How to Breastfeed…

I’ve thought about writing a post like this for a long time, but Breastfeeding is such an emotive topic I’ve shied away from discussing it. That and well, breastfeeding sometimes doesn’t leave you much time to write blog posts about breastfeeding. 😉 Theres so much I could include in this post that somehow my thoughts have never quite made it to the page, but I decided to bite the bullet and make a start.

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Let’s get it out of the way before I begin. I am an unashamedly passionate breastfeeding advocate. But to be completely clear, that is simply because I hope for everyone to have the lovely experience I have had feeding my two girls. I’ve had a relatively smooth ride feeding my babies, but I appreciate that not everyone does and in my experience, although it’s improving all the time, breastfeeding support is often not as good as it could be when people really need it. These are the key principles and resources that I felt helped me both prepare and persist with breastfeeding, as a new mum and feeding a second time around, along with the many months of even less glamorous feeding a not so little baby or toddler. I’d love to hear if you have any amazing tips that you found invaluable too.

Make your wishes clear from the outset.
If you do want to breastfeed, make your wishes clear to the delivery team around you from the outset and your family and friends. Write it down in your birth plan that you want to have immediate and uninterrupted skin to skin, and want to try and breastfeed within the hour if possible. This is totally possible even if you’re having a C-section – when I had Bea the team were so supportive bringing her straight to me on the table, where she stayed for the duration, and getting me feeding straight away in recovery. The sooner you can start the better, in terms of calming and nourishing your baby, and it’s good for expelling the placenta if you’ve had a vaginal birth. The sucking stimulates hormones which promote the uterus contracting down once the baby is out, also reducing the risk of haemorrhage.
You may wish to consider what your wishes are if you or the baby are unexpectedly taken ill and have to be separated – this is a good discussion to have with your partner and make your wishes clear to them if you can’t be present to express them.

Prepare the people around you.
When I planned to breastfeed for the first time with Bea I had no immediate family members who were breastfeeding or had breastfed for any significant length of time. The culture was very much around bottle feeding and that had a big impact on the kind of help I was offered. For example, if you bottle feed and you’re tired, someone else can give the bottle to the baby and cuddle them while you go get some sleep. People also always love feeding a baby and often put pressure on to be able to do that for you, encouraging you to express or add formula in for that reason.
If you are breastfeeding then the kind of help you need is completely different, you need to bond with and focus on the baby and feeding him or her, and the offers of help need to be around looking after you as you might not be able to! Ask friends or family to bring prepared food, do a quick shop, take the dog for a walk, put the recycling out, put a wash on, hang it out or clean the house. If it’s not your first child ask them to play or do an activity with your older children either in the house or take them to the park. Your priority needs to be the baby and their priority needs to be facilitating you doing that and helping to do all the things you can’t, (or maybe can do, but it would be lovely not to so you can spend those precious first few days and weeks enjoying your new bundle,) as a result.
I also felt I needed to prepare my mum particularly, who I knew would be worried if I was struggling with tiredness because of all night feeding marathons or frequent wake ups. I wanted to make really clear that I expected that and was prepared to deal with it, and that I didn’t see tiredness as a reason to stop feeding or to give a bottle, so it wasn’t put forward as a well intended offer of help. (I should add here, in the end my mum didn’t have to worry as Bea was a dream sleeper despite being breastfed, it was Cora who brought us the challenges second time around!)

Arm yourself with knowledge
The first few days after having a baby can be really tough. You’re physically exhausted and often sore and after having gone through a long period of exertion in labour, just when you need some sleep and rest to recover you enter a period of intense sleep deprivation. Aside from the physical drains, your emotional reserves are low as the hormone rollercoaster kicks in, and you may feel anxious and doubt your decisions or your ability to breastfeed. Getting a few key facts straight in your mind can help you feel more equipped to make decisions when other health care professionals start to get involved or even give you strength to keep going on that 4th night of sleep deprivation when your milk still hasn’t come in and you can’t think what to do for tiredness and worry.
A bit of reading in the weeks before you are due can be really helpful with this I think, and I particularly rate this book: The Food of Love. It’s funny, real and just quite brilliant.

