Let’s face it; breastfeeding isn’t always easy at the start and you should never doubt yourself if it isn’t coming ‘naturally’.
This is more than understandable. Back in the distant days when we all lived in close proximity to extended family and helped raise each other’s children, we would see someone breastfeeding all the time. Today we live in a very different world and often feel as if we are somehow supposed to know what to do and feel wracked with insecurity if we don’t. Yes, it’s absolutely true that some take to breastfeeding like ducks to water and never look back. For others it can be a rockier road but when armed with some top quality knowledge, it really can smooth out and be an enjoyable and treasured ride.
Here are some of my top tips for mums-to-be:
1. Have realistic expectations:
Babies have tiny tummies and need feeding around 8-12 times per day (or perhaps more!), often with a period of cluster feedings in the evenings. This is a healthy sign that all is well and does not indicate a problem. Some babies can take a few days to ‘wake up’ and recover from birth, particularly if any interventions have been necessary. So if suckling isn’t coming easily to them, have plenty of skin-to-skin contact, lie back in a reclined position with your baby on your chest, hand express at least every few hours (it will be in such tiny quantities that it can get lost with a pump) and give it to them with a spoon or syringe. In this way your baby will still be getting their milk and have ample opportunity to put in the groundwork of smelling, touching, seeing and tasting you, which is all crucial to getting breastfeeding started.
2. Investigate the pain
Breastfeeding often feels slightly tender at first but it should never be ‘grit-your-teeth-toe-curling’ pain. If you find yourself digging your nails into the bed, always ask for help. Most commonly, pain issues can be solved with changing how you position yourself and your baby. If you are told that ‘it looks fine’ and it still feels awful, ask somebody else! Something is always wrong if you are in pain so don’t just grin and bear it. If things really don’t improve despite help, then ensure your baby is checked for tongue tie. These can be pretty sneaky and can lead to all sorts of breastfeeding issues if not recognised. Remember the mantra: problems have solutions.
3. Believe in your body
The worry of not having enough milk is a very common reason for stopping breastfeeding. Some conditions can directly impact on a mother’s milk production but in general, with optimal breastfeeding management, the vast majority of women have the innate capacity to produce enough milk for their baby (or babies!). What we eat and drink has very little impact on making milk. The most important factors, by a million miles, are to ensure that you are feeding frequently (and/or expressing) and effectively (i.e. your baby is able to remove the milk well from your breast). These two things guarantee that your brain will get strong messages that the milk is moving and that it needs to put in the orders to make more. If your baby isn’t feeding much (and there are plenty of reasons why this might happen) then don’t hesitate to seek help to get to the root of the issue.
4. Know who to ask for help
Figuring out whose advice to trust can be very frustrating when you are faced with lots of different opinions. Knowing how to weed out the dodgy advice and finding informed, objective and compassionate support, is often crucial to success. The best place to go in times of need is to a certified breastfeeding counsellor (who often work for voluntary organisations) or an IBCLC (aka International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Be cautious of ‘breastfeeding experts’ with little or no qualifications and always avoid formula company ‘care-lines’ who pose as offering breastfeeding support, but who’s hidden aim is to obtain your details and send you information on their products. Not cynical – it’s true!
5. Chuck ‘guilt’ out of the window
There’s something about becoming a mother that immediately allows ‘guilt’ to creep in to practically anything we even dare to think about! If you’ve chosen to bottle feed and you are happy with your decision, then don’t feel guilty. Own your decision. If you wish further down the line that you had breastfed or had continued for longer, don’t feel guilty either. We only ever make decisions like these based on what we feel and know to be right for us at the time. If you struggle with breastfeeding and it ends prematurely for you, please don’t feel guilty either. Chances are that you did everything within your resources to make it work and you are one hell of an amazing mama.
Author: Vanessa Christie, lactation consultant at The Baby Show with MadeForMums (www.thebabyshow.co.uk)