March 8, 2021

Lessons in Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is easily the most natural thing and at the same time it is the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done.

The more advanced we get as a society, the more we lose touch with the basics. When we all used to live together, whether in caves or villages, we were raised watching our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters do their thing. Birth was a natural part of life and breastfeeding wasn’t hidden away in back rooms or under colourful shawls. We learned by watching from an early age and if we struggled as a mom, well granny was always around to briskly show us how to get on with it.

Today however, today things are a bit more complex. Moms are being scolded for breastfeeding in public, we are told that breast is best, yet support for moms is hard to get by. And don’t get me started on how much harder it is to find help during a global pandemic when the hospital feeding team only offer Zoom calls and all peer support groups have been cancelled.

Breastfeeding is hard, really hard.

And while I have always been of the persuasion that fed is best (having been exclusively formula fed myself) I knew from the moment I got pregnant that I want to breastfeed. For me breastfeeding has always been this beautiful and almost sacred moment between a mother and her child. The way they connect, the way they lock eyes and just share this bond. I knew this something I wanted to do while also acknowledging that it will be hard. So I tried to prepare (as prepared as one can be). I watched videos, I discussed it with my midwife, signed up for an NCT course and while all of that was useful information, it was like learning to swim from your living room, not quite the same as the real thing.

When Ezekiel was born, nobody really showed me how to get him to latch. In theory, I knew the basics but when the child is actually in your arms and you try to shove a nipple in his mouth, it all comes down crashing. And of course it’s such a new sensation that you don’t really know if the discomfort is just your body getting used to this new sensation, or something is wrong.

We came home and our breastfeeding journey began. Boy was it a rocky start. I struggled for the whole first month. He wouldn’t open his mouth wide enough, he would munch on my nipple instead of feeding from the whole breast, he was getting frustrated and so was I. My nipples were sore, cracked and covered in blisters and instead of me looking forward to feeding him, I was dreading it.

No amount of Lanolin and nipple shields helped. I cried, he cried, Axl felt helpless and even though I knew there was always the formula route, I just didn’t want to admit defeat. I didn’t want to give up and in a way I felt like using formula, I would be letting Ezekiel down.

So I decided that enough is enough and reached out for help.

Firstly I tried looking at videos online but that wasn’t much help. I found that most of the women in those videos had these average sized breasts and perky nipples which made latching much easier. My body and my breasts however don’t look that way. I am rather well endowed in the chest area which means that my nipples point south, I can’t see how Ezekiel is latched, and I have to support my breast during the feed or else I risk suffocating my child. I was desperate for someone to watch me breastfeed and then tell me everything I was doing wrong, correct my hold and my posture and fix the issues.

Unfortunately, because of COVID all face-to-face appointments were out of the question. The infant feeding team at the hospital where I gave birth didn’t want to me to go in because of potential exposure to the virus so instead I recorded videos which I shared with them on WhatsApp and they responded with some tips and advice. I was also put in touch with the National Breastfeeding Network who gave me a call and discussed my particular circumstances and the shape of my breasts and gave me practical tips on how to improve the latch.

This wasn’t my ideal scenario but thanks to the patient and knowledgeable lactation specialists and thanks to my perseverance, we are now in a much better place. Don’t get me wrong, breastfeeding is still no walk in the park for me, and I still struggle occasionally with Ezekiel’s latch on my right breast, but for the most part, we are in a much better position and feeding time is no longer something I dread.

So here are some of the tips that I was given that I found super useful to get the baby in the right position:

  • Mom - Baby - Boob - this is the order of importance when you breastfeed. You may think that the boob is first but it’s the last thing really. Think about it, the baby doesn’t just eat from the breast, he eats for the mom. This means that however you are positioned, the baby will adapt to your body and then latch to the breast. This is why it’s important that mom sits somewhere comfortable, use pillows and cushions for support if needed. You will be stuck in this position for good half an hour so make sure you are comfy. then get the baby and position him in the right place, hold him in a way that is comfortable so you don’t feel the need to move once he’s feeding. And then once you’re both comfy, introduce the breast and the little one will know what to do. At the beginning I was so focussed on just getting the nipple into his mouth completely disregarding my own comfort which resulted in both of us feeling strained. Now I know better.
  • Stop a painful feed immediately - At the beginning when I was in pain, I would just try to soldier through it so that Ezekiel feeds and we can just get it over and done with. That was a mistake. Continuing with a painful feed will one, wreck your nipples and two, teach the baby a bad habit. Instead, whenever you feel pain or discomfort, pop your pinky in the baby’s mouth to break the seal, take your nipple out, reposition and reset.
  • Hold the boob like a burger - For my large chested sisters out there, hold your boob like a burger and offer it to the baby this way. That takes some of the weight off and helps the baby breath. Also, if your nipples are pointing south, try folding a muslin and popping it under your breast. It will lift it up and your nipple will be facing forward instead of downwards.
  • Baby to boob, not boob to baby - Don’t treat your breast like a bottle, meaning holding it and offering it to the child. Instead, get comfy and get the baby closer to the breast. Let him root and find the nipple himself, trust me you get a much better and more comfortable latch this way.

These tips really helped me turn a corner and made me fall in love with breastfeeding my son. Hopefully this will help you too.

After all, breastfeeding is 90% determination and 1% milk production.

Ultimately, do what you can but if none of this works for you, remember that formula is fine too and won’t make you any less of a mother. Breast isn’t best, fed is best. A happy mom and happy baby is best.

You’ve got this, mama!

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