Next up in our series on Pregnancy, Childbirth and being a Mum, to celebrate the launch of our new Mum to Be range, our guest blogger Pauline Mc Loughlin shares her ten top tips to help expectant mothers get breastfeeding off to a good start. Pauline is a nurse and midwife who is passionate about breastmilk and breast feeding and she has channelled that passion into becoming an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
She works in primary care, part time in Sligo, Ireland and runs a private clinic alongside breastfeeding workshops in BabyBloom Mother and Child Clinic, Strandhill, Sligo on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Breast Milk is the most natural first food for babies, it facilitates growth and development but uniquely it also offers widespread protection against disease and infection. In almost all circumstances our bodies make and provide milk whether we choose to use it or not. Breast milk amazes me and always has. My own mother was a great believer in letting nature take its course and the very nature of birth and breastfeeding is what roots me firmly in my work. Deciding to breastfeed can be as simple or as complex as nature itself. In my own case, I never thought about not doing it, I see breastfeeding as embedded into parenting.
I believe that making the decision to breastfeed your baby is your first step to getting breastfeeding established. Here are 10 other helpful steps to help you get breastfeeding off to a good start.
Find out all you can about breastmilk and breastfeeding.
The more you and your partner find out about breastmilk the more it will amaze you. Attend and participate in breastfeeding preparation workshops with your partner. A good breastfeeding preparation workshop increases your confidence in your ability to breastfeed. There are plenty of privately run workshops available for expectant mothers, these tend to be run by lactation consultants and are smaller in size so there is more time to discuss your concerns and get your individual needs met. Most maternity hospitals run free breastfeeding classes and I think they are also well worth attending. Classes inform you about how breastfeeding works and what may help if you are struggling with the process. You will also learn about what is normal breastfeeding behaviour.
If you are unable to attend a breastfeeding class, there are some excellent websites on breastfeeding and parenting that provide helpful information to expectant mums who are considering breastfeeding, here are some good one's to get you started: Global Health Media Breastfeeding, KellyMom and Humanmilk. If you are someone who prefers books, you can also purchase a variety of books on breastfeeding to help prepare you before baby arrives. International La Lecher League: “Womanly art of breastfeeding” is an excellent go to book.
Find a good childbirth preparation class and attend with your birth partner.
Breastfeeding is a continuum of birth; some people say breastfeeding is the fourth stage of birth. The more intervention that takes place in birth the more difficult it can be for mothers to initiate breastfeeding. Good childbirth classes inspire confidence in your ability to birth as naturally as you can, they empower you to be active and engaged in all the decisions made during the birth of your baby.
Learn how to hand express and practice it in the later weeks of your pregnancy.
After your preparation classes you will know all about skin to skin contact after birth and initiating breastfeeding in the first hour or so following birth. Sometimes interventions need to take place and as a result you may be separated from your baby for a time after birth. If you know this may happen or if you think it is likely that you will be separated from your baby initially, ask a lactation consultant or midwife about expressing colostrum’s in the later weeks of pregnancy and about storing it. In some cases, expressing colostrum is not advised, that is why it is good to speak to a lactation consultant or midwife first. Remember that because these interventions take place it doesn’t mean you cannot produce breastmilk. Be patient with this process and keep your baby close to you when possible, express after birth early to stimulate your breasts.
Find your breastfeeding and parenting village
And do it before the birth of your baby! Your village may be friends and family who will support you, encourage you and provide you with information. Attend a breastfeeding support group before the birth, these groups can become family to you and be your best supporter. If you attend a group during your pregnancy you are more likely to contact them sooner if you run into difficulties and need support. International La Leche League, Friends of Breastfeeding and Cuidiu are all excellent support groups that can be found nationally. Breastfeeding forums or various social media pages can also be a helpful source of information and companionship for breastfeeding mums.
