I have breastfed (and mixed fed) my three children, but the first run through was excruciating.
My babe had a “perfect latch” as commented by every midwife who watched me feed my baby those first days and weeks. Yet, it was still so painful. Occasionally, I guess she got it wrong, and I wound up with “grazes” as they call it, which was basically damage to myself as she figured out the whole feeding thing. This alone caused my first days (or six weeks, rather) of breastfeeding to be far less than a blissful experience of bonding with my baby.
A typical feeding session in the first weeks went a little like this. Pick up hungry baby (not yet crying, good). Cringe as I bring her to the breast and latch her on just how I was shown. Keep cringing and nearly crying, or eventually crying because it just hurt that much. Pry her mouth off while cringing even more to try to re-latch because “it shouldn’t hurt if she’s latching correctly.” Do this again and again. Finally give up and just wince through feeding the baby. Repeat for six weeks and dread feeding baby. Pray between feeds that the hydrogel discs and expressed milk and other concoctions had some sort of magical healing properties that would make the pain go away. Finally, give in and feed bottles of formula a couple times a day because feeding is that painful. Cry. Feed the baby another bottle because my husband is hurting for me watching me try and try again. Ask people for remedies which don’t help. Power through.
I wanted to share some of the products that helped me in those early days of breastfeeding that proved invaluable to feeding my first for 16 months. I didn’t expect to go for that long at all, but was thankful we did. It also made it easier to have these from the get go the second and third time around!
1. Hydrogel Breast Discs: These are an essential for me, as they are soothing after a feed, and when you are sore. If you have scrapes or grazes, it’s perfect to help with those, too. I have heard some put them in the fridge for an even more soothing feel. In Australia, Rite Aid hydrogel breast discs seem to be the best buy and work wonderfully for those tender days! You can find them in most chemists, groceries, baby stores, and department stores with a baby section (and of course, online with Bubsessed.com.au).
I’ve also read two other things for helping yourself adjust to feeding in order to minimise the pain. 1. Don’t wash the breast with soap/body wash, but water only. I was told it could make breastfeeding more painful and dry out the nipple. 2. Express a little breast milk after feeding and let everything air dry if possible.
2. Breast Pads: disposable or reusable, breast pads are an essential for early breastfeeding.
No one tells you that you can leak from one side when you feed from the other. Or, that it’s possible to randomly leak milk, leaving you red faced in front of guests who happen to drop by. Be prepared and keep some on hand!
An alternative to breast pads is the Modibodi nursing singlet, which holds liquid like breast pads, but without them moving all around your bra or shirt.
3. A good water bottle: Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy and makes you feel like you are making a trip through the desert. Find a good water bottle if you use tap water, or stock up on disposable water bottles! I’ve always liked straw style water bottles, when you don’t want to move because your baby has FINALLY fallen asleep.
4. Good, healthy meals: Breastfeeding makes you ravenous (at least that’s my experience, especially right after birth). A good meal will not only keep up your energy, but also helps you feel better all around! There are some meal suggestions here if you are after some new ideas for your recipe rotation or ideas to freeze before baby arrives.
5. Vitamins: My iron levels always seem to be low when I am breastfeeding or pregnant, so my go to is Blackmore’s Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Gold. I know there are a lot of vitamins out there, and I’ve tried a few. These seem to work the best for me, and give a boost of energy when I am lacking just that. Discuss options with your doctor or pharmacist for your best recommendations.
6. Breast Shells: Whether or not you are exclusively breastfeeding or plan to express or give formula (or a combination of any of those), you will leak. Especially when feeding. I found the breast shells caught a bit of milk that could be refrigerated and combined with other bottles at the same temperature. In the early days, they were essential and I felt better not losing precious milk.
See guidelines for storing and expressing breastmilk here
7. Burp Cloths/Cloths to wipe rogue milk: I’ve always found Square cloth nappies to be particularly useful for keeping bub and me dry while feeding or pumping. There may be times when baby unlatches or spits up after feeding, so it’s always good to have handy. When expressing, it’s helpful to have to dry yourself and the pump off.
8. A helpful friend or professional: We all need encouragement and a little help, so don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows what they’re talking about if you have questions or need help with anything breastfeeding related (or baby related for that matter). Helpful places to look for professionals or information would be The Australian Breastfeeding Association, La Leche League, your child & family health nurse, lactation consultant, or see your healthcare professional for a referral. And helpful tip when asking for help, always be sure to speak up for yourself and your baby if you feel something isn’t going right and advocate for yourself and baby. Seek a second opinion if necessary.
