No matter how many ‘Breastfeeding classes’ I attended whilst pregnant, or how many leaflets I was bombarded with, suddenly having a tiny human expecting milk every 15 minutes was a shock to the system, to say the least. So here’s what I learned…and what they often don’t tell you.
1. Cluster feeding is totally normal.
Yes. Even though everything I was told and had read spoke of my newborn needing to feed every 1-3 hours in the beginning, this must have been made up to encourage women to breastfeed before they really knew what was going on. You will feel like you are feeding constantly, day and night. In the early weeks, my baby would feed for 30-40 minutes each sitting every couple of hours. I would barely clip my bra back on before he was screaming like a banshee.
No one had told me about ‘cluster feeding‘ and the first time I heard the phrase was frantically searching online for how ‘normal’ this was. It is normal, by the way, and it is tough but it DOES get easier.
2. That toe-curling pain does end.
Before I had my own baby in my arms, I had heard many stories of how ‘painful’ breastfeeding was, however, I was also told that if it hurt…you were doing it wrong. WRONG. It will hurt in the beginning. Your breasts are not used to being clamped onto 500 times a day by freakishly strong little gums. Most women experience some pain with breastfeeding, especially in the early days. However, if the pain is more enduring and intense, it is always a good idea to speak to a breastfeeding consultant, a group of other mums or your health visitor. I know a few mamas who went through this and it was due to tongue tie or a latching issue, which is more common that we’re led to believe! Please don’t feel you can’t ask for help.
3. Most of us need help at some point.
Breastfeeding isn’t easy, no matter how natural it is. I had this naive idea that my baby would latch on straight after birth and we would be away. How different the reality is. I was in hospital for 2 days and during this time, I had around 10 midwives attempt to help me latch my son onto my nipple to feed. So if THEY couldn’t do it, why on earth would I (someone who has never attempted to breastfeed before)? I came to realize that nearly everyone who started on their breastfeeding journey needed help at some point along the way. I even had a breastfeeding consultant come to my house to check my positioning and latch and was told about breastfeeding support groups around my city. Now if this was such an easy thing for us mamas, I don’t think all this help would be there in the first place!
4. It is normal to struggle.
Leading on from the above point, it’s normal to get frustrated, it’s normal to cry, it’s normal to want to give up and grab that bottle of formula that’s calling you on the shelf. I wish I’d known this because I felt like a terrible mother who couldn’t pull herself together for most of the first two weeks at least. My mantra ended up being ‘one more day’ and I would literally be contemplating giving up every one of those days. Until one day, it just seemed to click. No more pain, no more back to back feeds. It felt easy and suddenly this huge ‘problem’ or ‘chore’ no longer felt that way. But I became a big advocate for happy mum, happy baby…do what is right for you as a parent because the most important thing to your baby, is that their mama is happy! If that means bottle feeding, then so be it! Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or that you have failed, because they aren’t in your shoes and it’s not their baby.
5. Every baby is different.
Grandparents, in-laws, friends and well-meaning strangers will all seem to have this strange theory that all babies behave in the same way and respond to the same tips and tricks. Yet, any mother of a newborn baby will tell you that this is a load of tripe. My Health Visitor once said to me ‘there are all these books on what to do, unfortunately, babies don’t read them‘. I would feel my blood boil when yet another person would suggest my baby ‘wasn’t getting enough milk‘ or that he ‘should try formula before bed‘ to get him to sleep longer. Being an anxious, hormonal, sleep-deprived new mum, I would then consider whether this advice was worth trying and of course, my son wasn’t having any of it. Did I have a particularly stubborn baby? Did he have some condition that was causing all this difficulty? No. My son, like every other human on this planet, is an individual with his own needs and personality and what works for one baby, doesn’t necessarily work for another. Do what YOU think is right and forget what anyone else says. We know our babies best.
6. Your boobs will figure it out.
Our bodies are amazing things. Granted, it doesn’t feel like it when you’re sat with an ice pack and leaking boobs, but they are! Your baby is ordering milk for the coming days, weeks and months and after about 4-6 weeks, your body gets to know how much your baby needs. Your boobs will stop engorging and deflating and hurting and leaking and actually start feeling quite normal again (unless you skip a feed and then they might start expanding again). So although you may feel like a vending machine (as my other half likes to put it), this again does ease up. You, your baby and your boobs will get into the swing of things and all the stuff that felt like a nightmare in the beginning will be a distant memory (sort of).
7. Growth spurts are real.
As in, they usually happen around the actual time all the books say! This is where I totally recommend an app called wonderweeks. It helped me understand why my baby kept going through phases of what seemed like constant hunger and fussiness. Because when your baby does have a growth spurt or ‘mental leap‘, you know about it. Cluster feeding resumes and it can feel like one step forward, two steps back. Again, they don’t last forever, it just feels like it at the time!
8. You will have a nest!
No, this isn’t like nesting in pregnancy. I mean, you will have a chair/sofa/bed that becomes your den for a good few weeks or more. Something I found invaluable throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding was this DreamGenii Maternity Support Pillow. I remember feeling like I just didn’t move from my spot on the sofa when I was breastfeeding in the early weeks. Once I was there, I needed food and drink on standby and of course Netflix! A massive tip from someone when I was pregnant was to cook and freeze two weeks worth of food and boy, was I glad I listened. Actually, my partner did this for us, and it was a godsend when both of us were sleep-deprived and hibernating. Don’t feel guilty about this. I say this because I went through all the emotions during those times and guilt was definitely one of them. Now I look back and realize what a massive achievement it was to go through pregnancy, birth and bringing home a newborn. Eat whatever you like and binge watch box sets. Before you know it, the baby will want to be entertained and those chances seem few and far between. Self-care is key!