Key things to remember are:

  • Your baby has a super tiny stomach when it’s born and that slowly slowly slowly expands over the course of weeks as the quantities of milk it receives increase. It doesn’t need a 100ml bottle of milk at birth to feed it.
  • The Colostrum your body produces before the milk comes in is in tiny, tiny amounts but the nutrients in it are so complex and fat rich that it’s enough to sustain your baby in those initial days before your milk does come in.
  • Milk is produced by the body according to demand so even though your baby may be on the breast and sucking a lot in those early days before the milk appears, it’s not a sign of hunger, but a normal reflex. Your baby is working with your body to tell it to produce the milk. Give the baby a bottle at this point and it stimulating that reflex and the body isn’t prompted to make milk. It’s not quite that simple as there are other factors involved in milk production, and one bottle wont halt the whole process, but it’s a really important connection to make that your supply is made according to demand, from your baby.
  • The milestone of your milk ‘coming in’ – the point where your breasts actually start to produce breast milk for the baby can take several days. It can be sooner with a second child or when your body is particularly quick off the mark, but after a C Section when your body was caught by surprise that the baby was coming out, or if you had a long labour or traumatic delivery and are exhausted, that can slow things down to. As a point of reference, I had my first daughter on a Monday via C-Section. I think my milk came in on the Friday. This is how human beings were designed and it works just fine, don’t feel pressured into giving a bottle if you don’t want to because your baby is ‘hungry’.
  • Babies don’t go to the breast just for food. Breastfeeding is about so much more than nutrition. It is safety, comfort, connection, soothing, pain relief and more so when your baby wants to latch on, it might not be because they’re hungry. Trying to get to grips with that when you’re touched out, tired and fed up is one thing, but also having to fend off comments from others about how baby ‘can’t possibly be hungry‘ or how ‘you’re making a rod for your own back,‘ can be really stressful in an already confusing time so having some knowledge about normal infant feeding habits can really give you some confidence to stick with it. Little Peach is a really great Insta account for breastfeeding mums with sound advice and inspirational daily snippits.

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week followers! I’ve been feeding this little one for almost 5 months now and was already pregnant with her when I stopped Feeding Bea at just over 2. When I first started thinking about breastfeeding my sole motivation was an 8hour flight we had planned when Bea was 4months and not wanting to faff around with formula on flights. On my two and a half year breastfeeding journey since, I’ve become a passionate breastfeeding advocate and I love seeing mums and nurslings succeed and have fulfilling Bf relationships. It’s not about what’s right or wrong or even best, but that I wish every woman could experience the joy I have from breastfeeding my girls. #WBW2017 #normalizebreastfeeding #breastfeedingweek #breastfeeding #joy #love

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Make a nest
Breastfeeding can appear to be the most natural thing in the world. Once you’ve got the whole thing down you can latch a baby on in your sleep (in fact they will do it themselves,) and feed one handed striding around the park whilst herding a toddler too, but that’s not how it works with a newborn. BOTH of you are learning then and you both need time to get a few things right. Guiding the baby to latch on, making sure its a great latch to prevent you getting too sore and help baby to stimulate the milk as much as possible, all takes some serious co-ordination and frankly a lot of getting your boob out. You need to be able to see it, Baby needs to be able to get at it without clothes rucked up around you… The majority of new mums don’t feel that confident wrestling with a screaming babe and a bare breast with great uncle Arthur visiting or in the local Costa Coffee, so this is a time for battening down the hatches a little, holding off the visitors and just resting. Make sure you have your partner on feeding duty – that’s feeding (and don’t forget hydrating!) YOU by the way. Get super comfortable, keep things warm so you can do lots of skin to skin to promote milk production, and soak it all in. Milk production is also strongly linked to your physical state. If you’re exhausted and physically drained from labour, your body needs the rest to get the milk going and the oxytocin rush you will get from uninterrupted bonding with your baby is super important too.

This isn’t advice just for the first week either. Sometimes things get more difficult when your milk has come in as baby gets a taste for the milk and has some catching up to do. If you have lots of visitors holding the baby, again aside from it being exhausting you can’t learn your baby’s ‘cue’s’ as well because you’re not as close, which is really important in the first few weeks. Getting to know your baby and when they want to sleep or feed makes your life so much easier! And when baby wants to latch on again for the 5th time in an hour you shouldn’t have to explain yourself or listen to comments from well meaning relatives which put you at risk of committing a violent crime in your sleep deprived state. 😉

Have support on standby
If you did NCT or a local birth preparation course hopefully you had a breastfeeding session and took away some information about feeding support when the baby arrives. Local midwives often have ‘infant feeding’ teams who come and visit to help you but anyone who has been trying to get to grips with breastfeeding a baby knows that when it isn’t going to plan you feel like you need hand holding several times a day, not a couple of times a week. There’s no substitute for good experienced advice when you actually have the baby in your arms either.
La Leche League, (UK site here – LLL UK) connects mothers to local support groups and practitioners and has great blog posts. Breastfeeding Consultants/Lactation Consultants Local breastfeeding nurse, breastfeeding café’s or 4th trimester meet ups all offer practical and emotional support throughout your breastfeeding journey, from newborn to weaning, so familiarise yourself with where to find them before you need them and USE THEM. The NHS BF page has lots of pointers to help too.