Create a nest for yourself, your baby and partner
Don’t stray too far from the nest in the first few weeks. Your parenting and breastfeeding need time to evolve. You need time to process the birth and find your way into your roles as parents. It takes about 40 days from when your milk comes in, this happens around day 3, to reach full milk production. At the end of 6 weeks you will be producing more or less a litre of breastmilk a day, all going well. This will more or less satisfy your baby’s nutritional needs until they are 6 months and ready to start solid foods.
Partners can often feel redundant and unsure of how they can participate as a parent when their partner breastfeeds. Partners can do skin to skin with their baby when they are unsettled or after they have been breastfed. Soothe the baby, bath the baby, and provide nourishing meals for mum. Partners can be the gate keeper when days feel over-whelming and you need to minimise visitors ...Now that can be tricky! Turn off social media for parts of the day and limit mobile phone use as it can be very intrusive at this special but also sometimes intense time.
Give in to the nature of your new born baby.
New borns need to be close to their mothers, they do not like separation. Warmth, loving touch, hearing your voice and frequent feeding is what allows your baby to thrive. Don’t be afraid to hold your baby, you cannot spoil a new born; you are simply responding to their needs. Let the babies lead in terms of their needs and you will soon pick up their little rhythms. Imposing rigid schedules /routine on babies can often lead to frustration and lots of tears. There are no winners.
Keep your baby close at all times.
Babies are hard wired to feed frequently and to wake regularly. It is a protective mechanism. Expect to feed between 10 and 12 times in 24 hours, there will be one or two periods in the 24 hours of more prolonged sleep, usually 2 to 3 hours. As the weeks go by this prolonged period of sleep may extend to 4 to 5 hours. By three months sleep becomes more consolidated. Most babies need to be offered both breasts at a feeding, they almost always take more from one breast at each feed. By watching your baby feed, you soon begin to know when they are feeding well and conversely when they are not feeding well.
When your baby is close to you, you can pick up their cues for feeding early, cues such as mouth opening, hand to mouth and head moving from side to side. This is a good time to attach them to the breast when they are more relaxed. They are more likely to attach and suck more competently. Crying is a late feeding cue, it is harder to attach babies to the breast when your baby is crying. Sometimes, I recommend that babies are responded to by feeding first and then changing their nappies in between feeds. Your baby should be sleeping where you are, so have a basinet in your living area for day time sleeps.
All babies are neurologically wired to wake frequently for food and that includes during the night. It is necessary for milk production in the early months. Practice feeding in bed lying down, side lying or lay back feeding. Keeping the lights and the sounds low helps to keep disturbance minimal and so you will be able to get back to sleep easier. A co sleeper arrangement by your bed is really helpful where you can slide them back to the cot once they have settled following a feed.
Have a plan for trouble shooting
Parenting and breastfeeding is not always straightforward. Problems can feel big and insurmountable with the newness of being a parent for the first time. If you encounter a problem, get breastfeeding help. Start with your social media circle and support groups who often offer telephone contact. If that does not resolve your issue next is professional help. Your local hospital may offer free breastfeeding clinics in the community, these are frequently run by Public Health Nurses who are lactation consultants.
Your GP or practice nurse can also offer breastfeeding support. Some mothers have the resources and may prefer to pay to see a lactation consultant privately. A private consultation is one to one and usually last for one to two hours in your own home or a clinic like BabyBloom Clinic. The consultation is much focused, and a full feeding assessment is carried out, women are given a management plan and there is usually follow up contact. Whatever your resources there will be help for your problems. Get help early.
Trust your Instincts
Somehow new born babies appear to bring about spontaneous commentary! It is one of the times in your life when people you meet feel free to comment on the way you parent your baby. Place yourself in a lovely breastfeeding bubble and let unhelpful comments bounce off you. There is always more than one way to do the right thing, you just need to find your way and you will in time.
You can learn more about Babybloom Mother & Child Clinic here or follow Pauline's Facebook page here.