As someone who has sold breastfeeding products and offered support to many women over the years through my job, I thought I would be somewhat prepared for when I got to experience breastfeeding for myself. Oh, how wrong was I. Until you have breastfed yourself, whether it is for one day or one year, no one can tell you just how emotional, hard and straight-up painful it is going to be in those first few days and weeks.
So much conflicting advice will be thrown your way by everyone, including experts (and they wonder why people end up confused). How, even now in 2020, there is still so much mum shaming and dinosaur age opinions that can be overwhelming for a first-time mum, or even a third or fourth-time mum. How truly challenging those first few days are, and how that experience can really impact a women’s breastfeeding journey, for the good and the bad.
I was lucky, having worked in this area for so long, even though I may not have known the reality of it, I was a little prepared. I did understand the facts and I had some confidence behind me. I knew when the information being given to me was correct, and when it wasn’t. When someone was being judgmental or accurate and I also knew at the end of the day it’s what works for me, and my baby that matters most. Also, if breastfeeding didn’t work out for us, then that was ok too. That didn’t stop me ending up in tears and as prepared as I was, I had one encounter along the way with one not-so-helpful midwife that almost made me give up. We are all human and after 3 days of limited sleep, a newborn screaming in your arms while you sit there sore and beyond tired after literally just having a small person removed from your body (this still blows my mind women can do this) the unwanted advice/judgement from someone can make you want to give up.
Henry was born via elective c section as, to put it frankly, he was too big, and I was too small. At 39 weeks he hadn’t dropped an inch and was sitting at the 95% percentile with a locked tight cervix. Because I chose to have a c section, I had so many people say to me
“oh no, but you won’t be able to breastfeed”
“but your milk will not come in”
“I thought you wanted to breastfeed”
So, when Henry was born, I had this preconceived idea that my breastfeeding journey was going to be difficult from the get-go, which it actually wasn’t (minus the burning nipples that felt like they had been dipped in gasoline and lit on fire). Henry was put on my chest straight away, where he latched straight away. I was still in a state of shock at that point (no rose coloured goggles around here I was straight terrified when they put the screaming purple baby on my chest) but he knew what to do (another thing that blew my mind) and he did it while we lay there, about 3cm from each other’s face and he fed for the first time and I was stitched up. Once in recovery, Henry latched again and I thought “well we are just epic Henry, we have got this sussed in a matter of minutes when everyone said it would be so hard, look at us go” and again, oh how wrong was I.
Once you are in hospital it seems that personal space goes out the window and suddenly your boobs are fair game. I had nurses extracting colostrum from me, squeezing, prodding and massaging me. Most asked, some didn’t but suddenly you don’t care, you just want to feed your baby and you welcome the help. Those first hours were great, it was probably partly because I was a tad wasted on pain meds and the rush of intense emotion I had running through me, but we fed, stared at each other and we were pain-free (again now I think back I was on some strong drugs so I’m sure that flowed through to my nips).
It wasn’t until night 3 that the reality hit, the fluffy feelings all left and suddenly it started to hurt, bad. We had a cracked bleeding nipple; we were running on minimal sleep and the pain from the c section and having to get up and down to feed every few hours all hit at once. Until you are breastfeeding yourself, you don’t understand that a baby doesn’t just latch properly, there is a good and a bad latch and that if you continue to latch badly you will pay for it. There is also this technique all the midwives and LC’s do to latch your baby and if you blink you will miss it they are that fast (you also can never recreate this action on your own). You don’t realize that there are so many different ways to hold your baby and not all of them are c section compatible and you realize that this shit is hard!
That moment is when I really realized that Henry and I didn’t have this mastered at all, we had only just begun and this is the painful and testing part of breastfeeding I had been talking about for years in my job, and it was harder than I ever thought it would be.
I now understand why so many women break down in those first weeks, heck even those first few days after giving birth. Because as much as we want to say the support it there, what I have come to realize is its luck of the draw who you get walk through those doors and what their thoughts are which shapes your first experience with breastfeeding.
For me, it wasn’t the lactation consultant who came into my room before I left the hospital or the midwives that gave me the confidence and push to keep going, it was my own mum. After a really challenging night and experience with a midwife who, in the midst of a screaming baby, zero sleep, a cut, bruised stomach and not really knowing wtf I was doing, she lectured me at 3am and told me Henry was dehydrated and not getting enough. I ended up in tears but thank god for my husband and that 7am shift change. I got home that first day feeling nervous and like I was doing everything wrong, worried about Henry. Mum sat with me, sent my husband off to bed for a decent sleep and we sat in silence as she latched Henry each time he needed to feed. She rushed out and got me nipple supplies and we spent the next 12 hours doing just that – feeding Henry and building my confidence back.
10 weeks down the track and Henry and I are professionals. It took us about 3 or 4 weeks to feel confident and for things to become comfortable, but we got there and we are feeding exclusively for as long as we can.