‘Sweetie, can you get down off the couch please?’
My mate was breastfeeding her daughter while trying to stop her son from belly flopping off the couch on to the concrete floor. She leapt up and grabbed his shoulder as he was about to fall, then scooped him into her free arm and slid him into his high chair. Plonking a sandwich in front of him she kissed his head then swung past the kitchen to grab the salad she’d just made us for lunch. She sat down, speared some lettuce with her fork and said ‘Where were we?’
She breastfed her daughter THE ENTIRE TIME SHE DID ALL THIS. I was gobsmacked. At the time my daughter was 8 weeks old and breastfeeding her was still such a big event. I needed a full bottle of water, a special pillow, a fully charged phone, headphones, a snack. It could also take anywhere from 45 minutes to well over an hour. I couldn’t believe anyone could just casually wander around and breastfeed like that. It was totally bananas.
6 months in and I totally get it. Harri and I have her feeds down to 3 or 4 minutes per boob max these days and I can do it anywhere. The car, the park, the library. I’m a master.
Everyone said breastfeeding is hard. Everyone said it would eventually get easier. Both of these things are true but everyone’s breastfeeding journey is so different, people tend to be a bit light on the details because every piece of breastfeeding advice is irrelevant until it’s relevant.
Whether you’ve breastfed, express fed, formula fed or any combination of the above, feeding your child is a giant pain in the ass. It’s also a deeply emotional issue for a lot of women (myself included) and there’s a lot of shame, guilt and pain associated with it so I’m going to try my very best to tread carefully with this post. Not being able to breastfeed is heartbreaking for a lot of women and although my breastfeeding journey was really tough, I’m still grateful I was able to do it. This is the stuff that I did based on things that were important to me and what worked for my daughter and myself. If I have another kid, the journey will almost certainly be different.
So here’s some stuff I learned, what I have been doing and what I have done with breastfeeding. I hope it helps!
Here are a few things I wish someone had told me about breastfeeding…
It might not stop hurting after 2 weeks
I was in severe pain for three full months. I don’t say that to scare anyone but I had countless lactation consultants tell me it ‘wasn’t normal’ to be in pain after two weeks. Bless the lactation consultants but that was utter bollocks. I know plenty of women that were in pain for a lot longer than 2 weeks. It wasn’t mastitis as many people thought, it was vasospasm which is an utter bastard of a thing. It’s a severe and sudden constriction of blood vessels and it’s extremely painful. It’s a secondary response to nipple trauma and the only cure is for your nipples to heal which is impossible when you have a voracious newborn chomping on them ten times a day. It resulted in a weird nerve like pain that reverberated throughout my whole upper body and into my back and shoulders. It hurt when I was feeding and it hurt when I wasn’t feeding. We didn’t have latch problems, my daughter didn’t have a tongue or lip tie, I just had stupid boobs that decided to skimp on blood flow when I needed it most. I had to wear Rite Aid gel pads full time for three months and I wore a maternity crop top around the clock (even in bed) because I couldn’t handle air/fabric/anything touching my nipples. Showering was horrendous because the water felt like knives on my poor blood deprived nips.
I went to a different lactation consultant every week for the first two months of Harri’s life and no one could help. I finally had a whinge to a GP I was seeing for something else and she told me she had vasospasm when she breastfed and she thought I had it too. She said to stick it out till 3 months and it will be fine. I did and it worked. It obviously wasn’t fun but I got there in the end.
You might not leak or feel let down
I didn’t feel let down until my boobs stopped hurting all the time and I only feel it now if I’ve gone a little longer than usual without feeding, like first thing in the morning. I’ve also never leaked except for the first time my kid slept through the night. I bought I giant box of breast pads before I gave birth and I haven’t used a single one. Weird right?
When your kid drops a night feed you don’t have to pump to replace it
Harri started sleeping through the night (with a dreamfeed) semi-consistently at around 4 months. I was talking about it at mother’s group where a few other babies were doing the same thing but their mum’s were getting up in the night to pump to replace the feed. I was gutted. I was so excited that I didn’t have to haul my ass out of bed to feed my kid and my heart plummeted at the thought of setting an alarm to get up to pump. I asked my maternal nurse whether I should be pumping too and she said ‘Hell no.’ It seems to be a personal choice and some women who are worried about supply or haven’t started their kids on solids may like to get up to pump to protect that extra feed but it’s not necessary for everyone. Thank fuck. I didn’t get up to pump and my supply sorted itself out. No wuckers.
