The 1st week in August marks the time people all over the world are encouraged to raise awareness on the benefits of breastfeeding #WorldBreastfeedingWeek and this year’s theme is ‘Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life’. Without getting all technical, breastmilk is highly beneficial to your baby as they get all the antibodies they need. So your baby shouldn’t need anything else apart from your breastmilk, infact some would argue that a baby does need to take Vitamin D supplements if the mother regularly takes hers. And as I mentioned in my previous breastfeeding post Breastfeeding Woes – Engorgement it fosters the mother/child bond – the emotion you feel while you breastfeed and holding your baby’s little hand is priceless. It also makes one feel powerful as woman, being the life source of your little human.
In addition, it is always at the right temperature (no need to wait for the milk to cool down), perfect consistency (breastfed babies poop so easily so no fear of constipation) and there is no need to sterilise any equipment. To top it all off, it is FREE! This benefit was definitely the deciding factor to breastfeed my first baby 5+ years ago, however I naively thought it would be an easy & natural thing to breastfeed my child. I had planned to breastfeed my first child for a full year but only managed to for about 7 months after my baby showed more interest in taking formula in a bottle than breastmilk in a bottle – that got me so emotional as I had vowed my child would never taste formula milk. With baby number 2, I was more open-minded to letting her have formula milk and weaning her off the boob by month 6 (because I cannot come and die IFYKYK). However, she loved breastmilk so much and refused to be weaned off until she was about 10months old just before I returned to work.
Now it’s all well and good when we spill out benefits, however, we need to also look at the ‘dark’ side of breastfeeding so women can make an informed decision:
1. The weird feeling called ‘Let-down Reflex’ Basically this is the feeling you get when your baby starts to suckle and the milk starts to come down you milk ducts. In the early weeks after baby#2 birth, let-down felt more like really painful period cramps as my uterus contracted. That soon passed and was replaced by a more weird sensation (like pins and needles) which shot through my body each time I breastfed my baby.
2. The different painful breastfeeding conditions. This goes beyond your nipples being sore from the constant sucking. I only had latching issue with my first baby which was nothing compared to the different breastfeeding issues I got with Baby#2. Gosh the kind of pain one gets from conditions like Mastitis, Engorgement, and Nipple/Breast Thrush (amongst others) is real! And I experienced all these with Baby#2 First I had blocked milk ducts – I noticed in week 2 postpartum (PP) that my right breast just never fully drained after baby fed, it remained hard in certain places and was quite uncomfortable, it later became inflamed, swollen and super painful; it also had flu-like symptoms. It turned out my blocked milk ducts had led to mastitis, so I used the tips offered on the NHS website and they worked. Two weeks later (at about 4 weeks PP), I caught breast thrush (we were uncertain who passed it to whom as the baby also had oral thrush). It was the most painful thing ever! It can be compared to crushing broken glass in someone’s breasts, had to visit the GP for this one and I got prescribed an antifungal cream while baby got an oral gel.
3. How sick breastfeeding can make you. Remember my post on engorgement? After googling my symptoms a few times, I quickly learnt the art of trying different things to relieve myself – from taking hot showers, hand expressing, pumping and using paracetamol. Then back aches you get from bad posturing (especially in the earlier days when you are still trying to find your feeding positions).
This leads me on nicely to the next one.
4. The very awkward breastfeeding positions. There are a couple of positions one could try, including the Cradle hold, Crossover hold, Football hold, Laid-back position and the Side-lying position. But in those early days, you might find yourself being hunched over your newborn many times trying to get him/her to latch onto your breasts properly.
5. How it changes your sleep positions. Forget about lying on your tummy to sleep bcos you will feel the pressure you applied on them by doing so the following morning. Also it can cause one of the breastfeeding conditions mentioned in point 3
6. How the other breast feels when baby is feeding on one. This was most awkward of all my BFing issues, the other boob literally swells up as I fed her on one. I would feel it filling up, then harden for a couple of minutes and then starts to leak. Apparently our bodies are engineered to feed two babies at a time. But by week 12, shouldn’t my body have realised that I was only feeding one!
7. Oh how messy can breastfeeding be?! (see point 5) with all that leaking let me just say muslin squares will be your best friend 😃 Another messy part is your baby’s poop – due to the light consistency of breastmilk, it passes through baby’s digestive system quite easily. This means they have runnier poops then formula-fed babies and poop more frequently too, so get ready for them nappy changes!
8. How awkward your swollen breasts look and feel on your body. This here really bothered me. I felt super bloated all the time and my clothes didn’t fit. There was a time I was on instastory chatting away and I noticed one breast was bigger than the other, I made a comment about and got a few Dms from women who felt the same way but thought people would see them as being vain. Ain’t no problem about being vain! I understand being bloated and swollen in the early days postpartum but not after 6+ months.
9. Babies with teeth. Breastfeeding becomes a different ball game when your wee baby decides to grow teeth early. My second baby cut her 1st set of teeth at 6 months and boy was it painful each time she bit me😩 apart from the sharpness of the teeth, she’s constantly teething so she kept grinding her teeth against my areole which was super painful!
10. Sleep deprivation is real. Whether you have baby who feeds in short bursts of time (baby#2) or in long stretches (baby#1), your baby fully relies on you for their food at whatever time. It doesn’t matter if you are completely shattered from caring for your other child/ren, the baby needs to be fed. Some women may find this hard to accept which may lead to them resenting their spouse/partner or even the baby. Not great for ones mental health.
And of course there are other issues that I haven’t mentioned here which other women have experienced. As I earlier mentioned, my 1st baby only had issues with latching and if I had experienced half of points 1-10 with her I would have given given up on breastfeeding a long time ago! I did find a solution to her latching issue and our breastfeeding journey was blissful from then on (now imagine my heartache when I found out my breast milk wasn’t good for storing).
Many first time mums intend to breastfeed but soon find the reality is more bleak and frustrating, some continue as in while some stop and move over to formula-feeding (now that has it’s own struggles). I’m always one to offer support to any woman who intends to breastfeed and/ or struggling to, but I also tell them to try formula if it is affecting their mental wellbeing. I truly believe women are created with the beautiful but deceiving power of forgetfulness that we expect other women to just get with the flow, why don’t you think deep on any struggles you had with your BFing journey and provide advice accordingly?
And new mums (whether you have previous children or not), don’t listen to people who say it’s normal to suffer breastfeeding No it is not. Listen to your body and motherly instincts and make the decision you believe is right for your circumstance. Believe me we are all blagging our way through this thing called “motherhood”.
Happy New Week lovelies!