The Truth About Breastfeeding | Nursing Essentials

Tuesday 7 August 2018

There's nothing so uniquely divisive about motherhood as breastfeeding. It's a topic that everyone seems to have an opinion on, it's very loaded emotionally for new mothers, and it's an area with a lot of misinformation.

World Breastfeeding Week concludes today, so in honour of it, I thought I would share our own journey so far and the essentials that have made it all a bit easier.

There has been a lot of recent controversy here in the UK about the mandate our health services are given to promote breastfeeding, and how the overzealous pushing of it can affect women who aren't able or just choose not to do it. Even though I've chosen to breastfeed both children, I'm fully on board with this - it really should be up to the mother.

Because the unspoken truth about breastfeeding is this: it's bloody awful to begin with. And no one prepares you.

You sit in antenatal class hearing all about the benefits. You see a video where a smiling mother seamlessly latches on a newborn. Well, there may be some unicorn-boobed new mothers out there who have that seamless experience, but the overwhelming majority of mamas I know found the reality very different.

First up, the pain. For something so natural, breastfeeding hurts.

Even if you get that mythical perfect latch right from the word go, getting used to a delicate (and painfully swollen up when your milk comes in) part of your anatomy being roughly chomped and pulled on will bring tears to your eyes.

Breastfeeding may be natural, but it's alao very much a learned process - for you and for the baby! It does get easier over time, but you need support to develop good practices and habits. And that support is not always available.

Despite all the promotion of breastfeeding before you have the baby, there is very little in the way of help afterwards - unless you know where to look. 

You're expected to pretty much get on with it. If you need help, make sure you ask and ask again - midwives, health visitors. Even organisations like La Leche League. Keep shouting until you get help.

Second, there are lots of unwelcome surprises with breastfeeding. Like cluster feeding. This little beauty means that your baby is trying to put on weight, and help you establish your milk supply. But it also means they can be feeding for 30 or 40 minutes, take a five minute break, and then want feeding again. You literally won't believe how often they get hungry. It can easily eat up a whole day - you may not even get time to shower!

It does even out pretty quickly, but those first few weeks, where you're crying out in pain every time you feed, sleep deprived from getting woken every few hours and trying to somehow heal up from the body trauma of giving birth, it can honestly be quite brutal. 
And if no one warns you, you think you're doing it all wrong! Its no wonder so many people give up thinking its not working! 

Being completely honest, I never thought I'd be bothered about breastfeeding before I had kids. But when Theodore arrived, I discovered that I did care, passionately. That's what made it so tough when I felt like I was failing.

Theo was a small baby and he lost a lot of weight. I was made to feel like me and my milk were failing him, and pushed to give formula by the same people who had filled my head with how vital it was to breastfeed.

I wasn't given any information about things like tongue tie or combi-feeding that could have helped - any useful information, I had to find out myself friends or breastfeeding support groups on Facebook. It nearly made me depressed. I remember rocking back and forth sobbing because of the pain and exhaustion and pressure.

Thankfully we were able to overcome all that and it did turn a corner and became easy and brilliant - something I even enjoyed and was sad to give up. But it takes time, a lot of support, and a huge amount of determination to get to that point. 

With Romilly, it's still been a rocky start but I have so much more knowledge about where to turn and I can tell myself it gets easier and believe it. Not everyone is so lucky- you can only do what is right for you and your baby.

There are a few breastfeeding essentials I've found so useful to smooth out the process:

NatureBond Silicone Breast Pump

This little pump is one of the best breastfeeding accessories I've come across. Gentle and lightweight, it attaches with a single action. I tend to pop it on the other side when I'm feeding and it draws down a good few ounces with no effort. It means there isn't any wasted milk and banks at least one extra expressed feed a day. I also use a Tommee Tippee electric pump when I really need to get going, but I love the convenience of this - so easy to throw in your bag. It's also a super gentle way to relieve engorgement.

Aiden + Anais Swaddleplus Extra Large Muslins

These muslins are fairly pricey, but considering all the different uses you get from them, very worth it! Around three times larger than a standard muslin, I use them for mopping spillages and baby sick, swaddling or as a light blanket, especially in this heat -as a pram shade, rolled up as a back support- basically I always have one on the go as they are so hardworking!

Infacol Solution

Its a bit of a myth that breast fed babies don't get wind. I could hear Romilly's little tummy bubbling sometimes, and digestive distress can quickly escalate and prevent proper feeding, so a few drops of Infacol can really help in the early days.

Medela Nipple Shields

I think these have saved my life on a couple of occaisions! When you're working hard to establish feeding, then sore and cracked nipples are one of the glamourous realities. These can take the edge of while you heal, and they can also help baby to latch on when you first start feeding and you're swollen. I tried a few brands with Theo and these were the ones that really worked, so I made sure I stocked up this time!

Lansinoh HPA Lanolin

The little purple tube is life! I went through so many tubes of this with Theo- it  helos to soothe irritated, tender breasts. I slather it on after every feed. There is nothing like it - I tried coconut oil and a couple of other things, but Lansinoh is really the only product to rely on.

Bocca Borosilicate Glass Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is so key when breastfeeding, as it uses a huge volume of water. As you get trapped in place feeding for huge amounts of time, you need to make sure you have a drink with you. I keep this glass water bottle topped up in my baby bag so it's always close to hand. I also try to drink a few rehydration sachets which you can tip directly into the bottle to keep you topped up.

Embroidered Sleep Mask

Feeding on demand means keeping some odd hours sometimes! You never know when you might be able to bank a little sleep. Having a sleep mask can make it a little easier to catch a quick nap when you weren't expecting to.

Tablet or a good book

Similarly, sometimes you are awake at odd times, so having a good book to hand, oe a tablet so you can catch up on Netflix is a must. Being trapped in a chair feeding for ages can be really tough, so a good read or watch to look forward to makes it all a bit more bearable.

MOR Black Iris Candle

It might sound silly at a time when a proper night's sleep is a long-distant memory, but relaxing is quite important for you. Stress isn't good when you're in recovery mode. Something as simple as a beautiful scent can help you to unwind a little bit and make those 3am wake-up calls seem a little less dreadful.

Cornwall Soapbox Lavender Pillow Mist

This little super-relaxing treat is a constant bedtime companion of mine anyway, but it becomes even more essential while feeding. I find it incredibly hard to sleep on demand, and when you're breastfeeding you're constantly getting woken up and then having to try and get back to sleep as soon as the baby drops off. That can be hard, but this cooling, relaxing pillow mist helps me to drift off when I need to.

Breastfeeding is an incredible journey, but it can be such a hard one. Good luck to all the mamas out there stuggling through...


  1. Such a good post Sarah! It's been nearly a year since I stopped breastfeeding Arthur but I hope that if I have another baby in the future, it'll be something my body allows me to do again. I really was under the illusion that it'd be so easy and natural (because that's how the books and leaflets make it sound) but when I had Arthur, my milk didn't come in for a few days and he started losing weight cus of his jaundice and I realised just how bloody tough it was. I remember thinking I must be doing something wrong and felt so guilty, when actual fact it's a massive learning curve and requires dedication and perseverance!

    I'm so glad that us mum bloggers and others are sharing the truths of breastfeeding and being honest about our experiences because I think it's much more helpful for mums-to-be and new mums than some of the books and leaflets that skim over the tough bits and make it seem easy peasy!


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