You (probably) don’t have low supply
One thing I’ve found to be pretty consistent with breastfeeding women is that most us at some stage think we have low supply. Baby didn’t gain much weight? Low supply. Baby fussing at the breast? Low supply. Didn’t pump much milk? Low supply. Don’t feel let down and don’t leak? Low supply. According to most lactation consultants, true low supply isn’t super common. It certainly exists but not as much as people think. I’ve self-diagnosed myself as having ‘low supply’ about a dozen times and I’m basically full of shit. My supply is fine. I really wish someone had told me that because every time my girl had a fussy period or didn’t feed for very long I’d freak out and think I had low supply when really it was just my human baby being a human baby and sometimes feeding well and sometimes not feeding well. However, if you do truly feel like you have low supply, keep getting second opinions until someone listens to you. In my case, I was just being alarmist.
You might not be able to store your breastmilk
This was one hell of a shock that I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t pump much in the early days of breastfeeding because I fucking hate pumping (women who express feed are human angels) and I was also a bit worried about breast rejection where your baby has a bottle and then never goes back on the breast again. Eventually, I’d pump and give her a bottle about once a week just so she knew how to take a bottle. Leading up to her going into daycare, I started pumping extra milk and catching some in the Haaka and storing it. I’d only given Harri fresh breast milk in the bottle and the first time she had defrosted milk she gagged. The poor sweetheart gave it a red hot go but she just couldn’t drink it. I thought she was randomly bottle refusing but then I tasted my milk and it was DISGUSTING. It turns out some women have an excess of a thing called lipase which makes their milk taste like soap if it’s been frozen and then defrosted. I discovered that when I googled ‘Why does my breastmilk taste like detergent?’. Lucky me right? So I had to throw out an entire freezer stash of carefully collected breastmilk that was useless because it tasted like a dirty bathroom sink.
This was very distressing because I was about a week away from starting back at work and needed Harri to be able to take a bottle at daycare. Read the What We Do For Day Care section to see how I managed to get my kid bottle fed at daycare when I can’t store my damn breast milk.
If your kid is gaining weight, it’s working
Breastfeeding was a nightmare for me for three full months. I hated it. I spent New Year’s Eve this year sobbing in the living room trying to latch my tiny 3-week old without screaming in pain. It was awful. I had a midwife recently ask how I went with breastfeeding and I said ‘Terrible, thanks for asking but it sorted itself out recently.’ and she asked me why I continued to do it for so long. The truth was, it was working. It was unbearably painful but Harri was thriving, so I stuck it out.
Breastfeeding is really not necessary
I’m certainly pleased I stuck it out but in retrospect, I probably should have stopped. I was on a mission at the time and couldn’t be swayed. Now that breastfeeding is a non-issue and my girl is on solids, I’ll keep doing but it but if I was still in that amount of pain, I’d definitely stop. There’s so much pressure to breastfeed these days and I succumbed to that pressure in a major way and had some very dark moments trying to succeed with this nearly impossible task.
What we do for childcare
After quite a lot of experimentation and many, many bottles of wasted expressed breastmilk I figured out that my milk keeps well for a max of 48 hours in the fridge (never the freezer) and Harri goes to daycare 2 to 3 days per week depending on what our schedules are like. She has a breastfeed at roughly 7am, 11am, 3pm, 6.30pm and 10pm (dreamfeed). So she needs 2 x bottles to take to daycare for her 11 am and 3pm feeds. On Sundays I give her a bottle of formula at 11am and I pump breastmilk. Then I give her formula again at dreamfeed and pump then I have 2 serves of breastmilk for her to take to daycare. Then the next day I pump at 11 and 3 and I have two serves for the next day and so on. From Wednesday night onwards I just breastfeed for every feed and start again on Sunday.
I could have gone down the route of scorching my breastmilk to store it (an internet remedy I read for reducing the lipase in your milk) but adding extra jobs to the already tedious task of pumping made me feel stabby. As I work from home, I could also have worked from a cafe near daycare and popped in to feed her at the appropriate times but I couldn’t see that working in the long term.
It’s working really well for us which is great. Harri still is mostly breastfed but I use formula when I need to and honestly, it’s taken away a lot of my breastmilk anxiety. I wasn’t prepared for how stressful it is to have a baby rely solely on your breastmilk for survival. I feel like a different person now she’s on solids and has formula every now and then.
What I’d change for next time
- Introduce formula for dreamfeed ASAP – One of my mum mates had her husband do formula dreamfeed from birth and she doesn’t pump to replace the feed. She just goes to bed and her supply evened itself out. I had a plan to do something similar but I was so consumed with nailing breastfeeding that it didn’t really happen. We had a few issues with my vasospasm and Harri had jaundice so the first few weeks were extra stressful. Those hard weeks really shook my confidence and I was very scared to break our system that seemed to be working.
- I would listen to the stories of babies rejecting bottles/formula/breast and be aware of them but not let them scare me into being weird about using formula. I spent a lot of time and energy exclusively breastfeeding and it wasn’t really necessary.
- I’d get one of those teeny tiny pumps so I can travel with it. I borrowed a magnificent beast of a pump from my cousin and it’s amazing but it’s huge which means I always have to pump at home. If I had one of the little ones I could do it in cafe bathrooms, when I travel, in the car when I’m out and about. I won’t get one now because they’re pretty expensive and I reckon I’ve only got a couple more months before I stop breastfeeding altogether so it’s not worth it.
