The Truth about… the early days of breastfeeding

WP_20141022_16_24_10_ProSo far all is going pretty well with breastfeeding Little Miss. A complete contrast to how difficult I found breastfeeding Monkey in the early days but that doesn’t mean that it is entirely plain sailing. This isn’t going to be a post slating breastfeeding, or promoting it particularly either. There are many positives to breastfeeding but I’ve always had problems with the portrayal of it as being ‘perfect’. As with anything, setting it up to be perfect experience only leads to problems (as perfection is unattainable) and feelings of failure or not being good enough when you can’t achieve it. Some of the things you read or are told about breastfeeding feel a bit like propaganda and heaven forbid you have a different opinion or suggest there may be any negatives to breastfeeding.

So, while being pro breastfeeding (I fed Monkey for 6 months and hope to feed Little Miss for a similar jamount of time) I am also pro being honest about it and the potential problems and pitfalls you may experience, especially in the early days! It is different for everyone, and I’m sure everyone will have different experiences, both good and bad, but I can only really talk about my experience.

Before Monkey was born we went to a breastfeeding workshop where I had a slight disagreement with the expert over the use of the word ‘convenient’ to describe breastfeeding. Now I am sure in many ways it is more convenient than having to make up a bottle of formula every time they are hungry, but for more convenient just isn’t the most appropriate word, and, well here is why.

(There are some affiliate links throughout this post, purely for convenience should you wish to buy any item. Any item purchased by clicking in these links would generate a tiny commission which would go towards the upkeep of this blog. I only link to products I buy myself and  would recommend to others).

It Hurts 

Now I know lots of people will tell you that if you are doing it right then breastfeeding won’t hurt. It will be painless. Well I’m afraid I beg to differ. Once breastfeeding is established yes it is totally pain-free, but in the early days, at least for me it is not pain-free. With Monkey this pain led to all sorts of worries about whether he was latching on ok. With Little Miss she has been latching on perfectly from the first feed and you know what, it still hurt.

For me there is a searing pain when she first latches on. This also led to cracked and bleeding nipples. I never had that with Monkey but let me tell you Lansinoh is a miracle cream and has definitely helped with the cracks and bleeds. The pain itself has gradually reduced as days have gone by and a 30s pain at each feed is more like a 2s ouch at the moment.

There is also let down pain. When you’re milk first comes in and you get engorged (um, ouch) and then actually at every feed, and at random intervals throughout the day before you are in a breastfeeding routine. Hubs laughs sometimes when I just go “oh Ouch!” and stand clutching my boobs to my chest (great image eh?) but it really hurts! No fun when you are in a conversation with someone either and suddenly start grimacing and trying to surreptitiously clutch at your chest by folding your arms.

Like I say, in a few weeks or couple of months time when we are in more of a routine and totally established these pains will be a thing of the past (until it comes time to stop breastfeeding and the engorgement of weaning baby off feeds…. but that’s another story ;)) but in the early days there is definitely ouch moments and this is perfectly normal.

Leaks

My boobs leak. There are random times when my milk comes in (see the it hurts section above) when they start leaking, and there is also just the leaks that come at feeding time. While baby is feeding from one side, the other boob leaks profusely. When baby comes off the boob for a breather or a burp, the milk does not stop flowing from that boob (at least for me, there is no off switch) and will keep pouring out.

Cue a whole host of solutions. Disposable breast pads, I like Johnson’s ones the best as they make my boobs sweat less than other brands with more plastic in them. I have also heard of washable pads, but haven’t tried them and sometimes I like to stick to what I know.

I also use some milk collection shells, generally attached to the boob that is not being used at that feed. Honestly one feed and I fill one of these cups with milk that would otherwise have gone into a breast pad… or all over me.

Then with the boob I am feeding with I just kind of tuck a muslin in to my bra to try to collect the excess milk, otherwise Little Miss and I both end up drenched. It’s not exactly foolproof though anyway so I invariably end up with wet patches, definitely on my bra.

