In my work as a midwife and as a mother, it’s overwhelming when you’re a new mum and get conflicting advice about breastfeeding. You will always get differences of opinion due to different teaching techniques, professionals using their own experiences and different levels of training and of course, friends and relatives telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. I’ve been lucky to get good support from friends, family, colleagues and La Leche League (LLL) but not everyone is so lucky. I’ve put something together to help answer the questions I get asked the most and the most common worries. I’ve been a midwife for 14 years and this article will equip you with what you need to succeed in breastfeeding and to prepare you if you haven’t yet started.
My personal experience of breastfeeding
As far as my personal experience goes, my first child was breastfed for 4 months then bottle fed. The next two children were breastfed for 2-3 months then combination fed for 2 more and then formula fed. My third is nearly 3 and still breastfeeding – maybe it was third time lucky but I really wanted to feed for longer and made sure I had support this time. Plus, I read up on the topic even further than my midwifery training (which was aimed more on the biological aspect). I was happy with the choices I made with my other children, but I was curious as to why I hadn’t fed for longer and I had the desire to do so this time. I didn’t anticipate doing it for this long though, that has been led by him! I am of the opinion, and the evidence clearly states that breastmilk is technically better than formula milk, but you should do what’s right for you and your family at the time with the information you have. Nobody should make you feel guilty for the choices you make. Love and support are far more important to your child at the end of the day.
When you feel like you don’t have enough milk to breastfeed
My baby is hungry and won’t stop feeding, my breasts are soft and not engorged are all things we associate with not enough milk. The truth is, most women will have enough milk, babies need to feed regularly for the first few weeks to build supply and they also gain a lot of comfort from sucking at the breast and being in your arms. If the baby is gaining weight, happy, settling for some periods and is passing urine regularly and has regular bowel movements that are yellowish in colour, then the baby is getting enough. If the baby is not gaining sufficient weight or losing weight, has a hoarse cry and doesn’t settle at all, then these are signs that the baby is not getting enough. Ask yourself is baby feeding regularly? Are you drinking enough fluids? Breastmilk is made from your bloodstream, so unless you’re severely anaemic, you should be making enough milk. Previous breast surgery and not having the right breast tissue can sometimes be an issue, but the size of your breasts is not related to lack of milk supply. I have a friend who is tiny, both in her frame and has small boobs but has so much milk! Poor positioning and attachment can mean the breasts aren’t being emptied properly, which in turn affects the supply, so it’s important to get this right and get support to check.
Although it’s unlikely you will have a low supply, there are things to help or at least make you feel better. Some people take fenugreek supplements. There are lactation bars, teas, cakes, cookies and brownies. Others take oats, flax seed and flapjacks, or even beer! I believe if you’re well-nourished and hydrated that’s half the battle won. The other half is hormonal. It’s important to be relaxed as much as possible and connected to your baby. If you’re stressed about supply, it can be a vicious cycle. Again, support is vital, from your partner and friends and family first, then external groups.
My baby wants to breastfeed all the time, it’s not normal and they must be hungry
This is very common and can be frustrating. When I first breastfed I just thought you fed the baby until it fell asleep, then you put it down and if it was still hungry you fed it again but this didn’t go on for long – I was wrong! Comfort plays a big part in breastfeeding. So how can you tell the difference and what can you do when you want a shower and 5 minutes peace?! Well, if you’ve been feeding a while and you’ve heard baby suck and swallow and they’re now doing more fluttery sucks and more gaps in between sucks, they’ve probably had their fill. As soon as they’ve gone like that on one side, swap them over to the other side, then repeat the process until they no longer actively feed. You could then try other comfort methods such as wearing your baby in a sling or giving baby to Dad or another family member for cuddles. Check out my number one favourite baby sling, the Close Caboo – it will last through all your children and provides the optimum positioning for baby. Plus, it’s so supportive for your back and big enough for Dad to wear. Going out for a walk, going for a drive or placing them in a safe place while you shower/eat/brush your teeth can also give you a much needed break.
A term you may hear in breastfeeding is Cluster Feeding. Occasionally, babies want to be on the breast frequently or be unsettled and ‘colicky.’ It can also vary how often and how long they feed for. This can be due to illness, growth spurts, your breast milk storage capacity and let down reflex.
Your nipples won’t be sore if you’re doing it right
Even if you’re getting your positioning right it can take one bad attachment to give you sore nipples. I was sore with all except one of mine, and I had to resort to nipple shields for a few weeks with one of them, but using them kept me going. I was seriously ready to stop after 3 days it was so painful. There are nipple creams and shells you can buy and you can even resort to cabbage leaves, but if you persevere and get help to check your latch and positioning it will only be short lived. Some people get no soreness, but I’ve found that most women get some degree of soreness or sensitivity in the first 2 weeks. This eases with correct positioning and shouldn’t last throughout the feed. If your soreness is all the way through the feed and your nipple is blistered or misshapen at the end of the feed, get yourself seen sooner rather than later. If your baby has thrush and passes it to you, that can cause pain when feeding. Don’t suffer in silence is my main message here.
I want to breastfeed but my husband/mum/family want to feed and bond with the baby
Feeding a baby isn’t the only way to bond with it! There are lots of other ways your family can get involved with the baby and help you out. Changing, bathing, holding, dancing, singing, baby wearing, walking, driving, and skin-to-skin contact are all good ways to bond. You find out who really wants to help and bond when there’s a stinky nappy to change!
I want some help with night feeds, so I’ll bottle feed at night
Firstly, a heads up. Yes, your other half or family may do the night feeds at times. Will you sleep on, silently in blissful ignorance? No, you’ll be half asleep, thinking you could do it a lot quicker or that they’re doing it right. At best, you’ll just get to lie there and relax while you listen to the goings on. Usually, they have work, so you’ll end up doing it most of the time anyway out of guilt, even though you’re the most knackered. What can be a better option, is that they do all the night changes that are necessary and are on alert for any crying or signs of waking. They can get the baby and help you position them for a feed, then once it’s done they settle baby back down. It’s a great way for the partners to get involved. If you bed share or have a bedside co-sleeper, both parents become highly attuned to the baby’s needs. If you really must go out and party 3 weeks after giving birth you have my blessing, but seriously, you’ve had a baby and your life has changed (you’ll have time to party in the future, I promise. Although now my definition of party means a night in with wine, TV and a takeaway). Leave it a little while and focus on the baby – and that goes for you and your partner.
When will breastfeeding get easier and what can I expect?
All babies are slightly different. By 6-8 weeks you’ll be in your stride and be more tuned to baby’s feeding needs but growth spurts, illness and teething can always set things awry. Once they hit 4-6 months feeding is a lot quicker as they are so much more efficient. After 6 months they usually start on solids. You might want to invest in an electric breast pump if you’re going back to work. Remember, a newborns stomach is very small and colostrum is super rich and concentrated. A formula fed baby will need more to get the same nutrients so it’s not the same to compare. Here is a good visual to remember:
Use your local services – breastfeeding drop ins, midwives, health visitors, La Leche League, peer support and baby cafes to name a few. Build your Mum network with friends you know, new friends or online support through forums and social networks.