When I first considered breast feeding, I had not really given it a massive thought other than, ‘Yes I want to’ as I had missed out trying with my eldest and thought this will probably be my last child and I do not want any regrets. My partner was very supportive so it was agreed on this method and I did not really worry to much about it. There was not much out there to prepare myself for the pain that I was going to find myself in. The first few days were extremely difficult, questioning whether or not I was feeding correctly, how was I meant to know? Does the baby know or not? Let’s face it, she has not been here very long and is learning too. These were just a couple of questions, with many more following:
Is she actually getting milk?
Is she feeding enough?
Am I able to provide her with what she needs?
Should I really be in this much pain?
How do I correct an incorrect latch?
What is a correct latch, how do I tell if it is right?
Why are my nipples so incredibly sore, cracking and super sensitive?
How often do I need to clean them? Before each feed?
Why do I seem to find it difficult and others do not?
Am I really cut out to do this, can I do this? Am I enough?
Is my pain and discomfort obvious to those around me?
Do I look as uncomfortable as I feel, feeding in front of you?
What am I doing wrong for it to feel this bad?
These questions could go on for a very long time, the best I can try do is explain how I felt in the first couple of months, and how I kept going even though at times I would cry, admitting to myself that I just was not cut out for this and I had failed. I would wake fresh the next day and continue to persevere, even with the pain, self doubt, worry, anxiety and much more. Luckily for me, my determination to continue was stronger than everything else. In the very beginning I did not have a clue if I was doing it right, noticing the cues right or anything, I literally felt lost in the dark, no clue, no nothing. All I knew at this point is that I had this person snuggled into me and relying on me to know what I was doing – and I did not. The first two weeks were agony, my nipples cracked, though they did not bleed or become infected or anything like that, they felt like they were being constantly stung with nettles. Anything that brushed past them, even my tops, the breast pads, a slight movement in the wrong way would make them so sensitive and sore – then came feeding time, which was a whole different level. I had to take my mind to a whole new place during feeding, or when baby was latching on for a feed, though some times it would relieve pain as I would be so tender and swollen that feeding would take some of this pressure away.
Washing my breasts and nipples were one of the last things I wanted to do, but I knew they had to be clean for feeds which brought more dread and fear. Though the warm water could soothe my breasts for a split second, if I was in the shower and a jet of water hit any part of my sensitive breasts or nipples in the wrong spot I would be a mess, in tears asking why the shower would want to do that to me. I would search whether or not breast feeding is common to be painful, and found not a whole lot out there on this and was constantly told that I should not feel any discomfort so I constantly worried what I was doing wrong. Other things searched would lead to maybe latch is incorrect or feeding wrong, change the position you feed in, potential infection or thrush and much more. I think I was hoping there was just one thing out there to say – yes, yes it hurts, it will at times, keep going, your doing fine. Safe to say I did not find this, I think that was the reassurance I needed but could never find. With so much going to juggle with a new baby, finding moving alone agony and tired beyond belief, there were a lot of obstacles to also face whilst feeding.
Trying to push myself to do more chores and get back to before baby was born was incredibly difficult, I felt so bad that I could not do what would be normal with my eldest as feeding and caring for the baby seemed to take over. I tried to not make a big deal about feeding in front of my eldest as I did not want her to see it as this negative thing at all, it is meant to natural, amazing, beautiful and I did not want her thinking it was something scary. Simple tasks of trying to find something comfortable seemed impossible to start with, I had a maternity bra which was designed for feeding and it seemed anything but comfortable to me and found it very difficult to get along with. It was not until after Christmas that I found something comfortable bra wise to wear. I never understood how much I could or would leak whilst feeding either as being completely oblivious to this, it was just something I did not expect. When feeding on one side, another would leak, which could be painful, then wet and feel uncomfortable, which when then lead to a new breast pad – this felt like razors being placed onto my nipple. It is safe to say for a while, no part of my breasts felt sexy, nice, or anything how I would imagine them to feel (not that I would think they would feel sexy!).
With the anxiety and worry of feeding in front of people was difficult, so was hiding the pain it caused or inflicted whilst baby was having a feed or latching on. Sometimes it would feel like a turtle had snapped onto my nipple, just to check or confirm they were super sensitive and sore, I had to really fight in these moments not to scream, cry or stop feeding right at that moment. Whether or not anyone I fed in front of ever caught onto my screams of pain I do not know, as nothing was said and I always just tried to keep a brave face on – this was probably a good thing as it does take your mind of the pain slightly for a bit and focus on something else. Any break from the pain is very much welcomed and I did start to wonder if pain was just going to become the norm or not. I can not even fully remember if I let on, or told my partner how much pain it did cause in the very beginning as I was worried he would also think and wonder the many questions I already was of was I good enough? Feeding enough? Doing it right? and so on… It felt like and can still feel like a constant mind game and it does not take much to be second guessing myself.