Smells

Because of all the leaking mentioned above I often feel like I stink. There just seems to be an air of sour milk just constantly around me, no matter how often I change bras, breast pads, muslins. the muslins end up dotted about the house too so to me the whole house just has a slightly off smell. Hubs says he doesn’t really notice it but I have a bit of a sensitive nose at the moment and the smell is just yuk!

Clothing Complications

I have to admit I struggle slightly with suitable clothes for breastfeeding. First of all are the nursing bras and having to be measured and trying to buy some that will still fit as your body adapts and changes… I hate being measured to buy bras at the best of times as I find measuring guides online to be confusing and they often vary greatly from website to website. One website said I needed a 40D whereas another one said my measurements were for a 36F. Same measurements, completely different bra size. I hate the fact that my boobs get so massive in the first place but that’s another story. So this time I dragged myself out of the house and got measured at M&S and in their bras at least I am currently a 36DD and at least I have comfy bras now.

Then there are the nursing tops that expose the whole of the top of your boob, or have a flimsy top bit which may as well not be there. Or the ones where only a teeny amount of boob is allowed to escape meaning baby ends up sucking on clothing as well as boobs. You could wear more normal tops but then you expose your post baby tum to the world (and cold).

So I feel limited by clothing choices and want to wear things that  or make me feel more like myself than just a feeding machine. This time I have discovered an invention which helps with that, which is the Breastvest. Worn underneath your normal clothes the idea is then you lift your normal top and your tummy is not completely exposed and your top keeps your boob covered. So far I am loving them as I can wear lots of pre-pregnancy tops and don’t need to change my entire wardrobe to enable me to breastfeed discreetly. Yay for the Breastvest. There are other brands and ones without straps, but I haven’t tried these so can’t say whether one is better than another.

Feeding ‘on demand’ 

Feeding ‘on demand’ is the recommend way to breastfeed a baby. You follow their feeding cues and don’t worry about a schedule in the early days. There are many reasons that this is recommended, including mummy maintaining a good supply of milk, and also being the best way of ensuring baby gets enough milk. unfortunately though because this is a fairly recent piece of advice, you will always find well-meaning friends and relatives who disagree and therefore try to persuade you that you really shouldn’t be feeding baby so often and should be getting them on a something like a 4 hour schedule from the off.

It’s easy to understand why, that is what they know and what they probably did with their babies who all turned out fine, so how can it be wrong? It is difficult in the face of that to have to justify why you are doing it differently. It is easy for the doubt to creep in that you are doing the wrong thing. You start worrying whether you are misreading the signals, are over-feeding them, are making life harder for yourself than it needs to be. Should you be trying to get them into more of a routine… all I can say is No! I have googled and read books and done all the worrying and no, every recommendation I have found is to feed on demand. Be mindful and don;t just feed them every time they cry, try other things too as they don;t only cry because they are hungry, but if they are, then feed them. It is best for both of you. When they are cluster feeding or going through a growth spurt it can be pretty exhausting, but there is a reason for it.

Being the only one who can feed them

Definitely a bit of a drawback as when they are hungry and feeding all the time, the onus is on you to be the one who feeds them. Not so great when you have other things you want to get on with, a toddler to also look after etc. Last time I pumped one feed a day and then went to bed while hubby fed Monkey. This was nice for Hubby as he got the bonding experience of feeding Monkey, but honestly I found pumping itself to be pretty exhausting and while it was good for him to be able to drink out of bottles on occasion, eventually we stopped because that the positives and negatives evened out and it felt unnecessary. We may do the same for Little Miss for the odd occasions when I need to be away from her, but I don’t know about it becoming a regular thing as yet.

Worrying about what you eat

Unlike when you are pregnant there is nowhere near the amount of limitations in terms of what you can and can’t eat when breastfeeding. But, you can’t help but worry. Every time baby seems to be in pain and has wind or a bad tummy, you can’t help but feel responsible. Have I eaten something that disagrees with her? Is she allergic to milk? Is it because I ate something spicy? How long does it take for something to get into my milk and then affect her tummy. Honestly I drive myself round the bend.

