Breastfeeding is such a wild ride, it’s something I wasn’t expecting. As a first-time mum, breastfeeding is a whole new skill to learn, which can sometimes be stressful and frustrating for you and your baby. However, as you grow more and more confident, things begin to feel more natural to you and, with time, it will slowly get easier.
Here are 5 main points I wish I knew before becoming a breastfeeding mama.
1. Sometimes, it will hurt when you start breastfeeding
As a first-time mum, I still found breastfeeding uncomfortable and painful at times in those first few weeks, even with a good latch. Breastfeeding is a whole new sensation, and wow do newborns have a strong suck. When your baby cluster feeds frequently, your nipples might become tender or you may feel some nipple pain when bub initially latches on in the early weeks. Over 50% of mothers experience nipple pain or discomfort in the first postpartum month and often don’t seek help. Persistent nipple pain is one of the most common reasons why mothers stop exclusively breastfeeding. I always encourage new mums to inspect their nipples post-feed and seek out professional support if they are experiencing severe nipple pain or damage. For me, it was simply a matter of time to get used to breastfeeding as a first-time mum.
2. It’s okay if you don’t always feel comfortable feeding in public
Every mum should feel comfortable feeding their little one wherever and whenever their baby needs to eat. In saying this, I know it’s easier said than done, especially in the beginning and depending on the environment you are in or who you are with. It can be intimidating to breastfeed in public at the start, this is normal. I felt more comfortable feeding in public wearing easy-access tops that allowed me to could quickly attach bub to the breast without exposing too much skin, or by using a light wrap draped over my shoulder. Many shopping centres also have amazing parent rooms you can comfortably use to feed your baby. Once you build more confidence with breastfeeding and latching become easier, you will be able to feed anywhere, anytime.
3. It gets easier, and less painful
I soon learnt how hard breastfeeding is in the beginning and how much of a learnt skill it is. While your baby does instinctively know how to suck, they are still learning and mastering the art of breastfeeding, as are you. Nipple soreness is common at the start, but this did subside for me as my body got used to breastfeeding and my baby got more efficient at latching and feeding. Establishing milk supply and a good attachment can take weeks, persistence and assistance from health professionals. The Australian Breastfeeding Association states that it can take 6-8 weeks for the breastfeeding dance between mama and baby to find its rhythm. Remember, each baby and mother is unique with different patterns, so try not to compare yourself or your baby to others. As time passed, breastfeeding did get easier for me. Those first 6 weeks are tough though, so lean on those around you for help and support – I sure did.
4. There is no right or wrong. It’s okay to pump AND give a bottle
It’s recommended to avoid a bottle and dummies until you are happy with bub’s attachment and your breastmilk supply is established, which can take 2-4 weeks. However, at the end of the day, you can do whatever works for you and your baby, there is no right or wrong decision. It’s your body and your baby, so you and your partner can make the decision for whatever is the best choice at the moment. If you need some time for yourself, want your partner to feed, or if your nipples are sore and you want to take a break, then consider expressing and bottle feeding. Letting my partner bottle-feed our daughter with expressed breastmilk helped give some flexibility back into my life, especially when I wanted to go out for an appointment or to see a friend. ABA has some great tips for how to bottle-feed a breastfed baby, store breastmilk and how to prepare a bottle.
5. It’s okay not to have a stash of milk in the freezer
Majority of mothers will express or pump at some point in their feeding journey, either to allow someone else to feed the baby or simply out of preference. When I pumped, I’d often get less breastmilk compared to what I was producing, so I never had a heap of milk stored in my freezer. I would frequently have to remind myself that a pump is never the same or as strong as my baby’s suck, so what you do express through a pump doesn’t accurately reflect your milk supply. If you choose to express, try to have bub skin-to-skin and close to you, or look at photos or videos of them to help with your hormone response. Other tips to boost your breastmilk supply when expressing or breastfeeding include: staying hydrated, eating frequently, resting when you can, keeping your body relaxed and avoiding stressed during feeds or expression and seeking professional advice if you’re worried about low supply or bub’s weight gain.
Blog written by midwife and mum, Aliza Carr from Bumpnbub