As I'm sure you will know from my previous posts, this month I'm taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt, which you can find out about here. This week the blog posts are based around the theme of support, so as well as sharing organisations that helped me on my way, I thought the best place to start would be my breastfeeding basics.
Breastfeeding is a natural, normal thing to do, but that doesn't mean it always feels natural or normal to start with. You put the baby by your boob and they suck it, right? Well, sort of. It's a skill that both you and your baby have to learn, and learning new things can be really hard! I felt like an idiot because it didn't feel natural, and I just didn't understand what I was physically meant to do. So don't beat yourself up if you're not finding it super easy, I've been there too. You will get there, practice makes perfect, and remember your baby won't be judging you or worrying about it as they don't know any different either.
One of the things that I would have found soooo helpful, and would have liked to share with my partner and family, would have been a step-by-step guide to how to position and latch on your baby in the most basic, detailed terms. When I was absolutely exhausted after labour I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, how to latch Eric on, what that even meant, what day it was etc. If your loved ones also know how to 'do' it, then they can give practical help and support rather than just replying "I don't know" to your anguished howls of "is this right? Is it working?!" So if you are confused, unsure, or just plain not getting what the heck is going on, then in the spirit of sharing and support, here is my 'what to do' guide.
First things first, decide which boob to feed on. When you feed your baby offer the first breast, then when they have finished feeding offer the other breast. I did not know to do this for the first couple of weeks, and then I was terrified that doing so would mean Eric would 'use up' the second boob and there'd be none for the next feed and he'd be hungry and unhappy and get skinny and die of starvation! Fear not, this doesn't happen, feeding often and alternating sides helps build up a good milk supply rather than using it all up. It's like a steady stream that's being constantly replenished, not like emptying a bucket. Some women can tell which breast to feed on next by copping a good ole feel of them. The fullest, hardest one is probably the one! If you're a bit more organised like me (for 'organised' read 'crazy control freak) then you might prefer to write down the side you last fed on (and in my case the length of time fed on each side, time and contents of nappy changes, time and length of naps and every meal written down for the whole first year!) You can also buy breastfeeding bracelets which you can swap onto opposite wrists so you know which breast to feed on first, and some have numbers so you can move a charm along to show what time the feed was. I love these ones :)
First things first...get comfy. Have a special chair or bit of the sofa where you can surround yourself with supportive cushions, a drink, a snack, a magazine to read, etc. Try to relax! For night feeds I would prop myself up with my pillows and doze a bit whilst Eric had his milk, though obviously be careful not to fall too deeply asleep and smother or drop your baby. Obviously! Some people can breastfeed lying down which makes things easier and more relaxing at night. I could not do it! There are some great ideas for positions here, but I will write about the position I found easiest (i.e. the only one I could do).
Next, bring the baby to the breast rather than your breast to the baby. This means not hunching over trying to dangle or force your boob into their mouth, but rather cwtching them into you which is more comfortable and works best for everyone involved, believe me.
One of the first things I was taught about breastfeeding at a midwife-led Breastfeeding class was "Tummy to tummy, nose to nipple". We had it drummed into us, chanted it, and I had it down! However, when Eric arrived I had no idea what this mantra really meant or how to put it into practice! So I shall explain in great detail: With the opposite arm to the boob you want to feed on, hold your baby with your arm underneath them and supporting their head. You can put the same-side arm underneath the opposite arm for extra support and comfort when your baby is latched on. Level with your boob, curl them into you so their TUMMY is facing into and resting against your TUMMY! Genius! Your baby should be 'lying' slightly more on their side, rather than on their back, with their head and neck supported but free to tilt back a bit.
With your baby in this position place their nose right by your nipple which should trigger them to tilt their head back and open their mouth wide so you can then....
Latch your baby on. This means bringing your baby in closer as their head tilts back and their mouth opens so they get a big mouthful of breast. Like a hamburger! If your baby doesn't seem keen to open their mouth just by being placed in the right position try stroking their upper lip with your nipple. MAKE SURE AS MUCH BOOB AS POSSIBLE IS IN YOUR BABY'S MOUTH, NOT JUST THE NIPPLE! This will stop your nipples getting sore and cracked and will make sure your baby actually stimulates the let down reflex and gets milk.
These are just the tips that I found helpful, but every woman is different, so if they're not working for you then try other positions and don't give up! With proper support and information most women can breastfeed successfully.
Unfortunately many health visitors, midwives and GPs have not had extensive breastfeeding training, and so can give conflicting and even incorrect advice. As they are health professionals women trust their advice, and many stop breastfeeding unnecessarily, or before they might have liked to stop. We were given 1 breastfeeding class as part of our antenatal classes, but weren't told about the need for support and other sources of support and information were not signposted for us, which would have been really helpful and I think is imperative if we are to help women to keep breastfeeding.
Sources of support and information that I found most helpful were:
My partner, just for encouraging me and telling me I was doing ok.
The NCT breastfeeding helpline, 0300 330 0771 (7 days a week, 8am-10pm); or one of their local counsellors (look on the 'In Your Area' section of their website). When I was having some real difficulties and pain breastfeeding (you can read the story of those earlier days here) I talked to a local breastfeeding counsellor called Jenny, and she gave me the correct information that I needed (that it sounded like I had thrush, which I had never been told you could get in your boob before, by any medical professional or in our breastfeeding class!) and the medication I needed (two doctors prescribed the incorrect medication before I finally got them to give me what she suggested, which made it better and pain free really quickly! I rang at several other points, and each time felt more relaxed and confident about breastfeeding.
La Leche League
The Breastfeeding Network
Local breastfeeding support groups (try your local Children's Centre).
There are also lots of fantastic blogs that offer support!
For more Scavenger Hunt posts check out the following blogs:
Mamajewels make really beautiful breastfeeding bracelets and necklaces, I love this Indian Pink bracelet! They have kindly donated a prize for the scavenger hunt... so make sure you enter below!
Please complete the following Rafflecopter to enter the competition for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Grand Prize.