And that’s not all…

In addition there is all the loveliness associated with the first weeks post-birth. The sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn baby. The crazy hormones that have you crying over literally nothing. The combination of hormones and lack of sleep that give you the bags under your eyes and in my case the huge spots that take over my face. I have one at the moment that as hubby delightfully says “You could see it from space!”

But..

I wouldn’t change a thing. I love that she is feeding, and feeding so well! I love the quiet bonding time we get. I love the 3 am feeds and cuddles when it is just me and her. No matter how tired they make me those moments are so special. I love the feeling that I am what she needs. I love that the human body is clever enough to provide all the sustenance she needs.

So yes it is not a perfect experience for me, and there are downsides to breastfeeding, but I still think it is worth it and I will carry on for as long as I can.

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61 thoughts on “The Truth about… the early days of breastfeeding

  1. Great post, showing positives and negatives of breastfeeding. As my baby was 5weeks early it was so difficult trying to get my milk to come in, but from that time breastfeeding has been going well, with very little pain.
    But I am trying to wean her on to formula. I just can’t deal with the hourly feeds at night, the lack of sleep and energy makes me impatient and I feel I spend more time willing her to sleep than I do enjoying our moments together.
    Although I feel guilty, I have decided she needs my love more than my milk. Good luck with your breastfeeding journey.

    • I think that sounds like a very wise idea and you shouldn’t feel guilty at all. Well done for breastfeeding at all with the challenges you’ve faced, and you have to do what’s best for you and your little one. Sounds like you are doing just that so I hope the move to formula goes well! xx

  2. You’ve stirred up some mixed emotions for me here hon. As you know I’m pro breastfeeding, but I found the first two weeks of feeding my eldest really difficult. We were lucky enough to see a breastfeeding counsellor who really helped. Who knows what my journey would have looked like had we not got the help we desperately needed!

    Fantastic post that all expectant and brand new mums should read xxx

    • Thank you lovely, sorry to hear you had such a difficult time but glad you got the help to see you through. I really struggled with Monkey too and I think a lot of people don’t get good support and stop because their experience doesn’t match up to the ideal they have been sold. Much better to be honest and realistic I think! Xx

  3. You sum up a lot of the breastfeeding niggles really well here, but like you I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The milk collection shells are fabulous, amazing how much you can get! Thanks for linking up with #TriedTested

  4. Hoorah for breastfeeding honesty!!! My BF days are long over with a six and nine year old, but I do still feel very strongly that there needs to brilliant feedback like yours to break down some of the continuous mythology surrounding breastfeeding. Thank you for sharing this post, wishing you happy, happy days with your girl and monkey of course! #AllAboutYou

    • Thank you for the lovely comment, I agree with you, we need to be honest about our experiences in the hope it helps someone who is struggling and doesn’t realise it is normal! Xx

  5. This is a really interesting post, great to see such a balanced take on breastfeeding.
    I didn’t manage to feed my daughter (well I did for 15 hours but I don’t really think that counts!).
    I had an elective caesarean as my previous pregnancy had led to the stillbirth of my son at 41 weeks. I honestly don’t think I was really prepared for my daughter’s safe arrival, I think I refused to believe it would all be ok and didn’t mentally prepare myself. When she was born latched on straight away it was wonderful, I thought it was going to be plain sailing. By about 3am things had become very difficult, she had been screaming for hours, I couldn’t move because of the section and the midwives were short staffed. Eventually someone came and suggested formula (looking back I’m not really sure they’re supposed to do that!) no one offered to teach me anything and I was so overwhelmed and generally freaked out that I accepted.
    I could have tried to breastfeed again the next day but to be honest I was dealing with a lot of emotion.
    My daughter has thrived on formula, not one single problem and I am a firm believer that formula has it’s place and is a very good alternative but I do wish things had been different – breast is best and we all want the best for our babies. I clearly needed support and encouragement.
    Great post Xx

    • Gosh sounds like you have really been through some tough times and I am very sorry to hear it. Formula absolutely has its place and I don’t think there is anything wrong with using formula, it is absolutely a good alternative but there could be better support for mums who want to breastfeed, in my opinion. Xx

