This post is not about doing breastfeed “right” or a list of ways to make it work best. Neither is it a breastmilk vs. formula debate. It is however about my experience as a mama of three breastfed babies. All of which differed significantly when it came to nursing. I’m sharing all that I’ve learnt in the hopes that it will help another mama that might be struggling or feeling lost because I sure could have used a “breastfeeding for beginners” blogpost as a new mom.
Collectively I’ve been breastfeeding for 50 months – that’s 4 years and 2 months – and although I treasure my breastfeeding journey it actually began as a horrible, painful, tear-filled (and bloody) mess that I pretty much loathed for the first 12 weeks. Thankfully nursing a newborn got easier with every go and today I’m so happy we chose to stick it out and continue through the pain and challenges.
We went to antenatal classes, watched a dvd or two, paged through “What to Expect when you’re Expecting” and though we had prepared for birth and becoming parents. From breathing through contractions to changing diapers and bathing baby, we though the basics were covered and we weren’t too concerned about breastfeeding… People explained it could be something I’d need to get use to and it may be uncomfortable at first. It’s all to be expected. We grossly underestimated how uncomfortable things could be and it took more than a little “getting use to”!
Let’s start at the beginning…
A mother’s body is incredible and we actually start producing baby’s first “milk” – colostrum, weeks before reaching our due date. After giving birth (natural or via c-section) while still in recovery, you’ll usually have an opportunity to feed your baby for the 1st time.
We were lucky, none of the girls had trouble latching right away. Eliana was positioned by a nurse and I was told to keep her nostrils clear by pushing my breast down with my fingers. This advice did not work well. My nipple kept popping out of Eli’s mouth but as soon as I just let her do her thing, snuggled into my breast, she fed. There she stayed for at least 2 hours before anyone touched her.
With Lia I felt more confident and after reading about breast crawling we were determined to give it a go. While in the recovery room I had asked the nurse to lay Lia on top of my chest.. It was amazing to see her instinctively making her way to my nipple in only a few minutes. Once again that’s where she would stay for the first few hours after birth.
Ava followed in her sister’s “footsteps”, crawling up to my chest moments after birth and staying put for hours.
Interesting facts about colostrum we learnt from Sr Maryna Botha:
- It’s the perfect 1st “meal” for baby and a small amount (about a teaspoon full) is actually more than sufficient at first. Even if your baby shows little interest in nursing, try not to worry. Newborns don’t need much fluid at this stage, rather focus on feeding frequently for long periods of time.
- We only make a small amount of colostrum because that’s all baby needs. Your breast will stay soft and won’t feel full for the 1st few days but this is normal and actually makes latching and learning to nurse a little easier for baby.
- Consisting of living cells, a concentrated amount of immunity boosters and white blood cells that work together. Colostrum protects baby from germs and illnesses found outside the womb. It also forms a protective lining inside baby’s gut.
- Colostrum is a laxative and help clears out your baby’s first bowel movement.
- It’s easy to digest.
1st days home
None of our babies had difficulties latching but it took time figuring out how to breastfeed with ease. How long should a feed be? Do I feed on both breasts each time? How frequent do babies feed? How do I know our baby’s getting enough milk? Am I making enough milk? All these questions can drive a new mom crazy!
At this point it’s very important to take a breath and realise, all will be fine. You and baby are both learning and just need a little bit of space and time to learn how things work. It’s normal for a baby to lose some weight after birth but as his / her appetite and need for fluids increase, your colostrum will make way for milk.
Within a day or so after arriving home my milk “came in”. We were excited. Everything was going according to plan, the worst was behind us, right? WRONG
Newborn bliss soon turned into one of the most challenging periods of my life.
The 2 week checkup
Life was good, Eliana was the sweetest baby, feeding every 4 hours during the day and only waking once at night. We thought we had hit the jackpot and except for my cracked nipples, everything was going well. We couldn’t wait to see how much she had grown.
You can imagine our surprise when the scale showed that she hadn’t and actually wasn’t even back to her birth weight. The nurse quickly advised us to supplement my breastmilk with formula, telling me she wasn’t getting enough and that’s why she was such a “good sleeper”. We needed to start waking her at night to feed and I should apply nipple cream to help heal my bleeding nipples. On the bright side a lactation consultant had a look at our breatfeeding “skills” and gave Eli and I a thumbs up. She was latching well and sucking strong – I just needed to keep her awake.