The, and more… which even I did not understand yet
It was not just the feeding, pain and discomfort that made the first few weeks and months difficult, I never used to understand why I was always so hungry and tired, feeling unable to do anything. I used to feel completely useless and that maybe I was just being lazy and needed to try find some enthusiasm to do something, rather than feeling like I was moaning and just being a burden. I would always feel tired and drained and never fully understood why until quiet a few months into feeding and my partner and close friend mentioning that I was always making milk for the baby and I think this thought had never really crossed my mind until it was said by someone else. With the mixture of cluster feeds being whenever as well, which again for a long time I never fully understood and depending how the baby was feeling from day to day could determine how much she fed. Baby also struggled with weight gain in the first couple of months which caused stress between myself and partner, just in myself generally and self doubt. None of this I even considered could have an impact on the feeding and how you felt, at the time you do not as there is so much going on and with being so tired, you do not think to take a step back and think about things logically – this would be too easy.
To begin with, when trying to get baby to gain weight I was told to feed basically on demand, whenever and make sure she was getting regular feeds throughout the night and not going to long between feeds. My alarm was always set if not for feeds, so that if I did snooze when baby did it was never for long so that I could constantly check she was fine. There were times that I was literally just switching baby from side to side every half an hour and I was seriously doubting whether or not she was actually getting anything from me at this point. I did not think of the strain it could put my body under or that I would constantly be starving and wanting to eat all the time and it would be very easy to forget that I had to keep well hydrated too. With my first pregnancy I did not put much weight on, again suffering with sickness and when baby was born, I pretty much went back to my normal weight instantly, I had also struggled with keeping a healthy weight throughout the years and would be lower than I should be. I was trying to remind myself it was not a bad thing to have a little extra weight this time and not get to paranoid being heavier than I ever had been. My mind would be saying I would not need that food and not to have it, but on these occasions with the feeding, I did not tend to have a choice but too eat as I would be so hungry it was painful. I also knew that what I did had an influence on the baby and I wanted her to grow healthy and strong so letting my head make myself feel bad for eating was not really an option. This was something I just had to come to terms with in my head and learn to like different parts of myself, rather than focusing on the bits I did not.
I also found when seeing other people after a few weeks, I would get remarks of, are you still feeding her or is she still feeding? This was when even I did not understand what cluster feeds were, or I found baby would feed more if not feeling quiet right, teething which was from the beginning, basically an discomfort, change or anything, she would be feeding, which was pretty much constantly. It pretty much felt apart from my partner, which even we had our moments was the only one for the majority of the time would be the only one who supported me through the feeding, as well as a close friend who never really made me feel uncomfortable with it in the beginning. I never really wanted to not let baby feed if she looked like she was after it so being able to tell whether or not she was actually constantly feeding or using it too soothe as well was something I did not understand for quiet awhile or even know the difference, especially early on. The main part of feeding to start with was to help baby gain weight and hope that she would put plenty on – but this is a whole other story yet.
There were moments that I would dread – the next feed as I knew it was going to hurt or just wanting 5 minutes to myself, a shower, a wee in peace as this was painful with the stitches early on or find inventive was of going to the toilet and keep baby happy. Silly little things which everyday you take for granted and never think about until it feels like climbing a mountain whilst attempting to do them. Silly things like getting baby weighed I knew would cause stress as she would of had a feed a little while before, have her nap and then as soon as her clothes came of, she would cry and be upset, then want a feed once that ordeal was done. This branched to doctors checks and health visitors or even going out and her needing changing, there would just be moments where I would be begging inside to just have a little longer. Whenever baby cried it would hurt my breasts and the sensation and having them leak always felt unbearable, as I did not understand what gorged or over gorged breasts were either, but this was usually relieved when baby was fed. I would just constantly try and tell myself it would get easier soon, but never really felt like it did, with days that it felt feeds were well spaced and I got a bit of time, or feel I had achieved something good and done more than just look after baby. This could be followed by days or even weeks of constant feeds, struggling to do anything else than feed and feeling low that I could not manage what I had done the day or week before – feeling like a failure again at this point. My main determination throughout this time as I did not want to fail at feeding too, that all this pain, and mental, physical exhaustion was worth it and that it would become easier as the weeks passed.
If I could, what I would of told myself then:
Do not be too hard on yourself and do not let others influence how you feel or what you do. Just relax and enjoy the moments with your baby, do not stress over everything and do not worry unless there is an actual need – as long as baby is happy, looking well and doing well DO NOT think too much into what others tell you. It is very easy to let everything get on top and become too much, do not be afraid to talk to someone about it or even admit to yourself it is not easy and you are struggling, it is not a failure or mean you can not cope. Sometimes just having someone to vent your worries and fears too is enough to take that little bit of anxiety and pressure of yourself. Enjoy the good moments and keep them in your head, to focus on the bad and negative and be proud of yourself – look at what you have managed to achieve so far. Yes the pain for you is normal, it does not mean your doing anything wrong – look down at the little person in your arms and just focus on her. You are capable of doing this, you are enough and do not let anyone, yourself include make you think otherwise!