    • Oh I am with you there, I don’t even think of my boobs as boobs anymore, they are more of a milk delivery system lol! Xx

  6. From the point of view of someone who never really got into the swing of breastfeeding it is nice to read a measured perspective like this that acknowledges that its not all just some brilliant, magical perfect and convenient experience. It always used to annoy me that people would make a big thing about saying how convenient it was to breastfeed compared to bottle feeding. It was always more convenient for me to pull out a bottle in a cafe than a boob! (Obvs that wasn’t ‘the’ reason for making the choice but still!). Thanks so much for linking up to The Truth about this week hon! X #thetruthabout

    • I am very glad to hear you have the same thoughts about the use of the word convenient, I think that is a rubbish word to use personally and couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t really understand why people try and portray bf as perfect, surely its better to be honest about the good and bad bits! Xx

    • Well first of all, you haven’t failed her, you have a gorgeous healthy, happy girl and using formula hasn’t failed her. If you want to breastfeed second time around though then best of luck and I really hope this has helped. When the time comes if you ever need any support please, please give me a shout :) xx

  7. Some great points here, I too really wanted to breastfeed & did everything I could to persevere through the pain of my little man constantly feeding, then being sick then needing feeding again. The guilt I felt when I wanted to give up was almost unbearable, I was made to feel like I was a failure (imagined/perceived doesn’t make it any less real), then we found out the issue with our little man was that he was allergic to milk, both breast & cow’s milk, which was making our baba ill so you’re right, there’s pro’s & con’s of both x

    • Gosh, sounds like you really struggled and I know what you mean about feeling like you failed, I nearly gave up so many times with Monkey and for us persevering worked out, but is not necessarily the right thing for everyone, as in your case! Xx

  8. Great post Caroline, breast feeding is great in lots of ways, but pretty rubbish in others – as you say, nothing is perfect. I think that not being open about what it’s really like is counterproductive. We mixed fed all of ours, and that worked well for us. Over the six/eight months I fed them the proportion of breast to bottle went from 90/10 to 10/90 :) Made weaning easier! #thetruthabout

    • Thanks Sara and I totally agree, different things work for different families and the whole “everyone should exclusively breastfeed” isn’t realistic and makes mums feel like they are failing if they can’t foe any reason. Xx

  9. A very honest and informative post. I was quite shocked at just how much I struggled with breastfeeding Sophie as I thought having breastfed Jessica for 17 months meant that it would be easy second time round but those first 10 days were harder than I thought. I know just what you mean about leaks too (I use washable pads and love them) – breast shells are great for catching the excess milk from the other side. I think there definitely needs to be more realistic information about breastfeeding out there – sometimes knowing that it can be hard and hurt in the beginning but hopefully will be easier can really help when trying to get through those difficult early days.

    • Thank you, that is absolutely how I feel too, one of the hardest things with Monkey was the fact that I found it so hard when the ‘experts’ kept saying how easy it was. Made me feel like I was doing it wrong when I wasn’t. Not sure how they think that helps new mums!

  10. It’s great to read a real honest post on breastfeeding.

    It’s somewhat of a sore subject for me, I failed to establish breastfeeding with my daughter and now, even 7 months on, I still feel like a failure.

    When I was pregnant it was drummed into me by midwives and anyone else that I should breastfeed and yet nobody mentioned the pain or that it could be so difficult. Worse still, those people who had pressured me into it, weren’t there to support me when it all went tits up (if you excuse the pun).

