Breastfeeding is no joke. Seriously. It takes determination, sacrifice, an unwavering belief that this is what’s best for your baby, and lots of support along the way. When you start, it feels less like a beautiful bonding experience with your new infant, and more like something you have to endure, or simply survive. I totally get it! I breastfed both my daughters, and it was definitely a game of survival in those early days and weeks. From my own experiences, here’s How to Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding. You’ve got this!
To breastfeed or not to breastfeed, that is the question.
Whether you’re a supporter of the ‘Breast is best” or the “Fed is best” campaign, the chances are, you have an opinion on the topic. I’m sure that this debate will be going on for a long time yet. I only hope that as we continue to discuss this sensitive subject, we can always do so with gentleness and grace.
We’re not dealing with mere arguments when we discuss this topic so passionately, but real people. I think we need to re-learn the art form of disagreeing without being uncivil and unkind to each other. We don’t all have to agree with each other, but we can disagree respectfully and without causing offence.
Anyway, I’ll just hop off my soapbox and get back to the matter in hand.
Occasionally, I speak to a mum whose breastfeeding journey has been one of ease and tranquillity, but to be honest, I haven’t found these experiences to be the norm. In fact, usually, it’s quite the opposite.
Statistically, you’re likely to give up
Did you know that according to Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the UK has “one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe.” Yes you did read that right!
You can read the RCPCH’s full position statement here, which was released at the end of 2017.
This says to me that breastfeeding is super hard, support isn’t always that forthcoming and the information being shared about breastfeeding isn’t always that accurate.
The result of which is that less and less women are breastfeeding their infants in the UK.
Breastfeeding rates in the UK decrease markedly over the first weeks following birth. In the 2010 UK Infant Feeding Survey, 81% of mothers in the UK initiated breastfeeding, but only 34% and 0.5% were breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months respectively
RCPCH, Position statement: breastfeeding in the UK
That’s quite a sharp drop in the percentage of mums who breastfeed for the length of time recommended by the World Health Organisation.
The WHO states:
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.World Health Organisation
So how do you do it? How do you Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding and go on to be counted amongst the 34% of mums still breastfeeding at 6 months, or the 0.5% still breastfeeding at 12 months?
Here are 6 essential things you should know as you begin your journey as a breastfeeding mother. If you’re just about to start your breastfeeding journey, I hope they help you succeed, whatever success looks like to you.
No Judgement Here
As an aside, I know that there are lots of mum who choose not to breastfeed for any number of reasons, or who feel like this decision is taken out of their hands by circumstances beyond their control. This is not a judgement on you.
A lot of mums that I’ve spoken to about this topic, felt immense guilt when they finally stopped breastfeeding. Guilt that they had somehow failed their sweet little baby.
This breaks my heart.
And this article is certainly not here to condemn you for the [often difficult] decision that you made when you stopped, or even didn’t start, breastfeeding. So hold your head high! This topic does not define you as a mum.
At the end of the day, what matters is that you are a mom who shows up for your children, treats them kindly, and who does her best to be attuned to their needs. You can do that whether you breastfeed or not. Full stop.Wendy Wisner, Scary Mommy
You can read the full post here: When Breastfeeding Moms Share Their Accomplishments, They Aren’t Shaming You. And you should, it’s excellent and very well balanced.
This post contains affiliate links. This simply means that at no cost to you I get paid some commission if you make a purchase through one of my links. You should know I ONLY recommend products that I have personally USED and LOVE, and that I think you’ll love too! My disclosure policy is a bit boring, but if you want to read it, you can find it here.
So without further ado, here’s How to Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding:
1) Be Prepared
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.Benjamin Franklin
Before I was pregnant with either of my daughters, I assumed that when the time came I would breastfeed.
Psychologically, I assumed breastfeeding would be easy, and a sweet time of bonding between me and my new baby.
Because it’s natural.
I wasn’t prepared for the reality.
