"As a midwife for over 10 years and a lactation consultant working in a busy London hospital, I've seen it all! There is little that can shock or surprise me, but for new mothers, there are a lot of questions that come up that aren't in your traditional birth books. So many of us have those “I wonder if that’s normal, but I’m too embarrassed to ask or mention it”, thoughts that we are dying to have answered. Well, I'm here to help!
1. "What the heck is that smell, oh it’s me…."
So many of us have found that we take on a very different aroma once we’ve had children. It’s been described to me as anything from chicken sausages to feta cheese, it seems very distinct and pungent to you as the new mother, but I promise you that those around you won’t even get a whiff of it. On the other hand, your baby most likely will and they will absolutely love it! It’s your unique smell and as their favourite person (sorry, Dad), it alone will bring them comfort. Remember, as their mother, you are their security, their food, warmth and comfort. Your armpits are also located very close to your breast, so whilst your nipples have become larger and darker (literally acting as a bullseye) to help guide them to the breast, your stronger smell can also help guide them to their idea of bliss.
2. "I have nipple hair, is that going to be a problem feeding my baby?"
Nope! Your baby has never seen another nipple nor felt something different in their mouth, to them, hair or no hair is just perfect. For the majority of people a few hairs on our areola (the flat dark bit of your nipple) are normal and of no significance. Sometimes, however, extra body hair can be a sign of something like polycystic ovaries (PCOS), a hormonal condition that can impact our body's ability to make milk. So if you are struggling with your milk supply and seek extra help from a lactation consultant, please do tell them if your hair-free nipples are due to your handy work with tweezers and that may help them piece together the pieces of your milk making jigsaw.
3. "Will I ever want to have sex again?"
Most likely yes, when we’ve just had a new baby our life has been turned upside down and our body seems somewhat alien to us. Our focus is on this small little person who takes up a surprisingly large part of our brain and thoughts all...the...time! But what is breastfeeding doing to us on a hormonal level and how does this affect our libido? Well, breastfeeding puts us into a state very similar to menopause, think night sweats and hormonal swings! Like menopause, breastfeeding causes a delay (for most people) in our periods returning which in turn causes low libido and symptoms such as vaginal dryness. It kind of makes you understand why sex seems such a chore, right? Your body, however, is working to protect your baby. If you don’t want to have sex, your periods and therefore fertility hasn’t returned which acts to protect your milk supply from pregnancy and therefore the health of your currently little nursing baby. My advice is to have clear and open communication with your partner. Intimacy can come in lots of different ways... and lube, lots and lots of quality natural lube!
4. "I have genital herpes or a cold sore, can I breastfeed my baby?"
This is a really sensible question and one that is potentially really important to your child’s health. Cold sores are caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes and both can be very harmful to a newborn, in particular the first 4 weeks of their life. So, if you experience either please make contact with your GP/Midwife, lesions can appear all over the body and if one is close to the breast, then you must cover the lesion so the baby is not in contact with it. If the lesion is on the breast then you should avoid feeding off that breast (you’ll need to pump to avoid mastitis and maintain milk supply). You must have strict hygiene measures, hand washing with soap and water, covering lesions, no kissing babies if you have a cold sore, sterilising pump parts after every use and trying to prioritise your diet and rest. Your GP may also be able to prescribe medication to treat and stop the spread of the virus during an outbreak.
5. "I don’t enjoy breastfeeding"
The relief in people is palpable when they tell me this and I say that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent, nor that you love your child any less. Breastfeeding can be hard work, relentless and thankless and whether it be transient dislike or actually something you feel frequently, I can assure you, you're not alone. Some people describe breastfeeding as a parenting chore, similar to changing nappies, something they have to do for their child’s health and wellbeing and they do it for those reasons alone. Some people just need more support, more cheerleaders, you need to be mothered as a mother. Then at the more extreme end is D-MER, dysmorphic milk ejection reflex where negative thoughts/sensations occur when your milk is let down. This can range from thoughts of sadness, guilt or to the extreme of suicidal thoughts, but I want to stress this is transient and only when your milk is let down. In between feeds you feel normal and your usual self. I’d encourage everyone to try and find a breastfeeding team, whether that be face to face, via zoom or on social media. If you have concerns about your mood please reach out to your GP or Maternal Health support like a plunket nurse or health visitor.