Optional Extras which some people find useful can also include: A Breastfeeding pillow (like the Boppy), a comfortable chair, a Breastfeeding cover for public places, nursing bras, and nursing clothes. I do can with or without these depending on where I am going or feeding. I’ve learned to roll with it (and without at times).
A good silicone breast pump: For when you have clogged ducts, or want to save milk similarly to the breast shells. The silicone pump suctions to the breast. The Haakaa silicone pump is a well known and trusted brand, along with the Made to Milk and Mumasil brands of silicone breast pump/milk saver.
Warm & Cool Breast Packs: for warming or cooling for relief. Use it warm when you need to encourage milk and during pumping (use it with a pump!) or when you have clogged ducts to help relieve them, or cool when they are just sore and aching.
If you plan to express or bottle feed breastmilk (or even formula) these items can come in handy, too!
1. A breast pump: There are a few different kinds and each have their perks. Manual pumps are less expensive, but require more work on your part. Some can be tiring or even painful to use. It’s also essential to make sure the breast shield for your particular pump fits, and to get a better suited one should it not. Here you can find a ruler to print out to help you figure a breast shield size, or here you can chat to someone and send through photos to better understand if your shield is the proper size.
Of the brands I’ve tried, Pigeon makes a decent manual pump which is easy to use for my weak wrists and still effective at expressing and affordable. Medela is also known to make good manual and electric breast pumps.
Electric pumps come in single and double options. Singles are usually cheaper than doubles, but will take twice as long if you need to Express from both sides. A double will tend to be more expensive, however less time intensive.
There are also two classes of systems, open and closed, and the closed systems are supposed to be more hygienic, because they prevent milk from spreading into the tubing.
Of the brands I have tried for electric pump, my favourites were Medela and Spectra. Spectra have a sale on every six months or so, so you can keep a lookout for that!
2. Bottles & Teats: Well all that expressed milk or formula has to go somewhere! There are so many options for bottles out there! The main kinds I’ve found are wide necked, narrow necked, and varying shapes of the nipple. Glass and plastic bottle options are available. Sometimes you have to find what works for your baby though.
Some of the brands I have seen mums say work best with their babies are Tommee Tippee, Avent, Minbie, Comotomo, Mam and Medela. My babies all preferred wide neck styles like Tommee Tippee.
Be sure to check and change bottle teats often and replace as instructed by the manufacturer.
3. A bottle brush: A sponge just doesn’t get everything. Some come with a special teat brush which you can use to scrub the inside of the nipple of the bottle.
4. Soap that actually washes breast milk/formula residue away!
We all know how stubborn that milk is when you try to wash it. Bottles wind up cloudy and filmy even after you’ve scrubbed a million times over! Get a good cleanser specifically for breast milk. I’ve tried the Medela Quick Clean Soap and the Milton brand soap and they both work well!
If you need something to quickly wipe breast pumps or bottles while on the go, Medela also makes quick clean wipes.
5. Breastmilk bags: Much easier to store in the freezer! Get ones specific to your brand of pump if you use one, or find more bargain ones. We used the Swisspers or Cherub baby brand. There are even bottle systems that work with breast milk bags like the Tommee Tippee Express and Go, or adaptors which can hook breastmilk bags up to your brand of pump.
(Handy tip, always defrost frozen milk in a bowl, just in case the bag leaks!)
6. A Bag to Store it All: A decent sized bag with sufficient space for the pump, bags, and enough room to store away ice packs and milk-laden bags or bottles. It’s a big plus if it can store anything else you may need for your day, too. Sarah Wells in the US makes lovely bags suited specifically for breast pumps, but a large nappy bag will usually do nicely.
7. Ice packs: To keep the milk cool enough until you can get it to the fridge or freezer. (The Warm & Cool Breast Pack products can double as an ice pack, too!)
8. Extra Batteries or an Adaptor: Depending on your pump, of course, be sure to have whatever you would need in case your pump runs out of juice, or just needs to be plugged in to use. Manual pumps obviously mean you don’t need this one thing in mind.
Whatever way you decide to feed your baby, be sure to take care of yourself and your bub the best way possible and see a relevant healthcare or other professional if you ever need any advice, help, tips, or referrals too some who can provide further information.