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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Breastfeeding: What NCT neglect to tell you

Breastfeeding: What the NCT won't tell you. Breastfeeding can be really hard, but that can be totally normal. This is my honest breastfeeding experience; bleeding nipples, pain, difficult latch, lack of weight gain, the lot...

I downloaded Timehop for Facebook recently, hoping it would jog my memory about my daughter's early days.

In fact, it appears I never really wrote much before I had a blog to put it all in. However, today's festive status, posted at 2.44am, was about being up doing a night feed. Aaaah.

It's definitely true that most of the baby stage is wiped from your memory.

When my little girl reached around 8 or 9 months, suddenly life became easier, more predictable, and I looked back on all the smiling photos of her as a newborn (because you don't tend to take photos of them in full meltdown mode or at three am when you've been up since four the previous morning and they just WILL NOT SLEEP) and thought yes,  I could do that again. That's how they get you.

However, one thing I will never forget is the breastfeeding journey.

I have vivid memories of mentally writing this blog post and now, just two short years and another baby later,  I'm actually getting around to it.

If you've never had a baby and never been pregnant then it's very likely that the breastfeeding debate has entirely passed you by.

It's not until you find yourself in the late stages of pregnancy that suddenly you are faced with questions about how you're going to feed the baby. Quite probably it's something you've never thought about before.

For me, personally, I just assumed I would breastfeed. 

Breast is best and all that, but above all else it's free and you don't have to go to the trouble of making up bottles. Cheap and lazy; certainly something I can get on board with.
I don't do 'brelfies' so have a
hungry baby instead
I, like many expectant parents, attended NCT and NHS antenatal classes. I consider myself a realist (although others may say cynic) who never really had any intention of pushing out my baby drug-free in a padding pool whilst listening to Enya (and I ended up having a breech baby and an elective section, so it's probably a good thing) however when they told me that breastfeeding was entirely natural process that 99% of women could physically do and it should be pain free, for my sins I did believe them.

They lied.

I was lucky; I was in recovery after my section and my baby latched on immediately and continued to feed every few hours. I had friends that struggled, whose babies did not want to feed. Some persevered, stayed in hospital for extended periods and cracked it, some tried nipple shields, some made the switch to formula. In my notes, they commented that she was feeding every time they came into the room. For the first few days I thought I had it licked.

And then, my word, the pain.

After a few days, each latch was excruciating, made me wince and quite often sob. My husband was sent out to the late night Sainsbury's to buy formula (which I was ultimately too stubborn to use). I tried shields, I tried pumping. I went to a breastfeeding counsellor to get my latch assessed.

Turns out, everything was fine.

It's just that taking a body part that you rarely use and subjecting it to two hourly torture takes a while to get used to. And NOBODY thought to mention this. I was on the verge of giving up, when I joined an online support group. Second time mums were urging the newbies to stick with it. Bite your lip, count down from ten as they latch and, little by little, it gets easier, they said. And I did. And it did.

I don't know what the midwives have against informing first time mums that breastfeeding can and does hurt for a lot of mums, perhaps they think it will put them off of trying, however in a matter of weeks the pain disappears and the process gets a lot easier to the point where you can quite happily look at Facebook with a cup of tea whilst feeding your baby - another pro. I can't help but think of the countless women out there, struggling, without the support I had, and ultimately giving up believing they're doing it wrong, costing themselves a fortune in formula and the ability to waste hours on the internet in the process. There is nothing wrong with formula feeding if that's what you choose to do, but for many mums (in my albeit limited experience), believing that you have failed to breastfeed is an awful experience. Both of my babies have struggled to gain weight due to reflux and if your baby is not thriving, it's miserable. I've been there.

The other thing that they neglect to tell you is that it's all on you.

I mean, you probably were aware that your husband or partner can't learn to lactate, but even if you manage to express a bottle (and I never could, although I had friends that were like dairy cows) and persuade someone else to wake up with your baby and feed it to them (presuming they don't reject the bottle outright of course) it doesn't mean you'll get a good night's sleep because you'll wake up looking like Dolly Parton, possibly in a bit (or a lot) of pain from engorgement, most likely in a puddle of milk. Meanwhile, babies that have been formula fed since birth are probably sleeping through the night by now, allowing their well rested mums to bake cookies and make homemade baby sensory equipment. Or that's what it starts to feel like.

Despite the problems I had feeding my daughter, and having to supplement with formula once a day, we managed to feed until eight months when she decided she didn't want to any more. It was genuinely a sad day.

I was determined to feed my son and naively assumed it would be easier the second time around.

However the pain was there again, appearing after just a few days once again. This time, I counted down from ten each time he latched and told myself that it would get easier, and quite quickly it did.

It's not been a smooth ride; around eight weeks he stopped gaining weight and has been on a variety of medicines for his reflux. We've used formula occasionally. I've been vomited on more times than I can count. I've done each and every night feed again, and I've flashed the whole of Costa more than once in a sleep deprived haze.

And while I'm talking of sleep deprivation...

Sleeping through the night seems to be the holy grail of babydom. Along with self settling, it's something that complete strangers feel the need to question you about. Babies need to feed little and often, their tummies are small and breastmilk is so easily digested that it sometimes feels like before you've finished one feed they're already rooting around for the next.

