In honour of World Breastfeeding Week 2018, myself and other admins of a large online breastfeeding support group, asked our members to tell us the one thing they wished they’d known about breastfeeding before they had their baby.
With their permission I’ve made a list of the commons themes which emerged to help prospective, new and even second or third time mums who are about to start on a breastfeeding journey.
Normal feeding behaviour:
I wish I’d known…
to feed my baby as soon as possible after birth.
If you can, feed your baby within the first hour of its birth. After this the baby can become sleepy for up to 24 hours and less interested in breast feeding. Benefits of this first early feed include keeping baby warm by being skin to skin, calming the baby, giving baby colostrum as its very first milk and releasing oxytocin which makes your uterus contract and reduces your bleeding as well as making you feel very in love with your new tiny one.
that feeding takes some learning from both the mum and baby; it’s not always just an instinctive, effortless thing.
“I held my baby on my breast and thought why isn’t she doing that big open mouth thing they said she’d do”. Establishing breastfeeding takes time and patience and knowing this will help manage your expectations.
that the second 24 hours can be really tough with the baby seeming unsatisfied and wanting to feed around the clock.
This is normal. It is what the baby needs to do to bring your milk supply in. Try to relax and be responsive to your baby and avoid topping up with formula at this crucial stage. Tomorrow is another day and will likely be very different.
that newborn babies feed A LOT!
This is perfectly fine and normal and doesn’t always indicate that there is a problem. As long as baby is gaining weight and having wet and dirty nappies then frequent feeding day and night is what these tiny things do.
that babies cluster feed and that it doesn’t mean that you don’t have enough milk.
One of the mothers in our group described that the first time her baby cluster fed it made her feel panicked and confused and unsure if to give a dummy or top up with expressed milk. Cluster feeding typically occurs in the evening. My top tips for getting through (and even enjoying) the cluster feeding periods are to take a warm bath and put some comfy clothes on in the late afternoon before it starts, make sure you have your phone, a large bottle of water, snacks and the remote control to hand, have the tv or laptop set up ready to binge watch your way through those tv shows you’ve never got round to watching before, and make sure someone is on hand around dinner time to get you fed. Enjoy the snuggly cuddles!
how to safely co-sleep and bed share.
Many mothers choose to sleep with their babies right next to them as this is where their babies are happiest and sleep the best (longest). It also means you can feed without waking yourself up too much in the night, meaning a better night sleep for you too. I’d recommend taking a look at this website in order to help you to make an informed evidence-based choice about co-sleeping and how best to do it.
not to introduce bottle too early and before breast feeding was established.
A mum in our group ended up in the unfortunate situation where her baby refused to feed from the breast after having bottle feeds. She went on to exclusively pump for her baby. If your baby is having difficulties with breast feeding and you need to express and top up there are ways than other than bottle feeding. If you do have to bottle feed then use paced bottle feeding. See a breastfeeding support professional who will be able to advise you.
I wish I’d …
organised breastfeeding support before I gave birth.
It can be really helpful to identify who you could go to or where you can go for breastfeeding support in advance of your baby arriving. Not all women have difficulties establishing breastfeeding but some do, and in the postnatal haze it can be useful to have a number stored in your phone ready to get timely help if you need it. Ensure your partner knows what your wishes are and that you have their support so they can be your champion should you encounter difficulties with establishing breastfeeding.
known the difference between the various types of breastfeeding support and why IBCLC services are so expensive.
IBCLC or International Board Certified Lactation Consultants are healthcare professionals who are specialised in the management of breastfeeding and lactation. They go through lengthy studies and rigorous examination to receive the accreditation; which makes it the highest breastfeeding qualification one can have.
realised how little support there can be in the hospital setting.
Postnatal wards are busy and often stretched. The breastfeeding support skills and knowledge of the midwives who work there can be variable. There is no guarantee that you will receive good quality hands-on support in those first hours or days although many women do.
known which of my friends and family had breastfed before so that I could have had access to an on-tap support network.
There is infinite value in having the support of someone who has been there and done that to help you know what is normal in those early days. To have someone to pick up the phone and share your experiences with when things are going well and conversely if you’re having a tough day to talk it through with someone who understands.
found facebook and other online support groups and perhaps even joined antenatally to gain an understanding of what to expect.
An online community can be as supportive as friends and family. If you’re lucky you can find a group who have administrators with training in breastfeeding who can give you advice alongside the invaluable guidance, support and reassurance of other mothers.
Pain and feeding issues:
I wish I’d known…
pain-free feeding is possible.
In the first few days you may feel a bit of discomfort when the baby latches but this should diminish within a few seconds of baby attaching and should stop within a few days of feeding as your body gets used to the sensation of the baby being at the breast. Anything more than this isn’t right and you should concentrate on getting the latch right and seek some face to face support as soon as possible.
to get help as soon as things don’t feel right (before they feel really wrong)
The earlier you can access support if things aren’t going well the better. Breast feeding in the early days is time sensitive and you really want any issues resolved as soon as possible so that they don’t impact on your milk supply or cause you any pain or nipple trauma.
tongue ties can be quite common and can often be missed or are underdiagnosed or managed.
A tongue tie is where the lingual frenulum (skin membrane under the tongue) is too short causing a restriction in tongue movement which can impact on breast feeding in a number of ways. If you are experiencing pain or other difficulties with breast feeding then seek an assessment from a tongue tie practitioner or IBCLC.
Pleasure and benefits:
I wish I’d known…
“that I would end up actually enjoying feeding, not just out of pride for succeeding at the end of a tough journey, but simply for enjoying the act itself and for the moments of calm with my son”
“how much I would enjoy it. I’d heard so much about how difficult it was likely to be, that I didn’t realise how wonderful it could be!”
that the benefits of breast feeding for mother and baby go on beyond 6 months.
The NHS and World Health Organisation recommend breastfeeding for two years and beyond.
“how easy it is to forget memories of the first tough weeks”
For some women breastfeeding can be tough for the first few days or weeks but once you get through this period then breastfeeding becomes the most natural and easy thing to do. It is immediate and can soothe and calm your baby instantly.
I’d like to thank all the wonderful ladies who helped me to put this post together and I hope that it is helpful to any prospective or new mothers. If you have any things you’d like to add or share then please do comment below.