Before commencing my little spiel, I'd first like to pay tribute to ALL the mamas, feeding their babies whichever way.
Fed, naturally, is best - this piece is in no way a pro breastfeeding article; just one mum sharing her experience with it, for anyone else currently in their early days of keeping a human alive solely with their bosom.
It can be overwhelming, and I'm hoping that my takeaways might be helpful.
So! Here I am! My little angel (/part-time vampire) is officially six weeks old, and I've managed to exclusively breastfeed her up until this point.
It's actually not something I thought I would manage - I don't know why, but I'd built up the idea in my head that I was in some way broken.
I'd decided that I'd find the experience beyond challenging, emotional, and disheartening - and that ultimately, me and my boobies wouldn't be able to do it.
So you wouldn't believe my surprise when I found the journey... pretty good! Positive, in fact! Painful? Yas. Demanding? You betcha.
But ultimately, I've had what I'd call a pretty desirable experience so far - as a doula I know how lucky I've been to have my milk come in well, have enough supply, have my daughter Isabella latch fairly well, and not have nipple damage that prevents me from feeding.
However, here are the six things I've learnt, in these six weeks, that I wish I'd known sooner.
1. I can breastfeed.
As I mentioned above, I'd developed a rather unhealthy relationship with my boobies over the years.
They were sometimes a source of self-consciousness. They were something I'd figured to be purely ornamental.
And during my pregnancy, or even while trying to conceive, I began to fret that I'd have a truly awful experience trying to breastfeed.
Then, at around 32 weeks, I started to leak! Hello, bosoms! Is that you, preparing for our baby? Is that you, building up a supply of colostrum?
Before long, I was leaving patches of golden colostrum on our sheets every night, and even, on occasion, would leak during waking hours - if I was having a particularly sentimental conversation. The female body is WILD!
'Well, I'd jolly well better make the most of this!', I told myself.
I got myself some of colostrum collectors, and waited until 37 weeks to begin hand expressing.
I didn't want to waste this liquid gold on my sheets. If there's anything I'd recommend to a mama-to-be who's feeling a bit worried about her upcoming feeding experience, it would be to hand express at the end of your pregnancy!
It doesn't even need to eventuate with any stored liquid at the end. You just want to get to know your boobs in a different way. Toughen up those nips. Learn how to correctly express.
I found it to be priceless, and by the time my baby came, I felt so much more confident with the role my boobs would play.
I also would encourage you to really take a moment to thank your body. It's growing a human, and it's pretty bloody amazing. I found that breastfeeding really changed my relationship with my boobs - who cares whether I think they could be bigger or smaller, more this or more that - they're feeding my daughter!
2. It's going to hurt. But not forever.
Apologies, dear friend, but yes - it hurts.
At least for around 99 per cent of women it does. It's not forever, though - so if you can, stick with it!
I found Isabella's latch on my right nip particularly gruelling, and over time, that breast became more and more sensitive.
I'd have to breathe heavily, grit my teeth, or sometimes say "MOTHER F**KER" to get through that initial latch, but we soldiered on. And, just as 'they say', by six weeks, it was better.
Only a few days before we reached that coveted milestone, I started to think to myself how much easier the latch was becoming. Far less painful - in fact, often not at all.
Praise be! It's true what they say! I'll also add that having a pair of Silverettes (read more about them in this article) has been a game changer for me.
I've worn them almost 24/7 since having my bub, and attribute their protection to keeping my nipples intact.
3. Pumps don't always work.
This wee learning has been particularly difficult for me to digest.
I don't know why, but I'd assumed that if I could breastfeed, I'd inevitably be swanning around with a double pump bra on, replying to my emails and generally being a milk expressing goddess while being able to focus on other things. Not so much...
I'd say that trying to pump has been the single most triggering part of my postpartum journey so far.
I've been really lucky to have what I'd consider excellent mental health during this time, with no meltdowns about lack of sleep, the baby crying, or lifestyle changes. But when I went to try to pump, I almost immediately felt like utter crap.
I have a generous supply of milk - Isabella often struggles to keep up with my let down and in general, as I mentioned, breastfeeding has gone pretty well.
So I figured popping a pump on would result in me being able to harvest some of that milk for a later date.
Not only would I love my husband to be able to feed our daughter at some point, so I can have a break - I can also unapologetically say I would love to be able to one day drink wine without closely monitoring my consumption - and do the old 'pump and dump' when those beloved Girls Lunches can commence post lock down.
Alas, I've tried three different pumps and have spent hundreds of dollars.
I've pumped before a feed, after a feed, and even tried to during a feed.
I've pumped in the morning and in the afternoon - once I even pumped after a 4am feed when I was feeling particularly optimistic.
I've looked at pictures of my baby while pumping, I've envisioned milk flowing, white light and f**king unicorns galloping through fields and all that - to no avail.
