When I was roughly 28 weeks pregnant, my midwife told me that whilst I should make a birth plan, it wasn’t often that what a woman hopes for comes to fruition. In my case, I wanted as natural a birth as possible and my biggest fear was a csection.
I will be writing about Teddy’s birth in more depth soon, but for now I will say that my labour and his birth were nothing like I’d hoped. I desperately wanted a natural birth, specifically a water birth, if a pool had been available. Yet after almost 20 hours in labour and finally making it to the pushing stage, I ended up having a caesarean anyway. And for anybody who thinks of it as the ‘easy way out’, or that us caesarean mums are ‘too posh to push’, I’m here to tell you that is so, so wrong.
Regardless of having a caesarean, my beautiful baby boy was born safely and was healthy and that was all that mattered. I’d have been butchered 10 times over if it meant he arrived safely. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed in myself for not being able to birth him naturally.
So, when it came to my next big wish after giving birth to a healthy baby – how I would feed him – I was absolutely adamant that I was going to exclusively breastfeed. For a while I was very concerned that this wish wouldn’t come true, either. I have absolutely nothing agaist formula feeding and firmly believe in the mantra ‘fed is best’, but breastfeeding was my preference from discovering I was pregnant. So, when Teddy was taken to special care for oxygen and put on formula, I was heartbroken. He was incubated whilst they ran a number of tests including for sepsis and low blood sugar (thankfully all of his results were perfectly fine) and breastfeeding seemed like a total impossibility.
BUT, thankfully, the amazing breastfeeding team at my hospital helped me to hand-express, so that I could take syringes of breastmilk up to special care, where they were fed to Teddy alongside his formula.
The colostrum (the lovely yellow stuff you can see in the syringes above) that we produce in the early days after birth (and sometimes before the birth!) is packed with natural antibiotics, antibodies and nutrients that are crucial for our little ones, and I was so proud to provide my little cherub with everything he needed whilst still recovering from my csection. In the days that followed I was, quite literally, milked by my midwives so that I could give my baby enough breastmilk to warrant them dropping his formula feeds completely. Everybody talks about breastmilk like it’s a magical potion of goodness – and to be honest, it pretty much is. Yet nobody ever tells you that breastfeeding will leave you feeling like an actual dairy cow. And when I reflected on this, I got to thinking about all the other things nobody ever tells you about breastfeeding. Like:
1. The world of clusterfeeding
Once we got the hang of latching, Teddy fed for a solid hour every four hours in his first few weeks of life. In hindsight, this seems intense enough. But at around midnight every night, he would wake up for a feed and would continue until roughly 4am. And no, I’m not exaggerating or trying to be dramatic. He genuinely fed for four hours straight. Every single night.
Theo has never been a baby who cries much, but during these marathon clusterfeeding sessions, if I dared to try and break the latch to wind him, or to pop to the loo or make a drink, he would turn purple in the face and cry until I allowed him to latch back on. Until, of course, he finally dropped back off to sleep at around 4am.
Clusterfeeding typically kicks in when a baby is around three weeks old and can last for months. Unfortunately for me, Theo decided to start just after Michael returned to work (and he works nights) which meant that I was sat alone as a brand new mum, totally unable to move and totally overwhelmed by the fact my tiny human did not want to stop feeding. I felt like the only person in the world sat awake at that time, and it was the only time throughout my entire pregnancy and becoming a mum that I had a bit of a wobble. I felt that motherhood was the biggest blessing in the world, but felt totally overwhelmed, utterly exhausted and incredibly lonely as I sat feeding my precious little boy. Nobody prepares you for the loneliness and exhaustion caused by clusterfeeding and I think they really ought to. Perhaps the experts worry it would put people off and in all honesty, they would probably be right. However, now that we’re past the clusterfeeding stage, I feel INCREDIBLY proud that I stuck it out. My little bear is thriving and that is totally down to the time and love I put in from day one.
2. The ‘favourite boob’ = wonky boobies
We all have one boob slightly bigger than the other, but it’s usually pretty subtle. However, all breastfeeding mummies will tell you that a baby ALWAYS has a favourite boob. What they do not tell you, however, is that the ‘favourite’ boob will end up being roughly the size of a football whilst the other boob stays pretty much the same size as before.
In the early days, Theo would only feed from my right boob and I quickly noticed the size difference. To avoid sore and engored boobs, I began expressing from the left and storing it in the fridge, which was handy for a number of reasons, not least of which being that I had a constant supply to take along if we went out for the day. However, I managed to get him feeding from both when he was around four months old and we have been fine since. However, he still favours my right boob and it is still (and will possibly always be) that little bit bigger than my left.