There are two ways you need to prepare for breastfeeding: mentally and practically.
I need to tell you something about this super amazing thing called breastfeeding.
Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy.
There I said it.
See related post: 35 Things Nobody Told Me Before I Became A Mummy (It’s not quite ready yet, but if you subscribe here, I’ll let you know when it is!)
The reason you need to hear this is simple. If you approach your breastfeeding journey with unrealistic expectations, you’re going to end up disappointed at best, or simply stop altogether.
It’s going to be hard work in the beginning
For me personally, and I don’t speak for everyone, breastfeeding was THE most stressful part of early motherhood.
It hurts. As in, your toes are probably going to curl, it hurts so much.
It’s stressful. You’ll be wondering if your baby is latched on properly, if she’s getting enough milk, if it’s meant to hurt this much.
It’s all-consuming. Babies feed a lot! Their tummy’s are so little, they can’t eat much in one go. So they feed often. Which means, you’ll be spending the majority of your time feeding.
It’s night and day. Feeding doesn’t stop at night. Babies are hungry 24/7 (or so it feels) so you’re going to be doing a lot of overnight feeds as well.
Also, (and I found this with both of my babies, but I remember it particularly with Sophia), newborn babies are super sleepy.
For those first few days after the birth, Sophia was very sleepy. It was actually a big challenge to get her to wake up long enough to have a decent feed. This is a separate post entirely on how to get a sleepy baby to feed. You can subscribe to my blog here, to be notified when this is ready.
But it does get better later
It’s not all blood, sweat and tears though! That picture I just vividly portrayed, the pain, the stress, the guilt; that’s just at the beginning.
Once you and your baby get the hang of it, it gets good. And it’s amazing how quickly you forget the initial struggle once you’re past it.
Later on, it can be as sweet as you always hoped and imagined it would be.
Stock up on essentials
Did you know that in order to succeed at breastfeeding there are things you are going to need?
Of course, if you and your baby are stranded on a desert island, you’re going to survive. After all, the nuts and bolts of breastfeeding only require a few things: a baby, a mother and a pair of breasts.
But in my experience of breastfeeding two babies, there were some things I found absolutely essential for my success. Keep reading to find out what these things were, and why I found them so indispensable to my breastfeeding story.
Then a great way to be prepared, and therefore survive the first few weeks of breastfeeding, is to stock up. Make sure you have everything you need, practically, to make your early experience as straightforward as possible. This will increase the likelihood of you going on to breastfeed for an extended period of time.
Go to a breastfeeding class
When we were pregnant with Zoe, Alex and I did an NCT course. With 5 other soon-to-be-mums (and a few dads), we met up once a week for about 6 weeks to prepare for what was to come. Labour. Breathing techniques. How to change a nappy. Breastfeeding.
Antenatal classes are so useful in helping you prepare for what’s to come.
Full disclosure: this class did not fully prepare me for what I could expect with breastfeeding (or anything else for that matter). But one thing it did really well, was inform me of all the help available if I needed it later. Which I did.
I suppose in hindsight, the fact that there was so much help available to mums struggling with breastfeeding, should have given me a gentle warning that it might not be all plain sailing. But I didn’t really think about this at the time.
There are other courses available as well. The NHS run antenatal classes which include preparation for breastfeeding. Or there are lots of birthing centres, like this one, who offer classes in breastfeeding. You can even do a breastfeeding course (like this one) online from the comfort of your own home.
As I already mentioned, we chose to do an antenatal course with NCT, so I can’t comment on any of the other offerings. My point is, do something. Do some research for yourself. Find out what’s on offer in your local area. Speak to your midwife or health visitor. And register yourself.
2) Make a Breastfeeding Station
In case you’re wondering, a breastfeeding station is simply a place where you can literally ‘station yourself’ whilst you breastfeed. It literally does what it says on the tin.
What does it look like?
