Breastfeeding your newborn… how does it REALLY feel? MYTHS unpicked!

“You’ll fall in love with your baby immediately!”

This might be true to some, but the majority of people who have just given birth tend to be in a haze. Either due to drugs, lack of sleep, pain or simply exhaustion from this absolutely transformational experience of giving birth, no matter which way that has happened.

You are a mother! You are a parent! But hang on. This transition doesn’t happen overnight. Your hormones are raging, you’re sore in many different places in your body AND you are given the responsibility to take care of this tiny helpless human being.It can feel lonely. It can fee scary. It can feel overwhelming. Trying to work out the mechanics of breastfeeding AT THE SAME TIME, sometimes without any antenatal preparation, can feel near impossible.

“You don’t have enough milk, you have to supplement with formula.”

In my pregnancy BLOG post (Prepare for breastfeeding BEFORE baby is born? Why bother?) I talked about some reasons why a woman might not be able to produce enough milk for their baby. It’s a very small percentage of the population. More often than not, it’s lack of skilled breastfeeding support that causes a cascade of interventions where formula top ups get introduced too soon and spiral into the ‘top up trap’.

Never blame an individual, but the system, lack of training and time with qualified professionals on a busy postnatal ward, or else, well meaning relatives.

FACT: Babies have tiny stomachs, which can only hold 5ml of milk on day 1, 7ml on day 2, and 15ml-30ml by the ned of the first week! That is the size of a small-large marble!

FACT: Colostrum is ‘designed’ to be your baby’s first food. It’s liquid gold. It’s super sticky and concentrated yellow liquid, which provides your baby’s first ‘inoculation’, a MEGA immune boost after birth.

FACT: The more you feed, the more you produce. Breast milk relies on a finely tuned supply and demand system, and it can take a few weeks for your hormone levels and milk production to adjust to your babies need (if fed exclusively at the breast, on cue).

FACT: Unlimited skin to skin holding between mother and baby can boost your supply and help baby latch well in the early days.And for the record, I’m NOT anti formula when it’s necessary. Get skilled help!

“Your nipples are the wrong size/shape/inverted/flat etc. You can’t breastfeed!”

Almost never the case.Your nipples are most likely be perfect for your baby.To each breastfeeding problem there is always a breastfeeding solution.

Common issues:

1. Nipple too small/flat/inverted for your baby.

While true inversion is very rare, it does occasionally happen. There is a lot that can be done with skilled support during pregnancy and in the early days of breastfeeding with some nifty tools and techniques, to evert an inverted nipple. Breastfeeding in itself can achieve your nipple to protrude more as tie goes on, and with stimulation.

2. Nipple too large for your baby.

If this is the case, time is on your side. Your baby grows at such astonishing rate in the early days: before you know it, you will be perfectly matched in size. However, you will need skilled support in the meantime to maintain your milk supply and keep baby fed and interested in skin to skin cuddles.

3. Sore nipples/nipple confusion.

If your nipples are already really sore from a previous injury or baby started preferring the bottle and refusing to go on the breast, you can use a nipple shield as a transitional tool. Breastfeeding with a shield IS breastfeeding, although the opinions in the profession seem to span between extremes. I’ve personally seen it used with good results, as the silicone teat can provide that extra stimulation just at the right point on the junction of baby’s soft and hard palate.

“ You need some rest. Let daddy give baby a bottle.”

Sounds like a lovely and helpful suggestion doesn’t it?There are a few reasons why it might create more problems in the long run, (unless of course there is a medical need for giving top ups via bottle.)

1. Most women have a natural oversupply in the early days of breastfeeding, which means it can take up to a few week for their bodies to ‘learn’ how much milk to make for their baby or babies. If this delicate process gets interfered with (by extra pumping for instance), an uncomfortable oversupply may be created which comes with numerous challenges to the nursing pair.

2. The mother’s breasts need emptying regularly for them to be able to function well, produce milk, avoid blockages and worse. If a bottle is given at any point in the day/night, the nursing parent doesn’t only miss the opportunity for breast emptying in that particular time slot, but the baby is likely to go for a longer sleep/rest/digestion period afterwards – yet another missed opportunity for breast emptying. Cue: engorgement, blocked ducts ,mastitis, reduced supply.

3. To avoid all the above complications, some families choose to go ahead with the daily bottle or 2 anyway, if that’s what suits their schedule. This can be fine, but it’s hardly ever an ‘easy way’ forward, as the lactating parent will need to replace that feed with a pumping session, which of course involved sterilising bottles, storing milk and letting down to pump. (No easy feat for all.)

“You just have to suffer through the pain. Breastfeeding is painful.”

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Can you imagine nature creating a way of nurturing our babies for extended periods of time (averaging over 4 years around the world), where the mother has to suffer bleeding, cracked nipples and soreness for the duration?

Pain is your clue something is going wrong. Talking to a skilled practitioner will shed light on what might be causing that pain:

1. Shallow latch.The most common reason for nipple and breast pain. It may be lack of experience for mother and baby OR structural issues like a tongue tie or disability. In any case, there WILL be positions that can at least make breastfeeding more pleasant and let your nipple start healing.

2. Thrush, Candida, Yeast infection.Variations on a theme. A nasty fungal infection that needs dealing with. Again, your breastfeeding supporter and GP will have treatment ideas for you. As it’s highly contagious, it will most likely affect both breasts AND baby’s mouth.

3. Blocked ducts and blebs (milk blisters).Missed a feed? Tight bra or sling or even clothing? Baby’s latch is stopping thorough emptying of the breast? There are many home remedies to avoid worsening of this condition. Ask your breastfeeding supporter!

4. Mastitis or other bacterial infection, abscess.You will need medical intervention at this stage sadly, but they can be fixed, you don’t need to wean and many go onto having a long and pleasant breastfeeding relationship afterwards!

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