So you’ve made the decision to breastfeed – that’s wonderful. There are many potential obstacles to getting started, not to mention the issues we can face along the way. So it’s vital that you consider how to prepare for breastfeeding in advance – and not only practically. But, if you are determined and persevere, nursing your child is a fantastic achievement and a beautiful experience.
Do you have any preconceptions about breastfeeding? It’s likely that you’ll find yourself having to challenge some. You may also be surprised to battle with personal demons, or clash with peers and/or professionals.
Because breastfeeding is an enigma until you do it.
How to Prepare For Breastfeeding
The best way to prepare yourself, is to familiarise yourself with the products which may be helpful (but are not essential), and to be aware of the potential obstacles, attitudes, and difficulties you may face when breastfeeding.
The physical difficulties I had no idea about included:
- Tiny babies = tiny mouths, and difficulty latching,
- CMPA and other allergies which can rarely affect your baby via your milk,
- Blocked ducts,
- Introducing bottles can be a minefield,
- Nipple eczema.
There are many hurdles not spoken about – and therefore not known – until you’re in it. So I’m going to address some of those here, not least because I’ve had no choice but to reevaluate my own feelings about breastfeeding again and again.
Preparing for Breastfeeding Before Baby Arrives
There’s not enough discussion before the baby arrives about how hard it is to breastfeed. Among my peers at least, there was an expectation that because it’s natural, it should also be easy. And if it’s not, then it must mean there’s a physical barrier to successful breastfeeding.
I’ve done a lot of research on the subject and now hold the (potentially controversial) belief that the vast majority of women could nurse – with the right support and – critically – with enough determination. I’ve since written a comprehensive post about the subject and have even released an ebook too.
Breastfeeding is unequivocally the best start you can give your baby, and this is protected in law.
That said, there absolutely does come a time when difficulties sometimes mean the balance between giving your baby tailor-made nourishment versus your mental health, tip in the wrong direction. And if this happens, formula is an excellent, valid, and perfectly acceptable alternative.
Breastfeeding is Your Ticket to Solitude
…And that doesn’t necessarily mean loneliness – it can be the most precious time.
It’s something nobody else will ever experience with your baby. And it’s your trump card for every challenging situation:
- The ready-made excuse for those hectic family visits when you just need five minutes peace,
- The method for quieting your hysterical baby like nothing else can,
- A way to reinforce the bond between you when you’re losing your patience,
- Even a technique for reasserting yourself as the primary caregiver when necessary around the in-laws!
The Self-Consciousness You May Feel
I’m an intensely private person, particularly about my body, and I found this extremely difficult initially. Yet over time, my embarrassment dissipated and I became less and less bothered about feeding my daughter in public (until toddlerhood). Breasts cease to be ‘boobs’, instead becoming a feeding vessel – functional, not sexy – and this helps to minimise those entirely unwarranted feelings.
Also keep in mind that you are protected by law to breastfeed wherever you want to.
Health Professionals Sometimes Get it Wrong
Some health professionals are incredible when it comes to breastfeeding support. But others are not educated on the subject and give incorrect advice, which can ultimately lead to women’s breastfeeding journeys ending prematurely.
If you require support for any reason and don’t feel you are getting the help you need, try another avenue. I’m always happy to help too, so please contact me if you’re unsure where to turn.
Extended Breastfeeding Just Happens Sometimes
I somehow never quite expected to reach the six month milestone, but I blinked and it was upon us. I’d given little thought to how long I’d nurse, with my stock answer to the impertinent question being ‘for as long as it feels right’.
I once thought I’d never go beyond 12 months; with my second I went till past her third birthday.
The point is, this is one aspect of breastfeeding that it may be wise not to plan for at all. Circumstances change, and so do our values and priorities once we have babies. Feel free to borrow my answer and simply take each day as it comes.
Extended Breastfeeding Offended My Greatest Champions
Some people I expected to fully support my pro-breastfeeding-beyond-6-months choice (based on their initial stance), were nigh-on outraged that we continued going strong.
That attitude is sometimes hurtful and always ignorant – and more common than you may think! Progress is being made, but society still has a long way to go when it comes to breastfeeding beyond infancy.
Weaning (Off the Breast) Can Be a Battle in Itself
Which brings us nicely on to:
Some Babies Are Averse to Weaning (Onto Food)
Breastfeeding is to (some) babies as cake is to (some) mummies. Or, in other words, they can’t seem to regulate themselves. In the same way that we sleep-deprived zombies subsist on caffeine (minimal – we’re breastfeeding) and sugar (maximal – we’re breastfeeding), our babies (mine at least) would exist solely on mummy’s nectar if allowed to do so.
We took taken the baby led weaning approach and tried to remain relaxed, but it’s tough when your baby won’t eat!
Breastfeeding aversion is a ‘thing’. It’s barely happened to me, but sometimes when I’ve been sore and cracked, I’ve found an understanding of it. Most often it occurs when the baby is older, and the mother is ready for some autonomy this was when I best appreciated the phenomena.
Breastfeeding a Toddler is Quite Different to Breastfeeding a Baby
Extended feeding in public is difficult – my daughters didn’t believe in modesty for feeding implements. In fairness, I’m quite blatant about using a glass or a fork in public so I couldn’t really blame them. We had an ongoing battle between my choice of discretion versus forced exhibitionism. This led to me actively reducing daytime feeds.
Weaning is Tough on Mum Too…
Trying to cut back or stop altogether is tough. It’s natural to comfort our babies and breastfeeding is the king of comforting. It feels cruel to refuse them, particularly when they’re too young to understand and simply feel rejected.
That said, there does come a time when it is no longer the pinnacle. Breastfeeding is a relationship, and it’s vital to your mutual bond and to the mother’s mental health that you pay attention if breastfeeding is no longer working for you both. Aversion, poor sleep, or a return to work may force the issue.
While a natural transition at your child’s pace may be desirable, ultimately our babies are resilient and will bounce back from weaning when the time comes. Providing lots of cuddles instead of offering the breast is a pretty good substitute.
For more breastfeeding posts, head over to Breastfeeding – Help, Advice, Support.