3. Breastfeeding makes you HUNGRY AF
I have always had a healthy appetite, but I have never known hunger like the hunger I feel during a lengthy breastfeeding session. I will never forget Christmas Day 2019. Theo was roughly four weeks old and feeding for a solid hour at a time. We had a huge Christmas Day Dinner courtesy of Michael’s mum, and then I popped upstairs to feed Theo. By the time I came downstairs an hour later, I was absolutely ravenous and could have eaten the entire meal all over again – starter, main and pudding. Thankfully, she had already started preparing the evening buffet, so I had a little pick at that.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give you here, it’s to ALWAYS ensure you have plenty of food and drinks to hand before your little one snuggles in for a feed. You can thank me later!
4. But you’ll lose your baby weight SO FAST
Breastfeeding burns between 500 and 700 additional calories every single day, which is absolutely amazing. Losing the baby weight genuinely was the last thing on my mind throughout my pregnancy, except perhaps for when I lost all ability to fasten my own shoes. However, I was so pleased to see it dropping off after just a couple of weeks, and it was all thanks to the teamwork between Theo and I which allowed us to successfully breastfeed.
5. You’ll feel your stomach muscles/uterus/other womanly bits contracting as you feed – and it’s every bit as weird as it sounds
It really is. Bear with me.
I remember Michael’s mum mentioning this when I was about five months pregnant, but didn’t really take any notice. Then, when I started breastfeeding Theo, I felt the most bizarre sensation and I suddenly remembered what she had said all those months before.
It sounds weird, but is by no means painful, so please don’t worry. It almost feels like those little kicks we come to know and love whilst growing our little human, only a little more unnerving since we’re holding them in our arms at the time. This is all part of breastfeeding and its magical abilities in helping everything to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size!
6. There are so many health and beauty benefits
Okay, so you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’m going to say it anyway.
When Theo was first born and I was encouraged to breastfeed, I was told about numerous amazing health benefits for both baby and mama if breastfeeding is successfully established. These included breastmilk providing natural antibiotics to your baby – which got me thinking about other possible healing qualities it might have.
When Theo was a couple of days old, he managed to wriggle his little hand free of his integrated sleepsuit mitt and gave himself a nasty scratch across his face. I suddenly had the idea of using a drop of breastmilk like a cream, hoping it would help his cut to heal. I was absolutely amazed when I looked an hour later and the once red and angry cut was a faint little mark. I have since used breastmilk to cure: Nappy rash, baby acne, cradle cap (although he only had the tiniest bit anyway), dry skin and scratches. I have also used it on my own skin to soothe spots and as a makeup remover and I swear to god it is like liquid gold. Absolutely magical stuff.
7. Privacy is a concept long forgotten
When I first started breastfeeding, I was incredibly self-conscious and felt my cheeks burn crimson whenever a midwife asked to check my nipples. However, these reservations were quickly forgotten after I was physically milked by numerous midwives. I quickly stopped dressing based on how much an outfit protected my dignity and instead based each and every outfit choice on how convenient it was for Theo. I also realised that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and there is absolutely no shame in feeding your child in public, so I vowed to stop making it so difficult for myself by trying to protect my modesty whilst also cradling and feeding my son.
8. You will literally choose outfits based on how easily your boob will pop out
I recently saw a meme about how we spend our entire lives trying to avoid a wardrobe malfunction until we become mothers and it really struck a chord with me. As I mentioned above, the early days of breastfeeding were spent trying to awkwardly cover myself with a blanket or muslin cloth so as to avoid an inevitable nipslip. However, I soon realised that feeding Theo was the most natural thing in the world so instead, I dressed for convenience and my life changed completely!
9. It’s a perfect excuse to cuddle up
I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I have absolutely nothing against parents who choose to formula feed their babies. However, I really do feel like breastfeeding gives mamas and their little ones so many extra opportunities to cuddle up together. Even sat on a park bench, I can cuddle Theo to my chest whilst he feeds and embrace a moment of absolute calm with my little one – as I know that one day, he will be too independent to want spontaneous cuddles with his mama, but instead to run free and climb trees.
10. You’ll feel incredibly sad at the concept of your baby deciding enough is enough
This morning, Theo had Weetabix for breakfast and for the first time ever, I prepared it with cow’s milk instead of expressed breastmilk (cow’s milk is perfectly safe for babies from six months if mashed into food, but shouldn’t be given as a drink until your little one is 12 months old).
This might not seem particularly significant, but it really got me thinking ahead. I know that, eventually, Theo will outgrow breastfeeding, which will mean I have done my job and he is all grown up. However, I also know that, being the touchy, emotional wreck that I am, I’ll feel totally redundant and useless. Still, I am so proud of myself for refusing to give up in the early days and for the wonderful little boy my milk has nourished and helped to thrive. Women are amazing and I am so proud of this one right here.
Did you bump into any surprises along your breastfeeding journey? I’d love to know!
Until next time,