Happy World Breastfeeding Week

It is a bit late … World Breastfeeding Week was last week and I meant to post about it, but I was busy … breastfeeding.

I’m three weeks into my third round of breastfeeding now, and going well. The first time I began breastfeeding I was quite shocked at how difficult and painful it could be! Nobody ever told me this!! I knew how important it was for newborns to receive mother’s milk, and there was no question of me not starting the breastfeeding. I would look at my breastfeeding friends and other mothers in my community and see their features soften as they fed their bubbas, and I would think, “that is something that looks special. It must feel so special,” and when my turn came – it wasn’t.

It was painful. Someone told me that a suckling newborn felt like the suckers of a little baby octopus … whatever that felt like … but when my turn came I felt like if I wanted the breastfeeding experience I could just go and connect the end of the vacuum cleaner to my nipples and turn it on. Baby octopus suckers! There is nothing that sucks as hard as a baby who desperately wants some milk!

I’m not sure where the problem lay with breastfeeding Kaelan … I received lots of different advice from the nurses and I had the traditional initiation into breastfeeding from nurses who would pinch my breast and wipe it all over Kaelan’s face until he latched on. At the time it didn’t feel right, but you’ve got to trust the nurses – don’t you? Then I went to the breastfeeding class in the hospital and they said to do it like this, and then once I was home my midwife said to do it like this … in the end I was confused and was trying to feed Kaelan bloody milk through cracked nipples. I would anticipate every feed with fear and I am sure he did too. Every feed was agony for about three weeks, and then with the help of my midwife and the ABA helpline, the next three weeks saw us through with healed nipples, and less (but still very present) pain, and the following three weeks I actually began to relax and enjoy the experience. All credit to my midwife who kept me going. I can understand how easy it is to make the decision to bottle feed. I was committed to breastfeeding because I knew it was the best thing, and I was suspicious of formula, but nobody ever told me how difficult it could be.

In the end I quite enjoyed breastfeeding – no more gripping my baby so hard during feeds that I would leave fingerprints on him – no, I started settling in and loving the snuggle time with my bub. Thank goodness we did breastfeed because introducing food to Kaelan was challenging, and after a series of dreadful illnesses we were relying on the breastfeeding to keep him going between his meagre meals. Not wanting to sound too melodromatic, I am sure it saved his life at one point. I fed Kaelan for 2 years, until I went away for a week to a conference and when I came home, he had just forgotten how to do it!

When Rosella was born she latched on by herself beautifully, within minutes of being born. It didn’t hurt, it felt wonderful that it could be so easy!! Hallelujah!! But, ah, once my milk came in … that bounteous fountain of free-flowing liquid gold, it became clear that something was up. It hurt. Oh, how it hurt! It hurt worse than Kaelan, and very soon there I was again with cracked nipples, bloody milk and on the brink of mastitis. I would start crying an hour before each feed and begged my midwife to let me feed her expressed milk in a bottle. I just wasn’t going to settle for the pain again. Credit, here, goes again to my midwife who spotted that Rosella had quite a tongue tie, which was causing her to suck harder in order to get enough milk, thus trashing my nipples. One little snip of that little bit of sinew anchoring her tongue to the bottom of her mouth and almost instantly things improved! Within two weeks of her birth we were feeding happily, if not a little sloppily… I am a milk machine…

And now with Linden, you know the story already … a little tiny tongue tie, a little snip, no more pain, baby led attachment … all is good. The milk machine is back in business. I am already used to sleeping on damp sheets, and smelling a bit like a dairy. Milk, anyone? Plenty here!

Breastfeeding is a different experience for every woman. I am glad that I persevered because I’ve seen the benefits. I have also seen many challenges that have arisen from things that the nurses don’t talk about. I am not a breastfeeding counselor (although I think I’d like to be one day), but I will share with you what I’ve learned in my experience. If you read this and you are a counselor please tell me if I am on the right track. I know it FEELS right for me!

Attachment – Nurses are big on correct attachment, and that would be great if they could get together and give consistent assistance to every woman. There is also a manner of sharing advice that is important. I’ve written about my experience with two different lactation consultants. If I was a first time mother that first consultant I saw was not making breastfeeding look like a do-able thing for me. Without the correct support it is easy to give up. With both Rosella and Linden I have gone with baby-led attachment – which basically involves letting baby bob around as soon as possible after birth until they attach by themselves. If they can do it themselves, they generally do it right! First time and each time afterwards. Sooo much less fuss! I am sure your ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) counsellor could tell you more about this.

Four-hourly feeds is rubbish Imagine coming from the womb when you were fed continuously through the umbilical cord. Being hungry is a new sensation! Without continual feeding, the baby is learning what hunger feels like – and they are not used to waiting for food! Four hours is a long wait for someone with a tiny tummy. Feed your baby when they are hungry. That is all I am going to say.

