To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week Healthista asked a bunch of mothers for the advice they wished someone had told them before they had their first baby
Gwen Stefani told USA Today breastfeeding had given her ‘superhuman powers’, Jennifer Garner describes it as the ‘coziest feeling in the world’ and we’ve all heard that breastfeeding is good for our baby’s health. Breast milk not only provides the perfect balance of fats, vitamins and proteins for the baby as well as antibodies that help fight off infection, studies have also shown it can help prevent developmental issues too. In fact, parenting website Mom Loves Best has created an infographic detailing the 111 benefits of breast feeding. Phew! Now, that is a lot of pressure – often leaving women feeling confused and even bullied.
With fear and uncertainty surrounding the topic, is it any wonder that right now breastfeeding rates in Britain are among the lowest in the world with only one in three babies being breastfed up until the recommended six months. It’s easy to see why women are put off. Breastfeeding mothers hit headlines for getting their breasts out in public and thanks to millions of self-help books, expert instruction and pages of internet scrolling on the topic, there is a lot of conflicting advice out there.
breastfeeding rates in Britain are among the lowest in the world
So rather than speak to the professionals, we turned to mothers of every age and occupation to find out the breastfeeding advice they wish someone had told them.
It’s the breast diet you’ll ever have
Madonna Noonan, 50, works in diplomatic relations
‘Do NOT eat chocolate or spicy food unless you want a colicky baby. I didn’t know this with baby one and had some terrible experiences. A bland diet with my second baby might have been boring, but he was just the calmest baby for a good six months. My old Italian paediatrician gave me a diet consisting mainly of broth with pasta, almonds, a small glass of beer or wine at lunch (it’s supposed to be good for the milk). If I ate something inflammatory (one time only I couldn’t resist & ate some chocolate), I could time the screaming to 24 hours later, just about to the minute. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself, it’s harder than anyone realises.’
You can eat cakes all day and still be skinnier than you have ever been
Rachel Graves, 25, business manager
‘I always kept a notepad close by to write down which side I’d fed on because you get so tired that you forget. It was really useful to write down the times of feeds and how long they’d last. Also, I did my night feeds in a rocking chair which had pockets on the side so I filled them with snacks like cereal bars. I’d snack during night feeds because I was terrified of falling asleep!’
Kerry Parnell, 47, freelance writer
‘Breastfeeding is the most brilliant diet EVER. You can eat cakes all day and still be skinnier than you have ever been. BUT do not be deluded into thinking you have the metabolism of an athlete when you wean because you don’t. Wave goodbye to those muffins…’
Keep foods ready to be grabbed from the fridge that you can eat with one hand while carrying your baby around with the other arm
Sandra Greenbank, 37, nutritional therapist
‘Make sure you eat well. This means plenty of protein and fat with every meal and lots of colourful fruit and vegetables. Avoid sugar and processed foods to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need for milk production and to keep your energy up. If low milk production is an issue avoid peppermint tea as it can reduce milk supply. Take a good quality fish oil to ensure you and the baby are getting all the right fats you need to build your baby a healthy brain. Keep foods ready to be grabbed from the fridge that you can eat with one hand while carrying your baby around with the other arm. Slices of chicken, oat cakes, nuts, seeds, cocktail tomatoes and wraps are all great. And most importantly – the cleaning can wait!’
It hurts. Period.
Tanya Loizou Nakhl, 40, legal secretary
‘How frickin’ hard it is and how much it hurts!’
Fran Chalmers, 60, mother of two
‘I wish someone told me how excruciatingly painful it was. The first time was OK, it was cute, because I hadn’t got sore by then. But then after a while, when you’re breastfeeding every four hours, it’s so painful. It’s when the baby latches on for the first few seconds and starts sucking. Your nipples get really sore and ultra sensitive. After about two weeks it doesn’t hurt at all because the nipples sort of harden up. That’s my experience anyway.
‘Also how much you leak! Nobody really told me anything because my mother had never breast fed and its not something you talk about when you don’t have a child’.
Be good to your breasts
Jacqueline Ditcham, 46, yoga teacher and personal trainer
‘When they bite, especially when their first teeth are coming through, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT pull the baby off the boob as this will result in your nipple looking like a shark has attacked it. Instead, gently squeeze your babies nostrils which will ensure the babe opens his lovely little mouth and will allow your nipple (and your sanity) to stay in one piece. The first days are so so sore but after three days of your nipples being on fire, your skin will magically adapt – you could drag broken glass over your boob and won’t feel a thing (except for teeth – there’s no defence against them!).
‘If the baby’s latch is not correct your nipples will crack and bleed – the pain is worse than labour. If you want to continue breastfeeding it’s okay to use nipple shields for some feeds to give your boobs a rest to heal. Midwives and health visitors were saying I shouldn’t as it would confuse the baby. It didn’t confuse my baby and I wish someone had told me about cracked nipples, that nipple shields exist and that it’s okay to use them with the right support to fix the latch or for sore nipples.’
Megan Horscraft, 24, founder of TigerClub Bambino
‘Lansinoh nipple cream is your saviour. And if you have big boobs lie down on your side next to your baby to feed – but don’t fall asleep!’
