When I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Even though I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding. I’ve heard of the stigma some women get for not breastfeeding and horror stories of people being gawped at for breastfeeding in public, but apart from that, I didn’t really know anything.
It wasn’t until my niece, who already breastfed her baby (my brothers are a lot older than me so I became an Aunt at 5!), had a conversation with me about how the rates of breastfeeding in the UK are so poor because the breastfeeding education is so poor, I decided it was time to pull my finger out and start learning about it.
When a baby is three months old, only about 17% of mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding. There are many reasons for this, lack of funding to educate people, lack of knowledge, negative attitudes to breastfeeding and the fact that when formula feeding was advertised decades ago, it led to lots of women believe it was equal or better than breastfeeding and our generations are still influenced by our parents and older relatives about this belief.
My belief is that breastmilk is the best thing for a baby, but whether it is right for you and your baby is not a black and white answer. There are many factors that come into play, such as the baby not latching, the mother experiencing pain and mastitis, the mother taking medication that is not safe or having other illness. Or maybe the mother just doesn’t want to. In which case, formula is a great alternative.
This blog post is written to inform people about breastfeeding and educate those that are thinking about it. I hope this post helps women decide if breastfeeding is right for them or not, and gives a realistic expectation of breastfeeding.
Benefits of breastfeeding.
Here are some of the benefits of breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding gives you a unique and special bond with your baby, it is lovely to think you are providing for your baby and allowing them to thrive! Something nobody else can do! The closeness it brings is beautiful.
- Your breastmilk is designed perfectly for your baby and changes as they grow. It also changes at night to promote sleep!
- Breastmilk provides antibodies for your baby to protect them against infection and disease. As soon as you get ill, your body produces antibodies for your baby.
- You can breastfeed any time without needing to wait to make a bottle.
- You don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to prepare a bottle.
- It reduces the risk of SIDS as formula milk is thicker sends a baby into a deeper sleep.
- It reduces the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, infections and diarrhoea and vomiting.
- For the mother, it reduces the chance of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
- It prevents your periods from coming back.
- Lowers the risk of depression in mothers.
- Breastfeeding burns about 500 extra calories a day.
If you’re wondering what the syringes are for in the images, it’s for collecting colostrum. You should wait until around 37 weeks pregnant to collect colostrum as it can cause contractions or Braxton hicks. I decided to collect colostrum in syringes to freeze so it could be on hand in case I needed it.
What is colostrum?
Colostrum is a thick, yellow liquid that your breasts produce for the first few days after birth until your milk comes in. They call colostrum liquid gold as it’s loaded with nutrients and helps keep your baby immune to various disease and infection.
The reasons you may want to collect colostrum and freeze it are:
- If your baby is poorly and needs to go to NICU, your baby can be fed the colostrum you already have so there is less pressure for you to hand express at the time.
- Same if your baby doesn’t latch.
- You won’t have to learn how to hand express at the hospital if you are unable to give it directly from the breast as you already know how to collect it.
- It can be frozen for 6 months and given to your baby when they are ill or after injections to boost their immune system.
- It can help to induce natural labour.
Read more here about who should and shouldn’t harvest colostrum, this NHS website also includes a video on how to do it.
I collected about 8ml of colostrum during my weeks of colostrum collecting. You only get a tiny amount and the first few times you do it, you might not get any. The most I ever got was. 0.8ml and usually got about 0.4ml each day. Some women do produce more.
How much colostrum you collect is not a sign of being unable to produce it later or produce milk. Some women can’t collect any and go on to have a great breastfeeding experience!
Breastfeeding my baby.
Soon after my baby was born, the midwife asked if I wanted to try feeding him. Leo latched straight on and had a good feed!
It can be quite difficult to get the correct latch to start with. At times I really had to help him get it properly. Breastfeeding is a bit of a team sport that you are both new to.
The first few days were rough as it seemed like all he wanted to do was feed. He was cluster feeding a lot, which is what babies do to encourage your milk to come in. I was up most nights feeding him.
Leo was born on Thursday afternoon and at around 2 am on Sunday morning, I was feeding him and I felt something warm and wet on my arm. My milk was finally starting to come in!
Milk milk everywhere.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for is how much milk oozes out of you! I had to use breast pads all the time and was soaking them. I had to go back into hospital on Sunday, and I remember on Monday I had a shower in the hospital and my nipples were just dripping the whole time. Every time I fed him, the other side was just dripping with milk.
You need enough nursing bras and tops to change them daily. I only had a couple and quickly bought more. I also had reusable breastpads. You can buy disposable ones too that I took to the hospital and used for the first few days when I was in pain and struggling.
Cluster feeding and fussing at the breast.
Cluster feeding is draining as you feel like you are just a massive boob. I spent hours on the sofa with my baby. You will need lots of snacks and water! But it is completely normal and a way for babies to up your supply as your body produces what your baby demands.
It’s the same when they cry and fuss your boob, it can feel quite upsetting and distressing, many women believe they don’t have enough milk for the baby as they always seem to be on the boob. But it is completely normal and a way of getting your hormones going so you produce more milk.
If your health visitor or midwife suggests topping up with formula, ask to be referred to a lactation and breastfeeding specialist.
If you are worried that your baby isn’t getting enough, then tracking your output is a good way to see how things are going. Read this for more information if you are worried your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
I joined some breastfeeding support groups when I was about 35 weeks pregnant and regularly read questions by other women and read the replies by lactation specialists, this really helped me to mentally prepare for the challenges I may face and helped me manage my expectations around breastfeeding.
Weight loss and gain.
It’s common for babies to lose some weight in the first few days of birth. At3 days old, Leo lost 10% of his weight. The midwife said I needed to make sure I feed him at least every 3 hours. That wasn’t difficult as he was searching and rooting for my boob before that anyway, I never had to feed him without him wanting it himself.
He was weighed again on day 5 and had gained weight, I was told to keep doing what I was doing. He was then weighed again on 10 days and was back at his birth weight. Since then he has continued to gain. The last time he was weighed was when he was 8 weeks, and he weighed 12lbs 7oz. He was 9lbs 1oz at birth.
14 weeks of breastfeeding.
So it’s been 14 and a half weeks now that we have been exclusively breastfeeding. I promise it does get easier! After about 7 weeks, things got much easier. The first few days are the hardest, he spent 8-9 hours feeding on me the first couple of days! That has now reduced a lot. He now feeds between 3-4 hours a day. Babies become more efficient at getting the milk out, of course, there are times when he feeds more and less – it is hard to track because he often falls asleep on my boob and stays attached, sucking every so often but not actually feeding. If I was able to accurately track this vs feeding, it would be much less!
I have enjoyed my breastfeeding experience so far and I am so grateful that I am able to breastfeed as I know not all women can. It isn’t something I take for granted. I have had my days when it’s felt hard, I’ve had painful lumps, sore nipples and days where I’ve really wanted to smoother my nipples with Lansinoh nipple cream and have a rest, I’ve been tired and wished Dad could just take over with a bottle and I even had a lump in my boob, which meant I had to go for an ultrasound at the hospital!
But it has been an amazing experience and I love breastfeeding my baby, yes it is hard work but the lack of sleep is worth it.
I’m not sure how long I will breastfeed him for. I’d like to go for as long as possible. I’ll start weaning him onto solids at 6 months alongside feeding him and then take it from there.
If anyone has any questions, please ask in the comments below.