When 200 mums responded to my question 'What's the one thing you wish you'd known before becoming a parent?' on Facebook, by FAR the most common response was about feeding their baby. Breastfeeding, formula feeding, or struggles with either can be one of the most stressful parts of newborn life.. especially since many pregnant women are led to believe it's straightforward.
Personally the thing I wish I'd known is that the maxim that if breastfeeding hurts, you're doing it wrong is... wrong. Newborns might be little but they come out all set to win an Olympic gold in suction - and nipples are sensitive things that probably haven't had much rough treatment in their pre-baby life. So even though I was breastfeeding effectively and my tiny man was thriving off the milk, in those early days the first latch was toe-curlingly ouch-y for a few seconds. I'd actually do labour-style breathing to get through it. And when I had a shower and the (soft) towel brushed those boobs... OW.
But after a few weeks, it eased up. I was really impressed by the range of breastfeeding support out there - NCT helpline, health visitors, expert breastfeeding counselors at local children's centres - use them! One helped me improve a dodgy latch that made me feel much more comfortable and my baby happier.
Equally, breastfeeding doesn't always work out - don't over-stress if so. This is the collective wisdom and advice of new parents on feeding babies:
I WISH I'D KNOWN...
"That breastfeeding doesn't make you a good mother. Feeding your child in the best way for you does. A happy mummy is way more important for your baby than breast milk is."
"How agonizingly painful breastfeeding would be at first - and, how once I got over the pain (3 months down the line), how comforting and enjoyable it could be."
"I wish someone had told me about newborns cluster feeding - that it may happen, that there's no point in fighting it and you may as well just watch lots of TV. Don't feed in bed, in the dark, with a sleeping other half next to you, and don't try to put the baby back in their Moses basket every two minutes! No point."
"Not to feel guilty if you had a Caesarean or can't breastfeed. As long as your baby is healthy & being fed suitable milk, then that's fine. My now-11 year old is proof these two things don't matter."
"About the after pains (uterus contracting) that you get whilst breastfeeding in the early days. They can be horrendous and you will feel very emotional on about day 3." (I agree - felt like bad period pains, but I told myself it was helping to get my body back to normal.)
"That breastfeeding isn't easy and requires perseverance in the early days but it's rewarding once established."
"That I'd learnt how to milk myself (ie extract the colostrum from the nipple) - it's so useful in cases where baby doesn't latch on - you can bottle the goodness. Hospitals offer classes on how to do it."
"How much time I would spend feeding the baby in the first 3 months.."
"One thing I wish I'd learnt beforehand was how to make up a bottle! I never realised that sometimes breast feeding doesn't work out! Breastfeeding is a huge sacrifice and commitment of your time. Everyone does things differently, there is no right and wrong just do what makes you feel comfortable and happy. I remember being discharged from hospital and the midwife asking if I had any questions before I went home and I said "oh you haven't told me how to make up a bottle" (as they just have you the ready made ones) and she just laughed at me! I had to call a friend over as soon as I got home to show me!"
"My top breastfeeding, especially in summer, is to have large bottles of water and a glass in all the places you might feed!" I agree - and used bottles with sports caps that are easy to open one handed. Also, have a muslin to hand for inevitable post-meal sick..
"I wish I'd known that if your child has not passed urine give them a bottle to see if he/she is not dehydrated. NHS staff is so hell bent on breastfeeding they will not advise you of a formula top up even when it's evidently in the best interest of your child."
"Put a muslin between you and the baby when breastfeeding in the height of the summer or u will end up having to peel your baby off your skin!!"
"There is plenty to prepare you for labour if you want it and you expect pain but NOBODY tells you how hard breastfeeding is initially. I wasn't prepared for the searing toe curling pain when baby first latches and then the contractions during a feed. I wasn't prepared for the super pain that comes with engorgement and blocked ducts and the tears that followed when having to feed baby."
"Get a dual breast pump with a bra that attaches so that your hands are free."
"If you plan to bottle feed at any point buy a Perfect prep machine- the best bit of kit we owned."
"if you want to bottle feed (expressed milk or formula) introduce the bottle earlier rather than later. Parents who introduce a bottle around 4 or 5 weeks seem to do well. Parents who wait until their baby is 3 months old often struggle to get their baby to accept it."
"Whilst in hospital, ask advice on different positions to breast feed (you may be sore after birth & not want sit upright/baby might not latch on in the "usual" position). If you wish to breastfeed and the baby is not latching on and one - or even two - midwives are spectacularly unhelpful (as happened to me) don't be afraid to keep asking for help but with different midwives. It took three different midwives before one actually helped and actually suggested skin to skin contact and not just simply force baby onto my breast!"