I have spent almost two of the last four and half years breastfeeding. This fact surprises me when I think about it. If someone had told me when I was first pregnant that I would breastfeed a baby beyond twelve months, I probably wouldn't have believed them.
I'm a mum who has experienced both exclusive breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I briefly attempted and swiftly failed to properly establish breastfeeding with The Buck. I won't get into it too much but, in a nutshell, I feel that I was under-prepared (my fault) and under-supported (the system's fault). Perhaps if one or other of us had been at the races, it would have worked out. I moved on, it wasn't a big deal and my son was a contented little lad. He thrived on formula and slept like a drunken student so I didn't complain.
When my second came along, I decided to have a proper shot at it and, to my surprise, I succeeded. Not only that, I actually enjoyed it and saw the benefits immediately. When I say benefits, I'm selfishly talking about how easy life was when I didn't have to get out of bed to make bottles in the dead of night; when I didn't have to faff around with sterilisers and their components; when I didn't have to use my brain to count scoops of formula; when I didn't have to awkwardly ask surly waitresses for teapots of boiling water in busy cafes; when I didn't have to collapse crying to the floor after accidentally reboiling the kettle of almost-cooled water. That kind of thing. The benefits to the baby were a bonus.
YOUR BABY. YOUR BOOBS. YOUR CHOICE.
This post is not intended to persuade people to breastfeed or to pontificate about the benefits of breast over bottle. There's a whole lot of that on the internet already. And in the hospitals, and the antenatal clinics, and the GP surgeries and the mother-baby groups. Frankly, I have very little interest in how women choose to feed their babies. It's a personal choice. In fact, I've always been wary of writing a post on breastfeeding because it can be a contentious and divisive issue. There's often judgement and guilt and disappointment and all sorts of negative stuff that really we can all do without. Motherhood is hard enough.
I guess what I would like to do is offer a little friendly, honest advice to mothers who have decided that they would like to try breastfeeding, in an attempt to better prepare them for the difficult but oh-so-rewarding business of feeding babies 'on draught', as my father likes to call it.
BASIC SURVIVAL TIPS FOR THE BREASTFEEDING MUM
So here's a little list of dos and don'ts from a NON-EXPERT; a mum who has muddled through the sleepless nights, the cluster feeds, the growth spurts and the bovine business of pumping in pub toilets... and emerged relatively unscathed.
DO prepare. Read the books and the online articles. Read the pamphlet the midwives and medical professionals give you at every single appointment. (I was given nine copies of the same pamphlet on my first pregnancy. NINE. Yes, I counted.) Get to grips with the science and the business of supply and demand. It's not quantum physics but there's more to it than the nine hospital pamphlets would have you believe. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International has the answer to pretty much every breastfeeding question you can think of.
DON'T be deterred in your decision to breastfeed by any of the following: people for whom breastfeeding didn't work; people who think breastfeeding is a bit gross; relatives who may find it hard to look you in the eye for the duration of a feed; strangers you meet in Costa who think your baby will surely starve without formula; neighbours who consider breastfeeding mothers to be loose women and exhibitionists looking for any excuse to show a bit of flesh.
DO use breastfeeding as an excuse to sit under your baby for days and weeks on end, if you can afford the luxury. Milk it, so to speak. Line up some box-sets and succumb to feeding-on-demand. If you have older kids to look after, hand over the Netflix remote. There's not much else you can do for now.
DO expect to walk around your house topless in an exhausted haze for the first couple of weeks with a newborn.
DON'T forget to put your boob(s) back in when answering the door to the postman, pizza delivery guy, etc.
DON'T expect it to be easy and painless. The majority of my friends breastfed their babies and I know of only one who experienced no nipple pain whatsoever. There's a learning curve for both you and baby and getting the latch just right can be tricky. There may be chafing. There may be clamping. There may bleeding. There will probably be crying. But it's short-lived. Take it one feed at a time and usually after the first week or two, you'll both have found your rhythm.
DO seek support and guidance from proper medical professionals and people qualified in the field. Speak to a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding counsellor early on if you're having problems. With the right help and advice, most of the early challenges can be easily overcome. Visit a breastfeeding support group where you'll find other crying, sleep-deprived mothers, at least one of whom will almost certainly be having a crappier time than you. That's always good, right? Check out Breastfeeding.ie, KellyMom, La Leche League or Cuidiú for all sorts of advice and tips.
DO learn to how to recognise the signs of mastitis and nipple thrush.
DON'T despair if you get either. They are painful and nasty and altogether bloody unfair when all you are trying to do is feed your baby the way the NINE PAMPHLETS instructed you to, but you will come out the other side and feel quite hardcore and bad-ass for surviving against the odds. And if you don't, that's OK too!
DO invest in some products that will help you through the early days. Multi-mam compresses are a godsend. Cut them in half to make them go twice as far - they're pricey. Populate your old Gaviscon stations with tubes of Lansinoh ointment. You can also use your own milk to help heal cracked and sore nipples. In fact it has so many uses, you'll be blown away. Get ready to squirt it in baby's gunky eyes, on nappy rashes, baby acne and more besides. And if that sounds icky, you're going to need to harden up as much as your nipples.
Not actual breastfeeding footage
DON'T expect to lose the four stone you gained in pregnancy by using breastfeeding to counter your doughnut habit. It doesn't work like that. You might be able to eat marginally more but breastfeeding won't make you skinny. I know. I believed it too. A strongly-worded letter to the global breast-feeding marketing people is long overdue.
DO feed your baby wherever and whenever you need to. In public. In private. In the Tesco queue. In a bar. On a ferris wheel. ANYWHERE! It's your right. Breastfeeding mothers are protected by law and you cannot be asked to stop feeding your baby in a public place. In the very early days when you're finding your feet, you might find that you're contorting yourself and your leaking mammaries into all sorts of unflattering positions and you may prefer not to attempt it in front of the neighbour's fourteen year old son. For me, once I had nailed feeding discreetly, I didn't give location - or the neighbour's son - a second thought.
DON'T spend a fortune on breastfeeding apparel, unless of course you want to and have loads of cash, in which case knock yourself out. A shirt over a similarly coloured vest works fine. Pull the outer top up and the vest down underneath. Nobody needs to see your nipples and nobody gets hurt.
DO enjoy the period for which your breasts are full and round and perky. It won't last.