Before I start on this ‘controversial’ topic I would love to make it clear that although I have a huge bias towards breastfeeding that does not mean I am anti bottle feeding; to be honest how you choose to feed your baby is your business alone and does not bother me in anyway. Bottle-fed, tube-fed, cup-fed, expressed milk, oat milk… the important factor is they are being fed. All parents know the pros and cons for whichever method they choose to use to raise their families. This is purely to provide some insight into my journey and hope it can help any new parents out there.
I remember sitting at my first midwife appointment at around 8 weeks pregnant and being asked if I would be breastfeeding, the right answer at the time seemed to be to say yes. But the truth was I was still coming to terms with the fact I was pregnant and hadn’t even thought about which method of feeding I would choose. There is a huge pressure that starts as soon as you see that positive test on all parents on how they are going to nurture their children.
We chose not to do any NCT classes, so whilst pregnant the only actual breastfeeding support I was given was a two hour class involving lots of knitted boobies and then a few months later a tiny baby was placed into my arms and I was told to feed him.
I am sure this is a familiar story for many new mums.
Where my story took a slightly different turn was I was then in hospital for another week, with access to feeding specialist on the ward every day, amazing midwives with over 30 years of real life baby experience and doctors whose main priority was mine and my baby’s health. The combination of all these three things meant I had support, education and my only priority that first week was feeding myself and my little baby, no visitors to entertain, no tidying up(apart from my little cubicle) and no other pressures.
The feeding specialist helped me hand pump colostrum into a tiny syringe so I could know how much milk the little one was getting and to be able to distract him with this rather than sugar syrup when it came to drawing blood or other painful procedures. The midwives were great not only at answering my questions but also at giving out real advice; such as teaching me how to feed him lying down so we could both rest. Finally the doctors who stepped in and told me to give him formula as it had been 5 days and my milk had still not come in, without attaching any guilt to feeding my baby from a bottle. He was jaundice and needed to have two bottles of formula in order to help him, if I had been at home I doubt I would have turned to formula given the huge pressure to breastfeed, despite it being the best thing for him at the time.
The reason I have gone into such detail about this first week as a new mum, is because I believe it set me up to be able to successfully breastfeed for 18 months with both of my babies.
New mums often ask me for advice and I love helping, but it does show the huge disparity between the advice given to breastfeed and actual useful and practical advice to be able to do this in reality. I am not a qualified professional in any way but the tips below is what worked for me both times around. Second time around I was able to feed her straight away, while I was still delivering my placenta and because I had the experience and knowledge from the first time around it meant she never even dropped below her birth weight and by day 5 was already over her birth weight.
One final disclaimer, I was able to breastfeed, some people cannot for various reasons such as milk supply, tongue tie etc and these should always be investigated by a professional. I do think though that several breastfeeding journeys end earlier than they need to because of a lack of knowledge and support, the hardest part of breastfeeding is those first few weeks. This is all obviously if you want to breastfeed, it’s not for everyone and that’s why formula exists. The below is what worked for me and I hope it can help any new mums out there who choose to breastfeed, pump or combo feed.
A support network is really crucial - recently on social media there has been a big hype of finding your 'tribe'. When my first was born we had a mini baby boom in my family and it really helped me having my cousins and sister in laws who were going through the same things to ask questions to.
Another person who is involved in both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding is they baby's dad. The first time around my other half did the majority of changes, burps and other tasks whilst I focused on the feeding. There are also lots of support groups on social media and in your local area to provide assistance, motherhood is all about the wider circle.
So normally after you give birth for around the first 2/3 days you will only produce colostrum which is basically like the thick layer on the top of organic blue milk, very fatty and full of antibodies and nutrients tailored to meet your baby’s need, kind of like a custom made very good espresso to get everything moving in the right direction. After this around day 3-5 your actual milk supply will start to come in, normally at the same time as a huge drop in hormones causing lots of tears and from here on in you can start establishing your milk supply in order to respond to your babies need, a bit like your baby learning that they like a English breakfast tea with breakfast, followed by a caramel latte for mid-morning pick me up and a cappuccino after lunch J .
The sooner you are able to relax, which is not easy after going through a traumatic birth and the daunting reality of having a new-born to take care off means the quicker you can bond with your baby and be able to feed. Easy to say but it truly makes all the difference.