Pinterest is full of beautifully put together and inspiring pictures of breastfeeding stations. Maybe you’ve seen them! They’re lovely aren’t they.
I didn’t have one of those!
I had an armchair in the lounge, which had strategically placed pillows on it, and a little coffee table to the side. On the coffee table was a cardboard box which was stocked up with everything I needed and wanted.
It definitely wasn’t Pinterest worthy, but it did the job.
What’s more important than what your breastfeeding station looks like, is what’s in it.
Essentials for your breast feeding station
Some of these are for you to sit on because you may be a ‘little sore’ after the labour, some of them are for you to put the baby on while you’re feeding, so you don’t have to support the full weight of the baby yourself.
Bottle of water
Make sure this is full before you sit down to feed. Drinking lots of water is super super essential when you’re breastfeeding. Once you’re sitting down to feed, you could be there for a while, so make sure you’re bottle is full before you sit down. If you have visitors, filling up your water bottle, and keeping you hydrated, is something simple they can do to help.
See related post: 17 Rules For Visiting A New Mum
Oh. My. Goodness. I thought I was hungry during my first trimester of pregnancy. This was nothing compared to how ravenous I was postpartum. I mean, if you’re not bringing me food, why are you even visiting me? Make sure that you always have plenty of snacks to keep you going while you’re feeding.
Once your baby is latched on properly and your toes have uncurled themselves, there’s not a great deal to do whilst you’re breastfeeding. It’s the perfect chance to reply to the trillions of messages you’ve been sent from loving well wishers, post the latest baby photos on Facebook and google all those questions you’ve been having about sleep, nappies etc. The last thing you want is for your phone battery to die mid-feed. So always have a phone charger, plugged in, and close by.
In my unpublished, but coming soon post: 35 Things Nobody Told Me Before I Became A Mummy, (subscribe here to be notified when it’s published) I talk about cluster feeding. Literal hours of being pinned to your breastfeeding station. Binge watching your favourite TV shows makes this much more bearable. And it’s the one time you absolutely get control of the remote control. Having a baby is kind of a trump card when it comes to TV negotiations.
I know this sounds quite silly, but imagine how annoying it would be if you’ve just settled down to feed and suddenly you need to sneeze, or your nose is running. Do you really want to spend the next hour sniffing? No, I didn’t think so. Make sure you have a box of tissues in reaching distance.
I’ve realised that muslins have so many purposes when there’s a newborn around. Mopping up dribble and baby sick are just a couple of them. But you definitely want to include a couple of these in your breastfeeding station.
Fan or cardigan
Depending on the time of year your little one arrives, it’s a good idea to have either a fan for hot days or a cardigan for cold days nearby. Your comfort is of paramount importance. Breastfeeding is not easy, but you don’t need to make it even more difficult by being avoidably too hot or cold.
Once you have all these items ready, you can set up your designated ‘Breastfeeding Station.’ Make sure any visitors know this is your seat! And don’t be shy to ask them to move if they somehow don’t recognise all the carefully arrange pillows and other items as an indication that the seat is taken.
3) Have a checklist for leaving the house
If you’ve read my post, Winging It Through Motherhood, you’ll already know that I am not one of those unflappable mums who appears to have it all together. I’m learning as I go, and fine with that.
That doesn’t mean I’m disorganised.
I love having a to do list or checklist to keep me on track.
In those early days with a newborn, baby brain is a constant part of every day life. Having a checklist for leaving the house, is what kept me sane for so many months.
See related post: 4 Things “mum-of-two” me wishes she could say to “mum-of-one” me
This was particularly true for helping me remember everything I needed for breastfeeding whilst out of the house. After all, my lovely breastfeeding station couldn’t come with me.
This list included everything I needed to make sure I had packed before leaving the house with my baby. Alongside dummies, blankie, a fully stocked changing bag (which had a checklist of it’s own), were all the essentials things I needed to successfully breastfeed outside the comfort of my own home.
