I’ve read numerous articles and blog posts about breastfeeding and I can’t help thinking that it will be harder than labour.
Labour has a start and end point and one way or another I will get through it – at 32 weeks pregnant I don’t have a choice. But breastfeeding can start straight after birth, hours, or even days later and if you decide to formula feed, it may not start at all. Breastfeeding ends at some unknown point in the future when either mum or baby has had enough.
People talk about problems with latching, baby not getting enough food, painful breasts, sore nipples and mastitis, not to mention the inability to move while baby feeds for sometimes hours on end. I’ve heard breastfeeding counsellors referred to as hippies, or worse, Nazis and these are the people who are supposed to help new mums and their babies work it out.
All of these things sound pretty scary and I can forgive anyone for thinking that it’s easier to go straight to the bottle and save yourself the bother.
But, I want to breastfeed my baby.
So, how do I shut out the noise from other people’s difficult experiences and concentrate on doing everything I can to make breastfeeding work for me and the Pea? Well, I think I’ve found the answer in our NCT breastfeeding counsellor.
NCT breastfeeding session
We attended our dedicated breastfeeding class last week. I had reservations, particularly after reading a blog written by Jules at Pondering Parenthood where she reflected on her own, less than satisfying experience. In fact it’s her post that inspired me to write about our own NCT breastfeeding session.
We sipped tea, served in china cups and saucers, and nibbled on slices of gluten free chocolate cake, while Rosemary told us everything we need to know about feeding our babies (at least, as much as you can be told before said babies arrive). Rosemary has been a breastfeeding counsellor for 40 years. She’s also trained as a midwife and she has a reputation in South Manchester for putting broken women back together again.
One of the first things she said is that,
A happy mum is more important than a breastfeeding mum.
I warmed to her pretty much straight away. It’s advice I’ve heard before but it was reassuring to hear it come from the mouth of a breastfeeding counsellor. Here she was telling us that it means more to feel comfortable feeding our babies than it does for us to breastfeed. After all, a happy mum should equal a happy baby.
Of course a breastfeeding counsellor is going to advocate for breastfeeding. Something would be amiss if they didn’t. Nevertheless I felt that our session was balanced. We talked about formula feeding and at no point were we given the impression that we would not be doing the best for our babies if we chose to bottle feed. We talked about expressing, and we talked about factors that can make breastfeeding more stressful. We weren’t given scare stories about harming breastfeeding by using a teat too soon and our questions were answered with facts and experience to help us make informed decisions. The only thing that was missing was a set of knitted breasts!
Thoughts on why breastfeeding is so difficult
Rosemary gave us statistics of how many women are physically unable to breastfeed. I can’t remember the numbers she quoted but I believe it to be in the region of 2-5%. I have not conducted any sort of research in to the reliability of the data but everything I’ve read suggests that a lot more women have difficulties and make the decision not to continue.
Over the past 100 years society has made breastfeeding much more difficult than it should be. Regardless of whether you are for or against breastfeeding it’s impossible to argue against the fact that it is the way nature intended us to feed our babies. So, if the statistics are correct and the vast majority of women are physically able to breastfeed, there must be other factors at play that are causing us so much trouble.
Talking to several very close friends is enough for me to understand that breastfeeding is not easy. Some have persevered until they have found a way to make it work and others have decided to formula feed instead. Both groups have content, happy babies.
Rosemary was adamant that breastfeeding should not be painful and that pain is a key indicator that baby is not latching properly. Lots of people may scoff and site their own experiences in opposition to this and the popularity of Lansinoh cream suggests that sore and cracked nipples are hard to avoid altogether, but I think it’s fair to say that the friends who persevered found it much easier when they had established a proper latch.
It sounds straightforward but my understanding is that a baby can feed without having mastered a proper, painless latch so I can’t help wondering if that is where the problems begin. When Rosemary completed her midwifery course there was only an hour dedicated to breastfeeding. She was asked to run the session due to her experience as a breastfeeding counsellor and of having her own children. Training may well have changed over the years, but I suspect midwives have even less time to spend with new mums when the aim nowadays is to get them home as soon as possible. If baby is getting milk, does that mean that hospitals can tick the box to say that breastfeeding is established regardless of whether the latch is right? And, if that’s what happens is that why so many mums have trouble?
Idealistic as it may be, it sounds like breastfeeding would be easier if there were more people like Rosemary. People with the time to watch babies feed, identify and correct the problems in the early days, before the pain becomes unbearable and mum finds herself dreading the next feed. I suspect this is what happened in the old days where new mothers were supported more closely by, and perhaps even lived with, close and extended family members with experience of breastfeeding themselves – in short, someone to show them how to do it.
Reflecting on breastfeeding
I could have hugged Rosemary when she said that it was OK to drink alcohol whilst breastfeeding; apparently it has less effect on baby than caffeine – so I’ll be sipping Prosecco while the sun shines and Pea feeds contentedly! *ignores anyone who dares to say otherwise*
Seriously though, I came away from the course feeling a lot calmer. Rosemary explained that it takes about 6 weeks to properly get the hang of breastfeeding and I’m hoping that having a goal in mind will help me to persevere. I know there are lots of people with different views and experiences, and believe me when I say that I have read a lot of them. I am not naïve to the fact it could be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
But, for now, I am not going to read anything else. I’ll save your breastfeeding stories for the times when I need extra words of comfort as I embark on the journey myself. The strength in Rosemary’s belief that most problems with breastfeeding can be resolved, the confidence with which she expressed it, and the fact that she has helped one of my friends, made me promise to myself that I will call her on her claims at the first sign of any difficulties with feeding Pea – after all, she aims to see mums as soon as possible, ideally in time for the very next feed.
I have no idea how I’m going to get on with breastfeeding and I cannot account for the tiredness and hormones that I’ll experience after labour. If my sense of calm is dispelled by reality when Pea arrives, at least I know that there is support available and I trust hubby to encourage me to access it.
In the meantime I love this list of reasons to be proud of breastfeeding. Whether I manage one feed or two years worth, I will have done something good for Pea. When it comes down to it, that’s what really matters.
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