Breastfeeding: How to Survive the First Few Weeks

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

When chatting to new mums, breastfeeding is a topic that comes up often. And without fail, there’s always one sentence that’s repeated again and again:

“I had no idea it would be so hard”

In those first few weeks when I was struggling so much, I remember replaying a conversation I’d had with my health visitor over and over in my head. When I was still pregnant, she’d asked me how I felt about breastfeeding and I’d breezily replied “oh, I’ll be fine. It’ll all come naturally!”. How wrong I was.

help with continuing breastfeeding

From the moment Hazel was placed on my chest after labour, we struggled. She didn’t latch when placed right in front of her target, let alone make her own way to the nipple like they show you in the antenatal classes. She didn’t feed at all that first day and then followed three days of hospital hell, having colostrum syringed from my boobs by kind midwives and desperately thrusting my nipples into my baby’s face.

On the surface it looked like I’d mastered feeding – the midwives kept telling me I was doing a great job, but instinctively I knew it wasn’t right. On day three Hazel was weighed and she’d lost 15% of her body weight – she hadn’t been feeding properly at all. I was heartbroken and felt so unbearably guilty that I hadn’t done my job properly; that my body had betrayed us both. After that, we were put on a feeding routine which involved bottles of formula topped up with my expressed milk every three hours. Hazel soon regained her weight but that feeling of guilt never left me.

When we left hospital after five days, I was managing to express enough milk for every feed, so we dropped the formula, but she still wouldn’t breastfeed. I tried and tried and tried, a punishing schedule of bottle feeding and expressing and offering a boob – the endless cycle felt never ending, starting again almost as soon as it had finished. Then, completely out of the blue, Hazel started feeding from me.

But still we struggled. Breastfeeding was awkward and painful, and I was constantly worried that Hazel wasn’t getting enough milk. We were referred to a consultant for a tongue tie snip, but eventually told the tie was so minor that if cut, it would probably hinder feeding rather than help. I went to a breastfeeding cafe which was really reassuring but offered no answers – my positioning was correct, our latch was good, there was nothing that needed changing. But still the pain continued and everything I’d read told me if feeding is painful, you’re doing it wrong.

The combination of pain and worry meant I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding at all. It didn’t feel natural or help with our bond – if anything, I think my problems with feeding made it harder for me to bond with my daughter. I spent the first four weeks of her life dreading feeding, getting frustrated and constantly worrying about her weight. Just get to six weeks, I told myself. Then you can stop.

But suddenly, it started to get better. Six weeks came and went. I carried on feeding, each time finding it a bit easier. I still wasn’t enjoying it, but I didn’t fear our feeds. I appreciated the ease of whipping out a boob and started to gain confidence feeding in public. My supply regulated and I didn’t leak. My boobs stopped resembling boulders. And best of all, I could see Hazel gaining weight at a rapid pace. It was working.

Hazel is now 10 weeks old and I can finally say I love feeding her. There’s no more pain and I feel that bond growing stronger every time we settle down together. I love snuggling with her in the dead of night, love scrolling through Instagram while she gets on with it, love stopping her cries with a quick boob in the face. It all seems to have clicked into place, and my goalposts have moved from six weeks to six months to whenever she’s ready to stop. Seven weeks ago, breastfeeding indefinitely felt like an alien concept. The difference is remarkable.

Struggling with breastfeeding is something I hadn’t anticipated. I think of myself as a strong, capable person, but this broke me. It knocked me off my feet and I was totally unprepared. I think my saving grace was the unending support from Rob and my family, plus an acceptance that bottle is just as good as breast. Formula saved us in those very early days and if my struggle had gone on another week or so I would’ve switched to bottles and never looked back.

tips for breastfeeding

Feeding guilt is realer than real – pregnant or not, we’re bombarded with pressure to breastfeed and for women who go on to have a baby, breastfeeding is often the end goal. There are no antenatal classes on formula feeding. Expectant parents aren’t taught how to make up a feed or use a bottle. Bottle feeding support groups are practically non-existent. So when breastfeeding doesn’t work, the guilt is overwhelming and leads to many women suffering in silence.

Accepting that there’s no ‘right or wrong’ way to feed your baby is a hugely important part of the parenting experience. Your welfare is just as important as your baby’s, and if breastfeeding isn’t happening or you’re not enjoying it, switching to formula is right for you. A happy mama means a happy baby and the only right way is the one that works for you both.

If you’re struggling with breastfeeding but feel like you want to keep at it, here are a few things that really helped me get through those early weeks…

– Cluster feeding is hell but it won’t last forever. As with most newborn phases, everything is temporary and this too will pass.

