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March 01, 2019
In our society, we focus so much on birth - and yes that is super important, our birth experience has the power to impact us and shape us as women for years to come.
However, the reality is, birth is one day of our life. Bringing that baby home is for the rest of our days.
In preparing for birth, we often forget to look over the critical post partum period which is when we have to learn a new skill: Breastfeeding.
Learning something new is always challenging and pushes us out of our comfort zone, so imagine how much more complicated it is when you are sleep deprived, recovering physically from the equivalent of a marathon or major abdominal surgery and you have hormones surging through your body causing you to be overcome with love but able to cry at the drop of a hat the next minute.
So if breastfeeding is a skill that we have to learn and be educated on, then doing that through your pregnancy is the ideal time to do that.
How can I do that? Some options for educating yourself about breastfeeding prior to birth:
Education is powerful, it allows you to make informed decisions. However, education mainly covers the theory of how breastfeeding works which is wonderful when it all goes to plan. But what about if it doesn't? If you haven't been told about the hard and trying side of breastfeeding what happens when it occurs? Well, that is when many women find themselves doubting their ability or milk supply or think they are doing something wrong. DON'T! You are doing a fantastic job! If you talk to breastfeeding mums, nearly all of them will have had a challenge, you are not alone or the only women having difficulty. This is really, really important to remember. The majority of new mums find it challenging, you are not alone. Feeling like you are alone and isolated like you are doing something wrong is an awful feeling. Don't. You are not doing anything wrong and challenges are normal. Remember your baby is learning a new skill too.
The good news is, when you know that challenges or bumps in the road are normal, you also know that they can be overcome.
So why don't women/courses/society talk about the challenges so when we face them we know they are normal?
Honestly, I can't answer that question. If I was to hypothesise I would say because they don't want to scare women off breastfeeding, so only talking about the positives and mechanics encourages more to try? I don't know. But I think it is flawed. Women feel they are doing something wrong when they don't know that challenges are normal and faced by hundreds and thousands of other breastfeeding mums before you. I truly believe, being informed is knowing all elements so when you are faced with any deviation, you have the ability to know it is a normal deviation and can be fixed which in turn promotes long term and successful breastfeeding relationships.
So we talked to breastfeeding mums (mums who are all still successfully and exclusively breastfeeding their baby's) and asked them for their best advice they would give to new mums:
Your nipples are going to be sore
Let's face it, your nipples go from no stimulation to 1000% stimulation with a baby suckling on them 24/7. That doesn't come without some discomfort and pain. However, pain beyond the first 10 or so seconds, damaged nipples, distorted nipple shape, bleedng, cracks, blister can be a sign of a incorrect latch. Incorrect latches can be caused by numerous things - seek the help of a lactation consultant. Once established and latched correctly, breastfeeding shouldn't be painful. Nipple creams can help cracked nipples, Moo Udder Cream or Lanishol are things you can purchase, or you have the best healing liquid available on tap - breastmilk. Squeeze out some milk, apply to your whole areola and let air dry. Do that numerous times a day until healed. For first time mums, think of it like a new pair of shoes, they can take a few weeks to wear in. If it is a subsequent baby, it is like a pair of seasonal winter boots, although they are loved, your feet have had a break from wearing them so when you put them back on, again, it can be an adjustment period, and once your feet are used to them again, everything is hunky dory! Breastfeeding and your nipples are kind of the same! That initial nipple adjustment period is something new mums often don't think about, you see the beautiful images and think baby will latch and away we go. It does become like that, but it is a lot of stimulation for your breasts, give them a moment to take a breathe and catch up to this new normal. And no, you don't need to prepare them prior by scrubbing them! Just leave them be, everything will take place when it needs to.
Trust your instinct
Not all healthcare professionals are created equally and they have different areas of knowledge and expertise and sometimes the information they give out is just plain incorrect. If you are experiencing pain but the midwife tells you baby's latch is fine - SEEK ANOTHER OPINION.
Cluster feeding sucks, but it is normal
Two little words with so much meaning! Cluster feeding is when your baby wants to feed non stop for long stretches. Sometimes it can go all day. You might have just fed them, taken them off and then they scream, seem starving and the only thing that settles them is when they are put back on the breast. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting and is one of the times that a new Mum doubts their supply. ‘Surely this can’t be normal, they can’t still be hungry, I musn’t have enough milk’ are things I commonly hear from new mums. The good news is, it is completely normal baby behaviour and it is their clever way of putting their milk order in to make sure your breasts know what they need. In the moment it seems like it will never end, but it will and it does. Take heed mama, it is one of those times you need to let go and accept the challenge in front of you. Things you can do: check baby’s output of wet and dirty nappies and regular weight gains to reassure yourself that they are getting enough. Set yourself up for the day with snacks, almonds, bake and freeze our lactation cookies in that last few weeks of pregnancy so you can grab some out of the freezer each day water, our lactation tea (great for when you are feeling the feeding pressure!) Netflix, full charged phone and be prepared to be in your favourite pj’s all day. Have a circle of breastfeeding friends or trusted health professionals (midwives/LC) who you can talk to and reassure you that it is normal and that they’ve been through it too. I can’t tell you it’s easy, it’s damn hard! But what I can promise you is that it does pass and better days are ahead
Baby's can be fussy and its damn hard work be prepared for a level of sleep deprivation you didn't even know could exist.