I gave birth to both of mine in the heart of summer, and it was actually hot
which is not always the case with British summers, so skin to skin was not
difficult as they were often stripped down to just a nappy for feeding. Not
only did this help us to bond but it also helped them stay awake for longer
when feeding and one of the hardest things to do is stop them from getting to
cosy and falling asleep after a 5 minute feed.
2.Skin – to – Skin
Breakfast – 7.30 – Yoghurt, granola, flaxseed, brewer’s yeast, blueberries, strawberries, banana and cup of decaf tea
Mid – Morning – 10.30am – Decaf tea/coffee + biscuit/breastfeeding cookie/rice cake/fruit
Lunch – 12.30 – Omelette and veggies with a wrap
Mid- Afternoon – 3pm – Decaf Tea + cake/popcorn/Indian savouries
Dinner – 7pm – Rice, chicken curry, yoghurt and salad
Evening – 10pm – Fresh Fennel Tea
Water, water and then when you think you have drunk enough have another two glasses. Lots and lots of water is key. Also monitoring your caffeine intake, which to be honest after being pregnant for 9 months is not hard to do, its just about finding the balance between tiredness and caffeine effects on your baby. A real coffee or a glass of coke can often do you more good than harm on certain days after a tough night, like everything good in life its all about the balance. Similar to drinking alcohol, generally I am not huge drinker but the odd glass whilst feeding is fine and it did not have any affect on my milk supply, I did secretly hope it would help the little on sleep for longer but no such luck.
5.Schedules and SleepOne of the most common things I always get asked is how do you know if your baby has had enough milk, or how long to feed them for. Often in the early days it always feels like they are not getting enough milk when breastfeeding, especially when they are crying the first response is to think they are hungry. The truth is they could very likely be hungry with such a little tummy to fill and given how easily breastmilk is digested. But they could also have wind, be hot, be cold, want a cuddle, be scared by all the extra space around them, need to do a poo, have a wet nappy.... the list goes on.
When both of mine were newborns I fed a minimum of every 3 hours, but more if they work earlier or seemed hungry and I tried to feed for around 10-30 minutes on each side. It is important in the early days to not just fed on demand but also keep up the 3 hour schedule through the night to, even if they are asleep, at least until they go above their birth weight. You also make the majority of your milk during the night so those night feeds or pumping sessions are a crucial signal to your body to keep making milk.
One of the most difficult things to do is to keep babies awake whilst feeding, as soon as they get cosy they fall asleep, then wake up after a cat nap as they are still hungry. Stripping them down, tickling them and generally annoying them helps. Do not worry this automatic falling asleep does not last forever and soon you will be wishing for the days they feel asleep so easily.
One of the biggest benefits to breastfeeding is being able to fed on demand, anytime, anywhere and respond to their cues whatever time of the day or night.
Talking about nights and sleeping, it is often said that breastfed babies do not sleep for as long as formula babies. My second was not a great sleeper, even when he did finally take a bottle and it was not until he was around 2 years old he stopped waking at night. My second who by the way had the same breastmilk, wore the same babygros, the same sleepbags and slept in exactly the same moses basket was a great sleeper and could sleep through the night at around 8-10 weeks old. It did not last forever but she is still a lot better that he was, so I think it often depends on the baby rather than the type of milk they have.
6.PositionI used a feeding pillow both times, but it especially helped after having a c-section. But holding your baby in this position is not the only way, and it may not be the most comfortable for either you or your baby, and its all about finding the one that suits you the most. One of my favourites is lying down, mainly because we co-slept and this way I got the most rest possibly. Don't feel like you have to stick to the one kind and if something is not working mix it up.
A good latch is the key to feeding successfully, and different positions affect the way the baby can latch. A poor latch will make everything painful, it will take a while to get used to feeding and a certain level of discomfort is normal, but if your in excruciating pain then I would always get it checked out as it could be linked to a medical reason such as tongue tie or lip tie. Nipple shields are also good in the early days to help improve your babies latch and make it less painful. Most areas run breastfeeding clinics so you should be able to get help even after being discharged from midwife care.
The advise I was given which worked for me, was to put the baby's nose near your nipple as opposed to their mouth, when their strong sense of smell realises food is close by they automatically open up their mouth in reflex nice and big and you can then tilt their head back so they get in the right position to latch onto the whole of the arola area and not just the nipple.