Here’s what was on my list:
- Breastfeeding cover
- Bottle of water
- Nipple shields (with Sophia)
- Cloth bibs
Each time before we left home, either myself or my husband would run through this list to make sure everything was packed that we would need.
Nothing is worse than being out somewhere and not being able to feed your child. (This only happened to me once, and I had to cut my visit short so that I could go home and feed her).
Some items are more critical than others. For example, with Sophia, I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed if I didn’t take a nipple shield with me.
Other things were more helpful that critical.
And others just made the whole experience easier and more enjoyable for me. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I saved this list as a ‘Reminders’ list on my iPhone. This list was also shared with Alex, so we could tick things off between us on our separate phones and it would tick off the items from the same list.
Very very useful.
I highly recommend you get into list creating. It will save you time and stress later trying to remember everything in the moment. And you can add things to them as you think of it, or take things off when they’re no longer important.
4) Stock Up on Breastfeeding Essentials
I mentioned earlier that in order to Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding, you need to be prepared practically and stock up on all the essential breastfeeding items.
I don’t think I would have survived early breastfeeding and gone on to successfully breastfeed both my daughters, if it wasn’t for these amazing items.
See related post: 25 Essential items to make life easier for every new mum
I used each and every one of these little booby saviours with either one or both of my daughters. And I call them ‘booby saviours’ for a good reason. They got me through the early days and weeks of breastfeeding, with my breasts still intact. Just about.
If you’ve breastfed before, I’m sure a lot of these items will be familiar to you. If you haven’t, trust me, these guys will become your new breast friends.
Get it? Breast friends?! I know, I’m sorry, it’s bad. I’m tired, must caffeinate.
While I go and make myself a cuppa, check out these awesome products:
Basically this cream stops your nipples from falling off. Okay okay, maybe it wasn’t THAT bad, but this cream protects and soothes sore and cracked nipples. I was a little OCD when it came to this cream. Before and after every feed, this little tube would be opened and cream gently applied. And my nipples didn’t fall off, so it must have worked.
Medela Breast Pump
What can I say about this little lifesaver? I mean, even the fact that I’m calling it a lifesaver shows you how highly I valued it’s presence in my life. I’m not going to lie, it’s not cheap. It’s what I like to call an investment. But I have used mine now with two babies and it’s still going strong. And when you’re done being a baby making machine, you can always sell it on.
I can’t stress strongly enough how essential I found this item. Well, not without sounding like I work for Medela (which I don’t). All I can say is, you won’t regret investing in this, and if you’re serious about breastfeeding, this will really really help.
Lansinoh Nursing Pads
My breasts were constantly leaking milk. Nice huh!!
In particular I remember with Zoe, if she went a slightly longer stretch at night without a feed (yippee), I would wake up with a wet t shirt. Or if I didn’t feed her soon enough after she woke up in the morning, they’d start to leak when they heard her crying. Sometimes, one side would even leak whilst I fed from the other side. These nursing pads saved a lot of embarrassment in those early days.
I used these for quite a few months, until feeding was finally established enough that they stopped leaking. These pads were really comfy and discreet during those months. I was so happy with them, that I used them again when I gave birth to Sophia.
Breast feeding cover
I didn’t have this exact cover, but the one I used was very similar in style. When I was at home, I didn’t use my cover. Occasionally, visitors were a bit uncomfortable with me breastfeeding in front of them, but I was generally pretty reluctant to cover up in my own house.
But outside of the house, it was useful. Sometimes for my benefit, as I felt more comfortable being less exposed, especially in the early weeks as we were still getting the hang of it. Other times, it was for the benefit of others. I’ve even given a notice at the front of church, whilst breastfeeding my daughter under a feeding cover. Very discreet.