It takes a village
What frustrates me about breastfeeding is there is always someone ready to talk about how hard it is but there are few people willing or able to talk about their positive experience. There aren’t enough people talking about it, or doing it, to make it normal. We should be able to talk openly about our experiences, be that sore nipples, (I can recommend a cream for that!) choices around Co-sleeping, (I have World Health Organisation guidance on that which you can use to practise safe co-cleeping!) the challenges of feeding an older baby or toddler (Seriously, solidarity sister!) the sleep deprivation during a growth spurt, how to keep breastfeeding when you go back to work, how to get baby to take a bottle, how to go about weaning from the breast if you want to… the list goes on and on and on. There might not be a solution but what I’m trying to say is a problem shared is a problem halved. If you know people who have or are breastfeeding, lean on them. Use their knowledge and experience, – I’m willing to bet they will be desperate to help; be that the girl next door or your mother-in-law, if they’ve breastfed for any amount of time they will often really ‘get’ what your facing and they might even be able to help. Its take a village to raise a child and that phrase is never more true than when applied to Breastfeeding.

Writing this has made me think of some many more breastfeeding posts I’d like to share. I have never written about my breastfeeding ‘journey’ with Bea and Cora to date, or about how I kept going when I went back to work at 7 and 10 months respectively. Do let me know if you’d like to read those, and if you can add to my list above. And if you found this because you are breastfeeding and needed help or support, or you are planning to, You are Amazing, Keep Going!

Rebecca x

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12 thoughts on “How to Breastfeed…

  1. Hi Rebecca
    This is such a well timed post for me, thank you! I’m currently 28 weeks pregnant with my second, and have just started thinking about how to prepare myself to hopefully make breastfeeding more successful the second time around! I had so wanted to breastfeed with my first daughter but it ended up not working out for various reasons (my health and her tongue tie included) but I think a lack of wider support also played a massive part. It’s so hard to communicate what you as a mother need in those first few early days, with all of the exhaustion and hormones, and I’m hoping to be better prepared in advance this time. This post will be really helpful to show to my husband (who don’t get me wrong, was great last time, but his way of helping was to take my daughter downstairs to try to give me time to rest, which was sort of the opposite of what I needed – it was just to be with her). Lots of visitors who were only interested in the baby (not that I can blame them!) added to my distress and made everything so much harder, and not once did they ask what I needed (in fact I ended up cooking my mum a meal that first evening out of hospital, which is crazy looking back!).
    I’m in Stockport and have already made contact with the infant feeding team here who have suggested going along to some groups whilst I’m still pregnant as preparation – this might be helpful for others to consider.

    Sorry for the long comment, but just wanted to say thanks again and would be interested in any follow bf posts! x

  2. What an amazing post. Rebecca you’ve mentioned how baby sucks a lot at the beginning and it’s not a sign of hunger but a reflex. We fell in the trap. I wish I’d known this.
    What are your thoughts on fenugreek tablets? Do they really help?

    • I’m not sure on the evidence i have to admit but I know the teas and tablets are recommended and Oats too for building milk supply (Hello flapjacks!) 😉 I don’t think you can beat skin to skin, rest and a good support system around you tho.

  3. This is a great post. I’m 18 months into feeding with my second. My first self weaned at 13mo & was a great sleeper. Second child, not so much. Similarly, the norm in my family is bottle feeding, so have had the discussions of when I’m stopping- “surely if he can ask for it, he is too old for it ????” I’m quite proud that one of his first words was Boobie ????

    ANYWAY. Top tips for the early days – totally agree with making a nest. I had a little feeding box that I kept nearby. Nipple cream, breast pads, water, snack, phone, tv remote, tissues, book – anything you need that is always just out of reach when you sit down to feed.
    Also, nipple shields saved my breastfeeding mission. I know there is controversy about latch etc. BUT I wouldn’t have carried on feeding my first without them and with my second, he wouldn’t feed with them, but after feeding, I loaded up on lansinol, popped the shields on & it really helped heal the cracks & stop any sticking to breast pads ???? – also – get bamboo pads. Work brilliantly, enviro friendly & now I use them as make up remover pads!!!!

