The first eight weeks are absolutely the toughest bit of breastfeeding your baby. Your baby will be feeding constantly, or it will certainly feel that way, you may experience pain and it’s easy to second-guess yourself as you’re trying to get to grips with this new skill.
Having gone through it with two, it’s not hard to see why a lot of women quit or simply cannot physically go on past the first few weeks or even days.
We are in a lucky situation that there are loads of infant formulas on the market so whether or not you breastfeed, your baby will be fed and absolutely fine.
But the science supports breastfeeding as a way of giving your baby a brilliant start in life. So with that in mind, how do you survive the first eight weeks?
Cluster feeding, sore boobs, endless crying and long nights all conspire to make you want to quit.
This was the really crucial time for me with both kids. I ended up exclusively pumping with the first, but the lessons I learned with her meant I made it to eight months of breastfeeding with my second baby.
Here are my survival tips to give you the best chance of getting through it:
Have the kit ready
Nursing pads, nursing bras and comfortable clothes are what you need ready to go. Think about easy access, you will be whipping them out a lot.
There are some amazing nursing clothes from brands such as Seraphine, Isabella Oliver, Topshop and JoJo Maman Bebe. However you don’t have to just buy nursing clothes. Pretty much any top can be converted into a nursing top if you simply pop a vest on underneath it. The vest should have skinny spaghetti straps so that you can pull it down easily. Then you just lift your normal top up and you’re ready to breastfeed.
The nursing pads are essential. I found when my baby was feeding from one side, the other side would also release milk and make my bra damp. Nursing pads will save you from stained clothing, which isn’t what you want in public.
Nursing bras definitely make your life easier when it comes to quick access and you will need that, particularly in the early weeks as you’ll be nursing very frequently.
Invest in a decent pump
Pumps are good for helping you build your supply quickly. If you’re worried about having a low supply, pumping between feeds for 15 minutes can help give it a boost.
It also means you can build up a supply of breast milk in the fridge and freezer for bottle feeding.
This is my top recommendation for a breast pump: The Medela Swing Electric Breast Pump with Calma. It’s lasted three years and two babies and is still going strong.
Drink loads of water
Being hydrated is the best thing you can do for your milk supply. Try to have a glass of water on the go all of the time.
It can really help to have a small tray of goodies within arm’s reach of wherever you prefer to nurse your baby. On this tray should be a bottle of water (as it’s harder to spill when it’s a bottle), an energy bar or similar snack and a good book or magazine to keep you entertained.
Make sure you aren’t skipping meals. You may find yourself feeling a lot more hungry, as breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day!
Its also a good idea to get some healthy snacks in to the house as well. Think energy bars, bananas, apples and toast.
Eat hearty meals and lots of fruit and vegetables.
Don’t overdo it. Your body has been through a lot with giving birth and is now going through a lot hormonally too.
When you can get help, make the most out of it. Let other people take the baby for even a short time so that you can get some rest. It is very physically draining breastfeeding a baby who is cluster feeding for hours on end. Take the help when it’s offered and don’t feel guilty about taking time out.
Feed, feed, feed
If you think your baby is hungry, offer them the breast. Every single time. Even if they just fed.
In these early weeks the baby is not only building up your supply, but also needs the comfort of being close to you. It is exhausting but it does get easier.
If your baby is demanding to be fed immediately after a feed, this can be totally normal. Remember that this tough phase doesn’t last forever. Stick it out if you can.
When it still isn’t good enough
You have fed, fed and fed some more. Your nipples are bleeding and raw and you’re in tears. Step back now. Get some help. Hand the baby over to your partner and give yourself a break.
If you feel comfortable, offer a bottle of formula or expressed milk. There is nothing wrong with offering a bottle in the early days, contrary to the advice I read mine never had a problem switching between bottle and breast.
As long as baby is still feeding from the breast regularly throughout the day and night, your supply will be fine. Taking a three-hour break won’t be the end of the world.
Accept it will hurt
The letdown can be painful, for me it felt like an electric shock, but this fades in time. I had really cracked and sore nipples with both babies. This is your nipples getting using to constant feeding and can indicate latch problems.
Check out my post here for tips on heeling sore nipples.
Find a way through the pain
Lansinoh nipple cream was my saviour. Also letting your nipples get some air can help them heal.
Nipple shields can also help give your nipples a break.
I had to grit my teeth at the start of every feed and I dreaded it every single time. It did eventually stop hurting.
YouTube videos of latching
This was such a turning point for me. There are loads of videos showing women getting a good latch and explaining the process.
For me it was way more helpful than diagrams and written advice.
Seek help from a lactation consultant
If you can afford it you can pay for one-on-one help in your own home.
If not there are various support networks such as La Leche League which has branches all over the country and the Breastfeeding Network.
You may also find your local hospital or clinic had a breastfeeding drop-in service where they will offer advice. Take advantage of the wealth of knowledge other women have to offer.
Netflix is your friend
For night feeds I would plug my headphones in to my iPad, position the screen behind my baby’s head and watch Netflix.
There are some brilliant shows to binge-watch. It made me dread the night feeds a lot less when I knew I had a TV show to catch up on that was really gripping me.
Hopefully these tips are of some use. Remember you’re doing an amazing job and don’t get disheartened, most women do struggle with nursing in the early weeks in some way or another. You’re doing great!