I honestly hope you never have to use these! The only reason I did was because Sophia had a tongue tie. As a result of this, she had difficulty feeding because she couldn’t latch on very well. As soon as I introduced these, feeding improved immediately. I don’t know whether I would have been able to breastfeed Sophia if I hadn’t discovered these. So for that reason, I am truly grateful and would highly recommend them if you need them.
As amazing as these are, they’re only meant to be used temporarily. So my advice to you is, if you need to use these, go for it! They’re amazing. But wean your baby off them as soon as you can. They’re not intended to be used for long term breastfeeding.
Lansinoh Therapearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy
When my milk came in, and my breasts were rock hard and painful, I VERY quickly discovered these little saviours. You can use them hot or cold, and they massively help to relieve the discomfort of engorged breasts. Trust me, you will not regret buying these. They’re not that expensive, and they’re completely reusable. I even lent mine to a friend recently. They’re fantastic!!
Did I miss anything? Is there anything you would say was completely indispensable for you to Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding? These were definitely my go to items. I made sure they were down from the loft and ready for action before Sophia arrived.
And I’m glad I did as I used them all the second time round as well.
5) Get help
There is so much help available to mums who are struggling with breastfeeding. When Zoe was born, I was constantly stressing about whether she was latching on properly, if she was getting enough milk and whether I was doing it right. Fortunately, there were lots of places to turn for help.
Drop In Centres
Every day of the week there was some kind of breastfeeding drop in clinic open near me. These are run by trained lactation consultants, health visitors and other volunteers with loads of breastfeeding knowledge and experience.
And they exist not only to help you Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding, but to be confident in your abilities and really succeed. They’re super friendly, non judgemental and practically very good at helping you get off to a good start.
I was a bit of a ‘drop in centre junkie’ in those early days and weeks. Even once Zoe was latching on properly and feeding well, I still went along a couple more times just to hear the professionals telling me I was doing well. It gave my confidence a real boost.
When a midwife did a home visit a few days after Zoe was born, she gave some really good advice on positioning and use of pillows. She actually recommended ditching the breastfeeding pillow in favour of normal pillows, as they’re easier to position the way that is most comfortable.
I honestly thought maybe she was an angel, instead of a real life midwife. (no jokes)
And even though I took her advice and ditched my breastfeeding pillow, it wasn’t wasted. It actually turned out to be very useful later as a support for my babies as they were starting to sit up.
Health Visitor Support
My health visitor also offered a lot of useful suggestions and encouragement. Letting me know what help was available, and encouraging me to make use of it. Weighing my baby and showing me that she was making great progress. Answering all my questions without judgement or exasperation.
A combination of all of these got me off to a great start with Zoe, and helped us get Sophia’s tongue tie fixed quickly. I’m extremely grateful to all of these people who transformed my breastfeeding experience.
You don’t need to struggle alone
And the help doesn’t stop there. There are lots of online support groups, such as La Lache League who offer breastfeeding help and run support groups, as well as other Facebook groups set up specifically for breastfeeding mums or for mums with tongue tie babies.
Get the help you need to carry on with your breastfeeding journey. You’ll be surprised by how much help is available if you want it. You don’t have to suffer alone!
If you’re not sure what support is available, speak to your health visitor. She’ll be able to advise you of where and when your local breastfeeding support groups meet. You won’t be the only mum there, and you’ll receive help from experienced lactation consultants and also support from your peers who are struggling with the exact same issues as you!
6) Keep perspective
Remember what’s important.
My breastfeeding story has been different with both of my girls. With Zoe, I exclusively breastfed her for 16 months. This was partly due to the fact that she wouldn’t take a bottle for the first 9 months, so I had no choice.
With Sophia, 2 days into my hospital stay, post-C section, I was encouraged to give her formula top ups. (And when I say, ‘encouraged’, I mean, they told me that I needed to because her blood sugar level was so low. Talk about scaring a new mumma!)
I then subsequently dropped these top ups after a week or so and exclusively breastfed for about 4 or 5 months. After this I did combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding, and eventually stopped breastfeeding when she was about 9 months.
