"Will it hurt?" 10 honest questions every expectant mum has about breastfeeding
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed when I was pregnant.
Having my babies in Norway, where close to 100 percent of new mums breastfeed, it was just not really a question of whether or not I wanted to do it - it was just the done thing, really.
However, I still remember having all these questions while still pregnant. I think I was mostly concerned about whether I would be able to breastfeed my baby and how uncomfortable (I thought) it would be. Or whether or not I would be able to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public. Or how I would know when my baby was full - and about five thousand other questions like these ones.
The good news? Now, having breastfed two babies, I feel like I can at least answer some of them:
1. Does it hurt?
To some - but only until you get going, and your nipples have adjusted. Also, the most honest answer here is that this varies greatly from woman to woman, really.
My sister, who has breastfed three babies, claims it never even hurt, not even a little, even in the beginning. For me, those early days did take their toll on my poor nipples, but I tested out every old wives' tale in the book, and little by little, we got the hang of it - and I continued to breastfeed both my babies until they were almost one.
2. How fast should I get into a routine?
Certainly in the early days and weeks, while breastfeeding is getting established, there is little routine. Babies feed quite often, sometimes 10 to 12 times in 24 hours. As babies get older, they get quicker and more efficient at breastfeeding and you also become more confident. So try not to stress about routines - I know this is easier said than done, but seriously; especially those early days, just follow your baby's rhythm and feed when they are hungry. Feeding often will also help boost your milk supply, and is amazing for bonding with your brand new little guy (or girl).
3. Is there help available?
Yes! There is lots of help available, and don't even hesitate for a second asking for it. Your local health centre, public health nurse or GP can put you in touch with lactation consultants or midwives in your area who can help. Alternatively, the HSE's mychild.ie website has lots of breastfeeding tips and information. There is also an opportunity for you to type your question to a Lactation Consultant through the webchat facility.
4. How do I know my baby is getting enough milk?
Monitoring your baby's pees, poos and weight gain in those first few weeks is the best way of seeing if they are getting plenty of breastmilk. I was able to just pop into my local breastfeeding support group to do this, but you can ask your midwife, public health nurse or GP too. Apart from that, you will notice that if feeding is going well and your baby is getting enough milk, they'll seem content and calm after most feeds. Baby will be bright and alert when awake and, most importantly, will have plenty of wet and dirty nappies for you to change.
5. Do all breastfeeding mums have to use breast pumps?
No, not all. If you are at home with your baby and are able to feed on demand - and produce plenty of breastmilk as it is, then you might not feel the need to use a breast pump. However, many breastfeeding mums find pumping for an occasional feed allows a little flexibility, it also means you can store extra breastmilk in the freezer if you wish, particularly for a time you may need to be separated from your baby.
Pumps are also handy for increasing milk supply, and for being able to relieve some pressure if your boobs are very full at any point - especially if your baby is snoozing away and you don't want to wake them.
6. What is cluster-feeding?
The term cluster feeding refers to when babies group together or cluster feed close together at certain times of the day. Though they may leave a couple of hours between feeds most of the day, there will often be a few hours of constant or close together feeds, often in the evening time. Mums find this is a time for you to spend with your baby and all the better if family or friends are willing to help out at this time.
7. Will I leak my breastmilk?
No, not around the clock, probably - but again, this is very individual. There are great slim fit breast pads that you can fit inside of your bra that will collect this leakage and also protect your clothes. It's important though to change your pads regularly. I have friends who claim they never leaked breastmilk, and that it only came out when they put their baby to their breast. Others (like me) find their boobs leaking even at the sound of other people's babies crying. Yup, it's true!
8. What happens when my baby gets teeth?
For the most part: Not much. My baby girl got her first tooth at four months, and while very occasionally she may have attempted to bite my nipple a couple of times, I was quick enough to take my boob out of her mouth that she soon learned not to do that again. My little boy was a little more persistent, when he got his bottom two teeth first, he found comfort from pressing down while feeding but again, I just gently but firmly reminded him this was not on, and he too gave it up.
The good news is that for the vast majority of mums, this is a temporary issue that only lasts a few days to a couple of weeks.
9. Do I have to stop breastfeeding when I go back to work?
No, you don't, lot's of women continue to breastfeed when they return to work. Just invest in a good breast pump, and get your baby used to also taking a bottle, so that they can be bottle-fed your milk during the day when you are not there. Your baby will take the breastmilk either from a bottle or cup depending on their age so it would be important to get a little bit of practice in before you return to work. See breastfeeding pages at mychild.ie
Also, talk to your employer well before your maternity leave ends about arrangements for breastfeeding breaks and facilities in your place of work.
10. Will I be sad when it's over?
To be honest some mothers find stopping breastfeeding can be an emotional time and other mothers are ready. However, like many mums, and I'm including myself here, I enjoyed this special bond with my babies knowing that I alone was responsible for them getting all the food they needed and also seeing them grow and thrive from my breastmilk alone. I felt a great sense of achievement. It's amazing and you'll always remember and cherish those quiet moments, when it was just you and your baby, knowing you were feeding them from your own body, and everything else just melted away.