This week is National Breastfeeding Week, a week-long campaign that has been running every year for 17 years to “raise awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding, increase social acceptance of breastfeeding and promote support for breastfeeding”. I think it’s a great campaign; I’m pretty sure most mothers know of the health benefits for both them and their babies but social acceptance and support are areas that still need improving.
I breastfeed Baby N, who is now 7.5 months old, and have done since he was 5 days old. Friends tell me how easy I make it look, how naturally I seem to have got the hang of it, how discreet I am. It is easy, it is natural and I can be discreet about it. It wasn’t always like that though; as I just mentioned, I’ve been breastfeeding Baby N since he was 5 days old. Before that he just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, latch on. He had a difficult birth and was in SCBU for a short while. I was in a pretty bad way and didn’t see him for 24 hours after the birth.
I was determined to breastfeed him though; nothing had gone to plan with his birth so I was desperate to get this right at least, yet I felt like I was failing once again. I didn’t realise that at first your body produces colostrum and your full milk comes in a few days later. I certainly didn’t realise that if you have a c-section it can take even longer for your milk to come in. People talk about the pressure to breastfeed, well I’d had the complete opposite and therefore I was totally clueless!
Luckily a breastfeeding counsellor came to see me and helped me hand express. Another set me up with a breast pump and gave me advice to get my supply going. The nurses in SCBU were so encouraging; they’d get a chair and pillow ready and get me to put Baby N to breast. I remember saying “what’s the point, he’s not interested!” They told me to keep trying, they told me that he would get there in the end. Without the help I had in hospital I think I would have given up trying. I was completely naive in my expectations. Baby N DID get there in the end, and if I have more babies in the future I now know what to expect. All because I got the right support.
These are the tips I will remember if I have another baby:
- Babies are most alert in the first hour after birth, so breastfeeding in this first hour, before that long dozy sleepy stage kicks in, is important.
- Nurse (or express) as often as possible; newborn babies need to feed 10-12 times a day whilst milk supply is being established. It might feel like I’m just feeding, changing, feeding, changing, but it won’t last forever.
- Nurse (or express) at least once in the night, this is when prolactin levels are at their highest. It’s tempting to express so that someone else can do a night feed but that might hinder my attempts to establish my milk supply. I can sleep when baby sleeps!
- Let baby nurse for comfort. The sucking tells my brain to release prolactin. The sucking tells my body to make milk! I can’t nurse too much but I can nurse too little.
- Eat oats. I don’t know how they work, maybe it’s just because they’re full of energy, maybe it’s all in my head, but eating oats resulted in a big increase in my milk supply. Porridge, flapjacks, granola bars – yes please!
- Drink lots of water. I got a Bobble bottle so that I always have filtered water on hand; I take it everywhere.
- Don’t worry if my boobs don’t feel full. That engorged feeling goes away once supply is established and the letdown occurs when baby sucks rather than whenever my body feels like it.
- Get a tube of Lansinoh nipple cream – my nipples will be so grateful for the first few weeks of breastfeeding.
- My milk is good enough, my milk is enough. Cluster feeding is normal, it doesn't mean I don’t have enough milk - I do and it is awesome.
- Relax and trust my body to figure it all out. It will.
What other tips do you have for breastfeeding? What did you learn in hindsight?