In my work as a midwife and as a mother, it’s overwhelming when you’re a new mother and get conflicting advice about breastfeeding from day 1. Work is on the way to change this but you’ll always get differences of opinion due to different teaching techniques, professionals using their own experiences of breastfeeding plus different levels of training not to mention friends and relatives telling you what you should 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 gathered together the best articles, resources and blogs I’ve found that are to my knowledge accurate and helpful together with my two pence worth that answer the questions I get asked the most and the most common worries. I’ve been a midwife for 14 years. These will equip you with what you need to succeed in breastfeeding and to prepare you if you haven’t started yet.
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 then formula fed, my third is 2 and a half 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 my 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 bought this book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which is so well written, plus it has tear out toolkits at the back including templates for visitors to your new baby – so helpful! I read some of it in order, and some of it as it applied to me. It’s the only breastfeeding book that’s made sense to me, and whatever issue or emotion I had there was an answer. I can’t recommend it enough, I talk about it to my clients all the time, and it always re-sells well so you’d get some of your money back when you’ve finished, or do one of your friends a service and pass it on. I am of the opinion and the evidence clearly states that breastmilk is technically better than formula milk, but you have to do what’s right for you and your family at the time with the information you have, and no-one 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.
Myth no. 1: I don’t have enough milk to breastfeed
My baby is hungry and won’t stop feeding, my breasts are soft and not engorged, there isn’t 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 regularly 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, these are signs 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 be an issue, but the size of your breasts are not an issue. 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. This article highlights the perceived problem well: Low milk supply 101
Although it’s unlikely you will have a low supply and the answer is usually to feed more often, 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- some people take oats, flax seed and flapjacks, or even beer! I believe if you’re well nourished and hydrated that’s half the battle. 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.
Myth no. 2: My baby wants to breastfeed all the time, it’s not normal
This is so common and can be really frustrating. When I first breastfed I just thought you fed the baby until it fell asleep and 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. Then you could 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’s not the cheapest one but it will last you 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 give you a much needed break. See Emma Pickett’s article on The Dangerous Game of the Feeding Interval Obsession
The La Leche League is an international organisation which has many local groups run by Mothers who have undergone training. Meetings are informal and often in someone’s home so can be less intimidating than breastfeeding drop in clinics. I found my group invaluable. Their website has lots of useful articles, one in particular about Cluster Feeding which is very helpful, as babies tend to have one or more times of the day when they seem to want to be on the breast frequently or be unsettled and ‘colicky.’ They also vary how often and how long they feed for, according to illness, growth spurts, your breast milk storage capacity and let down reflex.
Myth no.3: Your nipples won’t be sore if you’re doing it right
Sore nipples – even if you’re getting your positioning right it can take one bad attachment to give you sore nipples, I was sore with all four except William, and that’s because I expressed for the first 2 weeks (he was premature) and with Phoebe I had to resort to nipple shields for a few weeks but using them kept me going, I was seriously ready to stop after 3 days it was so painful. There are nipple creams, shields and shells you can buy and 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 in my work I’ve found that most women get some degree of soreness or sensitivity in the first 2 weeks, but it 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. So don’t suffer in silence is my main message here.
Myth no.4: 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, babywearing, walking, driving, and skin-to-skin contact are all good ways to bond.
Myth no.5: I want some help with night feeds, so I’ll bottle feed at night
Firstly, a heads up. Yes they 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 he’s not doing it right. At best, you’ll just get to lie there and relax while you listen to the goings on. Mostly, they have to work, so you’ll end up doing it most of the time anyway (see one of my funny examples here). What can be a better option, is that they do all the night changes that are necessary, they are on alert for any crying or signs of waking, and they 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 (for the moment – 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 but with variations on a theme. The Alpha Parent is a great blog with useful insights, this one about The timeline of a breastfed baby is very helpful.
Remember, a newborn’s 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:
One of the best go to websites for answers (apart from mine of course) is Kellymom, you will find sensible and evidence based advice here, I often use it as a resource when I need to check something (my brain can only hold so much information at a time!). Don’t forget the NHS Choices website too, lots of great articles and videos.
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 be that Mum friends you know, new friends or online support through forums and social networks.
I hope this post has been of some use, feel free to comment, or contact me with your queries, or if you just want to chat. Don’t forget to join the Midwife and Life Facebook group, it’s a lovely community of like minded parents, and we aim to stay judgement free.