Preparing for a positive Breastfeeding journey
Planning and preparation are just as important for a positive breastfeeding journey as they are for birth. That’s why I encourage my clients to have a breastfeeding plan alongside their birth plan. The two are very much interrelated. Your birth experience can have a direct impact on breastfeeding in the first week which can set the direction your journey takes. Interventions like surgical or instrumental birth are shown to have a significant effect on baby’s short and long-term health leading to feeding issues.
Jessie Morrell (@mylkmadelactation) shares her expert tips to set yourself up for the best possible time breastfeeding your baby. Jessie is a local Northern Beaches mum, Registered Nurse (RN, GradCert NIC), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Possums certified educator and paediatric massage consultant. She also used hypnobirthing for her first birth ;-)
Before I became a mum, I helped so many mums breastfeed their babies in the first few days. Evidence tells us the first few days are vital for successful breastfeeding, and I always knew the importance of supporting mums the best I could. Providing breastfeeding support took on a whole new meaning after I became a mum myself!
Breastfeeding is so much more than just feeding your baby. The weeks following birth are an emotional, spiritual and physical journey, and it’s SO important we are supported and empowered to breastfeed.
Australian National Infant Feeding Survey statistics show that 90% of women initiate breastfeeding, but by 6 months only 15.4% of babies are exclusively breastfed. This tells us that whilst most woman intend to breastfeed, it’s not always an easy transition due to several factors.
As a new mother we can prepare ourselves for a positive birth with limited interventions and a successful, smooth transition to breastfeeding. Strong research shows continuous support of the mother during labour has positive effects on birth, bonding and breastfeeding (Mannel, Martens & Walker 2013).
Medical interventions can impact our baby’s ability to suck and can delay important newborn reflexes that encourage them to find the breast. Birthing interventions can also result in separation of mother and baby, delaying bonding and breastfeeding. If you’re interested in reading more on how routine birth interventions can impact breastfeeding, these are some useful links:
The first 24 hours after the birth of your baby are so important when it comes to establishing your milk supply. Studies show that effective milk removal in the first 24 hours is linked with breast supply at 2 and 6 weeks. If we prepare our bodies for a positive, non-medicalised birth we are preparing our bodies for successful breastfeeding.
There are a number of things we can do antenatally to prepare our bodies and minds for breastfeeding. I did hypnobirthing with Kathryn before the birth of my beautiful son and I remember her saying “you wouldn’t run a marathon without preparing”. Well, breastfeeding is kind of the same. Education, awareness and empowerment before the birth of your baby can help with your breastfeeding journey. This can be as simple as becoming confident with handling your breasts.
Hand expression is a great tool to learn before the arrival of your baby (Wambach & Riordan 2016). Antenatal expressing from when you reach full term at 37-38 weeks is a great way get a feel for this. You can get guidance on when and how to do it from your midwife, lactation consultant or doula before you start. Here is a video to watch. It’s a really ‘old school’ one but it’s simple and teaches the basics of hand expression:
Becoming aware of all the technology is also something you can do. There is A LOT on the market; most of it is expensive and not everything is essential so do your research first.
Breastfeeding should always be a positive experience for you and your baby. Your baby should never be forced onto the breast. Health professionals are generally only trying to help with breastfeeding, but this doesn’t always mean they are educated and understand the importance of positive breastfeeding experiences. Having the support of a doula can help you to feel prepared and confident about advocating for you and your baby at the first feed after birth (Mannel, Martens & Walker 2013).
Plan to have lots of skin-to-skin after birth as a great way to start your breastfeeding journey. Your baby will be in ‘an awakening phase’ where they are alert and in a great mood to breastfeed, and you will both be releasing lots of hormones that help with breastfeeding and bonding.
Lastly, have a basic understanding of infant cues or baby communication. ‘Hungry cues’ are one of the most important cues we can learn about our baby during the first few weeks. We need to keep them calm and relaxed at the breast and avoid situations that stimulate baby’s (and mother’s) sympathetic nervous system. Breastfeeding difficulties can sometimes mean baby becomes stressed every time we try to breastfeed (Douglas & Keogh 2017). This can result in lots of crying or fussing, which can be super stressful as a new mum. Most breastfeeding concerns are due to poor positioning and sometimes it takes simple guidance from an IBCLC to avoid or help with these situations.
Trust your baby and your body. Your baby has innate feeding reflexes and we can stimulate these in many ways (Douglas & Keogh 2017). Like new shoes, our breasts need to adjust to the new fit, however there should never be ongoing nipple discomfort, pain or bleeding.
Mothers have a right to be educated and supported to breastfeed and this isn’t just about what a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ latch looks like. There is SO much more involved in your breastfeeding journey. Becoming familiar with common breastfeeding positions and whether your baby is breastfeeding well is also important. If you are ever in doubt, seek guidance. The more we are supported on our journey, the better and more likely we are to successfully breastfeed.
If you need reassurance or assistance, it’s important to seek professional guidance. Spending time with an IBCLC during pregnancy or during the first few days is invaluable.
Consistent advice is key and so often that’s not what new mums receive. I am passionate about advocating for breastfeeding mums. Working with them to find a workable, consistent plan that is unique to them and their baby.
Woman sometimes need support in pregnancy to prepare in mind and body for breastfeeding. That can be as simple as sitting down for an informal chat, answering any questions, educating about breast anatomy and breastfeeding technology. Generally, helping women to feel empowered.
Once baby is here, I can come to do a full assessment and provide guidance on positioning to ensure baby’s reflexes are stimulated and they are latching well, plus recognising hungry cues, expressing and any other issues mother and baby need help with. I provide a treatment plan within 24 hours, daily check-ins over the phone and follow-up visits as necessary.
As a mother, IBCLC and Possums certified educator I provide a consistent, evidence-based and neuroprotective care to educate and empower women to breastfeed.
If you have any questions or want to know more about breastfeeding preparation, please feel free to message me. And, remember, if your breastfeeding journey doesn’t work out how you expected, that is okay. Woman should always be empowered and supported, no matter how our babies are fed.
RN, IBCLC, Possums Certfied Educator, Paediatric Massage Consultant
Douglas PS & Keogh R (2017), Gestalt breastfeeding: helping mothers and infants optimise positional stability and intra oral breast tissue volume for effective pain free milk transfer. Journal of Human Lactation.
Mannel R, Martens P & Walker M. (2013). Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd. Ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning, Burlington.
The Department of Health, 2019. Breastfeeding. Retrieved from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-brfeed-index.htm
Wambach K & Riordan J, 2016. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation: 5th Ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning Burlington.