Mummy Confession: I have breastfed (and mixed fed) my three children, but the first run through was excruciating.
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“If you’re doing it right, it won’t hurt.”
It’s not always true, you know. My babe had a “perfect latch” as commented by every midwife who watched me feed my baby those first days and weeks. Yet, it was still so painful. Occasionally, I guess she got it wrong, and I wound up with “grazes” as they call it, which was basically damage to myself as she figured out the whole feeding thing. This alone caused my first days (or six weeks, rather) of breastfeeding to be far less than a blissful experience of bonding with my baby.
A typical feeding session in the first weeks went a little like this. Pick up hungry baby (not yet crying, good). Cringe as I bring her to the breast and latch her on just how I was shown. Keep cringing and nearly crying, or eventually crying because it just hurt that much. Pry her mouth off while cringing even more to try to relatch because “it shouldn’t hurt if she’s latching correctly.” Do this again and again. Finally give up and just wince through feeding the baby. Repeat for six weeks and dread feeding baby. Pray between feeds that the hydrogel discs and expressed milk and other concoctions had some sort of magical healing properties that would make the pain go away. Finally, give in and feed bottles of formula a couple times a day because feeding is that painful. Cry. Feed the baby another bottle because my husband is hurting for me watching me try and try again. Ask people for remedies which don’t help. Power through.
I was diagnosed with thrush at five weeks post partum (and so was baby), so about a week after we started treatment for that, feeding did get a lot better. It was less painful. Then, the day came when there was no pain. Finally.
I wanted to share some of the products that helped me in those early days of breastfeeding that proved invaluable to feeding for 16 months. I didn’t expect to go for that long at all, but was thankful we did. It also made it easier to have these from the get go the second and third time around!
1. Breast Pads: disposable or reuseable, breast pads are an essential for earl breastfeedng. No one tells you that you leak from one side when you feed from the other. Or, that you can just randomly leak milk, leaving you red faced in front of guests who happen to drop by. Be prepared and keep some on hand! I’ve used several different types of disposables, and have found the Rite Aid breast pads, or the Coles brand breast pads to be great. I’ve even used the washable ones by Avent, and they have proven to do well, too.
2. Hydrogel Breast Discs: These are an essential for me, as they are soothing after a feed, and when you are sore. If you have scrapes or grazes, it’s perfect to help with those, too. I have heard some put them in the fridge for an even more soothing feel. In Australia, Rite Aid hydrogel breast discs seem to be the best buy and work wonderfully for those tender days! (You can find them in most chemists, groceries, baby stores, and department stores with a baby section.)
I’ve also read two other things for helping yourself adjust to feeding in order to minimise the pain. 1. Don’t wash the breast with soap/body wash, but water only. I was told it could make breastfeeding more painful and dry out the nipple. 2. Express a little breast milk after feeding and let everything air dry if possible.
3. A good water bottle: Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy and apparently makes you feel like you are dehydrated like crazy. Find a good water bottle if you use tap water, or stock up on Costco size cases!
4. Good, healthy meals: Breastfeeding makes you ravenous (at least that’s my experience, especially right after birth). A good meal will not only keep up your energy, but also helps you feel better all around! There are some meal suggestions here if you are after some new ideas for your recipe rotation.
5. Vitamins: My iron levels always seem to be low when I am breastfeeding or pregnant, so my go to is Blackmore’s Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Gold. I know there are a lot of vitamins out there, and I’ve tried a few. These seem to work the best for me, and give a boost of energy when I am lacking just that.
6. Breast Shells: Whether or not you are exclusively breastfeeding or plan to express or give formula (or a combination of any of those), you will leak. Especially when feeding. I found the breast shells caught a bit of milk that could be refrigerated and combined with other bottles at the same temperature (see guidelines for breast milk here and how to combine). In the early days, they were essential and I felt better not losing precious milk.
7. Burp Cloths/Cloths to wipe rogue milk: I’ve always found Square cloth nappies to be particularly useful for keeping bub and me dry while feeding or pumping. There may be times when bubs unlatches or spits up after feeding, so it’s always good to have handy. When expressing, it’s helpful to have to dry yourself and the pump off.
