Breastfeeding. It’s an emotive topic isn’t it? As a GP I have spoken to many mums about it and everyone has had a different experience. Some people absolutely love it, others not so much. Some have an easy time from the get go, others have lots of different issues and go through absolute hell trying to establish breastfeeding. Some have no problems along the way, others have to deal with mastitis, cracked nipples and low milk supply. Some breastfeed for 12+ months, others for shorter periods of time.
Having seen many women who have had problems, I appreciate how lucky I was with my breastfeeding journey. We managed to establish feeding fairly well in hospital. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing but my midwife was so helpful. It took a few goes to really feel like I had the latch right and even though I knew the colostrum was there I was so anxious about whether that would actually be enough. When we got home it took me a little while to figure out the most comfortable position and latching also took many goes initially. However I felt like I settled into things pretty quickly in the first couple of weeks. I exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months then continued until my daughter was 15 months old. Returning to work made the weaning process very quick! I absolutely loved breastfeeding. It was my quiet bonding time with her and I was so happy to have been able to do it for so long.
However as with everything, it didn’t come without its obstacles. Feeding in public for the first time was interesting (!) I tried with a large muslin but found it so difficult and got really flustered. I ended up buying a breastfeeding apron the next day which was so handy. I had to be careful with alcohol (when you have a newborn sometimes all you want is a drink right?!). I always had to be there if she needed me for a feed as she never took to the bottle even though we introduced it at around 7-8 weeks old. 30mls was the largest volume we ever achieved! Having to wear feeding friendly clothes all the time was actually quite hard/boring – sounds trivial but it was tough doing this every single day for 12+ months! Breastfeeding through a mini heatwave is also no mean feat. Shoutout to all the Mums who have been doing recently. I was so hot and bothered! And there was the time I got gastroenteritis and was bedridden for about 36 hours completely worried I wouldn’t be able to feed her or keep up with supply.
I am sharing my experience because I think it’s good to hear a variety of stories and it will show that not one journey is exactly the same. The bottom line for me however is that there is absolutely no right or wrong. Breastfeeding can be a truly wonderful thing but it can also cause a lot of sadness, disappointment and guilt. Everyone seems to have an opinion and feels they need to offer that to you. I always say to any Mum that I see that you just have to do what works for you and I will always find ways to support them as best I can. Your feeding journey is exactly that – it’s yours.
With my GP hat on, I have jotted down a few pieces of advice for breastfeeding mums:
- Did you know breast size has nothing to do with whether or not you will be able to breastfeed? Fatty tissue determines breast size but it is glandular tissue that develops during pregnancy that is important with milk production. Small breasted Mums sometimes worry but this is a myth!
- It can be hard. Really hard. You might have difficulty establishing a good latch, you might find it painful. The midwives at the hospital should help you and if you don’t feel comfortable then say so!
- Ask for help. If it’s painful or things still aren’t feeling right, ask someone. There might be some local breastfeeding drop-in groups or you can see a lactation consultant. I will be the first one to say that seeing your GP to help with breastfeeding might not be the most helpful from a practical point of view e.g. helping with latch. However we CAN support you from a psychological perspective if you are finding things tricky.
- Mastitis is a condition which causes breast tissue to become painful and inflamed. It is most common in the first three months after giving birth. Symptoms to look our for include: red swollen area or breast lump that might feel hot or painful to touch, a burning pain in the breast, nipple discharge which may be blood stained, fever and chills. Please contact your GP if you think you might have mastitis as this should be treated promptly. You need to be assessed and a course of antibiotics and self-help measures should usually do the trick.
Dr Stephanie Ooi works privately at https://myhealthcareclinic.com/