Breastfeeding! Arm Yourself To Succeed. Surviving the Sea of Conflicting Information and Misinformation in the first days and weeks.

Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash

In a world of seemingly endless information and advice surrounding breastfeeding it’s almost a rite-of-passage into motherhood to find yourself completely overwhelmed with conflicting information. So how can you ensure that not only do you survive this but that you actually find the advice that’s right for you and your baby and at the time you need it?

Arm yourself with the basics of how breastfeeding works for both you and your baby and you will be better placed to sift out the good from the not so helpful advice:

  1. Learn How Breastfeeding Works for both You and Your Baby
  • Hold your baby close to you as many hours of the day as possible, not just when you’re feeding. Skin to skin contact at times other than when you’re breastfeeding helps to:
  • lower stress hormones in your body due to tiredness, pain or feeling overwhelmed;
  • stimulates your breastfeeding hormones so you can produce more milk;
  • helps you gain confidence with noticing your baby’s subtle feeding cues.
  • Frequent feeding is a given. It’s normal! Breastmilk takes less than an hour for your baby to digest and your baby has a tiny stomach so he will need to refill his belly very frequently. One to 6 hours or more between feeds is normal.
  • Let your baby set the pace. There’s no set timing he needs to follow. Different sized babies have different feeding needs so we cannot expect a one size fits all approach to feeding. A hungry baby will wake himself and show signs of hunger when he’s ready to feed. His appetite fluctuates throughout the day — much the same as yours does — and so he will space his feeds in whatever way he chooses over a 24 hour period.
  • Latch is everything! Painful feeding and damaged, squashed nipples is NOT normal! Your nipples may feel very tender in the first few weeks but painful feeding is a sign your baby is not latching well. This limits the amount of milk he can access from your breast and often leads to a low milk supply. When baby latches well you will feel comfortable and you’ll hear your baby gently swallowing with every suck.

2. Trust Your Body

  • Your breasts are designed for breastfeeding! During your pregnancy hormonal changes encourage development of functional breast tissue, or your ‘milk factories’. This is why your breasts grow.
  • Your breasts know what they’re doing! You start to produce milk from as early as 16 weeks into your pregnancy. Colostrum is ready for baby from the moment of birth and after a few days milk is produced. Every mother’s breasts produce and store a different volume of milk. No two breasts are the same. Your breasts respond to your baby’s feeding patterns by up or down regulating your milk supply — the more you allow your baby to feed according to his own needs, the better your milk supply will match his needs. It is rare to be unable to produce enough milk for your baby when you follow your baby’s lead.
  • Breastfeeding is instinctive for your baby. You can see this when your baby bobs his little head and mouths around your chest (or chin!). But it is a learned skill for you as a new mum. Be patient with yourself and try not to overthink it. Your baby simply needs access to your breasts — not your hands, your knowledge, your life skills. Just your breast.

3. Trust Your Baby

  • Your new baby has fairly simple needs — to be held and fed often, to be changed when his nappy is wet or soiled, to be responded to when he ‘speaks up’ and to feel loved, nurtured and adored.
  • Let your baby be your guide. Watch your baby, not the clock. Your baby doesn’t know how to tell the time! What he does know is when he’s hungry, when to sleep and when he needs your comfort. Let your baby guide you by his behaviours — when he opens his mouth towards you seeking the breast; when his eyes are drooping and he gives a tired yawn. A clock can’t tell you when these things should happen. And yet mums are led to believe that babies must feed at particular intervals (every 3 hours being the most common misconception). You don’t need to wake your baby to feed. There is no science behind feeding and sleeping routines. In fact, recent research has found a link between following routines and much higher rates of Postnatal Depression.
  • Your baby was born to breastfeed — he’s got this. Each feed can differ significantly in length of time and the amount of milk baby takes. Your baby knows how often and how much milk he needs. In the same way we grab a quick drink, a small snack or sit down to a larger meal, each day you baby will set his own natural pace and rhythm for feeding and sleeping. His feeding pattern is controlled by his size and appetite and your milk production (which actually changes throughout the day). He knows what he’s doing.
  • Trust your ‘Mummy gut’ as you learn to read your baby’s cues. You know your baby better than anyone else. Your baby will communicate to you his needs — trust your instinct!

4. Seek help early from those best qualified to advise you

  • It’s never too early or too late to seek help with your breastfeeding journey. But just as your breastfeeding experience will be enhanced with the right advice the wrong advice can make it downright confusing.
  • An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a breastfeeding expert and is the best suited practitioner to answer your breastfeeding questions and support you through any challenges. IBCLCs are commonly also nurses and midwives and can be found in your hospital, at your local health centre or in private practice and can visit you at home.
  • When seeking help from another health professional don’t be afraid to ask them what their breastfeeding knowledge base and skills are. Your GP, paediatrician or obstetrician may not have breastfeeding — specific training and may offer well meaning advice but may not be the best resource for accurate advice. In the same way you would see a cardiac specialist for your heart problems it makes sense to see a breastfeeding specialist for your breastfeeding concerns.
  • Local Breastfeeding Support Groups — The Australian Breastfeeding Association (in Aus) and La Leche League (in NZ) run breastfeeding classes for pregnant and postnatal mums. These are run by breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants. Meet other local parents-to-be, learn about breastfeeding and start your support network.

A final note

Caring for a newborn is hard work. It’s tiring. It sometimes feels relentless with frequent feeds, changing nappies, getting wind up, long days and nights. But as parents we wouldn’t change it for anything. It can be hard to find the right advice in the right place and at the right time which is where I hope to fill the gap with my book ‘Born to Breastfeed — the first six weeks’. Arming yourself with an understanding of how breastfeeding works and having realistic expectations will help you ward off the well intentioned but incorrect advice. Trust your mummy gut and do what feels right for both you and your baby. In just a short time you will find your breastfeeding confidence. Happy Breastfeeding!

Rowena Gray is a mother to 3 young daughters, nurse, midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and has been both a consumer and giver of copious amounts of breastfeeding advice! She has a private practice in Melbourne, Aus. www.rowenagray.com.au

Rowena is also the author of ‘Born to Breastfeed — the first six weeks and beyond’ available in bookstores and online.