Still I was heartbroken. Why had my body failed us? Why wasn’t my milk enough? I couldn’t accept defeat and knew we could do this – We just didn’t do it “in time” and “as expected”. Formula could wait. I went with my gut and prioritised breastfeeding as my number one mothering skill to master. Dammit, I knew we could do this!
Our new approach included:
- We stuck to feeding on demand but I also woke Eliana every 2 hours during the day and every 4 hours at night.
- I kept her awake by looking into her eyes, talking to her and wiping her face with a cool cloth every now and again. (Making sure not to startle her).
- We started logging her diapers, taking note of the amount of wet and dirty nappies she made during the course of a day.
- Taking care of myself was important. I slept when baby slept, making sure to eat and drink enough too.
- I also bought a breastpump to see how much milk I was producing. After my 1st pump I was impressed to see how much milk I had. 100ml after a feed was way more than expected.
Nipple care included:
- Applying nipple cream – A massive mistake I would later learn.
- Sitting in the sun, topless for a few minutes after every feed.
We had a followup appointment scheduled for 2 weeks later, this time I was very nervous. The nurse congratulated us on Eliana’s amazing growth spurt and a wave of relief washed over us. This time she was the surprised one – looking at me in total disbelief when we told her we had decided to skip formula and that Eli was still being exclusively breastfed. Eli was still under her expected weight and would continue to gain and grow at a slower pace than expected BUT she was growing and seemed content. She had regular wet and dirty nappies too (8-10 a day). We trusted that she was okay.
Baby was thriving, mama however wasn’t doing so well…
My nipples were torn-up, not cracked or broken… I literally had NO skin left and could see tiny, white strands (later the gynaecologist would confirm these where exposed milk ducts) on the surface of my nipples. I was bleeding non-stop and worried about the amount of blood Eliana was consuming. Would I have to give up even though she was doing well?
No-one knew why my nipples were having such a hard time and everyone I asked for help simply told me to STOP. I would probably have lasting damage to my breasts. I hit a low point, applying “Lennon Staaldruppels” in a desperate attempt to heal. – Massive mistake number 2: The bleeding stopped but it sealed my skin completely meaning no milk could come out. It was my 1st experience with mastitis and I’ll never forget sitting in our shower, crying uncontrollably while scratching off the Lennon layer bit-by-bit.
I hated breastfeeding but still didn’t feel comfortable formula feeding
I wanted to have a choice in the matter and refused to be forced into a decision, even by my own body. At around 6 weeks we were due for another checkup. We decided to skip the hospital and made an appointment at our local baby clinic. There I met an angel. Sr. Maryna. She took one good look at my nipples and suggested I stop applying nipple cream immediately. She suspected I was having an allergic reaction and she was right.
I was in the worst cycle. The more broken my nipples would become, the more cream I would apply. This made my skin react and it became even more sensitive and torn.
New steps needed to be taken towards healing and included the following:
- Being topless as much as possible.
- No more creams of any sort. My breastmilk was actually the best nipple cream available. After every feed I would express a small amount onto my fingers making sure to apply it all over my nipples. I would leave it to air-dry completely before closing my feeding bra.
- While at home I would make use of Rooibos tea bags to sooth my tender nipples. Soaking them in luke warm water and placing them in my bra between feeds.
- Nipple shields became my new best friends.
- Laser therapy for my nipples specifically helped the healing along as well.
- I gave my breasts a rest and would pump. This gave daddy or granny a chance to feed Eliana too.
I also needed to learn to love breastfeeding again.
Breastfeeding wasn’t a pleasant experience for me. I cried every time and worried I would never bond with our beautiful little girl. A mind shift was needed.
- I joined a mommy-and-me postnatal support group. These ladies saved me and hearing their success stories and words of encouragement week-after-week gave me so much hope.
- Mr. Perfect was PERFECT! He supported me more than ever. Protecting me from others telling me I should give up. He came home early on days I struggled, prepared dinner for 12 weeks in a row and woke up with me for every feed at night. We’ve never been more of a team and looking back I have the most incredible memories of our marriage during this hard time.
- We stopped timing feed and logging diapers. We knew Eliana was fine. I needed the extra love and attention.
