Friday, 30 March 2012

Feeding him myself

I am breastfeeding Linus.  (Right this second actually.  I'm getting pretty good at one-handed typing!)  I've noticed, however, that people here in the UK don't ask if I'm breastfeeding.  When it's come up, they've all asked if I'm "feeding him myself".  I'm not sure if it's a cultural difference or just a coincidence that all of the women have worded it that way.  Most of them were a bit older than me, so perhaps it's a hesitance to use the word "breast".  All of them have praised me for my perseverance and most didn't breastfeed their own children.  I know that breastfeeding is less common in the UK.  There is a big push to get more women to do it, but I think they've only had limited success.  I've seen a few specials on TV that were aimed at spreading the word about the benefits of breastfeeding, but frankly they did the effort no favours by featuring the weirdo militant moms who were still breastfeeding 6 year olds.

Passed out after a good feed.

I knew from the beginning that I intended to breastfeed.  It just made sense to me.  There are all sorts of health benefits for both mom and baby.  And it seems so much easier.  You don't have to mess with bottles or formula.  You just (as my husband so lovingly put it) "lob a tit out".  I get that it isn't right for everyone, but it seemed the logical choice for me.

In preparation for Linus' arrival, I started reading up on all things baby- pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding were all frequent topics of my research.  I like to collect as much information as I can to give me a solid base of knowledge.  As I read more and more about breastfeeding I found that, rather than easing my anxiety, I was adding to it.  You see, everything I read online about breastfeeding seemed to say the same thing:

"No one tells you how hard breastfeeding is.  It's SOOOOO hard.  Man it's the hardest.  You will fail or will think about quitting because it's super duper hard.  It hurts and will make you cry.  Boy howdy is it hard!"*

All the tales of woe (poor latch, insufficient milk supply, cracked/bleeding nipples, toe-curling pain) freaked me right the hell out.  Part of me started to think that breastfeeding would be a real struggle.  Another part of me (the gut instict part, that I usually end up giving more weight than any research I do) said, "This is doable. It may be hard, but you can totally do this."  I decided that people, in their attempts to warn people of the challenges of breastfeeding had skewed my reading too far to one side.  So many women had felt unprepared for it to be difficult that the internet ended up with a glut of warnings.

So in order to rectify this glut, or at least add my perspective, I'll tell you about my experience.

The first 48 hours or so were tough.  Linus was pretty sleepy and not interested in feeding on the schedule that made the midwives in the hospital happy.  We hadn't quite worked out how to latch properly and hadn't settled on the right hold to use.  I felt like my boobs were everywhere and that I needed a couple of extra hands to get him latched on and nursing right.  When I did get Linus latched, he would often fall asleep and stop suckling.

On the recovery ward, not long before discharge.

So here are my tips to get through the early hard parts:
-Don't give up!  It is hard at first.  That is true.  It is a new skill that you have to learn.  And it's not just you.  The baby is learning too!  This is one of the most helpful things that a friend said to me.  It is a two person activity and the baby has to learn how to do it too, so don't feel like you are doing a bad job if it isn't easy.  Just keep doing it and it will get better.  You'll both figure it out.
-Keep trying different things When I was in the hospital I tried every nursing position that I'd read about.  It tried the traditional crossbody hold, lying down, and the rugby hold (known as the football hold in the US).  The traditional hold has never really worked for us.  I think we've done it once in the 4 weeks I've been nursing.  Lying down has only started working in the last week or so and it's not always a sure fire thing. Now the rugby hold- the rugby hold is our jam!  It's the way to go for us and I'd heard that it was a good option for the *ahem* amply bosomed.  That said, it didn't work great at first.  Nothing did, but... *see above*  
-Improvise  When Linus was new and very sleepy I found that I had to work hard to keep him eating.  I'd read to tickle his feet, rub his back or make circles on his cheeks to stimulate him.  There was no way I could do that in the beginning.  I barely had enough hands to wrangle my boobs and the baby.  I found two alternate things that worked:  blowing on his face and squeezing him gently like a bagpipe with my elbow while he was in the rugby/football hold.  Now I can feed him with just one hand and he stays awake much better, but don't be afraid to try different things.  Don't get too caught up in how you're *supposed* to do things.  (Not a bad life philosophy in my opinion!)


