I have two children. I also have had two vastly different feeding journeys with my children. In a nutshell, my first was bottle fed, my second is breastfed, but neither child has been easy to feed. I think I must have cried most about the difficulties I’ve had feeding my children over all other parental woes… yet, somehow we are getting by. What’s that saying? ‘Fed is best’. I’m not here to discourage you from bottle-feeding or encourage you to breastfeed. But with the pressure for our exhausted bodies to continue providing baby’s complete nutritional needs, after 9 months of pregnancy and the intense miracle of labour, I am here to help make that journey a little easier on you if I can. But first, a tiny bit of background…
When my oldest son, Oscar, was born, I had in my head that I was going to breastfeed. My husband was hot on nutrition and we figured ‘breast was best’ – after all, it’s natural, right? Oh, how naive I was then! It was a long labour. A really long labour. I nearly gave up several times – if that’s even possible – and by the time Oscar was born I was more than happy for him to have skin-to-skin with Daddy whilst I was led into a different room to be stitched up. I’ve no idea how much time passed (I was waffling away and enjoying the gas and air too much whilst being repaired!) but when I was led back into the birthing suite, the golden hour after birth had been and gone. I remember cuddling Oscar and positioning him onto my breast to feed, but he didn’t seem at all interested. Neither did he seem fussed when various midwives poked their heads around the door to check on us throughout the day. It’s okay, I thought – he’s just not hungry. When we get home, we’ll snuggle on the sofa together and practice. It will be fine.
But it wasn’t fine. We arrived home and over the next few days, midwives, health visitors, a lactation consultant all visited. All were kind, but no matter what advice was given, that latch just wasn’t happening. Oscar would thrash around, his body writhing as he screamed with anger as yet another person tried to manipulate his head into anything resembling a feeding position.
Meanwhile, I was getting equally frustrated and anxious too. Why wasn’t this coming easy to us? I’d done everything as naturally as possible, he’d scored perfect tens on his Apgar scores, why wasn’t he feeding? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sitting naked from the waist-up, hugging my breast-pump for multiple hours a day was doing nothing for my relationship with Oscar; and after three and a half weeks of pumping, watching tiny dregs of breast-milk get spilt, spoil after being left out for too long, or regurgitated back up (thank-you food allergies), I couldn’t bare to pump any longer. I gave up and switched to bottle feeding him formula.
It was such a relief. The pressure was instantly lifted and on top of that, there were no more leaky boobs or breast-pads and ugly nursing bras to faff about with. It was the right decision for a multitude of reasons. So, when baby number two came along, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I also knew that if it didn’t work out that was okay too.
And it hasn’t been easy; Baby Hugh also has inherited the same food allergies as his brother so it’s meant no dairy and no soy for me either – which, for someone who previously lived on a diet of chocolate and cheese, hasn’t been easy. But it has been easier… Hugh was born quickly and fed almost instantly, with very little external assistance. It wasn’t a perfect latch in the early days, but with practice and persistence, he got it; and now, four months in, I do feel proud of ourselves and thankful that luck was on our side this time.
Nevertheless, the last four months haven’t been painless: yes, I’ve cried over having the responsibility of feeding, I’ve been frustrated that half my wardrobe is still closed off to me (I used to live in dresses), and having to feed in social situations has taken me out of my comfort zone. If you’re currently pregnant and hoping to breastfeed, I urge you not to be as naive about it as I was. How did I ever think it was simply a matter of plopping baby on a boob?! There is a lot of paraphernalia where babies are concerned, much of it unnecessary – you could be forgiven for thinking that nearly all of it would be unnecessary if you’re planning to breastfeed. However, there’s always a chance your road to breastfeeding bliss might be a little bumpy, so with that in mind, these are my top five essential buys to help your journey be a little smoother than mine.
1. Lansinoh HPA® Lanolin Nipple Cream
Okay, let’s break down the first breastfeeding myth: breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. Well, I’m sorry, but personal experience dictates that that’s not completely true. If your sensitive little areolas are used to being pulled about, sucked and tugged on multiple times a day (and night) before you’ve even had the baby, then perhaps it won’t. My little nipps had never known such treatment before and it did take a few weeks for them to get accustomed to their new role. For a few weeks, they did periodically crack and feel sore. For a few weeks, I did have points where I’d almost dread the next feed because there was a real sharp pain when I put him on. Sceptics might say, “If it hurts, you’re not doing it right.” Maybe, maybe not. I just think that it takes a few weeks for one’s nipples to toughen up a little bit first and in those few weeks I would swear by Lanolin nipple cream. I would lather it on to help soothe my poor little feeding stations, helping them to heal much quicker. Someone once told me that it also makes a good lip-balm; I never tried this, but I can totally see why it might. The cracks healed, breastfeeding got easier and after a few weeks, there was no more pain or discomfort… though, we are now getting close to teething territory – and I am a little scared…
2. Silicone Breast Pump
I think the name for this product is a little misleading – it’s not so much a pump, more a cleverly shaped drip-tray for collecting excess milk as you feed. Originally brought to market by Haakaa, there are now several different versions commonly available. I eventually settled on one by Naturebond, available on Amazon (isn’t everything?!) with the deciding factor being price (£12, apparently reduced from £25).
