Today marks the end of World Breastfeeding Week and I’ve been meaning to write about my breastfeeding journeys and figured now would be a good time to begin the series of posts I have planned to document our journey and hopefully help other mums who are new to breastfeeding.
As I write this, I have been exclusively breastfeeding for a total of 32 months (not consecutively) across both my children and I plan to breastfeed my youngest until she is two so we have just over 6 months worth of nursing left. With my first, I did lots of research and went to antenatal breastfeeding classes to prepare, but I felt like no one really tells you how difficult breastfeeding can be and how much support you will need.
I had to go into theatre very shortly after Yusuf’s birth so there was absolutely no time for prolonged skin to skin or even to get him to latch on, and because of low blood sugar levels, he had to be fed formula whilst I was in theatre. He was also quite small at 5lb and 12oz, so seemed to really struggle to latch on after. I didn’t ask for help at the hospital and really wish I had, but I just wanted to get home and be around my husband and my mum. We struggled to get him to latch so I began to pump and continued to do that for 4 weeks – possibly the hardest thing I have had to do postpartum so hats off to mums who go on exclusively pump for months and months after) until I spoke to a wonderful woman at the National Childbirth Trust who encouraged me to focus almost entirely on skin to skin – in the bath, in bed, all day if I could – and to try nipple shields. I did as she told me and he refused to latch onto the nipple shields until one day, mid feed – I took the bottle away and popped a nipple shield on and he was confused and just latched on. I hadn’t even considered that I would need any of the things below because I just assumed I’d be able to breastfeed, so I would recommend having these on hand even if you are able to breastfeed immediately.
- Nipple shields – These are brilliant for getting babies who just won’t latch, to latch or to give you a break if you start of with a poor latch. Nusaybah had tongue tie and we struggled with a shallow latch that left me in excruciating pain every feed. The kind that makes your toes curl! These nipple shields really helped when I needed to allow for healing time but still continue to feed.
- A manual or electric breast pump – With Yusuf, I rented a hospital grade pump from Ana Wiz (who are brilliant) because I was exclusively pumping and needed to pump lots in short amounts of time, but I also had a manual pump – the Medela Harmony is great – which was perfect for pumping smaller amount if I was just popping out for an hour or so. Make sure you have the right sized shield for your breast – I found my output changed MASSIVELY when I changed my shield size and I read lots of articles, like this one, to figure out whether I needed to size up or down.
- Breastmilk storage bags – You will need somewhere to store your milk and these Lansinoh bags are fantastic. There’s enough room to write down the date, number of ounces and any other information such as when/what you are storing it for and they are leak proof. I’ve never had a bag burst or split open and I flatten them to go into the freezer and can fit loads in easily. To thaw, just pop a bag in a bowl of warm water and you’ll have milk ready to go in a matter of minutes.
- Bottles for breastfed babies – I used this bottle that came with the Medela Harmony breast pump as it replicates breastfeeding and avoids nipple confusion, but my favourite bottles are these Lansinoh mOmma ones with natural wave teats. Nusaybah took to them so easily, they are so easy to clean, they don’t discolour at all and the purple is a nice touch.
- Nursing bras and nursing pads – Now that you’ve got the hang of breastfeeding, there will a baby at your breast pretty much 50% of the day if not more, especially during growth spurts. Easy access is key but you also want good support (nothing under wired) and a bra that will be a good fit, still look good under clothes, and not completely boring just because it’s a nursing bra. If you live in the UK, don’t go anywhere else to get this besides Bravissimo. They recommend that you come in for a fitting about a month postpartum when your supply has settled a little and will fit you before and after a feed to determine the best size for you. They really take the time to find you the perfect bra and I’ve not shopped anywhere else because the quality of their products is exceptional. For night time and when you don’t particularly want to be wearing a bra, these bras from Mothercare are great. Nursing pads are also a must-have, particularly when you begin breastfeeding to prevent you leaking through your bra and clothes. I love these Lansinoh ones but they get expensive very quickly. I saved the disposable ones for outdoor use and got reusable ones to use indoors.
- A nursing pillow – I didn’t think I would need or want to use a nursing pillow. I thought it would be more hassle than it was worth, so when this pillow was offered on Freecycle – I jumped at the chance to try it. The lady who gave it to me was lovely and gave me a whole loads of other things she didn’t need for free and I promised her I’d pay it forward, so a little while ago, I offered the same nursing pillow on Freecycle again to another mum who was expecting her first. I hope she loves it as much as I loved mine. Both kids used it to nurse on, for tummy time, to practice sitting, I used to lean against it to rest my back – it was brilliant. If I had purchased it, it would have been worth every penny.
- A nursing cover – A nursing cover is invaluable – breastfed babies, particularly early on, aren’t on a timer and will feed primarily on demand. You want to be able to still go about doing what you need to do without having to worry about where you are going to feed. I was a little apprehensive at first, but now I feed anywhere and everywhere – walking through IKEA, in a restaurant, during a guided tour at a farm – and all I need is my cover. I have a really inexpensive one that has boning at the top and an adjustable neck strap that is perfect and does the job brilliantly because it’s oversized. I bought it when I was pregnant with Yusuf in 2013 and have used it with both children.
- A sling/ baby carrier – This is more of a parenthood essential, we love slings and baby carriers and I wouldn’t be without one. In the early days where you breastfeed a lot more frequently or during trips out where you need to feed but also need to push a stroller or carry on with what you’re doing, a baby carrier is absolutely essential. I have a Close Caboo ring sling that I use at home and when the children were younger, and we now use an Ergo, which is perfect for breastfeeding because of the little flap that you can pop up, so no one can tell you’re feeding (not that you should care if they can!). It’s also great to have younger babies feed in this upright position, I feel like it really helps with less spit up and reflux. It’s also great to be able to do the dishes or hoover whilst breastfeeding!
- Lanolin cream – Lansinoh’s lanolin cream is my favourite. A little goes a very long way and it does not need to be removed prior to breastfeeding. It’s also a handy little tube that you can carry around with you and very competitively priced.
- Milk-inducing foods – I have an appetite akin to a ravenous elephant when I’m breastfeeding and I find that the following foods really help with milk supply (almost instantly) when I’m experiencing dips in supply because of a period or stress or not eating enough: Fenugreek (although be prepared to smell like a curry house if you have too much), popcorn (no, I’m not joking), Aussie bites (I get these from Costco and it’s amazing how quickly it affects my supply – if you don’t have a Costco near you, here’s how to make them at home) and water. Staying hydrated is key – you will instantly notice a difference in supply, especially in the early stages of breastfeeding, if you keep hydrated.
I hope this list helps some of you who are just starting out with breastfeeding, or even those of you who have been breastfeeding for a while but didn’t know of some of these. I’d love to hear about your breastfeeding experiences and any tips you have for mums just starting out – chime in in the comments below!