BK’s Mumma Says…
Queues, Boobs and Bodies
Whilst queuing up in a shop to pay for some new clothes I’d chosen, I struck up a conversation with the mother behind me. She had a daughter about the same age as BK, 7 months at the time, and like you do, we began talking about breastfeeding. Don’t get me started on at what point in our lives talking about our boobs is part of normal conversation, but it is and it was. Anyway, this lady had breastfed her daughter for 6 months and then given up because she wanted her body back. She offered the information freely and since that conversation, I began to think. Had I ever felt like that? Had I ever felt like breastfeeding was more of a chore than a life-giving, tender moment between mother and baby? Maybe that is part of the reason so few women breastfeed these days?
As I pondered what she said, it dawned on me that my breastfeeding experience has been rather tumultuous. In truth, I have met very few women whose experience has been easy or straightforward. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile or one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. It’s that which has kept me going these last 12 months.
Latching, cracking and hickies
After our little munchkin, BK, had been born, she latched onto my breast really easily and suckled away for a good 2 hours, quite content to be a babe-in-arms. I felt quite relieved that she hadn’t had a problem latching on as I had heard many stories of difficulties in this area. Little did I know that this was a precursor to her personality and the months that lay ahead. The second night after her birth she cried and cried for hours. The only thing that quieted her was feeding, so I let her feed; 2, 3, 4 hours with short breaks in between as I tried to put her down in her crib beside me, only for her to wake up within seconds wanting to feed/suckle some more. As a result of this, one nipple in particular became extremely sore and when I talked to midwives and health care assistants about this, they assumed that her latch wasn’t right. They all checked, though, and said that her latch was fine.
I still to this day do not know why my nipples were so sore. Maybe it was because they had never been sucked on to this extent before (!) or maybe BK just had one heck of a suck on her (she gave my husband a hicky on his arm when she sucked that). Perhaps a combination of both. Regardless, it took 7 weeks for my nipples to recover (Lansinoh was supposed to help but to be perfectly honest, even though I kept applying it, it didn’t seem to be doing me much good at all). There were times of excruciating pain when BK first latched on to feed, and I would cry silently but once she had been at it a few minutes, the pain subsided a bit. In the first week, I contemplated introducing formula to give my nipples chance to heal, but when push came to shove, I really didn’t want to do that. For me I knew I just had to push on through. I expressed for the odd day here and there from the side that hurt the most, which did offer some relief and opportunity to heal. I remember scouring the net to find somewhere, anywhere, where professionals said that breastfeeding would hurt. In all of my search, I could find nothing on any professional British website that said this. However, I found one source of comfort on an American website, which said breastfeeding will hurt. Hallelujah! Common sense and words of reassurance. It will hurt, but it will get better. It won’t be like this forever. That sort of statement I could handle.
After 7 weeks though, things felt a little easier on the nipple front (I am not an example of the norm, for most breastfeeding mums, at least those I’ve chatted with, 2-4 weeks is about normal before nipples stop hurting).
The Big Burp
While I was in hospital, I asked a midwife the question of a novice mumma, ‘do I need to wind my baby after I’ve fed her?’ Expecting her to sayyes, she actually said, “no, breastfed babies tend not to need winding as much as formula fed babies”. For all those reading this, please ignore her advice. Breastfed babies need winding. It took me a few weeks to realise this, not being able to understand why my daughter would raise her little legs to her chest, scrunch herself up and make funny animal noises in her sleep, or just generally moan and groan a few minutes after feeding. Even then, it took me a few more weeks after that to get the winding technique down to a fine art. A quick rub of the back followed by a burp doesn’t mean that all of the wind has escaped. Sometimes it can take many minutes to help the little ones release all of the air that they took down with them in the first place. I discovered many exercises to help BK burp, including:
- the cycle ride (lying her on her back and moving her legs up and down like she was cycling)
- the swim (lying her on her tummy over my knees and bobbing my knees up and down gently)
- the pensive pose (propping her chin in between my finger and thumb, leaning her against the inside of my arm and then rubbing her back)
At around 3 months though, BK no longer needed me to wind her, which was a relief as it took an age for her to give up the air she’d swallowed. At some point around 10-12 weeks (give or take), babies usually learn how to ‘burp’ themselves and therefore don’t need our help. The start of independence.
Where do Spirited Babies fit in?
I am a mumma to a ‘High-needs’, ‘spirited baby’ (see my blog article on spirited babies) and therefore my experience comes from that perspective and is not necessarily the norm. Spirited babies (sometimes referred to as ‘more’ babies because they are ‘more’ in every way) can be identified as those that exhibit a fair few traits such as being sensitive, intense, persistent, hyperactive, demanding or unpredicatable.
One of the traits is feeding frequently. BK never really fed for any length of time. She was always a short-bursts often kinda gal. She liked to feed frequently and would tend to only feed for around 10 minutes at a time, guzzling at a rate of knots, like there was no tomorrow. I fed on demand, breastfeeding exclusively and have pretty much done so since BK was born. Though for the last 6 months, she has generally fallen into more of a routine. At around 10 and a half months she discovered she could pull down my top and bra and help herself at will. This puts a whole new spin on 24/7!
I am very thankful that I have been able to breastfeed BK, in spite of sore nipples, frequent feeds and help-yourself-at-will snacks. It has been an amazing opportunity for me to be able to bond with her and something that, for me, I would not have changed. For me, it was absolutely worth it. I know breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. Some find it too painful, for some their milk just doesn’t seem to come, or baby can’t quite latch on correctly, for others 6 months is plenty and by that point they need to feel their body belongs to them again (I have had these thoughts on many occasions!!). I know I approached the whole breastfeeding thing with an open mind: if it happens, it happens, if not, then that’s ok. I never thought I’d be the kind of mumma who would breastfeed over 6 months, or with the view to continue for at least one feed for 24 months (BK wanting, of course), as the World Health Organisation commends (www.who.int/en).
Whether or not I actually achieve that, I have yet to find out…