Despite my terrifying birth experience, prior to the removal of the ÉvieBean, the one thing I was MOST nervous about was breastfeeding.
My tentative goal was to breastfeed if possible, but I knew there would be barriers to making this happen- a csection being a big one, baby born a few weeks early being another. I told myself that really “Fed is Best” and prepared myself to have to deal with pressure from health professionals to breastfeed, and the very real possibility that I might have to formula feed instead.
After all the conception, pregnancy and birth things I had to grieve and let go, I decided that I’d have zero expectations for breastfeeding so I would have one less thing to grieve.
Ok and let’s be real here- full disclosure- I just felt like it would be weird for my breasts to function for that purpose. TMI- they are UBER sensitive and the thought of something sucking on them every few hours made me feel icky. Oh, I’m 100% pro-breastfeeding, especially in public. Women should be able to feed their child whenever and wherever, it is natural and beautiful. Personally, though, I am super private about my own body. I mean, until recently I would lock the bathroom door even when home alone. I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, or even in front of family and friends.
A conversation with Jenny from Hazelnut & Rose at about 30 weeks became my mantra. Instead of telling me that it would just be natural or that if it didn’t work I could just use formula, she said that although it might be weird at first, it would just sort of happen… and be less weird. Worrying about it pre-birth wouldn’t help. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
The day of the birth I was ready to give breastfeeding a try. My expectations- feed baby colostrum that I expressed myself, likely from my finger. That was IT. Part of our birth plan was that nurses ask prior to manipulating me and physically touching me, or just directing Andrew and myself verbally. Although I did become more comfortable than I imagined in the hospital, not surprisingly my whole personality didn’t change with birth. I asked the nurses to be minimally physically involved and for the most part they followed through.
Those first few days and weeks I was surprised by several things when it came to breastfeeding:
- Just how many HANDS you need to get baby to latch! Seriously, it was a four hand (Andrew and I) and sometimes six with a nurse affair. Breastfeeding (for me) was definitely a “village” endeavour.
- Just how LONG breastfeeding takes. Those first few weeks (less so now but still…) feeding her took 45min-60min. First I’d have to express to get things going, then we’d try latching on each breast, then I’d finger or express into a spoon, then I’d pump and syringe feed THEN we’d top up with formula (when she had lost too much weight). After that hour, we had one non breastfeeding hour before we’d have to start the entire process all over again. In the early days this meant that Andrew was on call for that whole hour. Which meant all the things I thought he would be helping with, he couldn’t do, cuz he was there with me and baby. I’m now at 30-45min and she’s gained enough weight that we don’t have to wake her and initiate on a two hour schedule, we follow her cues. But still… a LOT of my time is spent breastfeeding.
- It hurts…. but not actually that much. Now. To be fair, after she lost more than 10% of her weight in those first few days we went to a shield (which protects the nipple from pain and dryness), but still I expected it to hurt WAY more than it actually did.
- It’s weird, but actually not THAT weird. Jenny was right. Sure it was kinda weird at first, but I’ve totally adjusted and feel less icked out. Fist pump.
- Pumping isn’t that painful but it IS ridiculously strange and time consuming. I’m glad I don’t really have to do it that often (we’ve stopped completely now that she’s gained and will only revisit once the six week period of learning is over).
- Trying to breastfeed under a cover or those silly aprons is HARD. Baby is squirmy, arms and legs a flailing, head shaking and knocking off the shield at least three or four times before latching. I know women do it, but gawd it’s challenging.
- I am still a private person and so this was NOT a surprise: I don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in public or even in front of family and friends. Interestingly, Évelyne feeds less well when I was forced to breastfeed in front of a stranger (this happened while we were out at Nurtured, an amazing eco baby-family store, and I fed in their staff space while a staff had her coffee and chatted with me. Although the staff member was VERY comfortable with this, I wasn’t and so Évelyne didn’t feed as well). As much as I think women shouldn’t be relegated to separated closed off spaces to feed their children, well I am always thankful when stores, offices or malls have special “breastfeeding” private spaces.
- Breastfeeding can be messy. The milk can get all over my shirt and bras. Especially since I’ve found that nursing bras don’t ACTUALLY work that great- I still have to fold them down and tuck in a burping blanket to protect my shirt. Even nursing tops aren’t helpful- that first week I needed to be completed disrobed from the waist up. I’ve now graduated to one boob at a time, but need a TON of freed boob space, not just this small little circle for her to latch onto. Maybe it’s cuz my breasts aren’t actually that big, so they don’t “pull” or “hang” out of anything.
- I do have moments where I feel a bit stuck to the baby. I can’t just leave her for more than 2-3 hours, cuz she’ll need me to LIVE. 99% of the time I don’t have negative feelings about this, but sometimes when she cues or when Andrew gets to leave the house or go to work, a bit of resentment will well up. Oh it passes quickly when I look at her beautiful face and we cuddle, but it’s still there. And I think it’s pretty normal.
- Breastfeeding isn’t a guarantee that your baby won’t have digestive issues. You’d think, because she’s breastfed she should have all these healthy digestive signs, except poor little Évelyne Sophie has SUCH a difficult time digesting my milk. We’re thinking reflux at this point and likely will have to introduce medications (since there is NO evidence for dietary restrictions and special Ovol drops literally do nothing to help).
- People have such STRONG opinions about strategies around breastfeeding- tips and suggestions that have NOTHING to do with science (to be fair, we don’t actually have a lot of science behind how breastfeeding works but still). If I hear one more person tell me that eliminating (fill in blank) from my diet will help… no matter that there is absolutely NO evidence to support this theory (and likely the changes noted were developmental in nature and coincidentally diet changes happened at the same time). No I’m not going to see an osteopath, no I’m not cutting out green “gassy” vegetables… even dairy has minimal evidence (and she would have different symptoms than painful poo and reflux symptoms for dairy). Please respect my choice to make an evidenced based decision on feeding my child. Thanks.
- Reusable breast pads are great and all, but disposable ones are also very convenient. These first few weeks I have allowed myself some eco-slack. When we were barely managing getting laundry done in the first place, using washable breast pads was just out of the question. I do find washable cloth pads more comfortable now that laundry is under control (we’ve had loads of help!), but I still use disposables at night. Cloth pads need an actual bra to stay put whereas disposables have sticky bits so they can stick to my jammie tank tops for sleeping (super sexy, I know). And you know what, that is OK. We’re just beginning our journey and I’ll gradually increase how often I use washable pads.
A month in, and overall I’m pretty impressed that it’s worked as well as it has. Oh it wasn’t (and isn’t) easy to breastfeed, but for myself it hasn’t been catastrophically difficult nor has it been as weird as I thought it would be. Go us!
So- my advice to pregnant ladies who are nervous about breastfeeding: Yes it’s hard, yes it might be weird, but it actually might not be as hard or as weird as you think. Or it will be harder and weirder- and that’s ok. Whatever happens, you will make the decision that is best for you and your child and in the end, fed IS best. As long as you have a great support system, take advantage of knowledgable and supportive help (Public Health Nurses, Lactation Consultants) and you don’t feel judged for your decisions, that is what matters.
You don’t need to love breastfeeding (or to breastfeed at all!) to be an awesome mama.