My little boy is now 9 months old and breastfeeding him for 9 months is something I’m so proud and grateful for. In those early days and weeks I never thought I would still be breastfeeding by now; the cluster feeds, sore and itchy breasts, comments from others and constant comparisons I made to formula fed babies made me feel like I’d be better off giving up on breastfeeding and switching to formula. But I chose to persevere and now the feeds are shorter but the benefits of breastfeeding are so much bigger than I could have imagined.
Reflecting back on the early days, here are 10 tips for breastfeeding that either really helped me to continue or things I wish I had done to help the process.
1. Contact breastfeeding teams
We were really fortunate that the next morning in hospital we were visited by a lady from the local Healthy Living Infant Feeding Team. So from hospital visits to check how the first feeds are going, to home visits to phone calls, support groups and even weaning advice- members of the group are available to talk to about all aspects of feeding.
The group is council run and from what I understand it’s a bit of a postcode lottery as to whether your council will offer the same level of support but regardless there are so many charity run breastfeeding support teams that it’s worth getting in touch with. For me, they made me feel empowered about feeding my baby, they answered any questions without making me feel silly and they encouraged me to continue by giving me so much knowledge about breastfeeding.
Our team also offer antenatal groups and home visits for those who are thinking about breastfeeding – if this is available to you I’d highly recommend it as the more informed you are before giving birth the more prepared you are to help ensure a successful breastfeeding journey.
2. Join a breastfeeding support group
Our infant feeding team also ran support groups in the local area. This helped me enormously as it was the first group I took my little one to and I didn’t have to feel nervous about feeding him there because the whole group was mums breastfeeding so it took the pressure off.
As with the support groups mentioned above, your area may not have a council run support group but alternatively you could join local breastfeeding support groups and pages online and even arrange your own meet up with some of the mums on there. Whether it’s online or in person, speaking to other women that are currently breastfeeding is so beneficial and reassuring. If your babies are very close in age you will probably find comfort in the fact that it’s not just your baby cluster feeding or waking every hour for a feed!
3. Don’t compare to others
I think becoming a first time mum and comparing your baby with others is natural but it’s important to be aware you’re doing it. It’s so easy to compare your baby with others online and wonder if your little one is ‘normal’ but we also know that people generally post the positives or the best of their day and tend not to get too hung up on the fact our reality with a little one isn’t quite as glossy or as fun as theirs looks.
However one thing I struggled with was I realised I often compared my baby to formula fed babies and thought I was doing something wrong because my baby was awake more in the night, feeding constantly when we went out and always wanting to be held. I spoke to my health visitor about it and she helped me realise that formula feeding and breastfeeding impact a baby massively and that you really can’t compare the two.
I think this was another reason I found the breastfeeding support groups so helpful; I was reassured speaking to so many women that were experiencing the same things as me.
4. Look after yourself
Prioritising self care in not just one of our most important tips for breastfeeding, but will serve you well throughout motherhood.
Breastfeeding is physically and mentally challenging and demanding. It can feel like your baby needs you every single minute and when you’re not in a routine it can be so overwhelming to know when you can or should leave your baby with someone else so that you can have a shower, get some food or even meet a friend.
Of course your baby is your priority and making sure they are fed and comforted is essential but also making sure you look after yourself too is vital. So whether it’s going for a shower or bath when your little one has just been fed or expressing some milk so that you can have some time alone reassured that your little one is being looked after by your partner, friend or family member and can be fed if needed might be just what you need to recharge your batteries.
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5. Surround yourself with support
I’ve mentioned joining support groups or online pages because for me that really helped having people around that were experiencing the same thing. But I think this is important at home too.
If your partner, friends or family seem unsupportive when it comes to breastfeeding, try to explain to them why you have chosen to feed your baby this way and perhaps even the benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is demanding, you will find it easier if you are supported so have those conversations early on and be direct with people as to how they can help you and in turn help your baby.
6. Be firm with others
When a baby cries it can be tricky to know why they’re crying and what they want. But with a breastfed baby 99% of the time they cry- breastfeeding will soothe and settle them. If friends and family members are used to being around formula fed babies they may try to settle your baby themselves but you’ll know yourself that even if they’ve just been feeding for half an hour, they may still want to carry on and you need to be firm with people about passing them back.
It can be tricky and you may feel the pressure to please friends and family but ultimately if you want to breastfeed or comfort your baby then be firm about it. Your friends and family will understand when they see how settled they are with you.
7. Learn about the benefits
Breastfeeding is so demanding but so beneficial to you and your baby. Knowing and understanding how your breast milk is benefitting your baby can really uplift and motivate you to carry on. Your milk is tailor made to your baby’s specific needs- if your baby catches a cold your body reacts by creating antibodies and these pass through your milk to your baby. Amazing!
The benefits are long term too; a breastfed baby will have fewer ear infections, bouts of diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses throughout their life. The benefits expand out to you as well; breastfeeding releases the love hormone oxytocin, it reduces your chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer in later life and you’re burning over 500 calories a day! These are just a small number of the benefits to both you and your baby. Being informed about the amazing job you’re doing can really help it all feel worthwhile.
8. Enjoy the cluster feeds
I was so desperate in the early days to get up and out, to find a routine or just find some kind of my old life again.. but looking back it’s the times when I just stayed on the sofa feeding then cuddling that I’ll cherish forever. Of course it’s demanding when you’re in the middle of a 4 hour cluster feed wondering if it will ever end, but you’ll never get that time back where your baby is a baby that will be cuddled for hours on end.
One day the breastfeeds will be a quick 5 minutes on each side and then off they’ll go exploring everything they shouldn’t be in your living room! It feels like a lifetime but this phase doesn’t last forever so try your best to sit back and enjoy it. Why not pop a film on or start a new box set? Within a year you’ll be listening to Peppa Pig on repeat so make the most of having full use of the remote control while you can!
9. Invest in some nursing items
Many women don’t invest in many nursing items whilst pregnant in case they don’t end up breastfeeding… and then when you do breastfeed you just make do with the items you do have.
I would recommend getting fitted for a couple of good nursing bras. When it comes to day-to-day outfits you’ll probably find yourself wearing baggier tops but it’s also nice to invest in some specialist nursing tops or dresses not just for easy feeding but also so you can feel more confident and like yourself. You don’t need to spend a lot of money but it’s worth investing in a few good pieces.
If you’re worried about not getting much use out of the items if you were to switch to formula you could always sell the items on breastfeeding groups online.
10. Celebrate your success
People are so quick to congratulate you for getting pregnant… but rarely (if ever) are you congratulated for successfully feeding, nurturing and comforting you baby by breastfeeding them. Even though breastfeeding can require a lot more effort, patience and sacrifice. On top of this you can even be made to feel ashamed of breastfeeding when really it’s a massive achievement that you should be so proud of.
If you breastfed, then you breastfed and this is worth celebrating and feeling proud of. It doesn’t matter if it was for an hour, a day, a week or a month. It can feel like there is so much pressure on you to breastfeed for a certain length of time but the reality is that however long you breastfeed for it’s an achievement. You breastfed. Be proud of it. Celebrate it.
Whether thinking about breastfeeding or you’re currently in the middle of cluster feeding a newborn; whether you had positive experiences of breastfeeding or negative: I hope this is of some use to you or a friend. You’re doing an amazing job and hopefully one or two of these points will help make breastfeeding life a little easier for you in time. I’ll finish with my favourite breastfeeding quote ‘be prepared for nursing to start out as something that’s hard- but be prepared, if you just hang in there, for it to become something that’s really hard to let go.’