The most I've gotten is around 40ml combined. WTF! Every time I do it, I end up feeling uncharacteristically enraged - and desperately hopeless.
It's quite amazing how fast my mood can turn; I think it's the lack of control and the sheer frustration knowing that the milk is there - in fact, 30 seconds after ripping the pump off, Isabella is on my boob with milk spilling down the sides of her mouth.
4. Mastitis is a bitch.
I regret to report that the ol' mastitis is as bad as they say.
It hits you like a tonne of bricks - body aches, fever, and the sorest boob in the land.
I've had one bout in my six weeks of breastfeeding, and I couldn't believe how sore the entire body gets - especially your legs!
The symptoms come on without warning, all at once, and you're left wondering what the hell is going on. I was very fortunate to receive loads of advice from my mama friends (it truly takes a village!) and was able to clear my blocked duct and symptoms without taking antibiotics.
Here's what helped me: Hand expressing in a warm shower, regular feeding (no longer than two hours between feeds), backwards or 'football pose' feeding with the bad boob and massage - as well as always starting feeds with the 'bad boob'.
Paracetamol, a long bath and a glass of wine also brought me great comfort.
I also felt assured in knowing I had the correct antibiotics on hand (I actually had them in case I got a UTI while pregnant, but speak to your doctor if you start to experience symptoms and they'll likely ensure you have a script you can fill and keep handy), should I take a turn for the worse.
Mastitis is no joke.
5. Clippy bras are totes a thing.
I don't know if it's just me, but I resisted the idea of clippy bras that you can pop a boob out of willy-nilly. I think I thought they were ugly, potentially uncomfortable and that a soft bralette would be fine.
My business partner Bec lent me one of hers when I had Isabella, and I put it on one day when I had no other clean options. I now know:
- You give zero f**ks what the bra looks like when you're breastfeeding on demand all day and night
- Being able to have your upper body somewhat clothed, especially in winter, is fabulous
- Clips are far more comfortable and convenient than writhing around trying to slip your arm out of one shoulder of a bralette when your baby is demanding (read: screaming bloody murder for) your boob.
I reckon I've found THE best clippy bra. It's super soft, not too tight, and made from bamboo. I've just ordered myself three more from The Iconic. Here's the link if you want to check them out.
6. One day, you'll feed efficiently.
I look back on my early days breastfeeding, and the hours upon hours I'd be pinned to a chair, feeding Isabella.
It seemed like we'd NEVER reach a point where I'd pop her on for a quick feed - she was sleepy on the boob, not always a great sucker and sometimes her latches were so painfully narrow I'd worry my nipple may actually amputate.
Then one day, I realised how fast she was drinking, how easy my letdowns would come on, and how quickly she'd settle after emptying a boob.
We still have progress to make, but our feeds are so much more efficient now, and my neck and shoulders are far better off for it.
Of course, much of it comes down to both of you learning the art of it together, and your milk becoming established, but I also found these tips from my midwives super handy:
You don't want bub to be too comfortable - aka warm!
I was making the mistake of rugging Isabella up in a swaddle or blanket, then putting her in her favourite position in the world (in my arms, my nipple possessively held within her mouth).
No wonder she was falling asleep and taking to comfort snacking rather than having a big proper feed! The midwives suggested I feed Issy in her nappy only, and that really helps keep her mind on the job, so to speak.
I also have resorted to gently blowing on her face and body, and even the odd tickle if she starts to fall asleep.
You feel so mean, but you want to make sure they're getting full - otherwise, you can bet your sleep deprived ass you'll be right back where you started within 30 minutes.
Bub's position is super important.
My midwives picked up that I had the baby too far over towards the boob I was feeding on, if that makes sense.
Basically, I was advised that you want their legs well and truly hanging over the other side from which you're feeding, and to be 'tummy to tummy' with them.
The position of their chin should be against your breast, and their latch should be nice and wide.
You also want to be able to see their face, rather than having it smooshed too far against you or slipping down towards your bellybutton.
Allowing the baby to latch themselves, rather than pushing their head onto your nipple, generally results in a successful attachment too - my midwife described leading their head with too much force like pushing your head onto a drink - that really resonated with me!
So that's it! A few notes from me to you that I hope will be helpful in some way - even if it's just in solidarity.
It does get easier, I promise you.
And you're not alone. Even in the darkest hours of the night, when your eyes are heavy, and you're praying your angel will give up the good fight and surrender to their cot at SOME point, there's another mummy out there, awake at the exact same time, doing the exact same thing you are.
She might be in the next house over, or even in the apartment below you... a soft light glowing from her feeding set up, a dried patch of spew crusting artfully upon her shoulder, and a beloved partner sleeping soundly beside her (sigh).
You are loved, and you are doing an amazing job.