  4. I admire your wisdom Rebecca and your wish to share what you’ve learned. My eldest is 15 this month and I ended up with mastitis that had to be aspirated because feeding him as a newborn while spending Christmas with my parents was so awkward – there was no intention to be unkind but the pressure was intense to keep it behind closed doors and to give him a bottle. I think this is a generational thing that has changed a lot already and posts like yours are so helpful in clearing away misunderstandings and supporting mothers to be confident about just focusing on being close to their little one. I always worried about all three of mine being ravenous as newborns before the milk comes – you’ve explained colostrum so well I wish I could have read this 15 years ago. I’ll keep this post for my daughter for when, or if, she becomes a mother.

  5. Thank you for writing about your experiences in such a helpful but non-judgemental way. We went to NCT with my first pregnancy, but my husband was almost reluctant for me to breastfeed as he’d been told horror stories from the women at his work about bleeding nipples and it being painful etc! I was keen to at least try it and was lucky my son took to it quite easily and
    managed to breastfeed until he was 2.5y, which was longer than I ever expected! My husband was a quick convert to it once he saw how easy it was in terms of going out and about without having to think about bottles, and being able to settle him more quickly at night (he didn’t sleep well at night and would wake up frequently until he was about 2y).

    I’m now breastfeeding my 9month old twin daughters, and aim to get them to 12 months so they can go straight to cow’s milk if needed, but will continue for as long as I can! I had no idea how possible it would be to breastfeed twins, and found a lot of support online in Facebook groups, which I didn’t feel I needed the first time around. I agree it’s helpful to have to support of people in similar situations, even if that’s not face to face.

  6. Perfect post! We need more positive stories for support. Unfortunately all support funding in my area has been cut, fingers crossed one day in the future they will reinstate it as I’d love to get involved.
    Fed my first for 15 months when he happily weaned, currently feeding my 2nd at almost 15 months and no sign of weaning whatsoever. It’s a wonderful journey, one that I will treasure forever. So much so that I had some jewellery made from breast milk to celebrate it (not that you would know what it is from looking at it).
    Wishing all the new mums, soon to be mums and veteran feeders all the best in their journeys xxx

  7. This is a great post and really helpful information. I wish I’d prepared better and prepared my family better for breastfeeding, to the point despite knowing it’s beat, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it again. I’d love to carry on feeding but struggle that my little one won’t settle for my husband and shows no sign of lengthy periods of sleep at 9 months. I think there is a real lack of support for feeding older babies really although at least it’s easier that a new born!

  8. What a great post – balanced and informative. I breastfed by daughter for the first 6 months exclusively. It was so positive in many ways, but also emotionally draining being her only source of food/comfort etc. I’m now currently breastfeeding by 8 week twin girls and for medical reasons early on we gave them bottles of expressed breast milk, so now I’m doing a mixture of breastfeeding, pumping and bottle feeding. Whilst it’s labour intensive, it’s working really well for us. It’s such a personal matter and at the end of the day I think whatever works for the mum works best for the babies. Oh and LOTS of chocolate!

  9. Oh my gosh please do a post on breastfeeding when you go back to work!! Currently feeding my 5 month old, loving it but have no idea how it will work when I go back to work in March…..

  10. This post is fantastic. I’m six weeks into my own journey with my little boy and have already endured mastitis, a GP who told me to stop breastfeeding after baby reacted to my antibiotics for the mastitis, and a relative who looked at my baby and told me he probably needed ‘milk out of a tin’ as he was crying a lot. In reality, whilst it took a few weeks to get into a groove, I am loving feeding my baby and the bond we already have as a result. My little one even latches himself now, and hates me trying to help. Not even mastitis could stop me, I ignored the GP (midwife was shocked at his advice) and feeding him from the infected breast helped to clear it up much quicker. I used my local support group twice and found the help invaluable. I’d be so keen to hear about your expressing journey as I’m trying to build up a supply but not getting very much out! Xx

  11. What a brilliant post! I had a tough time in the early days with my first. My second was easier and they’re both still feeding now at 4 and nearly 2. I trained as a peer supporter to help mums in a group and spend so much time explaining al of this. I wish there was better education out there, starting at school age, so people knew what to expect. It could make such an enormous difference!

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