Anyone that tells you that breastfeeding is easy was one of the lucky ones. I was not a lucky breastfeeding mother. I struggled. A lot. I also found that I received a ton of “helpful” unsolicited advice that was quite frankly terrible advice and made me feel like a failure and also on more than a few occasions was the cause of more struggling and failure.
After struggling to breastfeed my daughter for 6 months before giving up and then (mostly) successfully breastfeeding my son for 13 months this is the breastfeeding advice I have for new mothers that are struggling with breastfeeding.
It CAN Hurt – Yes Even With A Correct Latch!
When I started breastfeeding my first baby it hurt like hell. There is no other way to say it. My baby latched on, clamped down and sucked like crazy, it was like being attacked.
When I told people how much it hurt the response was always that my baby was not latching correctly. She was latching correctly from the start – this was confirmed by the nurses and now that I have had over 18 months of breastfeeding experience I can look back and confirm yet again there was nothing wrong with the latch.
Yes it is true that if a baby does not latch properly it can cause pain and sore cracked nipples. This was just not the case with my daughter. I have since done some research and she is what is known as a barracuda baby – a ferocious feeder and yes it can cause a lot of pain.
Supply and Demand
This is something that I was not aware of when I first started breastfeeding but the concept is very simple. Your body will make enough milk for your baby, it just needs to know how much your baby needs. The only way your body will know your baby needs more milk is when your baby insists on nursing more often.
When your baby goes through a growth spurt he will nurse more often. This does not mean that you don’t have enough milk, it simply means that your baby is going to need more milk and your body needs to know to make more milk. This is a perfectly natural phase and by letting your baby nurse more often this will jump start your milk production.
Do Not “Top Up” Feeds
This is without a doubt the WORST advice I was ever given. During my baby’s first growth spurt I was worried that my baby was not getting enough milk because she wanted to nurse all the time and she was crying for milk for a few days even right after a feed.
Someone told me to nurse her and then give her a bottle of formula afterwards. I followed this advice and the end result was devastating. Yes having ready to feed formula was convenient and easy but it came with consequences.
Because my baby was getting what she needed from a bottle my body did not get that extra stimulation and did not know to produce more milk for her growing needs. Over time my daughter was getting most of her nutrition from formula and less and less from me.
By the time my baby girl was 6 months old she was bottle feed and our breastfeeding journey was over.
With my son I knew better and I made a decision not to give him any formula and I had so much milk that I sometimes had to express to get some relief. I gave my extra breast milk to the house of safety in our area to feed the babies there.
Feed On Demand
Another useless piece of advice I was given was to breastfeed my baby on a schedule to “teach my baby” when it was time to eat. Honestly looking back I cannot think of anything more silly to do. I would try and distract my poor baby girl when she woke up because it “wasn’t time” for her next feed.
With my son once again things went so much easier, because I followed my baby and not a schedule.
There Is NO Time Limit
My first baby was all business. She would clamp down and drink like crazy. She would drain one side in 4 or 5 minutes flat and then hit the next side with the same speed. Within 10 minutes she would have drained both my breasts and had no interest in nursing further.
My second baby was not exactly a slow feeder but compared to my daughter it was like the tortoise and the hare. He would drink steadily and with no nonsense. It would take about 10 or 15 minutes a side.
I was told so many different things by people. A common bit of advice that I was given was that my baby must feed for at least 20 minutes on each side otherwise baby is not getting enough to eat. I was told to keep my baby awake and keep offering the breast until baby has nursed for 20 minutes a side.
This is the biggest load of nonsense in my opinion. Follow your baby not the clock when it comes to when to feed your baby and how long on each side.
Get to know your baby – each baby is different with a different nursing style.
Join The La Leche League for Best Breastfeeding Advice
Instead of taking advice from anyone that throws it at you, rather join the La Leche League South Africa group on Facebook. If you are concerned about anything or struggling you can post a question in that group and you will get a lot of supportive responses from other breastfeeding moms, many of them with years of experience.
And if anyone gives you shoddy advice in that group they will be challenged by other members so you can really get a good idea of what is the right way to do things and what is not.
