by Alissa Pemberton – Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant & Holistic Sleep Coach. www.motherandmilk.co.uk
In all my years working with breastfeeding mamas I have come to believe that preparation and support really are key to a smooth and enjoyable breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding may be natural – but it’s a learned skill. Add to that the overwhelming (yet wonderful!) nature of daily life with a newborn making it a learning curve for all of us, but there are steps you can take before your baby is born to make the journey simpler, easier and to avoid common complications.
Attend a breastfeeding education session/workshop
Knowledge is power here – we can’t expect to be able to breastfeed and build a good milk supply if we have no idea how our breasts and our babies work! Ask your midwife about what your birth place offers in terms of a group breastfeeding workshop – most hospital trusts have one available to parents. Private workshops are also available through other breastfeeding specialists and lactation consultants. We wouldn’t wait to learn how to drive until you were on the slip road for the motorway – so why wait to learn about breastfeeding?
Plan your support system All breastfeeding support is not made equal, but there’s lots out there for mums to access. Before your baby arrives research who is available in your area – this might be a specialist breastfeeding midwife, a lactation consultant, a local breastfeeding drop in group or breastfeeding helpline. If you’ve got these contact details handy before your baby is born you’ll know exactly where to turn if things aren’t quite going to plan. You might like to research a specialist like a lactation consultant and meet with them before your baby is born to put a personalised plan together and ask any questions you may have. In the UK you can find your local IBCLC at www.lcgb.org
Prepare yourself for life with a newborn The first few days with a newborn will be exhausting – it’s a fact. If you’re prepared for that, it won’t come as such a shock. Newborn babies will commonly feed every 1-2 hours in the first few days. The colostrum they receive in these early days provides everything your baby needs, but because it’s lower in fat and carbohydrates than mature breast milk, combined with your baby’s very small stomach, they need small frequent feeds. Prepare for this by enlisting help at home – freeze meals in advance, organise shopping deliveries and arrange some family who can help out with chores around the house or help settle baby while you rest. I often advise new families to 'live like a newborn' for those first few weeks. Forget about the clock, forget about daytime or nighttime. Don't worry if it's 10am and your hungry for lunch, or it's 3pm and you feel ready for bed. Be like a newborn. Eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're tired, get up when you're not. Throw our usual adult routine out the window and go with the cues your body is giving you - this will make those first few weeks so much easier to deal with!
From birth – feed frequently! As any mum who has had breastfeeding difficulties will tell you – if you’ve got a good milk supply, everything else is one hundred times easier to deal with. The key to a good milk supply? Frequent feeding + effective feeding (or pumping). The more milk you remove, the more your body will produce, but if milk is left in your breasts for long periods your body assumes your baby doesn’t need it and starts cutting back on production. Seek some support or education on how to help your baby latch deeply while breastfeeding - this makes all the difference to ensuring feeding is comfortable and efficient. Happy mum & happy baby!
Antenatal Expressing This is perhaps the most important step you can take to prepare for a positive start to breastfeeding. Your breasts actually start producing colostrum from around 16 weeks of pregnancy and you can express colostrum from 37 weeks to freeze and have on hand for your baby. If you or your baby are unwell, or separated for any reason, or if you’re struggling getting your baby to latch you don’t need to worry about negatively impacting breastfeeding and your baby’s gut health by introducing formula early – you’ve got all that colostrum on hand ready to go! Ask your midwife for some sterile syringes and spend those last few weeks of maternity leave giving your breastfeeding journey a boost! Check out our blog here on how to hand express
You might have heard the phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. It also takes a village to support a breastfeeding mother so reach out and grab that support with both hands! Link in with local mothers and professionals and seek support sooner rather than later – any complications with breastfeeding are always easier to deal with the earlier you seek help.