Caitlin’s Breastfeeding Survival Guide
Breastfeeding can be a highlight of the motherhood journey, but it can also be a season that causes physical pain, anxiety and feelings of clear success or failure, depending on how viewed your own path. First of all, I just want to make something clear – I do not believe breastfeeding is a winning or losing circumstance. If you breastfed for a feed and decided it wasn’t for you and your baby, you’re still a unicorn. If you never chose to breastfeed because you didn’t want to, you’re a unicorn. If you breastfed until your kiddo was 4, you’re probably hungry unicorn (did anyone else get major thirst and hunger when they breastfed? Awkward if that was just me). Moral of the story, you are amazing no matter what. With all that said, I thought it would be handy to put a blog together of some of my top breastfeeding tips for those women out there who may be thinking of breastfeeding their future children, or who are in the thick of nipple chafing. Girls, this one’s for you.
Goal setting is useful, but expectations are not. I broke my breastfeeding goals into tiny, achievable chunks, depending on the type of day or week we were having. At first, I wanted to breastfeed for 6 weeks. Once I set that goal and magically made it to 6 weeks, I wanted to breastfeed throughout the fourth trimester (weeks 1-12), and then it was 6 months. I decided I would ideally like to breastfeed while we travelled to Canada when Henry was 9 months old and then my last goal I set was to feed for a year. I never set any other goals after that because I could feel that Henry was starting a slow self-wean-off, and I didn’t want to set the expectation if it wasn’t something he was interested in as much anymore. I found this helped me when he completely quit by himself, but also made me feel like we didn’t lose or fail.
Listen to advice but make your own decision. If someone asks you why you want to breastfeed, or why you want to wean, you don’t actually need to answer or feel you need to explain yourself. Just like every other choice, your reasons can be private or personal without them being wrong or ill-informed. A part of me was glad when Henry weaned in December 2019 because I wanted to give my body a break before we tried to have another baby and the whole shebang began again. I said this to someone once and they replied with, ‘you can still feed and be pregnant though, did you know?’ to which I replied yes. I knew I could, but I didn’t want to. I could also go and run through a campfire, but I choose not to, because that’s my choice. You don’t need to justify your choices to anyone, even your amazing Grandma who doesn’t understand why you chose to breastfeed in the first place. Love you Grandma!
Some products are totally worth the investment. This paragraph is not endorsed, and I am totally happy to do free advertising for the products I’m about to rave about. My top pick of products that I would invest in to pop in your medicine box before your baby comes is nipple shields. These have divided opinions, as I know many mums who found they didn’t help, but they epically helped me. I wouldn’t have breastfed as long as it did without them. They come in different sizes and I am pretty sure are around $20 max, depending on the brand. I have Avent ones and found them easy to use and clean. I also lived on Hydrogel Breast Discs especially though the fourth trimester. They are clever technology that heals and cools the skin around your nipple in between feeds. The best part is, they are reusable, so you won’t be burning through boxes at a time. The last product that helped me recover from mastitis the third time and kept it at bay from then on was a probiotic called Qiara. It is a dissolvable, tasteless powder you can stir through a hot or cold drink (I liked it in juice), which helps the balance of healthy bacteria in you and your baby. It reduced blockages in my milk ducts and cleared the mastitis completely, without me having to take antibiotics. I also took it if I felt a sneaky lump taking form and after 48 hours after having it, the lump would be gone. Its magic, I swear.
There are also lots of free things you can do to help your body. Having a baby can be an expensive venture, so I also wanted to highlight a few things you can do that are free to help your body with breastfeeding. If you feel like your breasts are becoming sore or lumpy, a hot shower can help. Locate the lump and massage towards the nipple to try and get the milk flowing and loose. When milk forms a lump in the breast duct, it has a consistency of toothpaste. Heat and movement will help thin and ‘melt’ it back to liquid consistency. Get onto this trick sooner rather than later to avoid it getting infected as this may turn into mastitis. If you find your nipples are becoming damaged, hand express some breastmilk and try to collect it in a small cup or hand pump. Cover the sore areas with the collected breastmilk as this will heal them quickly between feeds but make sure you use clean hands when doing this. Lastly make sure you are drinking a lot of water and snacking throughout the day to help keep your energy levels up.
Lactation consultants are always happy to help. If you’re in doubt, just ask. There is no point suffering in silence, as a lot of breastfeeding issues can be worked through and diagnosed. There are many free breastfeeding clinics throughout New South Wales that run weekly, and many other free support groups throughout Australia. It can be a bit scary rocking up with an unsettled baby, grazed nipples, and your maternity bra only half-clipped on, but honestly, all the mums there are in the same storm as you. They give you free advice, discuss types of positioning suited to your body type, give you referrals, and can weigh your baby if you need a bit of reassurance. There are also a number of paid lactation consultants that offer a more tailored service. I reached out to Amberley Harris who is a Melbourne based private practitioner when I was battling mastitis and over supply. She was caring, thorough, understanding of our situation and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Check out @maternalinstinctsbyamberley for all her tips, tricks and strategies.
Breastfeeding can feel lonely at times. It can feel lonely at 1am, when your gorgeous husband is snoozing away next to you. It can feel lonely when you have to pump on your only lunchbreak in your working day. It can feel lonely when you need to retreat to a bedroom to feed at a family function. It can feel lonely when others around you aren’t supportive. Girls, you may feel epically lonely, thirsty, hungry and smothered, but it is a season, and better days come quicker than you realise. Focus on a feed at a time, and celebrate the things that go well, even if that moment is a successful latch or dodging spew.