If you are given some advice by someone then post that advice in the group and ask the members what they think before following it.
I wish I had been in that group when I breastfed my first baby. Perhaps then I would not have followed all the advice and old wives tales.
Breastfeeding In Public
It can be daunting to breastfeed in public and yes you may get some stares and comments from people. Breastfeeding in public is a very personal choice, With my first baby I was very insecure and I was a very unsure mother.
By the time my son came along, an avid breastfeeder, I got over my insecurities and fed him wherever we went. I tried to be discreet but did not always succeed.
If you want to breastfeed in private go for it, if you want to breastfeed in public go for it and if you want to feed your baby in public without covering up that gets my vote too.
I cannot understand why, in a world where there is so much sexualization of women all over the place with boobs hanging out anyway suddenly feeding your baby in public should be taboo? Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and if you want to breastfeed don’t let anyone stop you or make you feel ashamed.
Weaning Your Baby
This can be such an emotional time. I was honestly not expecting to be able to breastfeed my son for 13 months. It was a huge achievement.
The problem though is that breastfeeding took a huge toll on me. The first thing is that I chose not to be on my medication for bipolar disorder during pregnancy and breastfeeding, I was too worried it would be dangerous for my babies.
This meant that I had to try and keep my mental health stable, while coping with a serious lack of sleep. In addition to that my son was a very enthusiastic eater. No matter how much I ate I could not keep the weight on and I was constantly sick. It was like he was sucking the soul out of me.
I decided to wean him at 13 months and give myself a break. I did this by getting some medication from my doctor and then my husband took my son away to his dad’s house for a few days while my milk dried up.
Many people told me that this was cruel and I should have done it more gently.
It’s funny because before I weaned my boy I had people making comments that I shouldn’t still be breastfeeding and should have weaned him at a much younger age. Then when I weaned him I was bombarded by people saying I should continue to breastfeed him and let him wean himself when he is ready. So no matter what you do you will have people throwing their opinions at you!
Weaning is not an easy process and each mom needs to decide what is best not only for her baby but for herself.
I put my son’s needs before my own for 13 months and then I decided that my mental and physical health needed to have priority. I will not apologize or feel bad for that.
Likewise whatever way you choose to wean your child off the breast is your business, nobody else’s. I see so many moms asking for advice for weaning in my Kaboutjie community group and my heart goes out to them.
Weaning your baby off the breast is not easy. It can come with physical consequences, for example I got mastitis for the first time – so NOT a pleasant experience!
Plus the emotional side is huge. That close bonding experience is coming to an end.
Sometimes It Just Does Not Work Out
There may be many reasons you do not succeed with breastfeeding. My mother tried breastfeeding me, as well as both my sisters. She was not successful and she had nurses and lactation consultants pinching her boobs and telling her that she can breastfeed and of course she has milk when the fact is my mother had no milk. My older sister also tried to breastfeed and her milk did not come in.
Many women have milk but their babies do not pick up weight and sometimes women have so much difficulty with breastfeeding that they decide to switch to bottle feeding.
I will be honest that when my daughter started preferring the bottle to nursing I was not all sad about it. I found breastfeeding so hard, sore and draining.
You Are NOT A Bad Mother
Whether you want to breastfeed your baby and find it doesn’t work out, or perhaps you choose from the outset that you want to formula feed your baby that is just fine. It does not mean you are a bad mother or that you are a failure.
Each of us must make our own choices as mothers and we all have our reasons for our choices. It is our bodies, our babies and our lives, be confident as a mother and be kind to yourself.
I loved your site on breastfeeding I certainly related to your topic. I too was told a lot of rubbish when I first breastfed my daughter and my son.
I have never heard of a Barracuda Baby, and I do agree to follow your babies needs. We used to call it demand feeding.
I don’t understand why breastfeeding your baby is taboo outside of the family home. Feeding your baby is a natural process; I often feel we are still in the Queen Victoria era.
