”

“Establishing breastfeeding”

With baby#1 I didn’t really understand what “establishing breastfeeding” meant. That is, until 2 or 3 weeks in (I forget exactly how long), which I realised it had happened! It means your breasts and baby are in sync, and when it happens, you’ll know. It seems to take at least 2 weeks so don’t be tempted to think its happened early. Be patient and wait before using a breast pump or bottle, not out of any dogmatic/purist reason, but because mixed feeding or exclusive breastfeeding both seem to be better once the breastfeeding side of things is established. I have nothing against mixed feeding, and plan to do it myself again, but I think its better to suffer a bit in the first few weeks, as it will give you better chance of success in whichever route you take.

Breastfeeding through a growth spurt

Weeks 6, 12, 24 are times for growth spurts. With son#1 I used bottles to supplement, but with son#2 i’m following the approach of letting him suckle more, to increase my milk supply. It seems to be working, so i recommend going with the flow and letting them feed as much as they want. Since apparently even sucking on an empty breast prompts milk production, it might frustrate them a few times but don’t worry about that, it’s frustrating being a baby anyway so its par for the course that they’ll get upset at feeding times sometimes! In my experience so far, coming out the other side of a growth spurt can be really liberating as you see all their new skills emerge, and sometimes new behavioural patterns too, like the transformation my son#1 made at 12 weeks, from feeding every 2-3 hours day and night to something much more manageable. My advice is to feed through it, and know it will only last a week or so.

Read all about it

If, like me, you find it helpful to read more, and it adds to your confidence rather than your confusion, then try these:

General info: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/baby/breastfeeding/

Read what the experts have to say: http://www.llli.org/nb.html?m=0,0,0

Read what mums have to say:  http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/breast_and_bottle_feeding though beware very strong opinions!

I’ve more reflections to share on breastfeeding, but I don’t want to attract the wrong kind attention by using certain words too much, and I don’t want to scare you off if you have no interest in the topic. So please email me if you’re interested in more.

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