Let's start by making it clear that I’m most definitely not an expert on breastfeeding. Having studied and worked in infant nutrition, I can tell you all the reported health benefits for mum and baby, but I don’t have the answers on how to do it successfully. I do have 10 months experience of breastfeeding my little boy, and it certainly hasn’t been easy or without challenges. I know breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, but if it is something you are planning to do, these are a few things that have helped me to have a truly rewarding and memorable experience.
1 - Find your ‘tribe’
I quite simply wouldn’t have got through the first few weeks of feeding if it wasn’t for my best friends - old and new! My oldest friends came down to see me after a couple of weeks and helped troubleshoot feeding issues, share breastfeeding stories and generally make me feel better. My new NCT family were there on the end of a message at 3am when it felt too hard and lonely. I found it useful to have a mix of people who had been through it all, and those who were at the same point as me.
2 - Know where the support is
Find the local breastfeeding support groups BEFORE you give birth. Go and visit the groups, join the Facebook group, save the phone number in your phone, bookmark the websites. Have it all ready so that when you need it, it’s at your fingertips and you don’t feel so lost. I feel very fortunate to be in Bristol and surrounded by such a wealth of support both online and in person - my local support group and Facebook page have been there since the start and have played a huge role in our feeding experience.
3 - Take each feed one at a time
Don’t set your end goal as 12 months or even 6 months. In the first few days and weeks, that is a lifetime away, and actually each individual feed is a success to celebrate and focus on. If one feed was tough, that’s ok. The goal is making the next one feel better for you and for baby. Focusing on just the next feed, means that before you know it, you’ve passed the 3 month mark, and it’s suddenly getting easier.
4 - Get comfy
I don’t just mean getting comfy on the sofa, when you have to settle down for a 2 hour feed (although you will soon learn to keep your phone / a book / snacks / a drink / the remote very close to hand for when you inevitably get stuck). Get comfortable with the practicalities of feeding - loose tops and vests that can be lifted easily, bras that are easy to open one-handed, enough cushions on the sofa, somewhere supportive to sit. Get rid of any distractions that might make feeding more difficult, so that you only need focus on your baby.
5 - Trust your body
Breastfeeding is an amazing thing to do, regardless of how you do it and how long you do it for. It can be very easy to doubt your body - questioning how much milk you have, if you’re doing it right, whether your baby is able to latch. But you grew a baby, and brought them out into the world. Your body will do this. Yes, there are some women who can’t breastfeed, and you might encounter issues, but be proud of any amount of feeding that you do, and just marvel in the fact that your body created this perfect food.
I’m not sure when I will stop breastfeeding. Right now I am still very much enjoying it, as is my son, and it works for us. Breastfeeding might not be the right choice for everyone, but this feels like a huge achievement for us, and it’s something that I want to celebrate.
Sources of information and support for breastfeeding:
(This is far from an exhaustive list, but ones that I have personally found to be very useful.)
The Positive Breastfeeding Book - Amy Brown
Why Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma Matter - Amy Brown