By Konsita Kuwara BSc MND MPH APD, Accredited Practising Dietitian
As a nutrition professional, I am fully aware of the benefits and recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. Unfortunately, having the knowledge was not enough to help me succeed in breastfeeding. I have two girls, 8 and 1 years old, and I was able to exclusively breastfeed my second child but not my first-born. Here I reflect from my experience on what I think are the essential factors to succeed at breastfeeding.
Learn about breastfeeding BEFORE the baby is born
Prior to birth, much of the attention is given to surviving the pregnancy, excitement in preparing the nursery and preparation for labour. Breastfeeding should come naturally, right? After all, women have done it for as long as human history, it can’t be that hard.
Many mothers, especially first time mothers, are unprepared for the common problems that occur when establishing breastfeeding. The Australian national infant feeding survey showed that while 96% of women initiated breastfeeding, only 15% were breastfeeding exclusively to 5 months. By far the most common reason mothers gave for ceasing breastfeeding was that there was not enough breast milk for the baby. True deficiency occurs in a very small proportion of the population who physiologically are unable to produce milk. However, in most cases, inadequate milk production is caused by infrequent sucking due to formula feeds or breast problems or poor sucking by the baby due to latching issues. In the early days, the baby needs to feed every 2-3 hours. This is because they have small tummies and as your breasts are emptied frequently, this signals your body to produce more milk.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) has a wealth of information and support groups. Learn as much as you can before the baby arrives so you are prepared.
Get support from lactation consultant or midwives while you’re still in the hospital
Midwives and lactation consultants are Godsend! Before you are discharged, make sure that you are confident about how to position and attach the baby to the breast. Good latch on is important to ensure that baby is getting enough breast milk and breast problems are prevented. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. In the first few days, you won’t have any milk yet but it is very important to let your baby suck every 2 hours to stimulate milk production. You will have small amount of colostrum (yellow, thick fluid), which is rich in fats and antibodies that will satisfy your baby before your milk comes in.
As much as practical, resist the urge to give infant formula before breastfeeding is established. The reason is that if the baby is full with formula, he/she won’t be sucking on your breast and your body doesn’t get the stimulation to produce sufficient milk. Milk supply is based on supply and demand principle. You will make for as much as it is required. If baby is consistently crying even after breastfeeding and you’re not sure that you’re doing it right, call the breastfeeding helpline or see the lactation consultant immediately.
Minimise distractions and clear your diary
In the early days, breastfeeding is hard work and demanding. You will be busy feeding every 2-3 hours, changing nappies, feed yourself and your partner and any spare moments will be trying to catch up on sleep. This is more than a full time job! Try to minimise visits from well-meaning visitors and say yes to all offers for food and help. Let go of your perfections for a clean house and focus on nourishing yourself and resting. Besides the hard work of looking after a newborn, this is also a wonderful time to get to know your baby and bond with him/her.
Prepare a support person and include him/her in your learnings from the beginning
If you are lucky enough to have your mother/in laws/husbands/friends to support you after birth, it is important they are also aware of the breastfeeding essentials. This is so that they don’t give conflicting information to what you have learnt from your healthcare professionals. Take any unsolicited advice with a grain of salt and always check with your health professionals on best practice recommendations to your situation. Have your support person learn settling technique and strategies to solve breastfeeding problems. Let them know that you need support without pressure. If you are feeling overwhelmed and are feeling depressed, contact your GP to see a perinatal psychologist who can help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do it sooner rather than later.
However, if for any reasons exclusive breastfeeding did not work out for you, don’t feel guilty. The ultimate aim is for your baby to grow well and healthy while still enjoying motherhood.
I wish you a successful journey in breastfeeding and exciting times ahead with your newborn. They will grow very fast, so enjoy them while you can.
If you require advice or assistance during this time with your newborn please contact us to make an appointment with Konsita. Konsita has expertise in maternal nutrition, early life nutrition, pediatric and childhood nutrition.