During those exhausting few days after the birth of my daughter, somewhere in the middle of the night during about the 20th feed of the day, I had a lightbulb moment.
She had been treated for a tongue tie at birth and should be feeding as well as any other baby. And apparently, ‘If it hurts, you’re not doing it right’. So why did it pinch so much? And why was it going on nearly constantly? My expectation was that as a baby with no tongue tie and a good latch (which midwives had confirmed she had), she should have a good feed (which would be pain free), and then after a cuddle, be settled and have a good period of sleep. This was not the case (particularly in the evening), and I was absolutely exhausted. Was it time to abandon it and switch to bottle feeding? Due to his tongue tie, it had been necessary for a proportion of my son’s feeds to be formula and I knew there wasn’t a problem with this and he had developed into a healthy toddler. I therefore know how much of a saviour this method of feeding can be and have seen first hand how well it nourished my toddler when his tongue tie got the better of us. But I had been so determined that I would breastfeed Amelia that I could feel that bitter disappointment creeping in again. It just clearly was something that wasn’t meant to be.
But then it occured to me, what if the fussiness, seemingly constant feeding and never appearing satisfied is a newborn thing rather than a breastfeeding thing? Making use of forums and the blogs of other new mums, I discovered that my experience seemed reassuringly normal. Therefore, with the support of family and midwives around me, I adopted the ‘sit it out’ approach. I mean that quite literally. I made few plans for myself for those first 3 weeks or so other than to sit and feed. My husband and I went for a couple of short drives out to places where I would be comfortable feeding if necessary (which it was) so I didn’t get cabin fever, which I found hugely helpful.
Since I knew Amelia’s tongue tie had been treated, I put the pain down to us both being on a learning journey and hoped that practice would make perfect. And it did. I realised that although babies do things instinctively, they are not necessarily paricularly good at it at first. A bit like the instincts that come later of attempting to roll, crawl, walk and talk. Feeding is no different it would seem. Furthermore, I learnt that near constant feeding was in fact necessary for establishing a good supply. I now have so much I have spare to make ice lollies for my son!
During those difficult and very tiring first few weeks, holding onto this realisation helped. As did knowing that it wouldn’t be forever. And the use of MAM Compresses to soothe the pain. I still have half a box left because one day it just didn’t hurt anymore. We had mastered the skill together.
You may be aware of the recent study showing that parents are using unsafe sleep practices. I therefore thought this would be a good time to discuss the related topic of bedding. A simple fitted sheet over the breathable mattress of your moses basket, crib or cot is a good start. Underneath, you may wish to include a means of protecting the mattress from accidents as they are not crinkly, easily washed and therefore can be used again and again (for poonami after poonami). I personally like these: http://www.thelittlegreensheep.co.uk/bedding/mattress-protectors/
According to my health visitor, blankets are what is currently recommended by the NHS to keep baby warm. However, my personal preference is a sleeping bag. There are several reasons for this. 1. Safety – there is no chance of baby kicking or accidentally pulling a sleeping bag over their head, as long as you purchase the correct size and fasten it. 2. Comfort – the sleeping bag keeps them continually covered with no risk of it being kicked off, which keeps baby cosy and helps lead to sound sleep. Usually in the shops, you will see 2.5 rated togs. Lower tog ratings are available, including 0.5 and 1, which are almost like having a sheet, so as long as you choose an appropriate tog rating for the weather, there should be no worries about overheating. Conversely, higher tog ratings (3 tog) are available for cold rooms. Baby blankets don’t offer the same amount of flexibility in terms of weighting, so I don’t think they are as useful or safe for overnight sleeping. I do, however, use them all the time in my pram, when I am awake and supervising my baby and can therefore adjust them (pull them down were they to go over baby’s face, remove them if the temperature goes up etc). I find that standard 2.5. tog sleeping bags are easy to come by in most outlets of baby wear, but other tog ratings are not quite as easy to source. For summer weight, I recommend Aden + Anais : https://www.adenandanais.co.uk/en-gb/up-up-away-classic-sleeping-bag-8062g : a light option made from muslin. I find these appear to give baby a sense of security from being covered whilst being light enough to ensure that no unnecessary wadding causes baby to overheat.
So many different options: sleepsuits, bundlers and pyjamas, blankets, sleeping bags and sheets. What’s best?
In those early days, little one is likely to be up several times in the night for a feed, and will probably have saturated their nappy since the last time. It is therefore helpful to have a quick and easy way to reach the nappy area to change it. This is where bundlers come in. Looking like a long nightdress, the bottom is elasticated so you can simply roll it up to reveal the nappy area with no poppers to undo and nothing to take off beforehand: great for those blearly-eyes night changes. Furthermore, because they have no ‘feet’, they will last longer than othet options; basically until you can no longer get it over baby’s head or shoulders (and by this point night feeds and changes will have either stopped or at least be a little less frequent…hopefully). Also, because they are long, there is no chance of part of it riding up leaving baby with a cold back!