Things I would definitely do again
- Introduce dreamfeed. It’s where you feed your kid right before you go to bed to buy you more sleep time. It’s a feed they don’t wake up for, you gently get them out of bed and feed them while they’re kind of still asleep. Dreamfeeds don’t work for everyone and can seem like the dumbest idea in the world for anyone who has a kid that doesn’t sleep well (why the hell would you disturb a sleeping child?) but they worked brilliantly for my heavy sleeper and helped me get a solid 6 hours sleep most nights from when she was quite young.
- Buy glass Pigeon bottles. I suspect that high lipase milk (like mine) doesn’t keep well in plastic. We’ve had great success with the glass Pigeon bottles that have a wide mouth.
- Borrow everything. I borrowed a pump, a bottle warmer and a steriliser. You literally use it for a year (give or take) and then it’s all useless. I also managed to borrow this stuff from mates that are in between having kids so when I’m done, I can give this stuff back them.
If you’ve gone down the breastfeeding path, what was your journey like? Anything you wish you knew before you started?
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This is a great article Smags. I love your honesty. As someone who couldn’t breastfeed with the first and then had to throw in the towel on it for the second because I wasn’t coping, I can totally relate to the pain and stress you put yourself through. You are spot on that everyone’s journey is different but we all suffer the same silent guilt when it comes to what’s best for feeding our babies in those first few months. xx
Thank you so much. It’s such a sensitive issue, it’s difficult to talk about without upsetting people.
Great piece ?
I wish people would stop saying that breastfeeding doesn’t/shouldn’t hurt!!! It really hurts! ALOT! For weeks and weeks! When you think about how much munching is happening on an already sensitive area, it’s absurd to promote an expectation that mild discomfort is all you should feel. Both my babies were breastfed and it bloody hurt both times. There were no issues, it’s just a very hurty thing.
Ugh, sorry about the question mark! There’s no question, it’s a great piece ?
So amazing of you to share all of this. The details matter and as you said, everyone’s experience is different! I had a hell of a time breastfeeding my first daughter (12 years ago)…including the vasospasms (excruciating!). At the time, we had an angel of a physician in the NYC area who specialized in breastfeeding medicine (how freaking amazing is that?) and she diagnosed both me and my daughter with thrush-treating that cleared the vasospasms. At the time, the best online reference for a lot of these more obscure problems was kellymom.com —not sure if that is still the case. In general, what drove me the most nuts was the condescending nature of a lot of breastfeeding proponents ….”it’s natural…it should be easy… I think that’s only the case if you’re surrounded by a village of women who looking out for you and sharing their wisdom.
The details DO matter and so many women aren’t prepared to talk about the details because they’ll get judged or shamed so I thought it would be useful to be really specific about what I did. I found kellymom.com super helpful!
Thank you for sharing.
I was lucky to have a really great breastfeeding experience with my son. We stopped now that I’m pregnant with number 2 (it got verrrry painful). I never thought I’d feed until he was 3! But I’m so grateful. Got everything crossed things go smoothly second time around.
Well bloody done on sticking it out and getting through the pain for Harriet. Mums are amazing.
That’s so lucky! And rare! And thank you!
Yes! Breastfeeding hurts and it can hurt for a long time! At the time, I thought I was doing something wrong, but I think my nipple was just red raw. I would cringe every time I put him on the nipple for weeks, maybe months. My son was a long feeder. One thing I wish I’d known was that demand feeding doesn’t mean you can’t cut them off after a while. In the end I limited him to 30 min per side at each feed (he would have gone for an hour or more each side easily). His feeds never really shortened. Also, in winter it is not necessary to strip off for skin on skin at every feed, even for a newborn!
Well done Carly, such important information to share.
That’s exactly it! There needs to be more people talking about it hurting for longer than 2 weeks. The lactation consultants made me feel like something was wrong but it hurts for a lot longer than 2 weeks for most people! I didn’t strip off hardly at all for skin to skin feeds, It just didn’t seem to happen.
I love this so much! I’m 4 weeks into my breastfeeding journey with my son and l had no clue just how blooming hard it would be!! Alex had a prominent (aka heart shaped) tongue tie so was able to feed but super shallow latch so I was in agony every time we went to feed, I was nearly in tears when he cried and had to feed as I knew I would be in serious pain! Even when he had the tongue tie cut it wasn’t a miraculous change that I was promised! It’s taken until this week that I’ve kinda ‘got it’ but I really wish I was warned about the difficulty of this journey from the start! But I am really grateful for sticking it out and hope to continue for a while yet! Xx
It’s so hard and in all different ways – it does get so much better! That’s not a reason to torture yourself though – if it’s not working, ditch it!