    If you’d like to read my story, it’s here: http://www.tinyfootsteps.co.uk/2014/05/my-trials-and-tribulations-of.html

    Really great post, Caroline. :) xx

    • Thank you and sorry to hear you had such a rough time, you haven’t failed her and that’s my biggest problem with the portrayal of bfing as perfect, because when mums struggle or have to stop for some reason they are made to feel like failures, which helps noone. Bfing is hard in the beginning and I think we should be more honest about that xx

  11. Great post!
    Very honest, and I think that is what’s needed. I think that if the breastfeeding class I went to before I had Boo had been a little bit more honest I would have been more prepared, (Boo is my first and I have no relatives who have breastfed so I did not have a clue!!) The class seemed to focus on being ‘easy’ compared to bottle feeding and then the benefits of breastmilk, there was no mention of … well any of the stuff you have mentioned (which is all very true and it’s important that first time breastfeeding mums are aware of it all), it hurts, the early days are hard (I found them to be really difficult and I did want to stop at times) etc.
    I think that if people who start and then have to stop in the early days were maybe given a bit more a realistic information about breastfeeding they would be more likely to think ‘oh this is normal’, and get support rather than thinking ‘oh my this hurts/is this normal, I am doing it wrong, I better stop’.

    • I am with you 100% and I think the bfing class I went to was very similar and didn’t actually help prepare me for the realities bfing at all! I think they have really got it wrong pretending that the bad stuff doesn’t happen as it just sets up false expectations and makes people feel like failures. Rubbish really! Xx

      • It really is rubbish, I doubt very much that anyone has a completely smooth perfect breastfeeding journey, but what that is all you are told about how can you feel any different when you experience bumps along the road. Seems like a short sighted way to try and get breastfeeding figures up… as maybe more people might start but many will, sadly give up before the need to/want to etc.

  12. Hello, found this through #brilliantblogposts (have just added my first linky). I am still breastfeeding my 16 month old and can relate to everything you say in the post! My gosh there have been painful moments, ouch! And yes totally relate to all the different advice given. I have been meaning to write my own post on breastfeeding. Thanks for sharing. It definitely does get better (in some ways at least!) over time ;)

    • Thank you and well done you for managing 16 months it definitely does get easier thankfully but just gotta get through the first tricky weeks! Xx

  13. A great, honest post with lots of good tips. Lansinoh is just brilliant. I feel nostalgic for breastfeeding now! Although sleep-deprivation is awful, those special feeds in the middle of the night are so amazing. x #brilliantblogposts

    • There really are some amazingly lovely moments, hidden amongst the pain, leaks, smells and lack of sleep :) they make it all worthwhile. Xx

  14. Great, honest point. Agree on the fact breastfeeding is seen as the ‘perfect’ way of doing things which can only lead to disappointment if it doesn’t work. It’s the same with things like birth plans etc which just sets you up for a fall if it doesn’t go as you want. The missus has breastfeed our 12 week old exclusively and has experienced some of these things, particularly the smell and not feeling clean, the leakage and frustrations with feeding on demand particularly during growth spurts. However, on the whole, she’s found it pretty straightforward which is great, as the baby has latched on easily, there hasn’t been any pain and it allows her to feed when needed without much preparation. I’ve also been able to feed expressed milk each evening which has also helped me bond and give the missus a break.

    • I’m really pleased to hear she’s been getting on so well, and I think that’s kind of my point, we all experience it differently but that doesn’t make it any less normal. Better to be honest I think :) lovely you’ve been able to help with feeds too :) xx

  15. Such an honest and informative post, especially for me as I wasn’t able to breastfeed my Monkey for various reasons. Of course, I went throught the terrible feeling of guilt. But reading this has made me determined to try next time… when there is a next time x #PoCoLo

    • Thank you and I hope it helps if that is what you want, but try not to feel guilty if you cant, and if you struggle, know that you are not alone in that! Xx

  16. I found breastfeeding harder then I expected (just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy was my experience!).

    I kept it up for about ten months and I wish I’d done longer but maybe if we have another baby I will get another chance.

    But anyway, what you were saying about the “off” smell. I am now going to share my most shameful secret that only me and Andrew know (until now!)

    I used a breastfeeding pillow for a while when Gwenn was little and it made things more comfy for my back. When I was more in the swing of things we stopped using it and we put it in a box under the bed.

    When we moved house we found it (I had forgotten about its existence!) and it was actually mouldy!

    What kind of person am I!?!?!

    It had never occurred to me that it would have milk on it although I don’t know why!

