Since the year 2000, in the UK much more women initiated breastfeeding than ever before, but only a third continued beyond six weeks.
What is it about breastfeeding that makes it difficult to nail?
I asked experts, mums like you who had successfully breastfed babies for at least 12 months.
Priscilla, Anna, Krisha, Emily and Shanika share their breastfeeding tips and truths, and what they would have liked experts to have shared with them before they embarked on their breastfeeding journey.
The biggest one for me was when the experts said that colostrum is enough until your milk comes in.
Priscilla, 37, working in finance told me “well quite frankly it f**** hurts but the experts don’t really talk about the pain with you”.
Anna, 38, shared “there’s the risk of blocked ducts and the teeth grinding when your baby is older. In the beginning, your nipples lose all feeling but it eventually doesn’t hurt anymore”.
Krisha, 35, full-time mum said: “it’s hard…and some women can’t actually breastfeed.”
“It’s heavily quoted that only a small number of women will be unable to breastfeed and able to produce enough milk for their baby. But where’s the proof and why do so many women give up before 6 months?”
“The lack of support, minimal access to breastfeeding advisors as well as the lack of understanding that breastfeeding is a skill, not a preexisting behaviour, doesn’t help.”
So, yes, breastfeeding is a learned skill and not a magical thing that just happens because you give birth.
The lack of this realisation and awareness bruises the rosy picture of breastfeeding, leaving you heartbroken as soon as you realise that breastfeeding isn’t exactly magical when you first get started.
“Women need help and be taught how to breastfeed and baby needs to learn to latch.”
All five women agreed that it was “hard” and “painful”, to begin with.
My own personal experience post an emergency caesarean against a cocktail of hormones isn’t pretty. I felt frustrated when my baby didn’t latch properly.
The midwife repeatedly showed me how to teach baby to latch, but as soon as she left the cubicle, I struggled and panicked. I could barely move, my stitches hurt and I really needed my husband by my side for the next 48 hours.
Emily, another full-time mum in her 30s said: “it hurts but the experts tell you that it’s not supposed to hurt”.
So who’s got it wrong? The breastfeeding mums or the experts?
Is it time that we spoke more openly about the pain and what we can do to address it?
Kellymom.com is invaluable, a resource that all mums should know about. There are useful tips, advice and problem-solving answers on one website.
Well, we’ve established that during the early days of breastfeeding, pain is part of it so let’s just embrace that, identify what can alleviate it and move on.
Women’s bodies aren’t used to experiencing a tiny hungry being sucking and feeding on you often. It takes time to adjust.
But that’s the other thing. “Cluster feeding – nobody prepares you for that,” said Emily.
Either baby wants to feed every couple of hours or by dusk, you are both glued together all evening. Even a toilet break can be a little tricky.
Having worked in the area of paediatrics for fourteen years, this is not news for me. However, experiencing it firsthand is entirely different.
But you learn and you adjust and practice definitely helps you identify and respond to your baby’s hunger cues better.
“The biggest one for me was when the experts said that colostrum is enough until your milk comes in.”
Colostrum is enough
Samina, a business analyst, 37, said “the biggest one for me was when the experts said that colostrum is enough until your milk comes in.
In my case my baby was ravenous, and the colostrum wasn’t forthcoming so the early days were a miserable experience.
I relied on some formulas for a short while. I’m glad I did what felt right for me at the time. I breastfed my daughter for 12 months and beyond”.
Krisha at times felt like a “cow” and despite seeing very positive images of women breastfeeding openly in public, she preferred the privacy offered by a nursing cover.
I personally couldn’t agree more and still love the nursing cover that a girlfriend lent me.
As Krisha said, “it’s nice to have a cover but sometimes bub hates it and you have to flash your boob.
Aside from that, finding baby-friendly places to feed can be a challenge.”
Do you know that you can legally breastfeed just about anywhere in the UK?
Breastfeeding in public spaces is protected under the Equality Act 2010 for as long as you wish to breastfeed your baby, toddler or small child without an age restriction.
All women confirmed that they loved the breastfeeding journey, myself included.
“It was magical to help them go to sleep or to soothe them on an aeroplane,” said Krisha.
She also confessed, “I was scared to let it go in the end. The bond during breastfeeding is just so lovely.”
Shanika advises you to persevere. “Try to get through one day at a time and one day it will feel like the most natural thing.”
The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented.
There is strong evidence suggesting a reduced risk of infectious illness, such as bacterial meningitis, bacteremia, gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory tract infection, necrotizing enterocolitis, otitis media, urinary tract infection, and late-onset sepsis in preterm infants (Ogbuanu et al).
No one will judge you If you use a bottle of formula to get a night’s rest.
I very much believe that a happy mummy equals a happy baby.
If you plan to quit breastfeeding earlier than planned, this is an important decision so if your sleep, nutrition and mood are non-existent, try to reset the scales on that first.
Get help (you may need to resort to paid help if you don’t have your family to support you) before you take any decision.
Try not to compare your story with other mums, it will distract you from your goals. Fast forward to the future. Will you regret your decision?
Let’s stop formula shaming and focus on the bigger picture. If that bottle of formula is going to help you breastfeed for an additional 1, 3 or 6 months, then do what feels right for you and your baby and don’t have any regrets about it.
Your baby is fed, safe and loved. That’s all that matters.
What’s your breastfeeding story? Do share below.
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I loved breastfeeding my son. It was always so relaxing for the both of us. I started weaning him when he was 8 months old. I’ve always regretted that. I wish I breastfed longer!!
Firstly, well done for breastfeeding for 8 months! That’s an amazing achievement and you should be very proud of yourself. No regrets, you chose to wean for a reason and you can respect your decision. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
What an amazing article and so true. I wish experts would be honest and prepare mums for this especially if they wish to breastfeed. This maybe a reason why so many give up when want to continue to feed. I had the perfect ideology in my head about breastfeeding, which shattered when the time came. I was so upset. I agree it f***ing hurts like crazy… tears and desperate not to give up. I spoke to my mum and mummy friends and took 1 day at a time. Im so glad i did. I Planned to breastfeed for 6 months but after the initial difficult period due to pain, crakced nipples it got easier. Nipple cream, breastmilk and air was a godsend for me. I continued until she was 2.5 years old. Im so glad i did and loved it. The bond between us was amazing and so special. Its something i will forever treasure. A fed baby is always best and we should support those who for whatever personal reason dont.
That’s an inspiring story, thank you for your breastfeeding tips. Well done for making it to 2 1/2 years! Nipple cream is a must, it really helps soothe the pain initially. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.