When asked if we were prepared for our impending new arrivals, we were similar in our responses:
– Yes, all prepared for the labour, thanks to our hypnobirth sessions.
– Yes, we have a car seat and a pram and the nursery is almost ready.
– Yes, we have lots of lovely clothes all freshly washed, ironed and folded away.
And then reality hit.
– Great birth. What now?
– That nursery won’t be used for another six months, why was it such a priority?
– No idea why we have all these outfits when the baby will live in sleep suits for at least three months
Hindsight, as we know, is bloody wonderful. So here’s what we wish we’d known and researched BEFORE we gave birth.
1. La Leche League. We hadn’t even heard of this wonderful movement before having the girls. Now, we credit them with keeping us going through some very tough times. Set up by a group of seven mothers in 1950s America, they now have groups around the world. Our local leaders are in Milton Keynes and also run a fantastic Facebook group full of other mums in our area.
TIP: We now know that they run monthly sessions, including ‘Preparing to Breastfeed’, ‘Weaning onto Solids’ and ‘Breastfeeding in the Public Eye’. We also know that these sessions are classed as antenatal classes, so you are entitled to take time off work to attend, just as you would a scan or midwife appointment.
2. Watching Breastfeeding in Action. We can’t remember ever seeing a baby breastfeeding up close. Of course we’d been aware of babies feeding when out and about, but we’d never had a proper look at latch or positioning; both crucial for learning this new skill and not getting sore nips or milk transfer issues.
TIP: If you know a breastfeeding mama, ask her if she’d mind showing you how it’s done. Admittedly, we would have felt awkward before babies but both of us would now be more than happy to help another mama. If you don’t have anyone to call on, YouTube has some excellent videos demonstrating position and latch.
3. Reading and Research. Part of our flippant approach to breastfeeding meant no reading about it before the girls arrived; a bit daft for two people with such a love of books! When Primrose was three weeks old, Jo found Gill Rapley’s Baby Led Breastfeeding an absolute godsend, having got into a flap. She was timing feeds, obsessing over how many times a day P was feeding and generally not trusting her body. She read this book cover to cover, went back to basics and felt much more confident after reading.
Reading accurate and up to date information is also helpful in knowing when advice you’re being given is a load of tosh. Sometimes, this comes from well-meaning family members whose knowledge of nursing is decades old but, sadly, HVs, GPs and even some breastfeeding ‘specialists’ give misleading and damaging information. We have both experienced this, as have many other women we know. Our antenatal classes, for example, talked about feeding ‘every three hours’ rather than as and when baby requires it – strict routines can seriously affect milk supply as your body isn’t aware of exactly how much milk to produce to meet baby’s needs.
TIP: We would also recommend La Leche League’s own publication The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding for something more in-depth and The Food of Love for a more light-hearted read. Rapley’s book falls somewhere in between the two. And, invaluable, is Kellymom – specialist in all things breastfeeding and great for any hiccups you may experience, e.g. blocked ducts, milk blisters, medications etc. (search for what you need using the search facility or Google, the list of topics is far too long to sift through!!).
4. Understanding your body and baby. We, along with most women in our position, thought breastfeeding was a totally natural thing for all mums and babes. Whilst some are lucky enough to encounter no issues at all, we now realise that it is a skill that needs to be learned by both of you. It’s also very easy to doubt yourself in those early days. After all, you have no way of knowing how much milk you baby is taking. It comes down to trusting your baby and body (much like during labour) and learning to look at their nappy output (plenty of wet and dirty nappies – early breastmilk, in particular, is a natural laxative) and general constitution – are they happy? Weight gain is also a factor though Jo fell into the trap of becoming obsessed with Primrose’s slow weight gain which, as became apparent over time, was normal for her and she was otherwise happy and healthy. She recommends this article and believes the drop off rate in breastfeeding would vastly decrease if every new mama was given it to read.
TIP: Remember that your baby is born (and initially weighed) with a tummy full of mucus and fluid. A drop in birth weight is to be expected though colostrum can be expressed and harvested before birth to give baby a boost in those first few days, before your milk arrives.
5. Online resources. For all its faults, there’s no question that Facebook has some brilliant groups for mamas who want to breastfeed. We found great support in local breastfeeding groups as well as International pages like ‘The Leaky Boob’, ‘The Milk Meg’ and La Leche League USA.
TIP: Search for and join/like these groups and pages whilst you’re pregnant. It really helps to have accurate information and positive messages popping up on your News Feed *before* your baby arrives.
6. All the Gear,
No Idea. Start investigating what you might need (and definitely don’t need) before baby arrives. Initially, Lansinoh Nipple Cream will be your absolute best friend. If you’re allergic to lanolin, as Lauren is, try an alternative such as Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Balm (and breast milk rubbed in after each feed is soothing too). You will get through MANY breast pads. We both used disposable ones initially, before discovering washable ones. Kinder to the environment, cheaper and they don’t make a scrunchy sound in your bra! These ones by Canny Mum are fantastic. Plenty of muslins are a must, especially in those early days when your supply will be all over the place. General advice is not to express before six weeks, as your supply won’t have settled. That said, some mums have little choice, for many different reasons. It is worth getting advice from other mamas – manual or electric, single or dual, different brands. You can safely use second hand breast pumps with some notable exceptions, like the Medela Swing (just make sure you wash and sterilise them thoroughly! Instructions and videos on how to do can be found online).