    So, hopefully that confession won’t make me a pariah in the blog world!!

    xx

    #PoCoLo

    • Lol this made me chuckle! I’m sure we’ve all accidentally done gross things since becoming parents! I will possibly give my nursing pillow a wash before I pack it away ;-) xx

  17. This is a brilliant post. The most annoying thing about breastfeeding for me was EVERYONE telling me it would come naturally. Oh my God, it didn’t, not in the slightest. My daughter had a really poor latch that wasn’t properly sorted until she was a month old. My nipples were on fire! Then, to make matters worse, the heart medication I was taking suppressed my milk supply but this wasn’t discovered until Raffles was over two months old. It was an absolute nightmare. Saying that, I am glad i stuck with it, purely because we both enjoy it now but it was such hard work. I’m lucky that I had AMAZING breastfeeding support workers to help me. I couldn’t have done it without them. Really informative post. Maria x

    • Thank you and I am so glad it worked out for you in the end, but phew sounds tough! Shame that not everything gets the same support which is why I think we should be honest about the downs as well as the ups! Xx

  18. agree with you on everyone there breast feeding can be tricky, I’m still feeding my almost 9 month old now the problem is now i can’t get her off the boob!! #sundaystars

  19. Mmmm the smell of sour milk and damp patches ;)
    I have loved breastfeeding each of my babies – but yes I agree we do need to be honest about it.
    Thanks for linking up with #TriedTested this week x

  20. A great and important post! Like you I managed to feed the girls myself for 7 months and I did enjoy it but that’s not to say it was easy. The first few weeks with my eldest daughter was pure hell, I’ve never known pain like it! Tears would run down my face while she latched on. After a few weeks I went to a breastfeeding clinic and that really helped me. They showed me other techniques and from then on it all got so much better. I must admit I did scheduled feeding with both and that worked for me but as you say each to their own.

    #SundayStars

  21. Ah, these really are the truths about breastfeeding but also the things I love about it all. Breastfeeding for has not been easy this time and I honestly thought that 4th time around would be a breeze. But all babies are different, and maybe thats why I like the fact that the let down pains, the leaks and all the rest of it is so reassuring!! If that makes sense?! x x

  22. Brilliant truthful post. I support breastfeeding mums in my professional life and still found the 1st couple of weeks painful feeding each of my 3 babies. I just had to keep reminding myself it gets better. #sundaystars

  23. Gosh, it’s all come rushing back – the joys of breastfeeding! It’s funny to read this as I’ve been talking to my best mate from school all weekend who had a baby last week and she’s having a terrible time. She wasn’t able to feed her previous 2 after a week each so this time she was determined (although i’m sure she told everyone it didn’t matter) – there’s nothing quite like breastfeeding to really make you feel inadequate…even when you’re doing it ‘right’!! And mixed in with hormones. Dear me!!

    thanks for linking up to #AllAboutYou and keep up the amazing work (breastfeeding AND writing fabulous posts!!) hxxx

  24. More posts like this on the internet please about the honest reality of breastfeeding. I totally agree with everything you say. It’s hard, it’s tiring and it has an impact on the family. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re failing, it just means you’re learning. I’ve breastfed 3 children now and the experiences have all been very different. Thanks so much for sharing your honest post with #BFingDiaires Zx

  25. This is a brilliant post. It is refreshing to read a more measured piece about something that is bloody hard work. It certainly isn’t as romantic as the Aptamil adverts suggest. Good tips and product recommendations too. Thanks for linking up with #SundaysStars. Hugs Mrs H xxxx

  26. What a super post. Sounds like you are doing brilliantly and have the right attitude to succeed. I am totally for breast feeding too, although I’m also totally for everyone to make their own decisions and not to be made to feel guilty if they choose not to breast feed either. At the end of the day it’s a personal decision, sometimes based on medical reasons and we do what’s best for us and our babies. Thank you so much for linking up to #SundayStars love Steph xxxxx

  27. Pingback: Breastfeeding in Public | Becoming a Stay at Home Mum

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