Becoming a mother for the first time without the help of any nanny and granny is the toughest job a woman can do!
Everything feels like a life & death situation, you have to get the hang of everything pretty fast and it’s obvious to feel like you’re all alone! It was “learn as you do” rule for me as I had nobody around other than my child’s father during my 40 weeks long pregnancy, at the time of child birth, postpartum life and in these last 19 months of raising Aryan. Beautographer, who is otherwise ”sorted” in life, turned out to be quite “lost” for the first few months of our postpartum journey, its not just mothers who have postpartum anxiety or depression, fathers too can find the new born care appropriately overwhelming. Sleep deprivation, changes in home environment, lack of attention from your partner etc. are a few good reasons for them to feel out of place. So, it was just me, single handedly, took care of our new born, from breastfeeding 7/8 times a day initially, nearly 13 hours spent on and with feeding from the breasts and pumping 4 times a day, recovering from child birth, dealing with changing hormones and body shape, household chores, cooking 3 nutritious fresh meals and looking like a trash can. One goal: to keep going (with newborn care) even when I thought I can not anymore. Results kept showing, my precious little man responded to the care given, growing healthily, slowly getting into a routine and then just when you feel like you do know what to do, your baby crosses one more milestone and the game changes again. The only way to handle it all was to try and keep a sense of calmness. Easier said than done! Forget perfect, do your best, as long as baby is safe and healthy, your best is good enough. (That goes for life in general by the way, not just mothering.) But knowing me, I can’t be happy with ”good enough’, I aim for perfection in everything I do, at least I try. That’s where I struggled. I wanted to eat nice fresh food cooked by me, I wanted my house to stay neat and clean and I wanted to master at this new role of a caregiver- all with a newborn in hand, without any prior experience and help but I was armed with enough knowledge and information about newborn care, breastfeeding, postpartum health issues etc., thanks to books!
Breastfeeding is the second most incredible thing I’ve done physically, the first being growing a human inside my womb for 10 months and then giving birth to a healthy child. The more advanced we get as a society, the more we lose our grasp on the basics. The concept of joint family is now a thing in the past for most people living in the developed countries. Even in the ancient times, when people lived in caves and also in today’s times, where people live in villages, they raise(d) kids watching other mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, neighbours doing their thing. Using your breasts to feed your baby is as natural as using your uterus to grow a human. You learned by watching and if you struggled, well your mother or someone else was always around to show you how to get on with it. If your body fails to produce enough milk, someone else would feed your baby. There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise kids” is often underestimated.
So it’s completely understandable that women have trouble getting the hang of things now because we now live in a world that lacks compassion and kindness. New mothers surrounded by family and friends get judged by her own people more than they get help from. Thankfully, there was a NHS organised session on breastfeeding that I attended before giving birth. But learning how to get your baby hold while breastfeeding and getting your baby to latch on are two different things all together. I did not struggle with the do’s and don’t’s on childcare, thanks to my extensive readings and research during pregnancy, however, I struggled with time management: time to self-care, sleep, cook, clean the house etc., basically an extra pair of hand to either clean my house, or hold/watch my baby when I needed to use the loo or when my arms were tired holding the baby and feeding for 13/14 hours a day. A break of 30 minutes is something I would never take for granted ever in life because I did not have it for the first few months after my son Aryan was born.
