Breastfeeding – The Early Days

It’s National Breastfeeding Week. I didn’t realise this until quite a few bloggers that I follow posted on the subject. We all know that I love talking about breastfeeding, and I have loads of hastily scribbled notes that I’ve been meaning to turn into blog posts for a while, so I figure that now is a better time than any to finally get round to it.

Although I hadn’t specified skin to skin on my birth plan (I hadn’t given it much thought either way, just thought I’d see how I felt at the time), the midwives instructed Sam to remove my bra shortly before Arlo was delivered up onto my chest. According to my preconceptions, at this point a ‘Breast is Best’ midwife should bustle in and give step by step instructions on establishing breastfeeding, not stopping until the mission was complete.

Down on the postnatal ward, I got half the bustling midwife I’d imagined. One who wouldn’t discharge me until he was feeding properly, but offered no guidance whatsoever on how to get him to feed.

I had no idea what I was doing. I assumed you just put them there and they did their thing and that was that. Hearing my mum’s voice in my head “It’s much easier if you give them an opportunity to latch on straight away”, I tried about five minutes after he was born. Arlo just lay there, eyes blinking. He had as much of a clue as I did.

Every time the midwife asked, I’d say “I’m not sure”. It didn’t feel like he was feeding, but I didn’t know what it felt like, and he kept latching off. Her response was always “Well, you can’t go until he is feeding” and then she was off again. The only reason they gave for not letting me go home straight from the delivery ward was to ensure that I established feeding “or you could encounter problems when you get home”. I stayed overnight and was on the postnatal ward until 4pm the next day, during that time no-one seemd particularly concerned to make sure that Arlo was feeding.  I asked to see the lactation consultant, but was told that she doesn’t work on weekends. So, six ‘feeds’ after he was born, I told them he was feeding fine now, and they let me go.

At some point over the next few days, Arlo woke up. I realised what it really feels like when he is feeding. That sucking action is strong, there’s no mistaking it. Which meant, of course, that he hadn’t really fed at all in all the time before this point (not that this was a huge problem, they are born with a store to last a day or two, I’m told).

Truth be told, I find it quite hard to remember breastfeeding in the early days with any clarity. I was expecting pain, cracked nipples, and other such things I’d heard new mums talking about. I remember thinking it wasn’t as bad as I expected in that department, although I also recall the need to grit my teeth and stamp my foot on the floor for the first twelve or so seconds of Arlo latching on. I can’t remember when that pain stopped, three or four weeks in maybe?

Our main issue in the early days was Arlo’s habit of latching on and off repeatedly. Each feed, it would take at least five minutes before he successfully latched and stayed latched. Looking back, I think there was definitely a problem here. I had concerns at the time and asked the health visitor (the one that comes for a home-visit) a week or so after birth to observe a feed. She said that everything looked fine and put the latching on and off down to him needing to learn what do to.

It took a long time for him to learn. Again, it was around four weeks (I’m seeing a pattern here!), and even then there were still feeds where it was like he’d completely forgotten how to latch. I still don’t know why he had these issues. He was a very sleepy newborn, perhaps that contributed.

It was much harder for him to latch when I was lying down. We didn’t master that until he was a few months old. There were some frustrated middle-of-the-night tears in the early days. I needed good light to be able to guide him to latch, so that meant lots of getting up from bed to turn on and off the light switch, disturbing Sam and Arlo in the process. Again, I can’t remember how long this lasted, but I’m going to make a guess at around four weeks.

It was stressful when he couldn’t/wouldn’t latch. His desperate crying and frantic head bobbing would get me worked up, and then my stress would contribute to his latching issues. We always had better luck once I’d taken a few deep breaths and tried to relax. I tried different holds. Rugby hold worked occasionally, he wouldn’t do the breast crawl and latch himself, his preference was the cradle hold.

The first few public feeds were daunting. I didn’t want people to see how much we were struggling with latching, because I saw it as my failure. I was worried about showing exposed breast to the world whilst a squawking Arlo tried to latch, soaking my lap with milk in the  process. These things did happen, but I found that the actuality wasn’t as bad as the nervous anticipation.

There are a couple of things that I would liked to have done differently during that all-important stage of establishing breastfeeding:

I wish I had specifically asked the midwives in the delivery room to guide me with breastfeeding, or found a midwife in the postnatal ward who had the time to help me.

I wish I had seen an IBCLC – I thought our issues weren’t big enough to warrant any special help. With hindsight I’ve learnt that if your gut instinct is telling you that you may have a problem then it is well worth seeking expert advice.

