21 Sep Five ways to prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy.
When you’re pregnant, one of the things you’ll need to consider is how you’ll feed your baby. Breastfeeding is one way to give your baby an awesome start to life, with well documented and evidence based research showing us that breastfeeding has lots of benefits for baby, for mum and even for the environment.
Many mums-to-be though can feel anxious about breastfeeding. Often this is because they’ve heard all the horror stories- just like birth stories, it’s only the dramatic ones that get shared- or because they simply have had no exposure to breastfeeding, or known anyone else who has breastfed. Historically women have learnt to breastfeed from watching other women do it and being surrounded by nursing babies and toddlers in their day to day life. These days it’s not uncommon for people to not ever hold a newborn baby until it’s their own, let alone be in close proximity to breastfeeding mums.
Breastfeeding is a learnt skill. Biologically it is the normal way to feed human babies, but it can take time, patience and practice for it to all come together. The important thing to remember is that it is not necessarily breastfeeding itself that is challenging, rather it’s newborns! Newborn babies are unpredictable, often cry, get wind, only sleep in someone’s arms and are fussy regardless of whether they are breast or bottle fed. This is a developmental stage, not a breastfeeding problem, but often mums can feel that they are doing something wrong and worry that their milk is not enough for their baby.
It’s a good idea to start thinking about breastfeeding before you have your baby, so that when your precious bundle of joy arrives you can feel a little more prepared.
1. Book a breastfeeding class.
Often breastfeeding is included in regular antenatal classes, but there are also stand alone breastfeeding preparation classes. The Australian Breastfeeding Association runs these regularly all across the country. If your schedule is tricky you might like to consider an in-home, private session with a lactation consultant. Partners are very welcome at any breastfeeding class and are encouraged to attend!
2. Find your support team.
Think about the people around you. Did your mum or mum-in-law breastfeed? Is there anyone in your circle of friends who is breastfeeding now? Maybe you had an auntie who you can remember breastfeeding at family gatherings, or a woman in your office who you know has older children. Women who have positive support are much more likely to breastfeed successfully, so try to find someone who had a positive breastfeeding experience. Hearing other people talk about breastfeeding helps to normalise it, and also can help you get through some of the more challenging times.
3. Create a cluster feeding care package.
All babies start to wake up properly after their first 24 hours in the world. They become more demanding and unsettled, want to feed very frequently and will only have brief snoozes in your arms or on your chest. This is called cluster feeding and if you’re not expecting it cluster feeding can be a real shock to the system as your quiet, sleepy baby suddenly turns feral! Cluster feeding is completely normal though and indicates that you have a neurologically normal baby who is behaving exactly as a brand new human should. The easiest way to get through that second night, when cluster feeding hits, is to accept, embrace and surrender to it. Just expect that you’ll be up all night and then you won’t waste energy and time on being stressed about it.
Create a cluster feeding care package by making a bag of goodies that you save just for that occasion. You might like to include those foods you couldn’t eat when you were pregnant, or some favourite chocolate. Some special herbal tea can be soothing to sip and keeps you hydrated. Preload some funny movies on your laptop or some interesting podcasts on your phone. Preparing for cluster feeding reframes it from something unexpected and negative to something normal, expected and positive.
4. Learn how to antenatally express colostrum.
Colostrum is present in your breasts from about 16 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of if you can see it or not. Some women notice colostrum leaking from their breasts in later pregnancy, but the majority do not. Hand expressing your colostrum antenatally, from 36 weeks, is a wonderful way to prepare for breastfeeding, as it helps women to become familiar with handling their breasts and can provide a little supply of colostrum that is available if needed after baby is born. Antenatal expressing also makes you think about breastfeeding!
Antenatal expressing was originally suggested for women with gestational diabetes, to reduce the risk of babies needing formula supplementation if their blood sugar was low after birth, however it can be of benefit for any mum. It is important to discuss antenatal expressing with your Midwife, Doctor or Lactation consultant first however, as there are some instances where it is not recommended, such as women with risks of preterm delivery, or issues with a shortened cervix.
It may take a few days to get drops of colostrum, so it is worth persevering even if you don’t notice anything at first.
The average amount of colostrum produced by women over 4 weeks in the original trial was just 5 mls, so every drop is valuable!
Here are some good resources on how to express colostrum:
5. Find evidence based information.
Doing your own reading on breastfeeding is going to be immensely helpful. Breastfeeding is not just about the act of feeding your baby, but also encompasses issues on normal baby behaviour, adjusting to parenting, sleep and bonding with your baby. There are many good resources available, but also many that are not so good! Some of the resources we are happy to recommend are:
Breastfeeding is like any new skill. It takes time, practice and patience and can sometimes feel daunting. But it is also very rewarding, important, special and worthwhile. By preparing yourself for breastfeeding before your baby is born you may feel more confident, know what is normal and be ready to meet any challenges head on!