1 in 3 women are still breastfeeding at 6 months. There is so much conflicting advice, what to do, what not to do. In the early days, trying to get to grips with breastfeeding can be especially difficult.
When Tristan was born, he had fluid and mucus on his chest which made him sound a bit like a lamb. Over the following days he spent a lot of energy bringing it up. Choking in the middle of his sleep, even having to be cup fed formula to make him puke it up. As a result of this, during the first 3 days he struggled to latch on to me and when he did eventually feed he couldn’t bring up his wind properly. I got very sore very quickly, my nipples blistered and cracked and bled. Not glamorous but that appears to be the norm for a lot of first time mums who choose to breastfeed. I lost count the amount of times I pressed the hospital buzzer for help to get Tristan to latch on! Plenty of skin to skin encouraged milk production and bonding.
With the soreness came the conflicting advice. My midwife told me to use nipple shields, my health visitor advised against it. Using nipple shields can be a life saver for temporary use to allow your breasts to recover from the trauma but long term can interfere with your baby’s communication via saliva with your body. There have been studies suggesting that backwash from breastfeeding can communicate with the mothers body which produces specific types of milk to reflect your baby’s needs at the time of feed. For example, if your baby is under the weather, the mothers body produces more antibodies in her milk which can fight infections. I chose to suck it up and grit my teeth until I healed (using several sachets of lansinoh nipple cream in the process!)
Then my milk came in and it was all systems go. Painful engorging, tingling boobs (which is your let down reflex, your boobs pushing milk out and feels much like pins and needles) and the dreaded cluster feeds… a bath or shower or hand expressing a small amount will ease the pain of engorging and I eased my let down by waking Tristan up for feeds when it became too much.
In the middle of the nights with Tristan still latched on for up to 5 consecutive hours some nights, I’d lean against my headboard and cry. I didn’t think we could ever get past the long cluster feeds, and they felt like they’d last forever. When my breasts got so sore from latching for hours long, I’d switch back and forth until it got too unbearable on both then it was a waiting game for Tristan to be satisfied and ready for his nap. I spent many times during these nights researching, posting on mum and baby groups ‘is my child normal? Are my boobs going to drop off? I can’t cope!!’ But that passed too. And now his feeds are much more frequent, but much quicker. The longest Tristan will feed at 4 months is probably 30 minutes.
I have days now where I question my ability to provide milk for Tristan and wonder if combi-feeding or pumping will work better for us. If he’s asleep and I have to be somewhere, I have to wake him which means his dad doesn’t get a chance to strengthen the feeding bond. Although Tristan has taken my milk from a bottle once, I find pumping difficult and time consuming. We attempted combi-feeding and Tristan spat out most of the milk in his bottle, but what he did take made him cry from tummy ache anyway.
I have an entirely love-hate relationship with breastfeeding but it works for both me and Tristan. Some days I want to pump and keep some milk in the freezer for back up, and some days I want to breastfeed him until I feel I want to stop. Some days it’s 1, others it’s 2 and some days it’s when he wants to self wean.
I can absolutely see why only 1 in 3 women are still breastfeeding their children at 6 months, it’s hard and the right support is few and far in between. But for now, for today, I love it and I enjoy it for the most part.
To conclude, breastfeeding at first is hard and exhausting and in most cases, painful. But if you decide this is how you’d like to feed, know it gets easier and know you’re doing a great job.
All too often I see mothers commenting about how they felt like a failure for not being able to continue for whatever reason, either because of their own expectations or comments from others. Remember fed is best and a happy mummy is a happy baby.