I wish we had spent the first few days at home in bed, taking every opportunity to feed, work on practising our technique and establishing our breastfeeding relationship. It’s very difficult to do this when you decide to have a near-constant stream of visitors as soon as you step foot outside the hospital.

I could go on, but Adele at Circus Queen recently wrote a brilliant post on the subject of preparing for breastfeeding which resonates hugely with me and says it all, so I urge you to go and read that, especially if you are about to embark on a breastfeeding journey.

Our issues aside, breastfeeding was otherwise plain(ish) sailing. He feed every 3 hours like clockwork, and spent the rest of the time sleeping. Apart from the typical growth spurts, where he remained attached to my boobs all night.

At around five weeks old, Arlo well and truly woke up. He was no longer content to lie in his pram or moses basket and sleep until he wanted a feed. He wanted to be held, and he wanted movement all the time. This was also the point that the evening cluster feeds started. From 4pm every day, he would become irritable until around 9pm when he would fall into a deep six-hour sleep. Two things would settle him during the hours of 4-9pm – constant jiggling and walking him around the house, or feeding. So, I spent many, many hours under sofa arrest. The cluster feeding stage seemed to last a long time, he stopped at around four months old.

Breastfeeding in the early days was a huge learning curve. It’s easy to play down the stresses and worries of the first few weeks now that I am removed from it, but I think I have managed to remember all the key moments we experienced in those early days. I have found that each stage of breastfeeding Arlo has been totally different, and my next few posts on the subject will talk about breastfeeding him as an older baby, and breastfeeding him as a toddler.

About Chloe

Sorry About The Mess documents the life of London blogger and photographer, Chloe, and her young family. Sorry About The Mess is a personal lifestyle and parenting blog.

Comments

  1. I’m loving reading all the breastfeeding posts this week. Its funny how much peoples experiences differ but also share similarities. I remember saying to a friend when I’d been doing it about four months, that if you could get past the first four weeks then you were flying. I think its around that point that your boobs and your nipples get used to the onslaught of abuse! x

  2. Oliver sounds a lot like Arlo. In the first week or so it was taking 30 minutes to latch him on (no exaggeration) – I had to get an appointment with the infant feeding woman to get some further positioning tips which have helped. He is also a pain to feed lying down, cue me sitting up half-dead X times a night.

    After 2 years feeding Izz I thought I’d dealt with every hand breastfeeding could throw at me but in the past 4 weeks I’ve realised I couldn’t be more wrong! Wouldn’t have it any other way though.

  3. I have had 2 tongue tied babies and I was not able to feed them laying down until they were about 6 months or so :) What helped me early on though was a drawing that was shown to me – it showed how you flip your nipple up to begin with so that the baby’s lower lip ends up way below your nipple’s bottom line (do nipples have “bottom lines”?? :). I always thought that you just had to shove the nipple in straight but turns out there has to be an angle :)

    • I think I tried similar techniques, although I can’t say that I ever found one that worked…he just got the hang of it eventually.

  4. Love your post! Here’s a “short” one on our breastfeeding experience (my boy is 4m).
    I had an emergency csection and couldn’t properly hold Oscar until over an hour after he was out. I could see him desperately smacking his lips & was quite annoyed I couldn’t do anything about it. He didn’t latch in recovery & a midwife mentioned a tongue tie. After 3 days of screaming baby, midwives desperately trying to latch him on for me (I was so exhausted from the pain & lack of sleep) & the painfully hand expressed colostrum fed to him by syringe I was told he had lost too much weight & we had to stay longer (at this point I felt like just killing myself).
    He had been latched by one healthcare assistant twice so I had hope. I was given a pimp & was expressing milk & topping up with formula every 2 hrs, that night & the following day. He regained enough weight & we were allowed to go home. At that point I was sure I’d have to just pump & feed potentially going to just formula & was devastated as I was set on breastfeeding. Then miraculously I managed to latch him on myself as we were about to leave! Lots of frustration, sleep deprived nights, cluster feeding etc I ended up with an infected split nipple which took 2 months to heal!
    I’m really thankful to a LLL IBCLC & my local breastfeeding group (I still go) for getting me through this! I’m incredibly disappointed by the lack of support & information from the NHS (select midwives excluded) after putting the guilt of “breast is best” in me.
    Turns out my boy has a tongue tie, there was someone who could help when we were at the hospital & I wasn’t made aware of her existence. All in all I’m really glad I stuck with it & have decided to train to be a breastfeeding peer supporter so I can help other women in similar situations.

    • Sounds like you had a really tough time of it. I hear a lot of stories about undiagnosed tongue tie, but to diagnose it and then not make you aware of the specialist… very frustrating. Really great that you managed to overcome your tough start.

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