If you’re expecting your first baby you’ve probably given some thought as to whether you are going to breastfeed or not. Most new mothers decide to nurse their babies because it’s the most natural way, but things don’t always go to plan. Here are five things I wish someone had told me before my babies were born so that I would have felt better prepared:
1. Breastfeeding is a skill.
The first thing I think it is important to understand is that breastfeeding is a skill that must be learned by mother and baby.
During my pregnancy I was bombarded with so many messages about breastfeeding being natural, and the best way to feed your baby that I thought if I wanted to breastfeed my babies that it would just happen.
But it doesn’t.
As a mother you need to know the right way to sit or lie down, the right way to hold your baby and how to position their mouth so that they can latch on properly. Instinct tells you that you want to nurse your baby, but instinct doesn’t help you with the how.
If you are expecting your first child and you want to nurse I would recommend going to your local library and picking up a book that walks you through the steps with pictures.
I would also seek out a friend who has recently nursed a newborn and ask them to sit with you when the baby arrives to help you both learn what to do. Your midwife might well be able to do this for you, but in my experience they were so busy trying to deal with lots of new mothers that they just couldn’t spare me the time I needed.
2. Breastfeeding hurts.
The one thing I was completely unprepared for was the toe curling pain that I felt whenever one of my babies latched on to nurse. I was so sure that they weren’t latching on properly, or that I was doing something wrong until a midwife told me the pain was normal and would ease over time.
I wish someone had warned me about this before the babies arrived, somehow pain is easier to deal with when you know about it in advance and you know that it’s normal.
And it does get less painful every time you nurse.
3. Breastfed babies can lose weight quickly.
When new parents proudly announce the arrival of their babies they always include their birth weight, but no one ever tells you what the baby’s weight was a week later.
I had no idea that babies lose weight in the first week of their lives, until my twins were three days old and my son had lost 13% of his birth weight and we were not allowed to leave the hospital.
When they told me that he had lost that much weight I felt like a failure, it was my job as his mother to keep him safe from harm and I felt like I was starving him.
For two days I tried everything I could to get him to take milk, first from me and then from a bottle. Finally in desperation I asked a nurse to put a feeding tube down his nose and give him milk that way. It turned out that’s what he needed to give him the energy to start nursing properly.
I wish someone had told me that most babies lose weight in the first few days and that I should have nursed him as frequently as possible to keep his energy levels up, and to help my milk come in more quickly.
4. Nipple confusion is a myth.
I was told by so many people that I shouldn’t offer the babies a bottle or a pacifier because then they wouldn’t breastfeed properly. They called it nipple confusion and from my experience that advice is complete nonsense.
The decision to give my son a bottle was taken out of my hands because the doctors wanted to see how much he was drinking. But at every feed I started out by nursing and then topped up the feed with formula from a bottle. He didn’t bat an eyelid.
At some point in the early weeks we gave both my son and daughter a pacifier and when we got home from hospital I started mixed feeding my daughter as well. They nursed, they drank from a bottle and they had a pacifier and they weren’t confused at all.
5. Breastfeeding is not right for everyone.
Here in the UK new mothers are constantly told that breastmilk is best for baby and I think this can lead to feelings of guilt and disappointment when they can’t nurse.
I nursed my son for eight weeks before finally admitting that it wasn’t the right thing for him. He fought me at every feed and then screamed because he was hungry. When I switched to feeding him formula from a bottle he was a much happier baby.
My daughter on the other hand was happier being nursed than fed from a bottle so I followed her lead and nursed exclusively until she was six months old and I had to wean her for personal medical reasons.
Breastfeeding has health benefits but sometimes it’s just not the right thing for the mother or the baby and no one should be made to feel guilty if they don’t nurse their baby.
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