This is the fourth and final blog I’ve written on the subject of successful breastfeeding. So far I’ve covered culture, support and expert help. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ve probably realised that what’s going on around you will have a big impact on whether you breastfeed, but today I’ll be talking about individual mums and what YOU can do to breastfeed successfully.
We bang on a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mum but human beings are complex. It takes more than just “knowing” something is right before you’ll do it. If knowledge was enough, no one would smoke, we’d all eat salad for lunch and avoid sweets. But we all do things we shouldn’t and avoid doing things we should do. Human nature, right? So that’s why I haven’t really mentioned the benefits of breastfeeding, because there is much more to it than that.
So let’s be honest for a few minutes. It’s not always lack of support or lack of help that stops us breastfeeding. Sometimes it is down to us too.
Motivation I think we have to be realistic and acknowledge that not all of us are desperate to breastfeed. Think about it now… How much do you REALLY want to breastfeed? Let me say, right now, that I’m not saying that you need to be 100% motivated. I regularly see women who make a half-hearted attempt to breastfeed, you can read it in their body language as they try to breastfeed. They know they should breastfeed, but they don’t really want to (for whatever reason). Do you know what? It makes me a little sad that women would feel pressured to do something they don’t want to. So if this is you, you need to be true to yourself and acknowledge that maybe you don’t really want to breastfeed. I do think you owe it to everyone to be honest though, and instead of saying “It didn’t work” or “I couldn’t breastfeed” or “I didn’t get the support I wanted”, just be honest and say “I tried it, and I decided I didn’t really like it”.
I think most women find themselves on a continuum when it comes to motivation. At one end of the continuum, if you are not very motivated you’ll not have the internal resources to persevere in the face of potential breastfeeding hurdles (tender nipples, baby wanting to feed frequently, etc). Alternatively, you may be one of those people who breastfeeding just comes easily to, and you find yourself breastfeeding months down the line even though you weren’t that sure if you wanted to do it or not. On the other end of the continuum if you are VERY motivated you may find yourself working through a range of very difficult hurdles (baby unable to latch on, jaundice, reflux etc) and will be able to find the internal resources to continue breastfeeding.
Self-efficacy Some people are really confident in their ability to do new things, other people, not so much. Becoming a parent can be such a HUGE transition and it can be overwhelming. Some women are confident that they will be able to breastfeed, other women will doubt that they are doing it right, and perhaps be quicker to give up as a result. It’s ok if you aren’t very confident, it’s just part of your personality and personal make-up, you might be able to increase your confidence by looking at some of the suggestions below, but be kind to yourself. It’s ok to acknowledge that breastfeeding is overwhelming and scary and that it might just be too much to deal with. A bit of support might make all the difference though…
Priorities What could be more important than breastfeeding?! Well… Maybe it is a priority for you. Maybe you see it as a vital part of parenting; maybe you don’t. You may find that your priorities as a parent are different and that breastfeeding just doesn’t feature too high on that list. If breastfeeding is easy, you may find yourself breastfeeding anyway because it just fits in with the other things you need to do, so no harm in trying, but sometimes other priorities can overshadow the need to breastfeed. Alternatively, breastfeeding may be vitally important to you and you may persevere at the expense of other activities, but it’s about acknowledging what’s important to you.
So what are some of the practical things you can do to make breastfeeding more likely to be successful?
Education First off, prepare yourself antenatally by attending a breastfeeding workshop, run either by your local maternity unit, by a lactation consultant in NI, or one of Bumps, Birth and Bonding workshops. Learn about normal feeding behaviour in breastfeeding infants, how to handle a baby and position them to achieve a good latch, what a good latch looks like, what a good feed looks like, and learn how you can determine if a baby has had a good feed.
Antenatal classes will also give you some information on factors that might influence breastfeeding, such as pain relief and the type of birth you have. If you have your baby at home or in a midwifery led unit, you are more likely to initiate breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding. Consider writing your birth plan with successful breastfeeding in mind.
Skin to skin It’s vitally important that when your baby is born you ensure you have skin to skin contact immediately after birth or as soon as possible. Unless unavoidable, leave your baby skin to skin until he has had a first feed. Don’t be afraid to challenge staff if they want to take your baby away for routine weighing and measuring. Thankfully, more and more maternity units are recognising the importance of uninterrupted skin to skin contact until the first feed is over, and supporting this.
The first few days Learn to recognise feeding cues so that baby will be fed adequately in the first few days. Make sure baby latches well every time to prevent damaged nipples. When you get home, spend time cuddling your baby. Skin to skin continues to be wonderful for bonding and facilitating breastfeeding long after the first few days. Use a sling to keep your baby close while you tidy up, do laundry and prepare meals. Not only will a sling make it easier to get things done, by keeping your baby close in a sling you’ll recognise those early feeding cues. If possible, defer visitors until you feel that you can feed baby as soon as he/she needs fed (babies need a lot of feeds in the early days).
Involve your partner and your mother/mother in law There is very good evidence that says that good partner support will improve your success at breastfeeding. A supportive partner can encourage you, look after the baby when you nap, help with nappy changes and settling the baby at night time in between night feeds, and offer moral support if other family members question whether you should be breastfeeding. Partners are important for showing babies that love doesn’t have to come attached to food! There are lots of ways he can bond with the baby that don’t involve feeding. You can find helpful information for dads here.
Most of the time, grandmothers say negative things about breastfeeding because they aren’t used to it, and they are worried about you and/or the baby. This leaflet might help explain breastfeeding to them a bit better, especially if all they know is bottlefeeding.
Peer support Even more important than having professional help, getting the help from other women who have breastfed well has been proven to help women continue to breastfeed and meet their breastfeeding goals. Enlist the help of a friend who has breastfed well, or go to a local breastfeeding support group. It’s amazing how reassuring it can be to have someone tell you that what your baby is doing, is normal.
Professional help If you really find that you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help, either from your midwife or a lactation consultant.