Oh my soul this was such a great read. I’m struggling with severe weight loss. My boy is 18 months now. I was underweight during pregnancy and he was purely breastfed for 6 months. I was on a shake for inbetween meals, hubby cooked cleaned etc to help me be with our boy and feed him but I’m at the point now where he’s verging on 2 years and my body is sore it feels like it’s eating itself away. I snack all day but due to finances I can’t always afford the healthier snacks but I make do where I can with home grown veggie smoothies . Thank you for your openness and kindness to all momma’s regardless of our choices. It’s so refreshing
Hazel I can so relate to being so tired – I felt like my son was sucking the soul out of me! It was just became too much for me.
I.enjoyed this post and it has given me a ton load of confidence as I was once again (for the third time) face the silly comments from people as to breastfeeding.
I agree that breastfeeding kn demand is good for both and baby. As for growth spurts, its important to follow your child’s lead and I agree not to top up with formula. The spurt only lasts 2 days at most and if you follow the chart, you will soon know when your child is going through a growth spurt and prepare yourself for it (mentally and emotionally as it is a draining time).
Wonderful post! I enjoyed reading it even though I am not yet a mother. Inability to breastfeed is a common problem. I find your advices in place and very helpful. I escpecially like the last part of post when you say that women should not feel guilty if they cannot breastfeed their babies even though they do everything they can. Thank you for helping women this way!
Although I do not have a baby, I can relate to receiving unsolicited – and often bad – advice. Unsolicited advice can also often end up hurting you, so if advice is not wanted or asked for, people should really keep it to themselves. As for mental health, you are very right in trying to look after yourself. In order to be a good mother you must look after yourself and your mental health too, right? I think that people often comment or give advice without knowing the full picture …
It’s great that you have this support group where you can exchange useful advice for each other.
I also agree with you about breastfeeding. No one says anything about scantily dressed women on the street _ and I wouldn’t either, we’re all free to dress however we want – but if the commenters remain quiet about women who dress in sexy and/or revealing clothes, then I do not see why those same people would complain about a woman who is breastfeeding in public, which is only a natural thing to do.
My sister was always crying when she breastfeed saying it painful I wonder why ?
I really love and enjoy breastfeeding but my baby bite my nipple ? everyday
Baby was born at 4.1kg and my milk didn’t come in while I was in hospital. It was horrid. She would cry and fuss because my milk just wasn’t enough. Being topped with formula allowed her to eat and so we both could get some sleep.
I felt so horrible that I couldn’t give her what she needed! I was given something to help my milk come in, a few days later my breasts were swollen and I really didn’t know how to handle it. I read about a suction pump on the La Leche League group. Game changer! That helped us a ton. Also pumped just enough to provide relief. I had mastitis with my first baby and I was convinced I’d get it again because my breasts were so swollen. Worrying about feeds is so exhausting.
I definitely empathise with moms who have difficulty breastfeeding. I’m lucky enough that all is well now and I’m so grateful for it.
Excellent advice. I had forgotten quite a few of these points. Breast feeding my son was one of the most challenging journeys I had ever embarked on and now 5 years down the line I look forward to doing it again with (surprise) baby number 2.
Still sad about not being able to breastfeed my son.. At first he took my nipple but I guess he wasn’t getting enough out of it and would scream when I tried breast feeding.. I pumped for a bit but started getting horrible knee pain and after a night at emergency room it just dried up.
Never struggled with both my kids, the last born is still breastfeeding and she’s 14 months now. I produce more milk than normal, my daughters refuse to suck because it was too much. And I will have to pump on a bottle first to reduce the milk. And my breast will be leaking so much. Even now when am breastfeeding on the right breast the left one is leaking like crazy. Now its better than b4 cos I would wake up so wet with milk even when I’ve put on breast pads
You are so fortunate to have so much milk Nthabiseng – you should really consider donating some!
I can relate bcz M now breastfeeding twins, it hurts sometimes… It’s not an easy journey but it’s a great experience ??
Love reading these candid, real-life experiences. Prepping for my first baby has my anxiety levels all over the place. Reading first-hand experiences really comforts me.
Congrats on your pregnancy Chrisna – you will do great, yes becoming a mother is quite the transition but you will adjust and find your way! Trust yourself.