-Try not to get too uptight about timing  Now this is an area where others might not agree, but I generally let Linus eat when he wants to eat and sleep when he wants to eat.  Now that he's 4 weeks old, I'm starting to think about a schedule, but in the early days I think it's best to just go with the flow.  The midwives in the hospital were stressing me out with their insistence that Linus needed to nurse after a certain number of hours had passed.  He was fine.  Trying to wake him up to make him eat was pretty futile.  Once we were discharged and left to our own devices things go MUCH better and less stressful.  We've found our own rhythm and Linus is gaining weight like a champ.
-Relax!  I think this applies to parenting (and- well- life) in general.  Babies pick up on tension and parental stress.  If you are uptight about nursing it only makes it harder.  Once we left the hospital and the external stressors of the observing midwives (who were only doing their jobs and assuredly meant well) were gone, we were golden.  Towards the end of our stay at the hospital I'd been told that I needed a midwife to observe me with Linus appropriately latched on before I could be discharged.  As the clock ticked on, my desperation to go home did not make this feat any easier to accomplish.  I've been lucky that I've been able to maintain my breastfeeding zen thus far.  I haven't cried or gotten worked up about it and I think that's a big reason we're doing well so far.
-Don't get complacent  After a week and a half or so of good nursing I started to feel like we had it down and were totally in the clear.  Then Linus started doing a weird tongue thing that led to raw nipples.  I needed to keep paying attention to his latch and not assume he'd get it right every time.  Then today, Linus took an extraordinarily long morning nap.  Then we went out to run some errands.  Every time we've gone out and about Linus has slept the whole time.  I think he finds the movement of the car and, when we get where we're going, his stroller comforting.  By the time we got home I was about to burst.  I soaked through breast pads, my nursing tank top and and overshirt.  It was a mess.  And my pump was disassembled and in the dishwasher.  I tried to feed him, but was so engorged that he couldn't latch on.  I handed a screaming baby over to Ross and quickly washed the pump by hand and pumped enough that Linus could latch.  Whew!  Crisis averted, but barely.  I should have been more on top of the pump being clean and the timing of feedings for my own sake.
-Let your partner help  Just because you're breastfeeding doesn't mean that your partner can't be involved.  Ross helped with an extra hand in the early unwieldy days.  He's comforted Linus while I've gotten settled and recently has gotten to feed him bottles of milk that I expressed.  It's easy for the guy to feel left out because breastfeeding is the one thing they really can't do, but that doesn't mean that they don't have a role to play- even if it's just emotional or moral support.

Ross giving Linus his first bottle

So, if you want to make breastfeeding work have confidence that you can do it!  It's not super-easy, but it's also not the hardest thing ever.  I think approaching it with a positive attitude makes a big difference.  I've even managed to nurse in public twice now- once in the cafe at the John Rylands Library and once in a restaurant.  I used a pashmina scarf (no fancy, expensive nursing covers required) to cover myself and didn't get any dirty looks or grief from anyone.  I don't think most people knew anything was even going on.  

Those are my tips, what are yours?
Was breastfeeding easier or harder than you expected?

*I'm paraphrasing and using slight exaggeration for comedic effect, but this was the general gist of what I read.


  1. Great advice! I stayed away from the online horror story club for my own sanity. There's one thing I want to add, babies nurse/your breasts feed at different speeds. I was lucky with both to have an easy time breastfeeding and both times almost freaked when the nurses told me he should be on for at least 30 minutes each feed. They changed their tune when he gained his birth weight back. So trust your instincts, if baby is hungry he'll usually let you know!

    1. Thanks! So true about the length of feeding thing. The midwives kept asking if he was staying on the breast for 30 minutes when we were in the hospital and I was lucky if I could get him to stay on for 5 then! Trusting your instincts is so important.

  2. Really, really great tips! I think that part of the reason why I found it so hard was all of the pressure that I put on myself to make it work. I think I had expectations that it'd just all be so simple, but totally didn't take into account how nature works on it's own. It took a week for my milk to show and poor HUT had a hard time with that. I think that when it's time for baby dos my experience will be SO much better.

    1. Thanks! It is so hard sometimes to just relax and tell yourself that it will work out in time. We're so used to controlling life that letting nature do it's thing can be very frustrating. I'm sure it's SO much easier the second time around.