Breastfeeding – Surviving week one.
As a second time mum, I wasn’t too worried about much when it came to the new arrival. Well, I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to break the baby at least. Breastfeeding however was something new to me as I didn’t succeed with it the first time around (When I had my daughter at the age of 18), so most of my worries were boob related.
I read up a bit online and attended one class in the hospital. Nipple soreness (cracks, bleeding, scabbing… sorry!) was my downfall in the early days last time. I had a brainwave to “toughen them up” this time around and used exfoliating gloves gently on my nips when having a shower in the final few weeks of pregnancy. Now I stress gently, obviously you don’t want to go to town and get too vigorous on such delicate skin. I’ve no idea if it actually worked, but I do know that I have only had one tiny crack, no bleeding or scabbing, and relatively little pain (probably only 5% of what I felt last time) … A big improvement for sure, and I would definitely do the same again.
I am so thrilled that skin to skin contact at birth has become so widely introduced. To think the wee bundles can find their own way to the goods and latch on within the first hour is mind boggling. It’s a truly wonderful experience and one of the big differences in the delivery process for me this time around. As we hear time and time again, getting baby to latch correctly from the beginning is THE KEY to successful breastfeeding. There are of course other factors that come into consideration, but latch plays a huge part in it. The midwives are fantastic, but they aren’t necessarily on hand to help and their opinions can vary, so it’s best that you’ve studied the ideal latch yourself and know what to look out for.
My tip would be to not just concentrate on the latch of the baby’s mouth, but also to get the body position of your little one right too. So before you even bring baby’s mouth to your nipple try turning the baby’s hips in to lay totally flush with your tummy. Baby should wrap around you so to speak, with both shoulders, hips and knees touching you as they lay flat across your body. Their belly button against your tummy and their legs under your other boob. If you start with this and then pay careful attention to the latch, hopefully it will help you have success.
Things went well for me this time around, and I experienced very little pain, with a good latch and feeding from the beginning.
However, on day two in the hospital, when I was hoping to go home, Caleb’s weigh in showed more than a 10% weight loss and we had to stay an extra night. It was very quickly suggested that I should top up with formula to increase his weight, but I wasn’t prepared to do that right away. My milk hadn’t come in yet, which is completely normal for up to five days after birth. I knew my baby was latching well and feeding often for lengthy periods of time, so it was only a matter of time before my milk arrived. I spoke with the paediatrician and he assured me it was entirely possible for a baby to put on a significant amount of weight in just one night so I decided to persevere and wake Caleb to feed every two hours throughout the night. Nature is bloody brilliant because it worked! My milk arrived that evening and I fed, and fed, and fed. I didn’t sleep much at all but he gained enough weight without the aid of formula and we were able to go home the next morning. If ever I was convinced of the power of the boob, this was it.
It’s extremely difficult to know what’s right in a situation like this. I overheard mothers receive conflicting advice from midwives, paediatricians and lactation consultants while I was in the hospital, and it happened to me too. The best advice I could offer would be to educate yourself on what to expect in the early days. If you’re armed with information on the various outcomes, you’ve a better chance of trusting your body and going with your gut when it comes to making a decision. The key is honestly to just hold baby close, and at any sign of them waking or stirring, whack them on the boob. Yeah, it’s tiring. Yeah, it hurts. Yeah, you’ll question yourself and your ability. Hell, you’ll question the whole feckin universe! But trust your body and your baby, they are individually amazing, and together truly awesome.
Once I was home the engorgement kicked in. Feeling your boobs burn like hot coals, get rock hard, spread up to your neck and half way around your back isn’t the most pleasant experience I’ll admit. There’s no easy way around it, your body is producing excess milk to begin with and will regulate according to your baby’s sucking… it just takes a few days. Cold face cloths, cabbage leaves, gentle hand expressing and running a hot shower over your back (not your boobs), are a few ways you might get relief. Also 100% Lanolin cream (Lansinoh HPA) and the Multi-Mam nipple compresses are a must for your hospital bag. Most babies find it even more difficult to latch onto an engorged boob so you will have to try a little hand expressing or massaging around the areola to help soften it enough for baby to latch on. I literally couldn’t wait to the next feed because the feeling of the milk draining was just such a bloody relief. Poor Caleb had no idea of the huge pressure on his tiny little shoulders but at least it encouraged me to feed often. It’s a tough few days for sure but you’ll be glad to hear that it didn’t take too long for the engorgement to pass, and my assets gradually returned to their more normal, squishy selves over the course of a couple of weeks.
So while week one was no walk in the park, I would consider myself one of the lucky ones. Overall, on the scale of how shitty things can get in the early breastfeeding days, I would say I was only up to my mid calves, maybe my knees. For all those women who go neck deep in the shit and manage to battle through… I applaud you.