A few weeks ago I wailed pitifully on Facebook about my ruined body. Apart from hugely swollen feet and ankles, I was feeling pretty dismayed to find that I still looked at least 4 months pregnant after giving birth. At the time my lament received a number of responses from women reassuring me that the belly would soon revert to normal… (or, at the very least, a wobbly semblance of its former self)
Well… it’s now been five weeks, and I’m pleased to report that there is some truth in the reassurance. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve reverted back to normal but I no longer resemble a pregnant lady – merely a lady with poor muscle tone. I believe some of the shrinkage is a standard part of the de-swelling after a C-section and the rest is triggered by breast feeding, which is a whole nother topic in itself…
I’m going to start by saying one thing: the first few weeks of breast feeding are a colossal pain in the teats! Women who tell you that breast feeding is easy are either a) amnesiacs; b) lying through their teeth or c) in possession of nipples of steel (in which case I salute them).
Personally, I think that early difficulties in getting the hang of breast feeding are a huge contributing factor to the baby blues, as they trigger a potent combination of tiredness, stress, failure and guilt, during a very low hormonal ebb.
In our first few weeks, James and I probably hit every possible woe, including:
- baby refusing to latch at all – cue angry, crying, frustrated baby and tired, stressed mum
- baby latching like a succubus from hell – cue nipples that looked like they’d been attacked by enraged leeches
- mum afraid to put sore, bleeding nipples anywhere near baby’s mouth – thus having a negative effect on the the let-down reflex
- baby losing so much birth weight by day three that the only option was to feed him up on expressed milk + formula top-ups (yes indeed – a cardinal sin according to the book of BF!)
- baby eventually learning to latch perfectly, but never suckling for long – cue all-day-long grazing with barely any respite between feeds
- baby seeming to favour one breast, lowering milk supply in the other
- constant paranoia about my supply and whether baby is getting enough
- baby reverting to a fractious state on random days and rooting endlessly but refusing to latch, for unexplained reasons…
My first week was nothing short of total stresserama, which we survived largely thanks to my breast pump. By weeks two and three I was making some progress with James back on the breast, but questioning whether there would ever come a time when it didn’t hurt like buggery. (Incidentally, it was at this point that the onslaught of BF propaganda that had been thrown my way suddenly started to make sense… I think the propaganda is the only thing at this point that stops people from giving up and switching to bottles.)
The annoying thing for me was that I felt sure I was doing things right… I’d been to the classes and knew about nudging the baby’s nose with the nipple and waiting for the gape. So why did it still hurt so much? After several prods by midwives and health visitors, I relented and went along to a breastfeeding drop-in clinic to see if I could improve James’s latching. This was a good move, as the counsellor showed me some more comfortable ways to hold the baby during feeds, and made me realise that it is necessary to be strict about a good latch rather than putting up with a painful one. Even if the baby has taken forever to latch on, it’s better to de-latch and start again.
By week four, I was beginning to see the light. Several days of an improved latch had gone some way to healing the sore nipples. From this point on, breastfeeding was starting to become a somewhat more placid activity – with potential to be enjoyable – rather than one that involved chewing my own fist to avoid shrieking.
Now we’re at week 5 and I would not go so far as to say I have fully cracked it, but we are a long way on. James still has random days when he refuses to latch well, for reasons that I can’t fathom. Also he is still a fierce little sucker and I have to express on and off to give my boobs a break, but I’d say we are 90% there.
Fingers crossed… my antenatal teacher said that most women feel that they’ve cracked breast feeding by around week 6. Here’s hoping!