Thinking about breastfeeding...?
I have spent many years working with new mums, supporting them in their feeding choices, I have also breastfed my own son and had my own share of breastfeeding issues along the way and so I was thrilled when the Close family asked me to share my thoughts on starting out breastfeeding in recognition of National Breastfeeding Week.
Rather than offer step by step advice on getting started with breastfeeding, or listing all the positives (as there is so much brilliant advice out there already) I want to outline some of the areas that I feel play an important role in successful breastfeeding based on both my personal and professional experience. Hopefully these will be helpful for other women thinking of breastfeeding.
1. Inform yourself without getting bogged down with too much information.
When thinking of breastfeeding your child there are many excellent websites offering really sound advice on the ins and outs of breastfeeding (anything by Dr jack Newman, Kellymom and La Leche League to name a few). However the one thing I recommend all women do and that is watch other women breastfeed. The videos that Dr Jack Newman has online (on his website or YouTube) are really excellent, hang around with breastfeeding friends, ask them questions, or go to breastfeeding drop ins /cafes they are usually happy to have pregnant mums pop in to find out more about breastfeeding before the time comes. In many cultures girls grow into women having seen hundreds of babies breastfeeding, they instinctively know what a good latch is as they have watched it so many times, in western culture since breastfeeding became less popular and breastfeeding in public often frowned upon many women will give birth to their first child having never seen a baby at the breast before.
2. Adjust your expectations.
Many people think that breastfeeding is something that everyone can do just like that and it is true that for some breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, however for other women breastfeeding may not come easily. Listening to your instincts can really help and getting the right support as early as possible (even seeking advice before you give birth) can help make your breastfeeding journey much easier. it can take time for both mum and baby to get the hang of things so allow yourselves this time and trust that in most instances you will soon get the hang of things with the right support. I often come across mums who feel the only option they have is to breastfeed or not, however I have worked with many mothers who have chosen to exclusively express their milk for example, or to mix feed once their supply is established and have done so successfully. Sometimes circumstances may mean that your baby needs a little infant formula in the early days for numerous reasons and this doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the end of your breastfeeding journey if you don’t want it to be, so it doesn’t always have to be to be an either or decision.
3. As much skin to skin as possible.
Skin to skin as soon as possible after the birth and as much as possible in the first few days and weeks has a really positive hormonal impact for both mother and baby (and Dads can do lots of skin to skin with baby too). As breastfeeding is hormonally led in the first few days’ then lots of skin to skin helps to promote the production of these breastfeeding hormones.
4. Supply and demand.
After the first few days, breast milk production switches from being hormonally driven to being driven by supply and demand. This means the more frequently you empty your breasts then the more milk will be made. Many mums think that their breasts need to feel really full to have a good supply however this is often not the case, engorged breasts can be a sign that you are over producing, or baby is not emptying the breasts effectively. Breasts should feel fuller before a feed than after. Often babies want to feed every hour or two in the early days and this is nature’s way of emptying the breasts regularly and ensuring a good supply moving forward. Contrary to popular belief you do not need big breasts to have lots of milk.
5. ‘Breastfeeding takes so long’:
This is one of the negative comments I hear a lot, but for me this is not a negative but a positive! Not only are you sleep deprived but your body has spent nine months growing a baby, you have then given birth and are now making milk to continue to nourish your child – your body needs rest! Breastfeeding your baby means you are not rushing around trying to hoover and cook dinner at the same time, it is forcing you to sit down and put your feet up and spend time with your new baby, things that are often seen as less important in modern parenting. Make the most of it; these first precious weeks pass so quickly, cherish them as most other things can wait and remember that once breastfeeding is established it often becomes much quicker and easier and very convenient being on tap whenever and wherever you need it!
6. Breastfeeding should not be painful.
If it is then chances are that the latch/positioning needs checking, or in certain circumstances there may be another issue such as tongue tie. If you have inkling that there may be a breastfeeding problem, seek help from a breastfeeding professional as soon as possible. Many hospitals have drop in clinics and you can find a list of Lactation consultants local to you here.
7. Get as much support as possible.
Whether this is your partner bringing you snacks and drinks whilst you are feeding, or taking baby between feeds so that you can rest (an afternoon nap can work wonders for your evening milk supply, and even if you cannot nap just resting without distractions can help), or getting professional support in, get as much help as possible! Rope visitors in, if they ask if they can do something to help, hand them the hoover whilst you put your feet up cuddling baby!
8. Take care of your breasts.
Avoid washing in soaps that can dry the skin and remove many of the natural oils produced to lubricate the nipple area. Dry breasts well after bathing and feeding, dampness can encourage thrush infections which can be very painful and difficult to banish! Pop-in breast pads are especially effective at keeping the breast area dry and are much less bulky than some of the other options on the market.
Choose a nursing bra that is not too tight to avoid getting blocked ducts, keeping an eye on babies latch and making sure the breasts are properly drained after a feed is also really important.
Feeding baby in different positions drains different areas of the breast more efficiently, remember you have 360 degrees to latch your baby! Remember to switch baby from one side to the other regularly, a good tip is to start baby on the side they took less from on the previous feed. It can be helpful in the early days when you are particularly exhausted to keep a note of what side you fed on and when (I created a journal to do this, otherwise a notebook, an online app, or a bracelet you move from one wrist to the other can work just as well!)
Check your breasts gently for lumpy areas which can be perfectly normal when breastfeeding and should go once baby has fed well. If lumpy areas persist then seek advice from a health care professional. If baby needs taking off the breast, then gently insert your little finger into the corner of their mouth to break the seal. If you are worried about any symptoms you may have relating to your breast health (soreness etc) then seek help sooner rather than later (I will write a future blog post on breastfeeding problems).
9. One size doesn’t fit all with breastfeeding.
If something doesn’t work for you there will most likely be a different way to approach the issue that will be a better option with you. Different babies prefer different positions for example. I have worked with hundreds of mums and their new babies and not all things work for all babies. Likewise, not all feeding choices work for all families.
About Caroline Evans
She is a parenting consultant with more than 20 years experience of working with babies and children as an international nanny and maternity nurse. Alongside her childcare training Caroline is trained in breastfeeding support with a special interest in tongue tie and also has additional professional training in infant/child sleep, reflux and early allergy and post natal depression. She runs a small consultancy business that offers advice and bespoke support to new parents, helping them learn to listen to and communicate with their children in order to solve any issues they may be facing.
Caroline is also the Author of the Newborn Daily Baby Journal which parents can use to track the day to day activity of their child (feeds, sleeps etc).
You can get in touch with Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org