Another option is sleepsuits. I imagine these offer the most comfort, with no draughts from any open areas, built in ‘feet’ to ensure all parts of baby are kept warm and are a one piece so no danger of the top half riding up the back to cause baby to get cold or allow any uncomfortable bunching of fabric under baby’s back. However, there is the undoing and fastening of poppers to consider, which can prove difficult in low light when trying not to wake other family members, and because they have ‘feet’, as soon as baby’s foot is touching the seam of this part of the babygrow, it can no longer be worn. In those first few weeks, growth rate is phenomenal. I have had babygrows be loose at the beginning of the week and be too tight around the feet within days. Within 0-3 sizing, there appears to be a huge amount of variation in size: before baby’s birth I have had to compare all the 0-3 sleepsuits I have and group them into about 3 different sizes.
Finally, pyjamas. I have tried these on baby and think they can look especially cute. However, for actual night time sleeping, I think they do unfortunately combine the disadvantages of other options. The main irritation is that the top seems to always ride up, particularly when you pick up baby. Sometimes they come with feet, which is good for keeping warm but again limits the amount of time they can be used for. If they don’t come with feet, then separate socks would be needed, unlike bundlers which are long and keep legs and feet covered.
My personal preference for night time is a bundler, with sleepsuits used more during the day when I can see more easily to do the poppers.
You will be aware of the benefits of folic acid in pregnancy, particularly its importance in ensuring the avoidance of neural tube defects during the first trimester. Vitamin D is also recommended for all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. No expectant mum should be without these, and fortunately they are available on prescription if necessary (and these are free during pregnancy and for 12 months afterwards) and you receive some free samples from your midwife.
However, is there any merit in paying for a complex blend of vitamins? I researched the topic extensively during my pregnancy, and found little evidence to support the existence of any benefits of an expensive supplement over and above that of folic acid and vitamin D. That is with one exception: DHA (or Omega 3). There is a growing body of evidence to support the importance of this in pregnancy, particularly in the development of the brain and eyes. It is very difficult to achieve the recommended levels through a healthy diet alone, particularly since the most abundant source of it is found within oily fish such as salmon, and intake of these is restricted during pregnancy due to high mercury levels. I therefore invested in supplements which included a separate capsule of DHA such as Seven Seas Pregnancy Plus and Pregnacare plus Omega 3. In my view, supplements which do not also include DHA offer little in the way of benefits for the baby over and above that of a healthy and varied diet with folic acid and vitamin D supplementation.
I am so fortunate to have a wonderful breastfeeding relationship with my daughter, Amelia. However, although I was able to give my son James the benefit of breastmilk for 6 months,this was with a great degree of difficulty and effort and unfortunately our feeding relationship was never what it should be.
‘If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong’. I focussed on this as, with tears in my eyes and curling my toes with the pain, I attempted to latch my son. He latched, and began to feed. This was 7pm. At 8am the following morning, that same feed still had not finished and I was beginning to hallucinate and repeatedly fall asleep in the chair between spells of exhaustion. ‘Just give him a bottle for God’s sake!’ But no, I was determined to persist. In tears, I explained to the visiting midwife that I was now struggling to cope. I was then greeted with the news that despite my efforts, James had lost weight. I felt I had failed to do the one thing that I was put on earth to do: nourish my own child. The midwife was extremely supportive and studied my technique carefully…ensuring baby has his mouth wide open: check. Ensuring baby takes a mouth full of breast and not just nipple…check. So why was I blistered and bleeding? That’s when she noticed it: right at the back, a thin piece of skin anchoring his tongue to the bottom of his mouth which prevented James from effectively removing the milk from my breast. Although this was treated with a simple procedure at the hospital soon afterwards, James had already developed bad habits and my breasts had not been stimulated sufficiently to make enough milk going forwards long term and we were unable to breastfeed exclusively. I was bitterly disappointed. However, I consoled myself with the fact that by expressing the milk that I had religiously with my Lansinoh Double Pump, James was receiving to some extent the benefits of my milk.
When my daughter Amelia was born two months ago, I was determimed to ensure that we would enjoy a long and precious breastfeeding relationship. When it began to hurt a few hours after birth, I was persistent in gaining support from midwives and infant feeding assistants. When my technique was observed as being fine, I began to question them about tongue tie and a specialist tongue tie midwife came to examine my daughter. She spotted a tongue tie and it was treated there and then. I’m not going to pretend that the first few weeks were easy while feeding became established, but I can’t convey how satisfying it is to hear about her weight gain at each check-up and know that I am responsible for it and my efforts in the beginning paid off.