Breastmilk is liquid gold. Your body creates personalised fuel for your little one, its so unique that no other food can substitute it for the 1st year of your child’s life and it gives them all the nutritions they need. In the beginning our body makes Colostrum- creamy, honey-like milk full of protein, fat and potassium, it lines your baby’s gut, giving their immune system a boost that will benefit them for life. You body continues to produce this for the first year of breastfeeding, but after the first couple of days it becomes diluted with much more milk, which your baby will get fed like there’s no tomorrow! The content changes based on your babies needs. In a growth spurt, our body makes more milk and it’ll be richer. If baby gets sick she’ll pass cues onto you through her saliva telling your body what antibodies she needs to fight the infection. At night your milk will contain hormones to help your little one sleep. That’s why pumping at 3 in the morning is the best and toughest job I have ever done. It requires dedication and immense desire to give your baby the best nutritious food, free of cost. When the weather is warm enough, your milk will thin and be more watery to keep the baby hydrated. Breastfed babies have far lower risk of stomach infections, vomiting, diarrhoea, ear and chest infections, kidney infections, allergies, asthma, eczema, SIDS, childhood diabetes, childhood obesity, as well as high blood pressure and heart disease as an adult. I could go on and on, but basically it’s magic. I can proudly announce that in this last 19 months, I never had to make an emergency call to the Doctors for any health issues for Aryan, never did he have fever or stomach bug let alone any major or minor illness. I give this credit to breastfeeding, the immune system he got from (I don’t fall sick, at all, I don’t want to ignore the fact that I was breastfed for 2 years) me probably and the care I could provide to him.
But breastfeeding is not just good for babies but also works wonders for mothers. Breastfeeding makes your uterus contract (you can feel it happening in the beginning!) making your stomach shrink each month, a bit by bit. You lose the baby weight faster and you drastically decrease your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.Breastfeeding can be used as a method of birth control, called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), especially if your baby is under 6 months of age or younger.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding isn’t an option for many women, for lots of different reasons. Due to lack of enough support and proper knowledge, many women give it up without trying harder. Breastfeeding is a skill to be learned, patiently.
But as with anything that feels easy once you’ve gotten the hang of things (walking, riding a bike etc. ) it can take a little practice and trial and error to get there. As you can see, 19 months is a long time to teach me many things and while it wasn’t easy (long hours, numb arms, sore nipples, licking breasts, time consuming to name a few) in the beginning, it’s been worth every second. That’s why I did not give up at any stage until when both Aryan and I realised that we don’t need it anymore. From drinking about 1000 ml of breastmilk per day at the age of 5/6 months, Aryan has been developed to be such a good eater now that he gets all the nutritions he needs to grow healthily. As soon as we were done with the terrible teething phases (14 months), Aryan started eating 3 full meals like a champion along with 2 snacks. The two snacks used to be 2 sessions of breastfeeding for the last 5/6 months. One in the morning after he wakes up at around 7-7.30pm and the other at night, by 7pm, after his dinner but before his bed time. I was still pumping twice a day until last month. But as your baby learns to eat well, your body decides naturally that it does not need to produce enough milk. So thats what happened! Although as I type this post, after 1 month of going completely off breastfeeding, when I shower, if I press/squeeze my breasts, it still releases some milk. When Aryan turned 19 months (last month), we said goodbye to pumping and breastfeeding for good and I have introduced Aryan to cow milk (Babies over one year can safely drink cow milk) for his bedtime drink, recommended by our Health Visitor.
Soon after Aryan’s birth, I used to share about pumping and breastfeeding in my stories on instagram, I was sent many DMs to share more on my experience of breastfeeding. I waited long to write this post, I wanted to see the end of it, I wanted to know what changes it may bring in every stage of breastfeeding, how much milk I could express when my baby grows older compared to the newborn stage. So, here we are! One of the most requested posts on my motherhood journey.
When and how did I start!
It all started at the hospital, seconds after Aryan was born, one of the two midwives I had during Aryan’s birth placed him right on my bare chest for the most essential skin-to-skin time, Aryan’s head was placed on my left breast and he lied on there peacefully for hours. This was the beginning of a bond- Aryan’s bond with breasts (feeding)! I did not use the pump until we came back home. To be honest, the midwives at the UK hospitals do not encourage you to start pumping until you establish a healthy feeding from the breasts. So, I returned home a day after Aryan was born. We settled down for the next two days and then on 5th day, I felt my breasts were too heavy to leave it like that, if I did not start pumping then, there would have been lot of wastage of milk due to leaking. As we know, newborns feed in every 2 hours or so but they also have a very small stomach so their intakes for each feeding session is not a lot, my body was producing more than Aryan could take, so I pumped and stored the excess in the fridge.