8.Growth spurts and cluster feeding
I loved ( and hated) the Wonder Weeks app , as it often helped identify a growth spurt after a crazy night and day spent feeding constantly. At first it seems so frustrating when you cannot get anything done, even showering seems an impossible task but as the kids grew older and these became less frequent I began to enjoy these days and it was always the perfect excuse to camp down on the sofa and have a netflix binge. So my advise is to grab a big bottle of water, find a good box set and get comfy. Make your aims for that day to have a happy and fed baby and try not to worry about anything else. I found it would take my body around 24 hours to respond to a change in supply, so for example when they get ill and increase their feeding then by the next day by body will have respond with more milk and antibodies. I found breastfeeding granola or cookies were great to give my supply an extra boost in particular as they get older and fed less often.
If you use to exclusively breastfed and still have some form of life then their will come a point quite early on in your journey when you will need to feed outside the comfort of your home. Before I had my first my sister in law showed me to the two top method and this always worked best for me whenever I was feeding. I'm always cold too so wearing two tops is normal to me. You wear a vest top with a feeding bra and then over the top whichever top, dress or jumper you wish to, lift up the outside top and lift down the inside top and unclip your bra to feed. I did by a cover with my second but only used it a handful of times as she got too hot and it was to much faffing about, but they are great for privacy and if you need some extra time getting the little one into the right position.
I was very comfortable feeding anywhere and everywhere, I think this helped and being confident meant that often people would not even realise I was feeding or if the baby was just sleeping. It does take practise but the less you think about it and more you do it the easier it becomes, but the first step is to just get out there and feed.
When away I wear a lot of jumpsuits with crop tops and zip openings to feed aswel as button down dresses as the two top method does not always work when its really hot. In terms of swimwear, most non-wired bikinis, wrap over swimsuits or plunging necklines work great.
Some examples of these are below:
My brother got married when my first was around 10 weeks old and I spent most of his week long wedding feeding as it would obviously coincide with a growth spurt week. For his wedding I had custom made outfits with poppers and openings to be able to feed him but with my second I just adapted outfits I already had by just wearing crop tops and dresses with indian skirts/salwars. I loved putting these outfits together and also found them really comfortable to feed in.
10. Bottles and weaning off
When I had my first baby I just assumed that they all take a bottle, bottles exist and all the babies I had ever met just drank from one when they were given it. However despite introducing this at 6 weeks and trying every type of bottle brand, nipple type and milk type he refused it until he was around 10 months old. Even when he did finally take it, we did nothing different to the million times before but it just seemed as if he was finally ready and happy to accept it. I felt I wasted lots of time, energy and money trying to get him to take one so second time around I did not really bother. I tried a few times and if she took it ok, but if she didn't I was fine with that too. She started nursery at around 10 months and some days she would take it fine but she soon moved onto having a beaker of cows milk instead which she was a lot happier with.
I always planned to feed for around 18 months, but when she turned 18 months we were actually away in Mumbai so I carried on breastfeeding for the rest of the holiday and a few days after we returned before stopping gradually and moving her onto a bottle for a her night feed.
I started by first cutting out her day feeds and offering a beaker, fruit, snack instead. The her night feeds stopped and finally her early morning 5.30am feed, I instead offered her water at night or early morning. Once she was happy with this routine I offered her a bottle at night after her bath, starting with around 4oz and moving up to around 8oz. The first night she cried for about 15 minutes wanting to breastfed instead, the second night for around 5 minutes and the third was a 30 second moan, she now loves her bottle and instead cries because she does not want to even put her pjs on before having it. I feel if I had tried to do this earlier with her she would not have adjusted so well or quickly to it.
These 10 points are what helped me and made my feeding journey easier, memorable and enjoyable. I am not an expert in any way but this worked for me and now I quite miss it all. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to feed, nourish and see your child grow with all your hard work and although it is sometimes hard for new mums to believe if you stick at it, it does all become so much easier. No washing up, no sterilising, no figuring out how many feeds you need for a day out. For us as a family who love to travel to it made this so much easier to do. To sum up, it can be great if it works for you and your family so embrace, enjoy and make the most of it because they do grow up very quickly.