Lisa Perry, 50, mother of three
‘When I had my first baby I got mastitis. In the first week of breastfeeding I got the shivers and ached all over and it felt like flu symptoms. I started to get red streaks and very sore, hot swollen breasts. Once I knew what it was it was easy to treat. One of the stranger treatments that helped was cabbage leaves cold from the fridge pushed into your bra but be aware they would cook on your boob.’
It’s by far one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done so persevere if you can
‘I breastfed three children for over a year each.The best cure for cracked and bleeding nipples (yeah, not a nice visual) is the breastmilk itself. I would express some before and after feeding and rub onto my poor nipples. I also learnt very quickly to drink lots of water and stay away from all fizzy drinks and any stimulants – they made for a very unhappy baby.’
‘Use poke root for mastitis – it’s unbelievable. Massage into lumps but not near the nipple! Poke Root Dried comes from a North American plant and is traditionally used as a lymph cleanser – it’s especially helpful for red, inflamed mammary glands.’
Don’t be afraid to feed on demand
Kashka Mitchell, 53, mother of three
‘Make sure you’re not ‘holding the baby up’ and that you’ve stuck cushions underneath the baby and your elbow so that you’re relaxed. It’ll avoid some terrible neck problems a few months down the line. Eating cabbage, broccoli, citrus fruits and strawberries seem to give babies stomach ache, so I avoided them. I always fed on demand and let them nurse as long as they wanted – some people say you should stop when the baby is just comfort sucking but what’s wrong with comfort sucking? Wouldn’t you want some comfort if you’d recently been ejected from a warm womb? It’s by far one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done so persevere if you can. In moments of dog tiredness and tears, remind yourself that nothing lasts forever and before you know it you’ll be waving them off to uni.’
Margaret Pearson, 51, civil servant
‘It really is the best thing ever. Be prepared to be patient as it can take a while to get the hang of and can hurt more than childbirth at times. But savoy cabbage leaves cold out of the fridge stuffed in my bra worked wonders for me. Feeding on demand really worked for me, it is for such a short period of time you soon get the message when they just drop off. We spend so much time rushing everything these days. Take the time out to enjoy this special experience. But also, if there is a breastfeeding group join up as you will find shared experiences and make new friends. And don’t be embarrassed to go out feed in public, it means you can get on with your life and still socialise.’
Go easy on yourself
‘I put so much pressure on myself with my first baby. When I didn’t have the natural birth I so desired I desperately wanted to breastfeed naturally. I was so stressed I couldn’t get connected and the first day or two I was exhausted and just let her feed with the wrong attachment. I suffered so badly from it that my nipples bled and I got infected breasts, my baby was really hungry – the whole thing was so wrong! I WISH someone at the hospital had said that it was all okay. I wish I’d taken some time to relax and recover from my emergency C section, LONG labour and all of the drugs. I was told to get back on my feet as quickly as possible but I would advise anyone to relax and enjoy their baby. My second baby was an emergency C section too but I was expecting it all – I was relaxed and my baby latched on perfectly! Success!’
Ignore all advice, go with your gut and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work
For me Papaya ointment from Australia was a life saver. It’s a natural product and safe to use when babies are breastfeeding as it is very soothing. Cabbage leaves were the other option – but when you are a new mum the last thing you want to do is smell like sweaty cabbage leaves!’
Danielle Gauci, 38, entrepreneur
‘It takes at least an hour to breastfeed a newborn then they sleep and then you start over. You need a lot of patience. I was under the impression that it would be done in 10 minutes tops. Also, the second they start sucking – the thirst! I’m not sure if it was psychological but it was like a switch went on and I needed to drink.’
Natasha Gardiner, mother of three
‘Ignore all advice, go with your gut and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work. There is a lot of bulls**t about, spread by people who have no clue. It’s like someone giving you generic one-size-fits-all-advice about sex. Don’t worry – as long as your baby gets colostrum (the first secretion which is rich in antibodies) – even if they get it in a syringe.
There is a lot of bulls**t about, spread by people who have no clue
Also, Savoy cabbage leaves in your bra completely cupping your breasts is very good for when the milk comes in and your boobs hurt. When I had my baby my consultant showed me this and helped me line my bra with them at the hospital.’
Don’t forget – it’s not for everyone
Nadira Persaud, 44, makeup artist
‘I should have been told not to expect too much because my thyroid problem meant my blood supply wasn’t great. Also, I had rampant iron deficiency but nobody told me this would affect my breastfeeding. Most mums want to try because you hear that the first feeds are vital to the child but I’d have liked to have been warned that it’s not possible for everyone and I wish I hadn’t been given grief by the nurses who made out I was a failure.’
Taking it week by week and removing the pressure made it much easier
Maria Lally, 38, journalist
‘Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage to do it for the recommended six months. In the exhausting, hormonal early days when I had a newborn and a two-year-old, I remember somebody reminding me that four months is better than three months and that four weeks is better than two weeks and so on. Taking it week by week and removing the pressure made it much easier and less overwhelming second time around.’