What is Newborn Breastfeeding really like?
Brace yourself, curl up your toes, take a deep breath, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! That is how it felt for me breastfeeding a newborn. Each time they latched on or attempted to I just wanted to cry and often did. It is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world and yet it initially difficult to get right and very painful if you get wrong. It also didn’t seem to get easier the second time round. There I was all cocky in the hospital thinking I don’t need anyone to show me I am a second time mummy. I know it all and so I launched straight into it and nearly had a nervous breakdown at the pain. I was on morphine at the time as I had a csection so goodness only knows what it would have been like without that! In fact let me tell you that the first month was no easier the 3rd or 4th time either…. but I breastfeed for around year each time so clearly it got better and in this post I wanted to share the reality of newborn breastfeeding and my newborn breastfeeding tips that will help you make it through the first month; the toughest part.
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The First Week of Newborn Breastfeeding
During the first week of newborn breastfeeding can be hit and miss I have found. Sometimes it goes great and you think you have cracked it and the next time its agony again. My tip for this is take note of the position the baby is in when it doesn’t hurt as it honestly is the positioning that’s key. If they latch on correctly then it hurts way less although I think to start with you always get a little bit of a toe curl. The worst thing about the first week of breast feeding a newborn is that they need feeding so often so if it is hurting it is like a form of torture.
Does Newborn Breastfeeding stop hurting?
The short answer is yes! It really will get easier and stop hurting. Remember this is also the time when your breasts are toughening up and getting used to this as their new function so it is when you are most likely to suffer with chapped nipples – if you have never done it you won’t believe me, but honestly it can even bleed. Think about when you first start wearing flip flops in the summer – you get blisters right and then your feet toughen up. Its the same for nipples! (things you never thought you would have to think about)
How can you help to ease the discomfort of newborn breastfeeding?
I used a camomile ointment called Kamillosan to ease the chapped and very sore nipples. It which worked brilliantly for me, but there are so many nipple creams and ointments that you can choose from and I really recommend having one at the ready! You might need to try more than one to find one that works for you.
You can also buy Nipple shields, but I personally didn’t get on with these. I think that the reason lots of women give up breastfeeding early is that this initial period is painful and so demanding physically at a time when you are totally exhausted, but honestly if you can just get through this bit I promise you it gets so much easier and is a lovely thing to do as well as being great for your baby. So I recommend trying some of these products to help you get over this initial hurdle.
Babies feed initially around every couple of hours. They only have very small tummies and can’t take a lot. For the first few days they also aren’t getting a lot as it is just the colostrum. Vital for them in nutrition terms, but there isn’t a great quantity. This can be exhausting, but is important. I have been advised by midwives not to ever let a newborn to sleep for more than 4hrs as their blood sugar levels will dip too low and it becomes hard to wake them up. If you do ever find it tough to get them to stir taking off their clothes and blowing in their faces gently can help. This is also a good idea to do if they just keep falling asleep as soon as you start feeding them. It is very comforting for them when they are being fed so they often fall asleep, but if they do this as soon as they start being fed they will not take the full feed. They need to have their full feed as the really good full of calorie stuff comes at the end and it is not good for you as if you don’t empty your breasts completely it can start to build up and cause you discomfort.
As your milk first properly comes in you can also suffer engorgement (this also happens if you are trying to stop feeding although I found not if you phase it out slowly) should this happen to you a cold compress can help or if you can expressing milk eases this. I also tried using cabbage leaves – I know it sounds crazy, but if you pop a cabbage leaf in the freezer and then put it on a sore boob it is like heaven and they are just the right shape. Seriously give it a whirl.
If your baby isn’t taking the full feed I recommend expressing the rest and trying to give it via bottle as soon as they are willing to try again, but I should say that the experts do say that combination feeding too early can cause nipple confusion. Personally I have had to top up all my four babies as my milk took a while to come in. The twins also didn’t like breast feeding during the day ever and one of them was in the NICU so had to have bottle feeds and the other little lady was too small to manage breastfeeding initially. and they never struggled with combination feeding, but just saying what the experts say 🙂
Pain and Discomfort
One quick word of warning a bit of discomfort and pain is usual at the start of breastfeeding a newborn, but extreme pain, a temperature, shivering etc… is not normal and could be mastitis which can be serious so if in doubt check it out. Here is a link to the NHS information about mastitis: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Mastitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
The First Two Months
After that initial couple of weeks whilst your milk is still coming through and breastfeeding is becoming a more usual activity for you and your baby things become way easier. You will learn the best position for breastfeeding your baby and what is most comfortable for you both. I suggest try different feeding positions to see what works best for you and your baby.
You will find that over time your baby will also start to get into a more manageable feeding routine. You might even start to get some sleep as your baby is able to take more milk and so sustain themselves for a bit longer.
Baby Routines and Baby Feeding Schedules
You may choose to follow one of the routines designed by baby experts (see my post on routines for some more information or my post on the EASY Routine) or you may decide to do it your own way, but whatever you chose by around week 6-8 breastfeeding will be established and will hurt much less. I found each time that just about when I got to the point where I felt like I can’t do this breastfeeding thing anymore something clicked and it just started to work and become more natural for me and for baby. Once things become that little bit easier feeding can become even a joy and I found that it is much easier to do breastfeeding a newborn in the middle of the night than to be sterilising bottles and preparing formula. Personally I also found it easier to be breastfeeding when out and about as it is just one less thing to remember. You always have the kit with you if you are breast feeding!
When you first start feeding in public is can feel odd and you might feel self conscious. I know I did, but you will soon get used to it. Unless you are extremely comfortable with it I recommend getting a couple of good breastfeeding tops that you also like. I found H&M to be great for tops that looked great, were functional and inexpensive.
As I say I always fed in public and don’t hide away, but I personally also feel that I wouldn’t usually sit in a restaurant or in front of my friends with my boobs out so I am discreet and don’t like to expose anything. To help with this I use a lightweight scarf or a muslin to drape over baby, but I like to use a scarf as this is then also part of my outfit so looks good too. You can buy breastfeeding cover ups for exactly this purpose and there is a great selection to choose from. The good thing about them is that they do the job and leave you hands free without the risk of them falling off or having to be adjusted constantly.
My Top Tips for Newborn Breastfeeding
- Accept you won’t get it right first time and that practice makes perfect
- Try to carry on past the first month or so as it will get easier, but if it doesn’t seek help (here is a link to some advice points http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/breastfeeding-help-support.aspx#close)
- Buy a good breastfeeding bra and a few tops it will make it easier in public
- If you have a partner ask them to help you with positioning at the very beginning it is sometimes easier for them to support baby and you to manoeuvre the boob!
- Give yourself a break… If it is just too painful think about expressing as an option at least to allow you one feed off.
- Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it is a marvellous bonding experience etc… It will be, but not in the first couple of weeks it just hurts and exhausts you, but it is worth it as once you break through that you will more than likely love it and won’t want to give up. It is a special thing.
- If you feel ill, have a temperature or are in agony then see a doctor
- Do a bit of research about positions and/or ask the midwife on your follow up checks I found them really helpful
- If you have to give up breastfeeding or can’t do it don’t beat yourself up. These things happen and you can only react to what life throws at you, but I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a good go.
So that’s my view on breastfeeding a newborn it isn’t glamorous and it is tiring, but in my opinion worth it for me and certainly for baby and I didn’t even mention the fact it helps shift that baby weight as it burns loads of calories and contracts your tummy – just don’t do what I did (twice!) and eat cake to make up for being hungry that = fatter bottom…