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.