I have only been a mother for a year and 6 months, which makes me no expert on the subject. But I think I speak for almost all mothers when I ask: Why is something so natural so difficult? I remember an hour after birth I went to take a shower and I returned to our recovery room I had to feed the baby. At this point, the breasts only produce pre-milk, called colostrum. I remember not having the faintest clue about what to do, or how to even hold her. Then came the latching- we had to get this right. I remember talking to some mothers before I gave birth and they had faced some serious challenges with breastfeeding. So needless to say, I was very worried. Luckily, her latch was perfect. She latched on and sucked for about an hour.
I want to address 3 important questions I was asked regarding breastfeeding:
1. I hear it is painful, is this true? What can I do to make is better?
Yes, it is quite a painful experience. I am not going to beat around the bush. The first few times I was feeding her I had to use a heat pack for my lower abdomen because I was in pain. I was experiencing period like pain. This was due to my uterus contracting. As uncomfortable as that was, I was advised it was for a good purpose. This was helping my uterus contract back to its original place.
Engorgement is another painful experience of breastfeeding. Engorgement is the overproduction of breast milk. This, according to some research, is due to habitual pumping. I was not pumping any milk during the first few weeks, but my breasts were still engorged. I relieved this by using cabbage leaves and hot, wet towels. They helped a lot but smelling like cabbage is not fancy. I could bear the pain of the overproduction but what I could not bear was the spontaneous let down of milk that used to choke the baby. The milk would overwhelm her so much that I had to set a timer every time I fed her. I would feed her for 30 seconds, remove her from the breast then latch her back on. It was very tedious, but it was worth it.
Have you ever had painful nipples? I did. It is both excruciating and uncomfortable. I used nipple cream for the longest time, but I don’t need it anymore. According to moms, I might need it again when she starts teething cause biting my nipple will be an experimental experience for her, ha-ha. At my 6th-week postpartum, my midwife informed me as to why my nipples were sore. It was due to an incorrect latch. Proper latching is the key to a successful and pain-free breastfeeding experience. The first key point is getting into a comfortable sitting position. Make sure your back is supported by using your feeding pillow, or any other comfortable pillow. Hold your baby in your arms, make sure their nose is directly facing your nipple. This is a very comfortable position for them.
Rub your nipple on their upper lip to make sure that the baby opens their mouth properly. Ensure that you do not lean into the baby, but rather bring the baby towards you. If you do lean, you run the risk of straining your back and neck, leading to pain, and that position gets uncomfortable after a while. Once the baby’s mouth is wide open, put the nipple in. Make sure she gets part of the areola (dark area around the nipple). If the baby has latched on to the areola, their top and bottom lips will be shaped like fish lips- then you know he/she is doing it right.
Honestly, this takes some time. It took me months to build the right confidence to enjoy feeding time. Once we got it right, feeding times became the best ways to bond with my little one. Now, I can’t wait to get home and feed her because she gently latches on and looks right into my eyes. Priceless 🙂
2. What was your biggest challenge?
Our girl, unfortunately, had reflux. A lot of moms told me that a lot of kids go through it and that she would outgrow it. Nothing frustrated me more than hearing that she would outgrow it. ‘Outgrow’ became my worst word. Baby Tshimo would spit up her milk after every feed. She used to feed every 3 hours, so every 3 hours I knew, like clockwork, that she would bring food back up. It became a bigger challenge when she used to reflux through her nose and mouth at the same time. This meant that she could not breathe. The sight of my daughter choking was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. I tried all the traditional suggestions: elevate her head after a feed, sit baby upright, burp often and give her small but frequent feedings. My biggest weapon against the reflux was making sure that I burped her often. This, however, would be a challenge. She would feed 3 times during the night and this means I couldn’t just ‘lazy feed’. Lazy feeding is using the side-lying position. The biggest reason I could not lazily feed is that food would immediately come out from one nostril. I had to invest some real time, sit up properly and burp her. There are several ways you can burp a newborn. The widely used technique is placing her on your shoulder and tapping her back.
Our last resort was putting her on medication. We medicated her for a couple of weeks. It did not get rid of the reflux completely, but it really helped. The paediatrician suggested we get her on solids at 4 months to help her with the reflux. I started her on light porridge at 4 months and that got rid of the reflux. It was either the porridge or she outgrew it (ha-ha).
3. How long do you want to breastfeed for?
The answer is two-fold. 1: For as long as my body allows it. 2: Two years. Prior to going back to work, I never experienced issues with milk supply, but now I am, or at least I thought I was. I’d usually pump about 400-500 ml in one sitting. Now I only pump about 300 ml per sitting when I’m at in the office. I’ve come to understand that stress affects lactation tremendously. I learned this after a few of my colleagues celebrated getting 50 ml of milk in one sitting. I’m just glad that I don’t have supply issues.
The female body gets to a point where it does not produce milk anymore. If I wake up tomorrow and my body decides that today is that day, then I will not be hard on myself. I’ve done an amazing job breastfeeding my little one and I should be proud of myself, although my goal is 24 months.
The reason I have tried to breastfeed for as long as possible is that I believe in the amazing benefits of breastmilk, over and above just feeding and hydrating her. It really is miraculous stuff.
Here are a few ways this is true:
- Pour a few drops into baby’s nose to unblock it.
- Pour some into the baby’s bath to soothe any skin irritations.
- Make her an ice-lolly for teething.
- Apply some on your nipples to alleviate pain.
- Helps with circumcision-related pain or minor abrasions.
- Helps with nappy rash.
It is important to note that I am a huge advocate of the concept of using your motherly instinct. We all have different preferences and there is absolutely nothing wrong with formula feeding your child. We all do what we think and feel is best for our children. If your baby is growing and flourishing, then whatever you are doing is right. Keep doing it.