Dear new mummy,
Congratulations, your little baby is here. Well done you for choosing to breastfeed, you are about to start an incredible, emotional, rollercoaster journey. I am writing this letter to you to tell you what breastfeeding is really like. All the things your midwife has purposefully forgottten to tell you about I will share with you now. I don’t wish to put you off but it is good to be prepared for what is to come. Before I go any further let me just say, if in these early days you find breastfeeding is not for you after all, try not to beat yourself up about it. It is your decision how you choose to feed your baby and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So, let’s get to it – the truth about breastfeeding.
The very first time you feed your baby may pass by in a bit of blur. You will still be running high on adrenaline and whatever pain relief you used during labour. The attention of the midwife will have switched to the opposite end of your body, she may now be trying to guide your nipple into your baby’s mouth instead of putting her hands ‘down there’ trying to feel the baby’s head, as she was doing only moments ago.
Don’t let this drug fueled first feed fool you, breastfeeding hurts. I wish this part wasn’t true but it is. I used to hold both my breath and my husbands hand for the first 10 seconds of every feed in those early days. The pain is not unbearable though, invest in some nipple cream and have lots of warm flannels at the ready. Once your baby is happily latched on the pain subsides and there is nothing quite like looking down at your newborns face, enjoyng the milk only you can give them.
In a couple days time something weird will happen, you will wake up and your boobs are going to be full to burst. When this happened to me I cried, a lot. Up until this day you have been feeding your baby colostrum (or ‘liquid gold’ as the midwives call it), now for some stupid reason, all you milk has decided to collect in your boobs at once. You and baby now have the scary task in front of you of sorting out your supply. This is not as difficult as it may seem, I promise. The best way to relieve the pain of your milk coming in is to feed your baby. It will probably be the last thing you want, a tiny mouth sucking on your over sensitive breast, but it will help with the pressure and will help your body to figure out its supply.
The next few weeks will pass by in a blur of night feeds, visitors, films and countless cups of undrunk, cold tea. Slowly but surely you and your baby will start getting a hang of things and by 6 weeks you should be starting to feel a lot more comfortable about this whole breastfeeding thing. You are likely to spend most of these early weeks sat on the sofa just in a nursing bra – this is great for skin to skin bonding with you baby, not so good for shareable mummy and baby photoographs.
Your boobs are going to develop a mind of there own and they will probably try and embarrass you on a daily basis. Showering becomes a risky game, warm water and full breasts do not mix well; sometimes you will leave the shower feeling dirtier than when you went in. Just when you think your supply has settled down, you will be feeding your baby and the other boob will get bored and decide to be funny. I learnt the hard way, always pack a spare bra, breast pads and top when leaving the house!
Breastfeeding in public, it’s something you probably stressed loads about when you were pregnant but it just takes a bit of getting used to. The double vest top method was a firm favourite of mine and I found it to be more discreet than attempting to hide my baby under a blanket. At the end of the day, breastfeeding is natural and if anyone tries to say anything to you then they are obviously stupid idiots. Please don’t ever feel you should hide away and feed your baby in a toilet, no one should be made to do that. You have every right to breastfeed your baby in public and although it’s daunting at first it really does get easier.
It is likely you are about to develop an appetite leaving you convinced you could actually eat a horse, and them some. This was a shock to me, in the first month or so of breastfeeding I was eating twice as much as when I was pregnant. If you are one of the lucky ones, breastfeeding will become the easiest diet you have ever been on. Although you may be eating more than ever, your baby will be stealing all your extra calories and loosing that mummy tum may turn out to not be so difficult after all.
There are probably going to be days where it all feels too much and you just want to switch to bottle feeding. Your baby may have been attached to you all day and fed all night but they are still crying, this doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, babies just can be awkward sometimes.
When the day comes and you decide your breastfeeding journey is over, don’t feel guilty. Be proud of what you have achieved, even if you only breastfeed your baby once today and decide that’s it, you have still given your baby something amazing. If, like myself, you have a happy, successful feeding relationship with your baby, when the last feed has ended you will feel both sad and proud. You will be sad you will no longer have this special time with your baby but you will look at your growing child, so much bigger than they are now on their first day, and think..
Once it is all over, you will miss it. You may not think that now as you struggle to get feeding started, or in a few days time when your nipples are hurting, but one day you will miss it. As your toddler sits drinking a beaker of cows milk, a year on from your last feed, you will hopefully remember your breastfeeding journey and smile.