– Give up underwired bras immediately. Soft, comfortable nursing bras are your friend, even if they make your boobs look shit.

Uniqlo’s Heattech tops are amazing. They have a wide, scoop neck that can be pulled down to release a boob without the need for the faffy clips or confusing flaps on official nursing tops. Plus, they’re super warm and cosy for these chilly winter days.

– For nighttime feeds, wear a button-down pyjama top unbuttoned enough for easy boob access, with a soft sleep bra underneath. Sitting up in bed at 3am with your top up around your neck and your stomach exposed is a surefire way to catch cold.

– Don’t worry if you can’t master feeding while lying down. It seems to be the hot new trend in breastfeeding and lots of women find it a lifesaver for those endless early nights, but you (like me) might find it easier and more comfortable to feed sitting up. Whatever works for you.

– Breastfeeding pillows are the best thing ever. Mine is from Mamas & Papas and I love it almost as much as I love my baby.

– It *will* hurt to start with. You might have weeks of pain before things settle down. Your nipples will be red raw and your boobs as hard as rocks. Nipple balm will help, as will distraction techniques when feeding – Instagram scrolling and Amazon shopping were my saviours. If the pain is unbearable or going on way too long, see a lactation consultant to check your latch and positioning, and ask about a potential tongue tie.

– It’s ok if you don’t leak. It doesn’t mean your milk has dried up or there’s not enough of it. The proof is in the pudding – if your baby is gaining weight, you’re absolutely fine. Celebrate by wearing a light-coloured top without fear!

– Arrange your essentials before you start feeding – your phone, a bottle of water, snacks, the TV remote. And make sure they’re all on the right side so you can actually reach them!

– Keep bottles, pre-made formula and sterilising tablets in the house. You’ll be so thankful for them when your baby is screaming and refusing your boobs at 1am.

– Talk about it. Explain to your partner why you want to breastfeed so they can support you. Tell your friends. Meet up with other mums and tell them, too. Go to breastfeeding support groups and pour your heart out. Cry as much as you want. Talk, talk, talk. Normalising breastfeeding and its many challenges is hugely important.

– Be kind to yourself.

<3

 

Bébé Updates – Hazel’s Birth Story

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

Hazel was eight weeks old yesterday – where did the time go?! I can’t believe how quickly those eight weeks have passed, but at the same time life without her seems like a distant memory. Certainly, labour and our stay in hospital have started to fade into the background; forgotten in the daily chaos of new motherhood. So I thought I should record that story, before it becomes too hazy.

8 week old baby update

On Friday 11th November at noon, I was pottering around at home and went for a wee (so far, so pregnant). I thought it felt a bit different… ‘more’ is the word I’d use. I carried on with my pottering, faffing about in the kitchen until there definitely was ‘more’ – all over the floor. My waters had broken and there was no denying it!

Luckily, Rob was at home so we faffed about some more, watched in horror as the cat slowly licked my amniotic fluid off the floor, and eventually headed to hospital.

When we arrived at St James’s, we went up to the maternity day ward where the lovely midwife confirmed it was indeed my waters (and not just a massive wee… apparently those two things are often confused!). As contractions hadn’t started, I had 24 hours to go into labour naturally and if it hadn’t happened before then I’d be induced, as there’s a risk of infection if you’re left longer. So the induction was booked for midday on Saturday, and Rob and I went on our way.

We didn’t go home, though – that would’ve been too easy! We went to Mothercare to try get a TENS machine (out of stock), then to McDonald’s for a final Double Cheeseburger (delicious), then drove 20 mins to my friend Emma’s house to borrow her TENS machine (I sat on a plastic bag in the car). Of course, we got stuck in traffic on the way home and my contractions started with earnest. Luckily we made it back to Leeds!

At 6pm contractions were pretty manageable, so we ordered an Indian takeaway and I did a lot of bouncing on my birthing ball. Things stayed like that till 9pm when the whole thing ramped up – contractions were coming every few minutes and felt pretty strong. I relied on the TENS machine to manage the pain and after a phone conversation with the midwife at St James’s, we set off for the hospital.

It was the perfect trip – quiet roads, no traffic, a parking spot right outside the hospital and an easy walk to the ward. I was set up in a bay on the Maternity Assessment ward and waited to be examined… only to be told my cervix was still closed. When you’re experiencing labour for the first time you have no idea what to expect, so I really thought we were on and was absolutely gutted to be told I had to go back home. But, we packed up and headed out to continue labouring at home… and that’s when I overheard the midwife on the phone – “St James’s is now closed to labour. We have no beds.” Uh oh…

It was only 10pm, though. And I was a long way off labour, so by the time I was ready there’d definitely be a bed for me. Everything was fine, I told myself. We arrived back home and I spent the rest of the evening on all fours, huffing and grunting my way through contractions that were getting stronger and stronger.

