As a first-time expectant mum, Sujatha Ram, 28, did everything by the book. She ate prenatal vitamins religiously, turned up for every single prenatal visit, signed up for antenatal classes and read top parenting books.
She thought she couldn’t have been more prepared. She was wrong.
“Once baby came, all the theories I thought I was going to apply flew out of the window,
says Sujatha. “This was especially true when it came to breastfeeding. No one really knows how it’ll actually turn out.”
Breastfeeding is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. However, this doesn’t make it any easier, especially not when you’re doing it for the first time. Unlike how the pregnancy books and antenatal classes portray it to be, nursing is also not as simple as baby meets nipple. There is so much more that happens (or doesn’t happen) when you’re trying to establish a nursing relationship with your little one.
Many of these surprises tend to blindside new mums and feeling alone in their struggles. Here are common breastfeeding experiences people highlight often enough, although it should. Because being aware and preparing mentally for them can ease a lot of stress that comes with breastfeeding, making it a more enjoyable experience.
Breastfeeding is great when it works out for everyone, but there will be days when it’ll get emotionally and physically draining.
Surprise #1 Baby will have a perfect latch
The perfect latch is definitely attainable, just not on your first try… or your second, or even your third, for that matter. The first few days will be all about trial and error. You’ll be trying out the various breastfeeding positions ― the cradle, the football, the crossover, baby-led nursing ― to figure out which one suits you and bub the best. At the same time, your peewee is also perfecting his latch, which can only come with lots of practice. As you help him along, your breasts are bound to feel a tremendous amount of pain from all that latching, unlatching, re-latching, unlatching…well, you get the idea. Nipple cream is your BFF during this time, mums!
Surprise #2 It will be a magical, bonding experience
After bub chomps down on your breast and you get over that rude shock, you’ll gaze down at him adoringly and think about the wondrous breastfeeding journey you’re both embarking on. It will be an overwhelming emotional moment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay that way, not all the time anyway. Yes, there will still be those beautiful moments of snuggle-time when you’re feeding your wee one. But then baby also feeds round the clock, usually every two hours, and don’t forget those marathon cluster feeding sessions. It’s bound to tire you out and you’ll soon realise not every feeding session will look as perfect as the pictures you see on those breastfeeding posters. Nor is there any shame to admitting it. Breastfeeding is great when it works out for everyone, but there will be days when it’ll get emotionally and physically draining. Just remember you’re doing a great job, mama!
Surprise #3 Your baby will love it
“Breastfeeding my daughter was so easy from the start that I thought it was going to be the same for my son. However, every time I brought him near my breasts, he would start screaming,” recalls mum-of-two Nicole Tan. It’s still unknown why some babies just don’t like the breast. But instead of forcing them to suckle, which can traumatise both mummy and her mini-me, experts encourage pumping and bottle-feeding instead. Go ahead and top up with some formula if you have to, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Surprise #4 You will love it
It’s hard to love something that hurts and makes you feel insecure. Although most mums don’t talk about it openly enough, breastfeeding isn’t all unicorns and rainbows from the start. You know you’re giving your baby the best, yet your nipples are cracked and bleeding, you’re not sure if the latch is good or if you’re producing enough milk. All these doubts will affect your confidence as a first-time mum. “Breastfeeding was hard the first time round, especially also because my baby was a preemie and wasn’t latching onto both breasts,” says Eunice Teo. “But since I was still producing enough to fill him up, I continued ― honestly, I only started enjoying it five months later when it started getting easier.” The conversation around breastfeeding struggles new mums face is increasing. However, if you feel like you need help coping, it’s always a good idea to talk to another mum or a professional therapist as these feelings are common triggers for post-natal depression.
Another common issue, which is still relatively unknown, is a condition called insufficient glandular tissue, where a woman doesn’t have enough of the milk-producing tissues in her breasts.
Surprise #5 Baby will get enough to eat
“It took us about three days, with the help of a lactation consultant, to perfect my baby’s latch, but I couldn’t understand why he kept on crying after every breastfeeding session,” says mum Katherine Thomas. “When he started losing weight, that’s when the doctor told me I was probably not producing enough milk and my baby was crying from hunger.” While all mums are encouraged to breastfeed and there are ways to boost the supply, a certain percentage of women actually can’t physically produce sufficient milk. This is due to several health conditions, including thyroid disorders, a retained placenta, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hormonal disorders. Another common issue, which is still relatively unknown, is a condition called insufficient glandular tissue, where a woman doesn’t have enough milk-producing tissue in her breasts. Unfortunately, this something not all mums-to-be are aware of, which means that they’re unprepared for it. Such conditions only come to light when baby starts losing weight and is constantly unsettled and fussy.
Surprise #6 You will be able to hear bub suck and swallow
That’s what all the pregnancy and breastfeeding books say anywa. Unlike with bottles, where you know exactly how much baby drinks, or if he’s drinking, the boob isn’t able to give you such a clear indication. So, lactation consultants advise that you look ourfor the sucking and swallowing action. “But it was quite hard to figure it out initially, maybe because it was only the thick colostrum he was drinking and not the actual milk,” Teo notes. “I remember I would stare at my baby during feeding and would bend over to listen closely to see if I can hear him ‘gulp’. But I really couldn’t hear or see anything.” If looking out for sucking and swallowing motions are driving you crazy as well, there are other ways to ensure baby is feeding well. Your breasts will feel softer and less full after a feed, bub continues to put on weight, is wetting at least six nappies in a day and is generally satisfied and happy after a feed.
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