Supply & Demand
I did not have to worry about this initially as I had a lot of supply. However, its true that to make the best possible milk (and lots of it) you need to take care of you. You need good, healthy food that makes you feel good. And you need rest. Rest or sleep is the key! You make so much more milk when you sleep, so that old “sleep when your baby sleeps” thing really does make a lot of sense. Even if you can only get a half hour snooze, it’s worth doing. I did not get any, not even for a minute in the first 10 days but my body was producing milk like a magician. Not all women are same. So, take rest if you can, it will have an impact on your supply. Don’t be tempted to stay up watching TV or scrolling through Instagram. You’ll get lot of time to do it later in life. I keep saying this all the time- if you have just given birth, focus on your baby and your own health, everything else can wait and should wait. Shut your eyes and recharge whenever you get a chance. Nothing should come between you and your baby in your first month together. This is your bonding time, your time to know each other, understand and get used to each other.
Every time your baby feeds, its like they are placing an order for you to make more milk later. So even if you think, you are not producing enough milk, don’t panic. The more your baby feeds, the more your body produces! Make sure you apply nipple cream for the first few weeks/months. Nipple creams are a lifesaver and the best part is you don’t need to wash your breasts before feeding again. I used Lansinoh, its great to keep your nipple mosturised which was a must as the skin around your nipple can get very dry due to pumping.
Contrary to popular belief, supplements don’t produce more milk, what supplements do is, it gives the mother’s body the extra nutritions she needs which she is loosing due to breastfeeding. So its highly recommended to start taking breastfeeding supplements immediately, always ask your GP or midwives before choosing which one to take. In the UK, the midwives or GP recommends Pregnacare.
Not much in the beginning but I’ve noticed a significant change in milk flow if I was overtly stressed or pressed with time. When I got back my period at 4 months postpartum, I have seen a change in milk supply. It drops for those 5/6 days but again back on track as soon as bleeding stopped. One important tip I may share, when you sit to pump, just take a few deep breaths, look at your baby (not your phone!), ask yourself why you are doing it and before you know it the bottles will be filled up with nature’s best creation- liquid gold!
Through my extensive readings, I found out about the phase of newborns and their cluster feedings. At about third week, Aryan started cluster feeding where I was essentially a 24/7 milk making machine feeding Aryan in every hour for a session of 15-30 minutes and it still wouldn’t be enough. I ended up completely exhausted and crying often because I could not get any break, no food, no shower until midnight, I worried that my stress and anxiety would pass on to my baby who would get more distressed. With time we realised it’s just tummy ache due to trapped wind and he was trying to soothe it with suckling and feeding more. So, after each feeding, I used to cradle Aryan in one arm, the other hand on his tummy caressing and rocked side to side until he dozed off.
Pump it up!
Pumping is a whole new chapter. The first time I tried I had a piece of skin around my nipple came off due to pressure from the pump. It started bleeding. Hungry newborn and bleeding nipple…someone kill me! I applied the nipple cream 4/5 times a day, the skin healed on its own within a day as if its nature’s way of helping you so that you can feed your baby. Your nipples will be sore from pumping initially but its temporary. What I found from my long experience of pumping is that you need the right mindset to pump. A calm, quiet space, a comfortable seat, a glass of water, a breakfast bar and most of all –the purpose, why you are doing it, who you are doing it for- your precious little one. Look at your sleeping baby or scroll through your baby pictures and you’ll see the result flowing in the bottles because a happy, calm state of mind helps to release the happy hormones from your body which is essential for milk flow. Essentially you just need to convince your mind into producing for your little one. After the first couple of days, I was like a cow, pumping 1000-1200 ml milk everyday. This continued for 8/9 months, then gradually the milk production reduced as my baby grown and he started to eat solids twice a day. The solids (fruit or veggie purees) would keep him full longer, so he would feed only 4/5 bottles (120 ml each) pumped breastmilk which used to be 8/9 bottles before introducing him to solids at 6 months.