Now, I did have to watch a YouTube video to figure out how to use it, and I must confess that even after watching I was still a little sceptical on how it would work; but it really does work, particularly in those early days with a newborn. Basically, as you feed your baby from one breast, you attach the silicone pump to your other breast. Squeezing the pump enables it to stay put by suction power (not as scary as it sounds, I promise). When let-down occurs, it occurs in both breasts simultaneously, so any milk that flows can be collected into the pump instead of absorbed into a breast-pad and wasted. I was sceptical, because I honestly didn’t believe I had much excess milk that was escaping, however it is surprising how much a few drips can add up to. I’ve managed to gather several bags full which have been stashed in the freezer for later, but I haven’t had to set aside additional time for pumping. I would say though, that it is probably most effective in the first 8 weeks before your milk supply tends to settle down a bit – but that might just be my own personal experience.
Both of my babies were born in the winter, a time when it is the norm for most people to stay fully clothed at all times. In the UK, if you are caught wearing anything less than a polo-neck jumper underneath a Parka jacket on a frosty February morning than you are clearly under-dressed! So, it may just be in my head, but I tended to think that exposing your mid-drift in Costa is a sure way to draw more attention to yourself – and I really didn’t want attention as I tried to achieve the perfect latch in public, thank-you very much.
I loved the breast-vest because I could wear it without it being an extra piece of clothing that would get in the way whilst breast-feeding. I never felt self-conscious having to lift up a jumper or top because my body was still inconspicuously covered. I didn’t have to pull it down or unclip it to give Baby Hugh access to his feed and it’s tiny spaghetti-string straps held it in place without compromising comfort. Mostly though, it gave me more confidence when feeding in public, which made an incredible difference to the duration of my breastfeeding journey.
4. Vava Lamp
You might think it a little strange to have a children’s night-light lamp listed, but hear me out. Previously, we never had table lamps beside the bed. There was no need as Kindles and phones are all nicely back-lit. Babies, on the other hand, are not. (How freaky would that be – you hear a cry and roll over to see your back-lit baby?!) Whilst the devil in you thinks that if you’ve woken up, your darling partner should be awake too (that’s not just me, right?) you also know that a grumpy husband in the morning is worse than a grumpy toddler and baby combined, so you try to resist waking them each time the baby needs feeding. However, stumbling around in the darkness, trying to ram a nipple in said baby’s cake-hole, whilst only half awake yourself isn’t the easiest of tasks. And that’s where this clever little lamp comes in…
To tie me over, I first used an old desk lamp – I mean a light is a light, right? Wrong. I love the Vava and think it is especially suited to breastfeeding in the dark because it is easy to turn on with a double tap on the top of its dome; you can easily control the brightness by pressing and holding the same spot, so there’s no need to wake the entire room with crazy, bright light flooding in after midnight (unless you want to, of course); you can change the colour – more white or more yellow – again with a simple tap and hold; it’s durable and child-safe as it’s made from approved plastics so there’s no danger of broken shards of glass or a bulb becoming too hot; it runs off mains or can be battery powered and it’s waterproof – just in case you spill your midnight tipple (I’m not judging – breastfeeding is thirsty work!) All in all it’s a very easy, very practical lamp to use and I can’t rate it highly enough.
5. Travel Mug
Because breastfeeding is thirsty work and because you will cease to have five minutes to enjoy a cup of tea/coffee/anything intended to be drunk hot, once children enter your life, I recommend investing in a travel mug or two. Cinnamon tea has been my beverage of choice since having Baby Hugh, but I would never have felt safe drinking anything hot from a normal mug – combined with sleep deprivation and my general clumsiness, it’s just too risky. However, if I can stick a lid over it then chances are it will stay warm enough for me to still enjoy alongside some post-feed, milk-drunk cuddles. Plus, I feel a lot safer using it around the baby, than I would a cup. And I guess, there’s nothing to stop you from pouring a different drink into it either – hard days (and nights!) require hard liquor sometimes. Nobody needs to know. Like I said, I’m not here to judge.
…but I hope I have given you some food for thought if you are planning to, or have already embarked on your breastfeeding journey. I was incredibly naive before, it’s not an easy journey and I’m sure the perils of feeding an infant will reduce me to tears again at some point, especially since teeth are now on the horizon – yikes! Perhaps I should hold on to the lanolin for a little while longer – I fear I may still need it.