Output and weight gain are the signs you use.
The reliable signs that baby is getting enough milk after day 5 (those first 5 days are different in terms of changing from meconium to soft mustard colour poo - talk to your doctor or midwife about this after the birth or on discharge) are 6-8 good wet nappies and a minimum of 1-2 poos in a 24 hour period. Wee should be a pale straw colour, not dark. Baby should be putting on regular weight and should be alert, good skin colour and good muscle tone. Always seek medical advice if baby is constantly sleepy or lethargic and not feeding well or if you have any concerns. There is on such thing as a silly question when it comes to your baby. Keep asking and asking until you understand or have your answer.
Sometimes baby's won't latch
And this can happen at various stages. Keep persisting, go skin to skin, have a nurse in (when you stay in bed skin to skin and let baby crawl down your chest to feed, sleep, feed etc) try different positions - seek a lactation consultant early on. You may have to pump to maintain supply until you can get bub on the breast if it is a lengthy stand off. If there are latch issues - seek a lactation consultant trained in tongue tie (not all are and it is one of the major reasons for poor/non latch when other medical issues are not present). If you find yourself exclusive expressing, make sure you read this article.
It's You, Not Me
Say what? The old break up line is reversed and the truth told? Yep, sometimes it is the baby and not your actual ability to make milk that causes low supply. If bub can't effectively drain the milk from your breast (which can be for a multitude of reasons) then you will have situational low supply. Situational, because if the root cause is addressed and fixed, your supply will rectify itself.
Baby's are clever, bottles are easy
A bottle delivers a large amount of milk really quickly and they don't have to work for it - it doesn't matter if it is formula or expressed breast milk. So many new mums will top their baby's up and then feel awful when their baby is content, wrongly thinking they haven't been getting enough milk. This is often referred to as the top up trap. Your milk is enough, they are meant to feed often and frequently, they have small tummy's. The size of a marble when they are born. Them being content after a bottle doesn't mean you don't have enough milk, it just means the physiological and natural pathway of how baby's regulate your supply has been interrupted. I am not saying that is a good or bad thing either way - its perceived outcome depends on your goals and what and how you want to feed your baby. I am just telling you that is normal for them to fuss and feed frequently. This in itself is counter intuitive to how we lead our lives as adults and can be hard to comprehend with our baby. If we are hungry we eat until we are full, we don't eat a quarter of a meal and then half an hour later go and have another quarter but baby's do.
And be warned, introduction of a bottle too early if you aim is to exclusively breastfeed can lead to a bottle preference and baby won't feed off the breast. Some will go between bottle and breast with no fuss, some won't.
This tiny little person is going to rule your life. To establish breastfeeding in those early weeks, baby has to have complete and unrestricted access to the breast. No scheduled feeding, when baby wants to feed, they feed. And baby's don't always breastfeed for hunger. They do it for so many other reasons as well. Comfort, security, warmth, to regulate your supply and the list goes on. Many mums like the idea of using a breast pump so their partner or friend can give baby a bottle. The thing is, in those early weeks when you are establishing your supply, even if you give expressed milk, you still have the drain the breast somehow to keep your supply up. Realistically, it is you mama. The breast pump and sharing of feeds can come later, but your new world in those early months is constant feeding. This is the reality. There will be days when you don't get out of your pj's and the house is a bomb sight. They need and want you.
Breast isn't the only way to feed breastmilk to your baby
There are a growing number of mums who are exclusively pumping to feed their baby's breastmilk. Their reasons for pumping are varied, some are forced to do it for medical or latch issues and some select to do it. Some direct feed and pump. Some only pump, some pump, feed ebm and top up with formula. What your journey of feeding your child looks like is up to you.
Don't feel bad for decisions you make. Ultimately you are the person that decides how and what to feed your baby. There are no rules, only expectations you put on yourself. What I do know is that if you are having a less than ideal start to breastfeeding, the temptation and relief that we perceive from stopping often doesn't live up to our expectations. I tell you this because I talk with so many new mums who regret stopping. Yes it is hard, yes it exhausting and you question yourself and your body at the beginning. But does it get easier? Yes it does. That doesn't mean there aren't more challenges down the track, but hey that is baby's and kids! Welcome to parenthood!
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