There are lots of breast pumps on the market, I used the Phillips. You can buy one or rent one from the hospitals if you are in the UK, if you plan to breastfeed for longer period like I did and also planning on having more kids within the next few years, I recommend buying one. But be aware that your nipples probably will not be “as before”. It’s also important to have the right size of the shield for your nipple. Who knew about this before, eh!? The standard breast shield that comes with the pump does not fit all nipple size, so you might have to size up or down. So it’s worth measuring your nipple and you can get any size you want on Amazon to fit.
Massaging/squeezing your breasts while pumping (and feeding!) is also a game changer. Use your hands to massage them and smooth out any especially firm bits (it opens up the clogged ducts). This is something I started doing 8 months into breastfeeding and realised how effective it was! It’ll increase your milk flow but also the fat content, so baby needs less amount to be full and it will save lot of time.
Bottle wise I’ve used Phillips initially then I found out these ones for using at home and this one to carry outside as it kept the breastmilk in the right temperature which was life changing and I have used Phillips steriliser. I did buy a bottle warmer from Philips although a mug of hot water works but may take longer. You don’t know how a HANGRY newborn cries, so the bottle warmer was very handy for my sanity. As for storing breastmilk, go by the rule of 6 – Milk can stay in room temp for 6hrs, fridge for 6 days and freezer for 6months. I never done the freezing.
Even when Aryan started sleeping through the nights, I would pick him up from his sleep, nurse him at around midnight which I call ”dream feed” and then put him down, back to bed. It kept him hydrated and full throughout the night and made him sleep deep. We kept up with the ”dream feed” up until he was 15 months old, by then all his teeth came out and he was in a better position to eat more varieties of food, more quantity leaving him full from 7pm-7am. So, we stopped the ”dream feed”.
Aryan is doing brilliantly well, he has a great daily and bed time routine which I started at 2 months and is paying off nicely. So my next parenting posts would be on Toddler eating, Aryan’s bedtime routine and how did we get Aryan sleep through the night from such an early age- these are some of the frequently asked questions in my Instagram.
I still have so much more to learn but hopefully the lessons I’ve learned along the way will help one or two of you who are in the same situation as I do. If you’re a new mother who is struggling with breastfeeding, find a lactation consultant near you ASAP. It’s worth it! If you are in the UK, ask your GP/midwife, local Children’s centre, there are lots of classes for new mothers to help them with latching on and how to get on with it.
I’ll just leave you with one little reminder, if you are breastfeeding or express feeding, know that you’re doing a brilliant job. Be kind to yourself and remember that the nights are long but the years are short, so try not to wish them away because next year this time, you won’t remember any of these sleepless nights and pain of sore nipples.
You’ve got this, mama!
Breastfeeding/ Expressing Diet:
If you’re breastfeeding, remember that everything you ingest will reach your baby, so continuing a healthy diet is very important.
Eat all the protein, carbs, veggies, fruits and drink milk and fresh fruit juices.
Don’t forget to take supplements just because you are not pregnant anymore.
You will be surprised to know that you are allowed to drink alcohol while breastfeeding. I would not, personally. I had probably 6/7 glasses of prosecco in the last 19 months, the first glass of wine I had since conceiving Aryan in June 2018 was on last Christmas when Aryan was 9 months old. If you drink alcohol, make sure you give a gap of at least 4 hours before pumping or feeding your baby.
Breast care for breastfeeding/expressing
Your breasts will be sore not just because of pumping, even if your baby latches on from the breasts and if you don’t feed or express periodically. Use nipple cream. They are harmless, even baby can latch on to breasts while its on your skin.
Note: Do not express more than 15 minutes from one breast. Giving strategic pauses helps not to have bruises around your areola (the small pigmented circular area surrounding your nipple).
Breastfeeding and Pumping/expressing must-have:
- Good nursing bra (If you are in the UK, check at John Lewis & Marks & Spencer)
- Electric pump
- Hakaa silicone pump (from Amazon) to collect milk manually from the other breast while you express from one. This is a great help!
- Breast pads. (I used Lansinoh)
- Electric Sterilising set
- A good bottle cleaning brush (check Amazon)
- Last but not the least drink lots of water and fresh fruit and veggie juices to have good supply.