mum holding new born wrapped in a yellow blanket

Perhaps no one could have prepared me for breastfeeding, even if I had have been a little more tuned in.

I mean, If there was a degree obtained through childbirth education, I had graduated with Honours.

At the time, I couldn't get enough of the stuff.  Labor signs, contraction management strategies, physiology of birth, the current trends and birth gurus - vaginal birth, caesarean birth, breech birth, Active Birth, Calm Birth, Hypnobirth, Orgasmic Birth... You name it, I knew about it.   I mean, I hadn't actually done any of it myself yet, but I sure went to the class, bought the t.shirt...

And my birth really was wonderful.  Don't get me wrong, it was bloody hard work and couldn't be described as anything less.  But I was well and realistically prepared, knew all of the options available to me and completed birth feeling shattered but strangely invigorated and with an overwhelming appreciation of how, as a woman, I was built.  I felt strong, empowered and delivered a healthy baby girl.

However, upon reflection, my grey matter had clearly been consumed with all of the former preparation because I knew NOTHING about breastfeeding. If there was a lecture, I had slept through it.

A word of advice, if you're up for it... As pregnant women, we need to move our minds beyond labour and birth. Breastfeeding counts and you're going to be doing loads of it in the months to come.

Some women around me found breastfeeding a dream. 'It just came so naturally', 'like a bee to honey', 'I'm going to feed til he's five', 'wish I could feed forever'.  Give me a bucket. There were so many days where I wanted to throw in that towel!

My breasts had been seriously engorged.  Like two hard melons. Never had they been fuller and firmer - you could bounce a coin... but the injustice! I somehow looked less like a porn star and more like a mum with a boob job gone wrong. My nipples tilted downward (& in slightly different directions), and my breast skin was the pale canvas on which my circulatory system was having a party.

My breasts ached and my nipples bled.

I would navigate my attendance at the next few weddings with a wild array of feeding positions and nipple shields, where I would get myself in such a tangle, that I'd end up with my dress over my head and feeding in a loo.

She would feed loooooong and I would dread the next feed. A cry-as-the-sun-goes-down type of dread.

And what’s more, my sweet cherub fed around the clock (of course) and well, I wasn't really an I-like-interrupted-sleep kind of girl. My toes would curl as she would latch on and I would assure myself that the pain would disappear after the first few sucks. It didn't.

Baby! This just ain’t working for me.

If I could tell that mum what I know now...

1. Your latch is key

Almost all breastfeeding issues begin with a poorly latched babe. If that bub hasn't a good mouthful of breast (it's not called breastfeeding for nothing), you're on a slippery slope toward sore grazed nipples, amidst other! Check out a good step-by-step guide WITH visuals!

If your nipples are mis-shapen or grazed in the slightest, you have got a poor latch.  Pop a pinky finger in the side of bub’s mouth to release her suction, and start your feed again.

Remember too that she needs a BIG open mouth to feed well.  Your shoulders need to be relaxed and you need to be holding her tummy close to yours.  Her chin should be touching your breast. Sound like yoga?

2. Your baby might be taking so long with each feed because…

She is likely to be comfort sucking and not feeding at all.  If you can see baby's ears wiggle and can see her throat swallowing all that glorious creamy richness, she'll be feeding. You also may see milkin the corners of her mouth.

But if she's doing small sucks and she's been there for more than half an hour, she could be using your breast as a dummy.  Now, this is fine if you have the time and inclination. Breastfeeding is more than just a food source.  However, if she's doing this in the early days, you need to ensure her good latch continues, or she could be grazing your nipples at the expense of her next feed.

3. Your baby may feed too frequently

If she's feeding in under two hour bursts (unless you’ve been advised to do so for specific reasons), she's feeding too often. Chances are she's not fed well or long enough at the previous feed.  This is when the tricky cycle of 'snack feeding’ comes into play.  Bub’s intake was low last feed, so of course she’s hungry again sooner.  But because she hasn’t got the energy stores, she’ll often fall asleep once her hunger is semi-satiated.  This can be a very unproductive cycle indeed, in which bub (may) in fact loose weight.

Tips for a good milky feed:

  • Make sure your latch is good. You might need a feeding pillow or something to help you.  Use every resource available to you.
  • Make sure baby is cool enough (not cold!) when you feed her. Don't feed her when she's wrapped (unless you're doing a quick 'dreamy feed' in the middle of her night).
  • Make sure she stays awake for the entirety of the feed. Often a quick nappy change or a wiping her neck gently with a cool cloth does the trick.
  • Feed for at least 25 minutes on one breast (could be up to 40 minutes for a newborn).
  • Burp at half time and change her nappy (if you didn't earlier).
  • Baby’s that snack-feed turn your breast’s life into mayhem. They get confused and start producing too much milk, thus resulting in lumpy, engorged breasts.  This in-turn can lead to mastitis (a nasty breast infection), so you really want to get on top of this.  Turn to a Lactation Consultant for help.
  • If you notice lumps and bumps try a gentle circular massage with some olive oil during a feed. Massage the breast down toward the nipple, to release any blocking milk ducts.
  • Handy hint: Baby will draw most milk away from where her chin is pointing.  Try different positions so that both of you gain the best from it - like playing Twister on your chest.

4. Your bub might puke up all your hard work

When you've just spent the better part of an hour in the middle of the night, feeding that little munchkin, the last thing you'll appreciate, will be her puking up all your hard work.

And it seriously looks like they regurgitate it all.  But in reality, they don't. If baby is gaining weight and she's happy, it's likely all is well.  But, never hesitate to talk to your health care provider if you're concerned about your baby.

5. Mum, it gets better...

I know you feel like this is now your sole ‘lot’ in life, and that you’ll be struggling and stressing from here to eternity, but it really does end.  Much sooner than you think.  You may feel like you’re fumbling around in the dark (and this may be more literal than you’d care it to be!), but I promise, baby will flourish, and before you know it, you will be the seasoned expert for some other rookie.

Take it easy on your self as any new thing offers it’s difficulties, and being responsible for the life and growth of another, is no small task, but you will triumph!

Don’t forget to enjoy her.  Remember the other aspects of mothering that are going well for you both and revel in her loveliness.  Because she is lovely.  Choose to giggle over your predicament (wherever you’re able) as she’ll take her cues from you.
Surround yourself with a company of other mums and professionals who offer comfort and sound advice.  Enjoy those close warm snuggles, because they are oh so precious and wrap your love around her.

Cuddle her tight and know that it’s all going to be ok and it truly does get better.