In some ways, I feel a little sad that my breastfeeding journey with Sophia was so short. When I look back, there are ways that I sabotaged it without realising it. I got help at the beginning when I needed it desperately, but I should have got help later when I lost confidence in my milk supply.
I would do things differently if I could.
On the other hand, for purely selfish reasons, formula feeding Sophia gave me a freedom that I didn’t have with Zoe until much later. It’s meant Alex and I have been able to have a night away before Sophia even turned one, and I’ve been able to go out in the evenings. So for these reasons, I can definitely see the benefits of not exclusively breastfeeding.
(Although it’s worth adding, I could also have done these things by expressing milk).
“Breast is Best”
One of the programs I binge watched when I was breastfeeding Zoe was ‘Call The Midwife’. I had never seen this before, and I caught up on about 5 seasons in a few weeks. I pretty much sobbed my way through most episodes, but I was hooked.
(I didn’t have the luxury of daytime TV binge watching the second time round. But that’s a different story entirely!)
One episode I will never forget, in which the ‘Breast is Best’ debate raged, is series 5, episode 2. In this episode, a new mum struggled to breastfeed her baby. Whilst some midwives recommended formula feeding, Sister Evangelina insisted that ‘breast is best’ and that ‘these things take time.’ The new mum took these words to heart, and persevered with breastfeeding despite the fact her baby was losing weight.
To cut a long story short, the baby ended up critically ill, and almost died. Even at this point, the new mum was distressed because she couldn’t feed her baby and felt she had failed as a mum. It was only when her husband intervenes that the baby was saved.
Sister Evangelina was told “You have such influence. Please be careful how you use it.”
Obviously, before you say it, we’ve come a long way since then. This program was set in the late 1950s, early 1960s. There is a lot more support available, and formula feeding isn’t the taboo it was then.
Or isn’t it?
Baby comes first
I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding. There are so many benefits, both for mummy and baby, and I honestly believe it’s the best choice for everyone. But sometimes what is meant as encouragement to keep going when it’s tough, becomes pressure that breast feeding is the only proper way to adequately care for your baby.
This brings with it a feeling of shame when it isn’t going well. Or ends altogether.
When I was in hospital with Sophia and the doctors told me I needed to top up her breastfeeds with formula, I felt awful. I felt that I had let Sophia down, that I had failed.
Because ‘Breast is Best’ innit.
Well, yes, until it isn’t.
We’ve come a long way since the 1950s, but talking to other mums, I find there is still a lot of stigma attached to formula feeding, and mums still feel terribly guilty about not being able to breastfeed.
I like this quote from the Royal College or Midwives:
Royal College of Midwives
If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected.
See full article published in the Independent in June 2018, Midwives told they must respect mothers who decide not to breastfeed.
I think the key is that this is an informed choice, after seeking advice and support.
Define your own success
As I already said, I will always advocate breastfeeding.
Get help and support when you need it. There’s no shame in that! Whatever helps you have a successful breastfeeding story.
To go back to that Scary Mommy article I love and quoted from earlier:
…finding success as a breastfeeding mom means different things to different people. Exclusive breastfeeding isn’t the only way to be a “successful” breastfeeding mom. Sometimes you are faced with low milk supply, a non-latching baby, or a work schedule that makes breastfeeding nearly possible. And so you define your own success as a breastfeeding mom. And yes, that might mean feeding your baby any breast milk at all, for any length of time, whether directly from your breast or not.
But if it’s not working for you, don’t feel bad about stopping. Hold your head high. Your babies wellbeing comes first. And so does your mental health.
So there you have it. Everything you need to know in order to Survive the First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding. Was this helpful?
I’m rooting for you to succeed. I’m standing on the edge cheering you on as you start this leg of your mum journey. You can do this.
So much love to you mumma, I think you’re a rock star!