Foremilk and Hindmilk – Did you know your body changes the composition of your milk as baby grows? At each and every stage your body makes milk that perfectly supports the particular growing needs of you baby at their level of development. Amazing isn’t it? Blows my mind how clever our bodies are, all by themselves. Our milk also changes during each feed. The first milk that comes out is the foremilk, which is high in sugar. My guess is that this milk satiates the desire for milk and corrects baby’s blood-sugar levels. Then after this milk comes the hindmilk, and this stuff is full of life-giving fat. MM-mmm – I know when Linden has hit this good stuff because she settles in for long slow sucking and she relaxes totally. Milk also contains a natural sedative – yes it does! One that works for mumma and baby, and I guess when we get good breastfeeding going accessing this hormonal hit helps the bonding experience between mumma and baby, thus prolonging breastfeeding. I just love how clever that is.

The thing is, because every woman is made different, how this milk comes out is different too. Because every woman is different, not all advice fits for each person. Many women feed on both breasts for each feed, but I can’t do that. There has been a bit of experimenting with Linden: because I make so much milk it takes a few feeds for her to get through the foremilk. If I keep swapping breasts frequently, then all she gets is the foremilk, which means that her little tiny tummy has to process a lot of sugary milk, which gives her a sore tummy, lots of gas and green poos. So for me, I can spend just about all day feeding just from one breast to make sure she is getting down to the fatty hindmilk at the end. During this time, the other breast is filling up, getting ready for night duty. Around early morning and late afternoon I can tell you that I feel quite lop-sided!

Diet – The foods and drinks you consume move chemically into your milk. I am on a GREAT diet! I don’t drink caffeine, I don’t eat much sugar, I avoid all processed food and artificial additives, I haven’t been indulging in chocolate, chilli or curry. I’ve been pretty good and kept to my gluten, soy, nightshade and (cow) dairy-free diet, and yet at the moment I am still convinced that there is something in my diet that is affecting Linden. She has been crying during and after every feed for days, has a rash on her face and I can hear how upset her belly is. I’m in the process of working out what is going on there, but I am convinced it is food related. If I didn’t know about how food can affect babies I could put her upset down to colic and probably feed her some awful thing from the chemist instead. Or worse, I could declare that breastfeeding isn’t working for her, and quit. Lucky Linden.

I am also hungry! All the time! I am craving fats and carbohydrates and sugar and protein and … well … everything really! I eat all day long and get most upset if we have run out of food again. I am going through eggs and bacon like I never have before. With both Kaelan and Rosella I lost A LOT of weight while breastfeeding. I didn’t notice because I was still eating well and felt great, but other people noticed and commented on how skinny I was, and indeed I came across some photos of me during those days and I’m just skin and bone … so this time I am conscious of eating food that is going to allow me to absorb the most nutrients as possible: bone broths, saturated fats, proteins, soaked grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, soaked pulses, nuts and seeds … yum. This is the fun bit for me 🙂

Water The other thing to be conscious of is how breastfeeding affects the mother. My lips are so dry they are cracking. I’m not drinking enough water. If ever you see a breastfeeding mother, offer her a drink of water! And when she has finished that, refill her glass.

Energy Levels and Hormones – Breastfeeding is tiring. Making milk and feeding a baby from your own body IS WORK. It is. It takes all day to do, it takes a lot of energy to make milk, and it effects our emotional energy too. It is so important to recognise and respect this, and make sure your family does too, particularly your partner. It so helps to have an understanding partner because more likely than not your baby will want to feed at high-energy times of the day like meal times and bed times – times when it isn’t so convenient to sit on the couch for an hour with a suckling infant! But that is the way it is. The whole family needs to support each other at these times, and it may be that a little fore-planning helps too. Make dinner in the morning and then it is done so that when baby demands that hour-long feed at 5pm you can relax and enjoy.

Feeding baby to sleep – The jury is out with this one. I am not giving advice here. It didn’t work for Kaelan, but it did for Rosella (mostly). There were times when I would have to change habits and encourage my babies to go to sleep by themselves, and other times when feeding to sleep was ok. For now with Linden, feeding to sleep is working for her, but she also tends to unlatch of her own accord before she drops off. Do what you need to do, and don’t be afraid to change and try something new if it isn’t working for you. Ask for help from the ABA if you need to.

I’m loving breastfeeding again. This time Linden and I are working intuitively with each other, but I am grateful for the support of my midwife and community (again!) …

2 thoughts on “Happy World Breastfeeding Week

  1. I’ve noticed that if I use the nursing sheilds for the first month of BF, I get to skip the cracking and bleeding. After the first month, my body’s used to it enough that I can just throw the shields away. No pain, no dreading, and baby and mom get a lovely time getting know each other.

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