So I thought as part of this week of breastfeeding articles I would share my experience with you. If you are a new reader you may not know that at the end of April I had my first baby. She is now 8 weeks old and I have exclusively breastfed her so far. There was never any question about how I would start off feeding my baby when she was born. I won’t repeat all the benefits of breastfeeding as I am sure you have heard them many times from various sources but for me, breastfeeding felt like the most natural thing to do for my family. I want to say from the outset that I would not judge anyone who decides for whatever reason to formula feed their baby. When it comes to raising a family there are no right answers, you need to trust your instincts and make informed decisions about what is best for your family. If you are unsure if breastfeeding is the right choice for you see my article on support that I shared yesterday and whilst you are pregnant find out more about the benefits of breastfeeding and what it is really like.
Although I knew I would start out breastfeeding my baby I never took it for granted that I would not have to change to formula at some point. I knew I wanted to breastfeeding but I also knew that for many reasons sometimes breastfeeding does not work out and I was ok with that. I knew that all I could do was try my best and for me that involved finding out about and preparing myself for breastfeeding whilst I was still pregnant. I won’t repeat the sources of information I used as I covered them yesterday (see here).
My breastfeeding journey started a bit later than I imagined it would. When you read about breastfeeding or even birth, there is a lot said about the importance of the first breastfeed being within the first couple of hours and even straight after delivery during skin to skin contact. Obviously I knew if I had an emergency caesarean, skin to skin and breastfeeding would come a bit later but I didn’t spend too long thinking about delivering my baby in this way. My baby was born naturally and as planned she was placed straight on to my chest for skin to skin contact. However not that long after, my baby was passed to my husband and a doctor appeared as I was losing more blood than normal. I was given drugs to deliver the placenta and to stop the bleeding and taken to theatre to have a spinal anaesthetic so the doctor could repair several internal tears. I was away from my baby for several hours and I remember asking the midwife who was with me about feeding the baby. She explained that she would be ok for some time without her first feed after delivery and sure enough she was ok and was happily sleeping being past from grandparent to grandparent when I returned from theatre.
Once I was settled on the ward and both sets of grandparents had headed home, a lovely healthcare assistant helped me feed my baby for the first time. It was after visiting time but my husband was allowed to stay for the first feed which I appreciated. I was worried that neither me nor the baby would know what to do and we would struggle. All normal worries that I assume every first time mum has. The healthcare assistant helped me get my baby in the right position and showed me how to get the baby to latch on and how to tell if the latch as correct. Once the baby was latched on and feeding well, the healthcare assistant left us to it (but she was only too happy to come back if we needed). It turns out my baby was a natural and knew exactly what to do and she fed happily for 45 minutes. Throughout my hospital stay ( 2 nights) my baby fed well and I got lots of help with getting the position and latch correct from various midwives and healthcare assistants for which I am very grateful.
Once we went home, feeding continued to go well. I had planned to feed on demand but doing it this way meant my baby would sleep roughly 6 hours between feeds, day and night except in the evening when she would feed pretty much none stop between 6pm and midnight. I had heard of cluster feeding so I thought this was normal but a few days in and this cluster feeding in the evening started to result in my baby vomiting significant amounts of milk only to then want to start feeding all over again. After discussions with my midwife we agreed to try feeding her every 4 hours in the day. It was agreed that because her weight gain was so good that we did not need to wake her in the night but instead let her wake when she was ready for a feed. This plan really cut down the amount of feeding we did in an evening and also reduced the vomiting to an occasional occurrence. Amazingly she continued to sleep longer stretches at night which I really appreciated (of course she has bad nights where she wakes more for smaller feeds or takes an hour or more to settle back down after a feed but she is still so young). The last week or so she has been sleeping 10pm till 9am with only one or two feeds (which are usually around 10 minutes long) which for her age is far better than I expected and my energy levels are benefiting from it. I know a bad night can’t be far off and I am sure it will be harder as I am getting used to her good nights.
The only real problems we have experienced so far are engorgement when my milk came in and thrush. My milk came in around day 5 and boy did I know about it. My breasts were swollen, heavy and had red patches. I was shown how to hand express and to massage the red areas to prevent blocked ducts developing and advised of the signs of mastitis. Thankfully they settled down within 3 days and never developed in to blocked ducts or mastitis. My baby developed oral thrush at just 1 week old, presumably due to the antibiotics that I had to take post birth. Her tongue had a very thick white coating to it but thankfully it did not seem to bother her or affect her feeding. We were given treatment (drops for the baby and a cream for me) and her tongue quickly improved.
I mentioned earlier her weight gain was good. Apparently it is common for babies to lose up to 10% of their birth weight and this is especially common in breastfed babies. She was 7lbs 6oz at birth and had only lost 3oz by day 3 and by day 7 she was back to her birth weight. She has continued to put on weight and at her 6 week check she was 10lbs and is following the 50th percentile perfectly.
Now she is almost 9 weeks old and breastfeeding is just a natural part of our everyday routine. I even ordered a couple of breastfeeding tops the other day as I am much more confident that we will continue. For me I feel that formula feeding would be much harder work, all that sterilising and having to either make bottles up in advance or make a hungry baby wait, not to mention having to work out how much to take with you when you go out etc. So for me breastfeeding is much more convenient and then there is the money savings as formula is not cheap. I also feel that breastfeeding helped me lose a lot of my pregnancy weight quicker. I am still bigger than before I was pregnant, as you would expect at 9 weeks but I have surprised myself at how quick I was back in the jeans I bought when I was around 4 weeks pregnant. Being able to eat cake without feeling guilty is an added bonus too as you do need extra calories (although I am trying to get these from healthier foods most of the time).
I hope if you are pregnant and considering breastfeeding my positive story helps you. Much like birth stories, people are very quick to tell you their negative experiences of breastfeeding and yes it can be hard at times but then so can formula feeding.