I won't lie. Formula helped my daughter to sleep. She was a constant feeder throughout the night - it soothed her reflux. A bottle before bed became her nighttime routine. I thought I'd try the same with my son and, when he would actually take it and keep it down, it made no difference at all. At almost six months he wakes hourly, seemingly through discomfort rather than hunger, and so it doesn't make a blind bit of difference where the milk comes from. He is a certified shit sleeper.

However, I'm confident that this is my last baby and as he lies here next to me, where my husband used to sleep before the baby decided he wanted the space, quietly snoring little snuffling snorts and looking all cute and angelic, I feel glad I have had the chance to do this. When I'm feeding him, and his little razor sharp claws are scratching my boob, my face, trying to grab my tongue, he's latching and unlatching showing my nipple to the world and blowing raspberries getting milk all over me, I try and remember that it's not forever. One day, possibly quite soon, it will be my last feed and when that day comes, I know I'll feel very sad. 

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  1. This is beautiful, and incredibly real and honest. All mum to bes should be given this vital information. You're right! Why is it such a secret? I think it's better to know what to expect, and that it really does get better if you can just grit your teeth and count to ten for the first couple of weeks. Brilliant post x

  2. I agree - that simple message that breastfeeding can be really difficult to start with but that it does get easier ought to be heard a lot more. Thanks for sharing your story #coolmumclub

  3. My daughter had tongue tie and it hurt like hell to breast feed until it was snipped three weeks later. I spent those three weeks researching, pumping and hunting high and low for nipples shields and I got through it but she fed every two hours for an hour so it felt like I was constantly feeding her. I had a love hate relationship with breast feeding. I felt so touched out all the time but I refused to give up as I had given up so easily with my first two and I was determined to do it this time as I k re she was going to be my last baby. I fed her until she was nine months old and even though I felt like I had not really enjoyed it all it was a very sad when it came to the very end just like you said.


  4. This post sums up perfectly how hard the breastfeeding path is. I wasn't ever really a lover of the whole process (even though I managed to somehow escape the sore nips bit), but I found it so overwhelmingly relentless. And, if I'm totally honest, a little embarrassing. Glad those days are done, and that I did what I could.
    Thanks for sharing this with #coolmumclub

  5. You're right that there's nothing quite like it and you'll miss it when it's all overx #coolmumclub

  6. This is incredible and so, so true. No one ever told me how hard it would be and I struggled. It definitely contributed to my PND because I thought I would be seen as a failure if I gave up with breastfeeding. Thankfully, I persevered and it became an absolute doddle but I think there needs to be more discussion about it, definitely! #KCACOLS.

  7. oh gawd yes indeed THE PAIN. It's grim isn't it? Not quite so bad second time around for me but you're right, a bit more honesty on this subject would be appreciated. #KCACOLS

  8. Awww this is a lovely, honest post. I totally agree that NCT painted a very nice picture of breastfeeding. I did it for ten months and the first month or so was difficult and painful! #KCACOLS

  9. This truly is beautiful and so very honest and realistic. Mothers don't know what they're getting into when they start breastfeeding, and I think that honesty and support are two very vital ingredients for a healthy breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding is tough, it is so hard some days. In my 15 months, I've suffered through painful latch, tongue tie, mastitis, and clogged ducts. It truly is a journey, but I'm glad I'm still on it <3 Thanks so much for sharing! #KCACOLS

  10. I really appreciate that you to know the time to write about this because it is something I had an incredibly hard time with. I struggled so much with latching, not expressing enough, and lots of pain. I felt like a failure at the time but now hope to try again whenever we have a second. It's so easy to feel alone! #TribalLove #KCACOLS

  11. Breastfeeding is a total rollercoaster. I was totally unprepared for it. I wanted to feed for 6 months, then after a few days I just wanted to make it to six weeks. But we managed and now she is two and a half and I am dreading the day of the last feed. Mastitis was just something else, like being stuck by a bee and stabbed and bitten all at the same time! #KCACOLS

  12. You are right, breastfeeding is a long journey and I know for sure that it is not an easy one. I struggled at the start with both my girls but I persevered and eventually things happened but it took time. I am very happy that I managed to do it as it was convenient for all of us. My second one breastfed until she was 20th month (not long ago). It is true about the information you get from the nurses. You think that it is easy but I rather know the real deal so then I know what to expect. Very interesting post Fran. Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS xx

  13. My baby was breech too but nobody picked it up. He was born at home and spent 13 days in NICU. He is fine now. Had I known he was breech I would have chosen a c-section too I don't think yours qualifies as being described as an elective cesarean! I've breastfed both mine too and only had sore nips in the early days with my first due to poor latch. 2Nd one was all fine pleased to say even after 13days in nicu & dairy allergy still doing well at 10 months:)

  14. Couldn't agree more. It bloody killed me for like two months or so. I swear it was cause my little one was so small and my boobs were so huge he could hardly get it in his mouth. I remember writing about this at the time too.... Why don't they warm you of the pain?!?! I think it would make it easier not harder if you knew what to expect. I kept thinking I was doing it all wrong, I wasn't, it just takes time for the pain to calm down. Well done for getting through it twice!!

  15. Thank you for sharing this info and for all the ladies who also agree. I like to be forewarned and I do believe it will help. I'll let you know in 30 weeks!


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