When I started working as a paediatrician, despite already feeling relatively passionate about breastfeeding, I was completely clueless about how best to support breastfeeding women and their babies. At my medical school in the UK (like most), breastfeeding is not part of the curriculum; despite breastfeeding being one of the most important public health interventions that healthcare professionals can have an impact on.
I think there are many of us who would like to provide more support but there is a niggling feeling that championing breastfeeding is interpreted as pressure to breastfeed. This is absolutely not the case. As health professionals (and now as a mother who has breastfed), I simply hope that we can all get better at discussing the pros and cons of breastfeeding open and honestly, and create support networks to help, support and encourage breastfeeding mothers.
Positioning and latch are key.
No amount of dolls, or pretend breasts could have helped me with how to get my baby to latch properly! Read as much as you can about latch, prior to the arrival of your little one. However, ensuring you have a good breastfeeding pillow is something I cannot stress enough. If you, or the baby, are uncomfortable, the latch is likely to be poor. A great pillow will make sure you are both comfortable, help with a multitude of breastfeeding positions, and make feeding out and about much easier. Get to know your nipples(!) before baby is born. Prepare for it to be sore at first. Plenty of people will tell you “If you’re doing it right, it won’t hurt” – but for me, this was not the case. While you and baby and both learning to latch properly, you are likely to experience some pain. So make sure you have plenty of nipple cream stashed away, and apply before and after every feed! Focus before every feed, no matter how tired you are. I used to have the lights on even in the middle of the night, to ensure Adeline’s latch was perfect every time.
Follow your baby’s cues.
Most newborns will cry when they want to be fed. They are trying to establish your milk supply and just like us as adults, they may take shorter or longer feeds, and feel full at different times. Bearing this in mind, it seems crazy that we ever suggest a baby should feed “x” amount every “y” hours. I fed Adeline every time she cried, and it worked. Keep an eye on wet and dirty nappies. From day 5, you would expect a baby to have 6+ wet nappies every 24 hours, with at least 2 poos (I know, I know, you will feel like ALL you do is feed and change nappies). Prepare yourself mentally for “cluster feeding” – this is where your baby will feed very frequently in bursts, usually between 7 pm to midnight (exhausting right?). Prepare for frequent feeds, frequent nappy changes, and whole body exhaustion – but I promise it gets better!
Protect and encourage your milk supply.
There is a direct correlation with the amount of milk you produce in the first 2 weeks after baby is born and your long-term milk supply (and subsequently breastfeeding success!) I won’t bore you with all the scientific details, but if baby isn’t frequently stimulating and draining your breasts in the first few weeks, you may be left with low milk supply. It is so important to remember that babies will want to feed irregularly and frequently for a long period of time This is normal newborn behaviour, and I wish someone had told me this before I experienced it! It took my daughter 16 weeks before she was ready to go 3 hours between each feed.
Remember, the following all normal newborn things: crying, fussing, not sleeping for long periods, not wanting to be put down and frequent feeding. None of these are signs that breastfeeding isn’t going well!
Not forgetting, look after yourself. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, eat well and allow yourself to be taken care of. You can’t feed a newborn, establish breastfeeding, wash the dishes, prepare the dinner and clean the house all at once – accept all the help you are offered, and delegate!
So let’s all talk about it more – open up discussion, break down barriers to communication, encourage other women and feel empowered to make the choices we want to, while having the support to do so successfully!