The importance of self-talk and trusting the breastfeeding process
I admit breastfeeding has been relatively smooth sailing for us, so when Medela approached me to share my breastfeeding journey, I didn't realise that I would have quite so much to say...
Fast forward through our birth story (coming soon), and we had a blissful experience in the hospital. Despite feeling battered and broken, I got the giggles instead of the typical 'day 3' tears. Leo was a contented little dream, and we left on day 5 feeling confident after a week of the nurses joking with us that we were doing so well that 'they didn’t need to check on us.'
Walking in the front door with Leo was surreal. After the comfort and 24/7 support of the private hospital, reality sets in and sits heavy on a woman's shoulders; me and my boobies are responsible for sustaining life.
It is so easy to begin second-guessing your body and looking back on those early days, I realise that the only issues I had were in my head.
I came home filled with love and confidence, but with the lack of sleep and meditation in the second week, I will admit the cracks began to form. Literally. In my nipples.
I was blissfully happy for the most part, but it is true that in those first two weeks at home, during feeds, I often sat with tears falling down my cheeks, gritting my teeth, while Leo fed on my cracked and bleeding nipples. My Medela Contact Nipple Shields (CNS) helped a little, but I would also express between feeds so that I could occasionally have a break while Mitch bottle-fed Leo.
I found that the rhythmic pumping was less painful than Leo’s latch. I wondered how on earth my nips would ever heal with 'around-the-clock' feeding and had to find the strength to brush off (well-wishing) suggestions that perhaps Leo had a tongue tie. But there was nothing wrong with Leo, and nothing wrong with me. Yep, we often fumbled latching… but we knew what we had to do and we were both just learning. By about week 3, my nipples had healed, and we were feeding without pain. I read so many articles saying that if you're experiencing pain, you're not latching correctly. What I really needed was a comforting voice reassuring me that we just needed to give it time – time for Leo to coordinate his sucking, and time for those delicate nipples to develop some resilience. Put simply, I just needed to be reminded that our bodies are AMAZING, and our babies are AMAZING, and feeding becomes AMAZING after that initial phase of learning.
There was, of course, plenty of learning that happened in that first couple of months.
About three weeks in, Leo started to cluster feed, and I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know what he needed… I just fed him. Surely I’m on empty, I thought. How will I have enough for the next feed!?
I became so worried that Leo wasn’t getting enough milk, or that I was overfeeding and causing tummy aches, I remember thinking, my boobs are soft, shouldn’t they be engorged? – they must be empty.
Engorgement was something I had often been told to expect. I wish someone had told me I might not get engorged boobs.
Not experiencing engorgement led to me thinking there was something wrong. I was so concerned one night within the first week or so of being home, I sent Mitch to go and get formula in case things got desperate in the night. And while he was gone, I began googling "is my baby getting enough milk." Thankfully, I found exactly what I needed to see.
The article read something like this: 'when your body and baby are perfectly in tune, and your body is working efficiently to tend to your baby’s specific needs, you will find that your breasts feel soft and there’s no engorgement.'
After being so in tune with my body during what was an amazing and uncomplicated pregnancy, I should have trusted that Leo and I were all over it and that my body was doing just fine. More than just fine. If only I had been told to expect cluster feeding and reminded more frequently to trust my body, I might have avoided the aforementioned freak-out all together.
I learned, however, that babies are far more efficient than pumps, and that breastfeeding is about much more than just milk.
After this revelation, my relationship with feeding and pumping completely relaxed.
"Babies have jobs to do. They are helping you to switch on your milk supply. They are elevating your prolactin levels (the hormone that governs milk supply), stimulating oxytocin hormone (which is the hormone key in the relationship-building and creating a sense of calm and wellbeing) and they are increasing milk volume and altering fat content. They are reducing cortisol stress levels, facilitating digestion, and the passing of stools. They are hydrating, regulating their temperature, feeling emotionally secure, growing brain connections, and trying to get sleep (which YES is one of the purposes of breastfeeding)."
In the blur of life as a new Mumma, it’s easy to get wrapped up with what time the last feed was. I did. But after those first few weeks (and those first few freak-outs) I gave myself a massive out-loud pep-talk. I told myself to stop looking at the clock, trust my body, trust Leo, and surrender to the demand - revel in it, even. On that day, I relaxed into motherhood.
Almost eight months after giving birth, I am still living and loving my breastfeeding journey with Leo. Every new mum has their own story, but I hope that this post is the pep-talk that some other Mumma needs right now.
Nicky Lark x @CalmlyKaotic
Photography: Ashleigh Bateman @exist_images