Breastfeeding a newborn: round two

The nightmare I experienced breastfeeding my first daughter C is well documented. Although we eventually came through it, the first few weeks were really terrible, and if I’m honest, the first few months weren’t brilliant either. It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached feeding my new daughter, A. Was it going to be as difficult the second time round? I hoped not – if nothing else, the knowledge I’d gained about breastfeeding over the last two years meant I’d at least be better equipped to deal with problems, should they arise.

Several weeks down the line, I’m happy to report that nursing A is going as well as it possibly could. The minor nipple soreness I experienced initially disappeared within a few days, and there has been no recurrence of the cracking, bleeding or fissures I suffered with C. It’s impossible to know precisely why breastfeeding is so much easier with A than it was with C. It could be that my technique has improved through months of practice, so A is simply attached better. It could be that I’ve taken a slightly different approach to latching on, sometimes (though not always) using the biological nurturing method. There are two other factors that I can’t ignore, however, both relating to anatomy.

The first major difference between now and then is that my nipples are a completely different shape. When I first started breastfeeding, they were pretty flat – now they are anything but. The second difference is that I’m feeding another baby. While A’s cute little pout looks very similar to C’s from the outside, inside her mouth could be a completely different shape. Tongue tie is known to affect breastfeeding, but I until recently I wasn’t aware that upper labial tie could as well. I don’t have any reason to believe that C suffered from either of these, but it isn’t impossible that some of the problems I had with C related to the shape of her mouth.

We are told that breastfeeding difficulties are nearly always caused by a poor technique. While helping mothers and babies to latch on more effectively will often improve matters greatly, ignoring the fact that it may be harder for some than for others for reasons outside their control is less helpful. Breastfeeding can be difficult for lots of reasons, and discussing some of these – whilst helping mothers and babies to hone their techniques – may lead to fewer women feeling incompetent, and more feeling empowered that breastfeeding is something they can achieve, even if they have a tough time getting there.

Early days

drawing of baby crying

Before giving birth, I heard somewhere that babies should start to suckle in the four hours after birth, and ideally straight away. When I was handed my tiny, startled daughter, I was pretty zonked, but I seemed to recall her little mouth seeking out my nipple. Or me putting my nipple near to her little mouth. Or something like that. Anyway, within a few minutes of ‘skin on skin’ she seemed to have something breast-like in her mouth and was happily sucking away.

The midwives were all suitably impressed. ‘Ooo, look she’s latched on already! That’s great. I’m sure you’ll be a natural.’ Well, of course – surely breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world? If you were happy to let your intuition govern your actions, and you responded to your baby instinctively, then it seemed pretty straightforward. I should point out at this stage that I’d just had a calm water birth, without major trauma or pain relief, and was therefore feeling pretty earth mother about everything. Breastfeeding was the next obvious step, and I was going to be great at it.

Over the remaining hours spent in hospital, my daughter C and I slept, interspersed with periods of the suckling we were both so fantastic at. If I was honest, it was starting to sting a bit, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The next morning, I overheard a conversation between a midwife and the woman in the bed opposite me on the ward. ‘Are you breast or bottle feeding?’ the nurse asked. ‘Bottle’ she replied without hesitation. ‘He’s had loads – two lots of 30 mils just last night’. God, you had to make up that formula from scratch each time, I thought. What a pain! How can you have dismissed breastfeeding so quickly?