8. A helpful friend or professional: We all need encouragement and a little help, so don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows what they’re talking about if you have questions or need help with anything breastfeeding related (or baby related for that matter). Helpful places to look for professionals or information would be The Australian Breastfeeding Association, La Leche League, your child & family health nurse, lactation consultant, or see your healthcare professional for a referral. And helpful tip when asking for help, always be sure to speak up for yourself and your baby if you feel something isn’t going right and advocate for yourself and baby. Seek a second opinion if necessary.
Optional Extras which some people find useful can also include: A Breastfeeding pillow (like the Boppy), a comfortable chair, a Breastfeeding cover for public places, nursing bras, and nursing clothes. I do can with or without these depending on where I am going or feeding. I’ve learned to roll with it (and without at times).
If you plan to express or bottle feed breastmilk (or even formula) these come in handy, too!
1. A breast pump: There are a few different kinds and each have their perks. Manual pumps are less expensive, but require more work on your part. Some can be tiring or even painful to use. Of the brands I’ve tried, Pigeon makes a decent manual pump which is easy to use for my weak wrists and still effective at expressing. Electric pumps come in single and double options. Singles are usually cheaper than doubles, but will take twice as long if you need to Express from both sides. A double will tend to be more expensive, however less time intensive. There are also two classes of systems, open and closed, and the closed systems are supposed to be more hygienic, because they prevent milk from spreading into the tubing.
I’ve completed a feature on several brands of breast pumps (click here) if you need an idea of what you are looking for.
As I mostly express randomly, I have a single (and the double wasn’t available until a month after I bought my pump). Depending in your need for expressing, there are various options to look into. I talk about this in my review of the many brands available.
2. Bottles & Teats: Well all that expressed milk or formula has to go somewhere! There are so many options for bottles out there! The main kinds I’ve found are wide necked, narrow necked, and varying shapes of the nipple. Glass and plastic bottle options are available. Sometimes you have to find what works for your baby though. Some of the brands I have seen mums say work best with their babies are Tommee Tippee, Avent (or Avent naturals), Minibie, Mumijumi, and Medela. My babies all preferred wide neck styles like Tommee Tippee. Helpful tip: If bubs is having difficulty adjusting to the bottle, I’ve been recommended to let someone besides mum do the feeding (and possibly with some of mum’s smelling clothes if bubs is having a difficult time).
3. A bottle brush: A sponge just doesn’t get everything. Some come with a special teat brush which you can use to scrub the inside of the nipple of the bottle. Change these every so often, as they can wear.
4. Soap that actually washes breast milk/formula residue away!
We all know how stubborn that milk is when you try to wash it. Bottles wind up cloudy and filmy even after you’ve scrubbed a million times over! Get a good cleanser specifically for breast milk. I’ve tried the Medela Quick Clean Soap and it works brilliantly! If you need something to quickly wipe breast pumps or bottles while on the go, Medela also makes quick clean wipes.
5. Breastmilk bags: Much easier to store in the freezer especially! Get ones specific to your brand of pump if you use one, or find more bargain ones. We use the Babies R Us brand or Swisspers. There are even bottle systems that work with breast milk bags like the Tommee Tippee Express and Go. Check to see if they are reusable, too. ( Handy tip, always defrost frozen milk in a bowl, just in case the bag leaks!)
6. A Bag to Store it All: A decent sized bag with sufficient space for the pump, bags, and enough room to store away ice packs and milk-laden bags or bottles. It’s a big plus if it can store anything else you may need for your day, too.
7. Ice packs: To keep the milk cool enough until you can get it to the fridge or freezer.
8. Extra Batteries or an Adaptor: Depending on your pump, of course, be sure to have whatever you would need in case your pump runs out of juice, or just needs to be plugged in to use. Manual pumps obviously mean you don’t need this one thing in mind.
Whatever way you decide to feed your baby, be sure to take care of yourself and your bub the best way possible and see a relevant healthcare or other professional if you ever need any advice, help, tips, or referrals too some who can provide further information.