TIP: Do your research on each thing you are thinking of forking out for – having a baby is an expensive business so it pays to be clued up. This is another example of how useful online groups can be.
7. Clothing & Bras. Annoyingly, many nursing clothes are also maternity clothes so, once your tummy has shrunk, even a little, the majority of these clothes look ridiculous. H&M, JoJo Maman Bebe and Seraphine each stock clothes specifically for nursing but we also recommend the brilliant Facebook group ‘Can I Breastfeed in it? UK’. With almost 35k members ready to tell you if you can feed in that beautiful dress you’ve found OR posting pictures of garments they’ve found that are boob friendly, it is a brilliant resource. They also have a selling page so you can stock up on preloved items.The one up/one down method is worth discovering… Wear a nursing vest (with clips) or a really stretchy one that can be pulled down, with another top or jumper over the top. Pull the vest down and the jumper up and, hey presto, baby can latch without you getting a cold tummy or back AND you save money on (often) expensive nursing gear. A pashmina is also seriously helpful in helping you cover up (if *you* want to) in those early days when you’re still faffing about under your jumper. In Jo’s case, with four months of using nipple shields, a pashmina helped her feel less exposed.
Don’t make Jo’s mistake of spending over £40 on a nursing bra a week after birth, only to find it uncomfortable because her supply hadn’t settled. If you are fairly small busted, we recommend the stretchy crop tops sold in places like ASOS, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. They are soft and stretchy enough to pull down to feed, wear at night and give enough support. If, however, you want or need better support, head to the Facebook group ‘Boob or Bust’. They have a sizing calculator (have your tape measure to hand) and will check the measurements for you. Prepare to be shocked – women frequently discover through the site that (for example) they’re a 32H and have been wearing a 38DD for years.
TIP: Be prepared to try on lots of bras until you find one that is really comfortable. Many shops use an outdated and inaccurate way of measuring, so bras are often ill fitting – annoying enough when you’re not breastfeeding but quite dangerous when you are; badly fitted bras can cause blocked ducts and mastitis as they cause pressure in delicate areas. Generally speaking, Bravissimo seems to be reliable, once you’ve discovered your true size on ‘Boob or Bust’.
8. Your partner’s involvement. We have a whole post coming up on this (now available here) but, just as your partner needs to understand your needs in labour, they need to know how breastfeeding works; how much babies feed in the first few weeks and months, and what is normal newborn behaviour. The more they understand, the more supportive they can be.
TIP: At the very least, ensure your partner is with you for antenatal classes on breastfeeding and show them any useful articles or sections in books that you come across. Lauren didn’t really think to include her husband in stuff like this, but when she was visited by a breastfeeding counsellor a few days after birth, he found it incredibly useful to hear her advice and understand how he could support.
9. Look after Yourself. There’s no doubt that pregnancy, labour, birth and breastfeeding take their toll on your body. Aside from looking after your nips, staying well hydrated, eating well (you’ll be burning an extra 500 calories each day whilst nursing and will be sharing your nutrients with your baby; so stock up with a varied diet and/or consider supplements (always check with doctor, pharmacist or midwife/HV for what is safe)) and getting plenty of rest, you need to take some time for yourself, to avoid feeling burnt out. This throwback post on self-care will give you some ideas.
TIP: Taking some time for yourself gives you a golden opportunity for your partner to bond with your baby – skin-to-skin during a nap, baby-wearing on a walk, doing bathtime, looking at a black and white book…
10. Grow a Thick Skin. We’ve already mentioned dealing with outdated advice but some women have to deal with a lot of unsolicited advice, too. We were both quite lucky in this respect; perhaps because we both have a stubborn streak, but also because most of our tribe breastfed, so it was simply the ‘norm’. From women being told by their husbands, “Your boobs are mine.” to those told by family members and even doctors that’ “It’s not fair on your husband for you to still be feeding” (Yes, these are actual, real life examples!), it pays to have a thick skin. You will also need it if you watch programmes like ‘Loose Women’ or ‘This Morning’ – ITV seems to be on a mission to undo what #normalisebreastfeeding is trying to achieve.
TIP: Know that it is your right to feed in public and anywhere that tries to stop you is breaking the law. Know, also, that the average international age for weaning is around 4 years; it’s Western culture that has made this ‘weird’. Have a response to daft comments (almost always borne out of ignorance rather than malice) ready and hopefully you’ll never need to use them.This throwback post may help you.
We hope this ‘hindsight’ helps you! To all those who’ve breastfed… what have we missed? Tell us in the comments below!
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Love, The Mother Side xx