At 3am my contractions were very powerful and about 3 mins apart, so we called the hospital again. The midwife agreed it was time to go in and then broke the news – they were still closed to labour, so I’d need to go to Leeds General Infirmary in the city. I was distraught and filled with anxiety – we hadn’t visited LGI, we didn’t know where to park or where the ward was or what the delivery suite looked like. Being turned away from hospital wasn’t in my birth plan! The midwife gave it to me straight – go to LGI or give birth at home alone. Tough love, but it stopped me spiralling and helped me focus. So we jumped in the car and drove into town (luckily only 15 mins away).

Honestly, getting to the maternity ward of LGI was the worst part of my labour. If you’ve ever visited you’ll know what I mean – it’s an absolute warren, nothing is signposted and the wings are miles away from each other. At one point, Rob ran in to the A&E reception and asked a couple of teenagers where to go! We eventually found the right wing but couldn’t find anywhere to park, so ended up dumping the car in a staff car park. Then followed an agonising 10 minute walk to the maternity ward, with me doubled over all the way and feeling very anxious.

But as soon as we arrived, everything was ok – I was whisked into a bay and reassured by a lovely team of midwives. Because my waters had broken and there was a risk of infection, I was examined with a speculum rather than a hand. The midwife told me they’d leave me to labour for about an hour then I could go in the water, so I hunkered down with my TENS machine and Rob for support. 10 minutes later the midwife was back – presumably my groaning and screaming alerted her – and said she’d ‘just check’ my progress with her hand, as the speculum isn’t always accurate. Sure enough, I was 8cm dilated and ready for the delivery suite!

There was no more mention of water after that – Hazel had a trace attached to monitor her heart rate and I was hooked up to a cannula, a blood pressure cuff and a catheter. I had wires all over me which made moving around difficult, so I ended up labouring in the position literally everyone tells you not to – on my back, on a bed.

I did try a stint draped over the raised head of the bed, but I was pushing too hard for the stage I was at and the midwife warned I’d get exhausted, so back to lying down it was! I was sucking on gas and air which really helped and I’d ditched the TENS machine by now. Everything felt manageable and under control until the bit they call ‘transition’ – they tell you about this in antenatal classes, as it’s the most common time for women to ask for epidurals. And that shit is real. I felt like I couldn’t go on, like it would never end. It was physically painful of course, but for me it was a mental struggle – I was exhausted, every push felt like her head was popping right out then going straight back in. Rob tells me this wasn’t the case but I just felt like I couldn’t do it, like she’d never make it out. I’d had no pain relief other than gas and air and by this point I wasn’t even using that – not out of some martyr goal to have a drug free birth, but because I was so out of it!

After almost three hours of active pushing, the midwife told me they were preparing for an episiotomy and started prepping scissors. That spurred me into action as I really didn’t want to be cut, so I found that extra energy and with a few more pushes, Hazel was born at 9.39am on Saturday 12th November. So not really that long a labour at all! I had a small perineum tear that was stitched up quickly, although the anaesthetic didn’t work properly so I felt it far more than I was supposed to. Fun.

Hazel was placed on my chest and we did some skin to skin for a while, then attempted a feed before Rob had a cuddle. I started feeling very woozy as I’d lost a bit more blood than usual, so was brought double portions of tea and toast and left to recover while Rob held Hazel. I had the injection to help me pass the placenta and after a while, a wonderful nurse took me to the loo and helped me wash my face and brush my teeth.

We had a few hours in the delivery room until there was a bed free on the maternity ward, so we welcomed our families in for short visits – there were lots of happy tears! Eventually all three of us were taken downstairs to our bay on the maternity ward, and there we stayed for five whole days.

Even though my labour was far from what I wanted – I’d planned for a water birth at a different hospital, after all! – I do feel quite positive about it. The only really traumatic part for me was the change in hospital and the anxious journey to an unfamiliar place, but once I was safely inside I felt in control and even when I lost it slightly during transition, it only lasted 20 mins and I didn’t ever feel like I needed further intervention. One thing that really helped me process the massive difference between what I had planned for my labour and how it actually turned out is the understanding that I’d do anything to get through it – if I’d felt I needed it, I’d have had an epidural or a caesarean in a heartbeat. So really it didn’t matter that my labour wasn’t to plan because I came through it relatively unscathed, with a healthy baby. I do know I’m really lucky to have had such a smooth experience, and I’m grateful to all the amazing staff – and Rob, of course – at LGI for coaching me through it with knowledge and care. All my midwives were young women and they were so supportive and nurturing.

