I did a lot of preparation for the arrival of my daughter. I read the books, went to classes, scoured the internet to find out what my baby was doing during each day of the pregnancy… you know, all the normal stuff. Nothing could have prepared me for the crippling sleep deprivation or the alarming increase in laundry, but what I really wasn’t prepared for (and could have been with the right information) was my experience in establishing breastfeeding.
The four things I wish I had known are not secrets and in fact with hindsight some of them seem just common sense, but like lots of other new mums, I had no reason not to take the images of maternal bonding and instant latch-on at face value.
1) I wish had known that everyone would have an opinion about how I feed my baby. Not just that, but an opinion about why she wasn’t latching on, why my milk hadn’t come yet and what I should be doing differently. I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t for the fact that 99% of those opinions were based on their own situation and not mine. I have to admit that the unrestrained opinion and judgement from all sides took me by surprise.
2) I’m not saying I would have done anything differently, but I wish I had been more informed about the effect that pain relief could have on my baby’s ability to breastfeed straight after birth and my milk supply. As I attempted to feed my baby, midwives told me that it might well not work because she was sleepy after the diamorphine I had during my 40 hour labour. An informed decision about pain relief would have made it easier to come to terms with the potential effects.
3) It sounds silly now but I think I really thought that if I followed the instructions and took help from the midwives, then everything would go swimmingly. Baby in a straight line, nose to nipple … baby opens their mouth and the rest is history. The books and classes dealt with some problems that might come up (engorgement, mastitis) but nothing as fundamental as what to do if the baby just never opens their mouth! The experts who I asked for help simply followed the same steps as I had religiously memorised from my breastfeeding leaflet and when they didn’t work they had no plan B. As a result I, being unprepared for this scenario, was also stumped.
4) I wish I had know that it would be hard, really really hard. The video we were shown at our antenatal class showed a woman give birth and then successfully start breastfeeding as if it were as simple as making a cup of tea. I’m not exaggerating – it was the breastfeeding equivalent of those wartime propaganda campaigns. I was about to give birth to my first baby, I’d had a healthy pregnancy and I just wanted everything to go well, so why wouldn’t I believe it? It would be perfectly possible to give women realistic information whilst still telling them all of the benefits of breastfeeding, then they could cope more effectively if it doesn’t happen immediately and probably more would persevere.
I don’t blame the hospital staff, midwives, books or the internet for the fact that my baby could not take milk directly from me. Even if I had known all of the above, I don’t think she would have had more breastmilk than she has had via a breast pump. However, more knowledge would have allowed me to spend more time in those first few weeks enjoying my new baby, and less time worrying about why I wasn’t like the lady in the video.