TOP TIP FROM US: While feeding, find something to take your mind off feeding. We used the FRIENDS series as our “timer” and distraction. One episode per feed.
By 8 weeks things started looking up…
Eliana was sleeping through the night. She was drinking expressed milk from a bottle ever so often. My nipples had started to heal and was almost fully covered in skin again. Her weekly weigh-ins confirmed our baby was doing well and I felt like I was starting to get the hang of this motherhood thing.
The tingling pain I felt during every let down was also becoming less. As predicted by a fellow mama struggling to breastfeed, I felt “normal” at 12 weeks. For the first time breastfeeding became a natural part of our day. We even left the house and I breastfed in public. By 16 weeks I ditched the nipple shields.
Today I feel proud of myself and 3 kids later I am thankful to have overcome the obstacles of those first 12 weeks.
Yes, I have scars but looking back 12 weeks of pain is nothing in our 20 months. Never again have I gone through pain like that. It’s as though our bodies remember and when baby 2 and 3 arrives breastfeeding simply falls into place. I’ve also learnt the value of support and having a team of cheerleaders as well as the best breastfeeding aids at your disposal.
For us, Medela is a part of that support.
They don’t just make the best breastpumps but also understand the needs of moms, taking into account our busy lifestyles in every product created. (See some of our favourite Medela accessories here.) Making use of my Medela breastpump didn’t just provide me with peace of mind when wondering about my milk supply, it also gave me a little bit of freedom. I could pop out to the store, take a bubble bath or enjoy a much needed break after a long day while daddy loved getting to bond with baby too.
Tips on expressing:
- Splurge on the best breatpump you can afford. She’ll be good to you for a while.
- Introduce baby to bottle feeds somewhere between 4 – 6 weeks. Waiting longer could make things more challenging.
- Express regularly and freeze your milk. Building a stash takes some time and is worth a lot especially if you need to be back at work soon.
- Be patient. At first you might not get any milk when pumping but stick to a schedule. Breastmilk increases as breasts are stimulated.
Most importantly, approach breastfeeding with a strong mindset (and even prepare for the worst.) Be confident mama, take pride in the remarkable things your body is capable of doing—and making. Trust yourself!
Now, we want to lend a helping hand to a fellow breastfeeding mama…
Win a Medela Freestyle double electric breast pump to the value of R7999.00
Hands-down the best breastpump (excluding the Medela Symphony) I’ve ever used – and I’ve lost quite a bit of cash on breastpumps.
It really is an all-in-one that works hard and packs a lot of power. With it’s signature Medela 2-Phase Expression technology and double pumping, moms express MORE milk, in LESS time. The Freestyle was made for daily use so it’s a perfect option for working moms too. With built in rechargeable batteries you can easily pump whenever, wherever. No plugs needed.
Being small, lightweight and portable means mama can discreetly pump while going about her day giving us some freedom and flexibility in the highly routine driven world of parenting.
Other cool features and extras include:
- Easy interaction with digital display
- Increase and decrease pumping power with the press of a button for comfortable, customisable pumping
- The memory function saves your best expression sessions for you to use again in future
- Handy timer
- Cooler and travel bag to store and keep your pump, accessories and breastmilk while on the go.
How to enter the breastfeeding for beginners giveaway:
Help us grow our already amazing community of mamas by signing up to our newsletters. That’s it! One lucky “insider” will be picked as the winner of this incredible prize.
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AND if you have a moment, please leave us a comment below sharing your #1 breastfeeding for beginners tips, your fears, challenges faced or a snippet from your own breastfeeding journey. You never know who’s reading and the difference your comment could make.
- Only emails entered above are valid for this Breastfeeding for beginners giveaway.
- Competition only open to South African residents residing in South Africa.
- Winner must be 18+ years old.
- Competition closes on the 31st of March 2019.
- The winner is picked at random and announced via social media and this blogpost.
- This prize is not exchangeable for cash or refundable.
- Please enter a valid email and contact info. If we can not get hold of you within 48 hours a new winner will be picked.
- The greatest care will be taken when sending your prize but Just a Mamma, Medela SA and Breastpumps + Beyond do not accept any responsibility for lost, stolen or damaged goods.
PHOTO CREDIT | Anje-Ilana van Dalen from Madison & West Lifestyle Division as well as a few from our personal collection.