I wanted this post to focus solely on my labour experience and not the aftermath, so I’ll save that for another time. When I was pregnant I found reading birth stories – both good and bad – really useful to help me prepare for labour, so I hope this is reassuring for you if you’re expecting. If you have any questions please shout up in the comments!

Giving birth at 38 weeks

Hazel Rey Allison, born 9.39am on Saturday 12th November 2016 weighing 6lb 9oz. 

Bébé Updates: Hazel’s First Christmas

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

Hello there! Six weeks in to this baby rearing lark and I finally have the headspace (well, just about) for a blog post. And on Christmas Eve, too! It’s a festive miracle.

6 week baby update

Hazel Rey is six weeks old today. After a rocky start with breastfeeding, she’s now thriving away at over 8lb and has just started smiling. Watching her grow is an absolute joy; a feeling unlike any other.

I have lots to share about her arrival into the world and the difficult two weeks that followed, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, let me mark the start of my Bébé Updates with warmest Christmas wishes for you and yours, however and wherever you’re celebrating.

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2017 – Hazel and I will see you on the other side! <3

Preggo Updates – 38 Weeks

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

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Well, that’s a turn-up for the books!

38 weeks pregnant looks markedly different from 37 weeks, mainly because it includes a baby. An actual baby!

Hazel Rey Allison was born at 9.39am on Saturday 12th November 2016 at Leeds General Infirmary. I’ll post the full birth story in due course – it wasn’t quite what I’d planned but all is well and Hazel is an absolute angel.

We’re still in hospital at the moment, just getting to grips with breastfeeding (me and her) and generally learning the ropes. The midwives are outstanding and although we’re all excited to go home, it’s quite nice to be taken care of for a bit rather than thrown back out into the world with a tiny human to care for.

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Needless to say, Baby A (haven’t quite shaken the habit of calling her that!) is an absolute dream. Again, further updates to come but so far she’s super chilled and laid back like her dad with blonde hair and an independent spirit like her mum. Mega love.

Hopefully we’ll be home soon and I’ll try keep the regular updates coming. Thank you all so much for your kind words on Twitter and Instagram – we are so happy it’s quite disgusting.

<3 x

10 Things You Learn During Late Pregnancy

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

At 38 and a half weeks I’m firmly into late pregnancy and to be perfectly honest, it sucks. With the possibility of another 3.5 weeks to go (please don’t be overdue, Baby A!) and no signs of an imminent labour, I thought I’d write a little post on all the things I’ve learnt during these last few weeks. Warning: it’s a bit of a pity party…

  1. Stretch mark products are a great big sham. If you’re gonna get stretch marks, you’re gonna get ’em and no amount of expensive Weleda oil will change that. Buy yourself a new lipstick instead.
  2. Rather than a soft and cosy place of rest, your bed will become the scene of a nightly torture that includes toilet trips every hour, burning acid reflux and achy joints. But don’t forget to ‘enjoy your sleep while you can!’ *eye roll*
  3. You’ll need to add at least 20 minutes extra time to anything you do, because you’re slow and cumbersome and even just putting on socks is a monumental effort.
  4. Belly buttons come in more than two forms – as well as the classic innie and outie, there’s also a special pregnancy version that’s entirely flat and totally gross.
  5. The smallest inconveniences seem like targeted and deliberate personal attacks. Like the batteries in the TV remote running out during your Gilmore Girls marathon or the corner shop inexplicably having no chilled cans of Diet Coke.
10 things you learn in late pregnancy

6. Despite knowing full-well that symptom Googling is always A Bad Idea, every twitch and twinge has you frantically tapping in ‘am I in labour??!!’ even though the culprit is most likely that Double Cheeseburger you had for pre-dinner.

7. Pre-lunch and pre-dinner are acceptable and necessary for survival. Fruit and vegetables should feature in neither.

8. Every piece of ‘friendly advice’ you receive from here on out will make you irrationally angry because absolutely no one understands what you’re going through, even if they do have five kids.

9. You miss work. Honestly.

10. Even though you’re lugging around what feels like a beachball filled with wet sand, even though your intestines are squashed up somewhere near your lungs and even though you can’t make it through The One Show without falling asleep, you know there’s not long to go now… and actually, that’s quite scary. Maybe this baby could stay in a bit longer after all?