“I wish I’d prepared in advance for breastfeeding.” I’ve lost track of how many times I have said this over the past year. People usually respond: “You can’t really get it until the baby comes.”
To an extent, they’re right. It’s one thing to familiarise yourself with an NCT diagram and another to actually introduce your newborn to your breast. Yet I disagree. You can prepare for breastfeeding. In fact, I think you should if you want to give yourself the best chance of meeting your breastfeeding goals.
My own breastfeeding success is a mixed story. I would rather not have introduced formula supplements from two months until six months but I’m grateful for being able to continue to breastfeed. I don’t beat myself up about this but being completely realistic, I could have benefited from some preparation.
In a perfect world, we would not have to prepare for breastfeeding. It would just happen. For many women it does. It probably could be that simple for more of us if we saw more women breastfeeding, preferably – dare I say it – with breasts exposed.
We’re certainly not helped by the fact that we no longer trust our bodies, or our babies, to do what they’re designed to do. I thank a number of things for that but off the top of my head, thank you, formula advertising and misogyny.
Here are a few suggestions for what pregnant mothers can do to prepare, in no particular order. Please add yours in the comments.
1. Find a breastfeeding support group
I go to a breastfeeding support group in my area on Wednesdays. I’m also a La Leche League member and go to the Bristol meetings once a month.
When I tell people this, they ask: “But what do you DO in a breastfeeding group?” They say it as if they’re wondering whether we spend the whole time flashing each other. Perhaps we start meets by introducing ourselves: “My name is Adele and I’m a lactivist.”
Actually, people usually think breastfeeding support groups are only for when you have a specific breastfeeding problem, and even then, only in the newborn stage. They’re not wrong but they haven’t got the whole picture.
Breastfeeding is better in community. It can, especially in the beginning, be an isolating thing. I know I found this when I was stuck on the sofa for hours. I imagine it’s even more so if you’re not feeling confident about doing it in public yet or if your child grows past an age when people expect her to stop.
I started going to our breastfeeding group when Talitha was four or five weeks old. She’s twelve months now. I went mainly because I needed to get out of the house and wanted to go somewhere where I felt totally comfortable with breastfeeding.
I kept going because it kept reminding me that I wanted to breastfeed. I’m now a peer supporter who helps with the group (CRB pending). This past year I’ve really seen the value of breastfeeding mothers getting together.
2. Consider seeing a lactation consultant
I’m cautious about stating this as a necessity. The majority of breastfeeding problems seem to be solved by working on the latch. Another mum, maybe a peer supporter maybe not, will likely be able to help with that. However, IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) are trained to assist women with complex issues.
It’s worth at least making contact with an IBCLC in your area so that if you do run into difficulties you know who to call in a hurry. Breastfeeding helplines are brilliant but there’s nothing like having someone come to your home. I know that NCT breastfeeding counselors do this too but my own experience has been with an IBCLC who knowledgably and compassionately helped me to pinpoint why Talitha wasn’t gaining weight and work through the minefield of low milk supply and supplementing using an SNS.
If you’ve had breastfeeding difficulties in the past or specific challenges ahead (like multiples, POCS or a breast reduction) an antenatal session with an IBCLC may help put your mind at ease and form a plan of action.
3. Talk about breastfeeding
Whether it’s your partner, your mum or your closest friend, talk to whoever’s going to support you the most when the baby’s here about breastfeeding. Chat about why it’s important to you, why it’s important for the baby and what you think you’ll need in the early days.
Fathers, parents and friends can hugely impact on your decision to continue breastfeeding. Without Laurence, there’s no way I would have managed to keep going. I’ve blogged about ways fathers (and others) can help mothers breastfeed.
If possible, attend an antenatal breastfeeding session together. The NCT offers them as part of their antenatal classes. An IBCLC in your area probably offers a private one. It will just help you think through the situation together.
4. Read about breastfeeding
I know this probably sounds unduly academic. Admittedly, I’m a researcher at heart so that naturally appeals to me. But seriously. Read. Pregnant women spend so much time reading about what to expect each week of pregnancy or what options are available for the birth. I know I did. And yet I found Talitha’s birth difficult. Breastfeeding is what helped me recover from it so I’d rather have spent more time thinking about that.
I could do a whole post recommending reading for breastfeeding. I will at some point. For now I’ll just suggest The Food of Love: Your Formula for Successful Breastfeeding by Kate Evans. It’s a hilarious, easy read but thoroughly researched. If I’d read it before or soon after having my baby, I’m convinced our early breastfeeding experience would have been a lot more positive. If you’re looking for a website then have a look at Kellymom.com. It’s written by IBCLC Kelly Bonyata.
5. Sort out a few practicalities
Newborn babies breastfeed A LOT. This was such a surprise to me. I mean, mine breastfed more than was normal because of her tongue-tie but even when all the bits and pieces are working marvelously, you can find yourself marooned beneath a tiny human for so much of the day.
My response to this was just not to eat. At all. I only had supper when Laurence got home and nothing else because I just could not get my act together. Be ye not so stupid. Looking back, actually, I was probably a bit depressed but I can think of a few things that would have made it all a bit easier.
Get food ready in advance. Passionate Homemaking has a good list of snacks you can eat one-handed.
Invest in a high-quality stretchy wrap or a ring sling. You may or may not end up breastfeeding in it but at least it gives you more mobility generally by not having the stress of screaming in the background of your loo visits. Yes, I became one of those mothers who hardly ever put their newborn down. It’s the only way I have any marbles left because I could not stand to hear her cry.
Prepare a breastfeeding nest. Choose a comfortable spot where you can recline a bit. I had three: my sofa, my bed and a rocking chair. I still mainly breastfeed in bed. I seriously don’t know how anyone manages to keep breastfeeding without lying down, especially since the hormones make you sleepy in the early days.
What they also do is make you thirsty so you might want to get a big BPA-free water bottle that you’ll be setting next your breastfeeding spot, along with your phone, television remote control and a magazine, ready for the long haul.
6. Choose to be flexible
I had so many plans for when Talitha arrived and she smooshed them all. She was supposed to sleep in her Moses basket. And she did until I got so desperate for sleep that we brought her into bed with us.
She is still there. She still feeds a lot at night. Our feelings on this do sway back and forth but the night feeds were brilliant for boosting my supply when I had problems and as she doesn’t breastfeed much during the day (and still doesn’t eat masses yet) I’m not keen to night wean. I’m even less keen on getting up in the night to feed her. I’m glad we were both willing to be flexible with our sleeping arrangements.
Perhaps you don’t plan to co-sleep. That’s fine. But be aware that many parents do it at some point so take a look at ways to co-sleep safely (Muddling Along Mummy and PhD in Parenting have some tips) and making sure your bed is reasonably firm.
Think about leaving yourself open other areas too like when you should be out and about or when you’ll start getting on top of the housework again. Take it slow and see how it goes – one breastfeed at a time.