We know that breastfeeding can come with its own set of challenges, but we also know that preparing for it before your baby arrives can help you feel more relaxed, empowered and ready to start your breastfeeding journey. To mark National Breastfeeding Week (27 June-3 July), we reveal how pregnant women (and their friends and family) can get breastfeeding-ready.
Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife gives her advice on how pregnant women (and their friends and family) can be as prepped and ready as possible for breastfeeding.
Tips & Advice for Mums to be Breastfeeding-ready
Harvest Your Colostrum
Colostrum is the name given to the milk you produce during pregnancy and for the first few days after your baby’s birth. Colostrum harvesting involves expressing and collecting your breastmilk into small syringes from 37 weeks of pregnancy, so you have a stash of it ready for when your baby is born.
Because colostrum can be frozen, stored and defrosted when needed, having this extra supply of milk can be a great backup plan if your baby takes a little longer to learn to breastfeed or if more regular feeds are advised.
Lesley says, “Colostrum harvesting and hand expressing are useful skills to learn during pregnancy as they allow you to become familiar with your breasts and how they work, as well as help to establish breastfeeding after your baby is born.
“It is best to harvest your colostrum regularly and for short periods of time, as this is the most effective way to stimulate the milk supply. If you have a cervical stitch or have been told you have a low-lying placenta/placenta praevia, please consult with your midwife or doctor before starting colostrum harvesting.”
Prep Your Bras & Clothing
A bra that doesn’t fit properly can restrict milk flow and cause your breasts to become uncomfortable, potentially contributing to blocked milk ducts and/or mastitis (sore and inflamed breast tissue).
Similarly, clothes that are tight or restrictive for breastfeeding can cause issues and interfere with your baby’s latch and attachment.
Lesley advises, “Investing in a couple of well-fitting, supportive bras and in clothes that allow easy and comfortable access to your breasts is an important part of becoming breastfeeding-ready.
“Where possible, choose items made from natural fibres such as cotton or bamboo.”
Swot up on All Things Breastfeeding
From attending classes on breastfeeding, to reading as much as you can about it, watching videos and observing other women breastfeed, everything you do to soak up as much as you can on all things breastfeeding will help to give you a head-start on your own breastfeeding journey.
Understanding the importance of skin-to-skin, how your baby’s digestive system works, what normal behaviour and sleeping cycles are for a newborn, and how to comfortably latch your baby on for a feed and identify/correct a poor latch or other feeding issues, will help you feel confident and empowered when it comes to feeding your baby.
Educating and informing yourself about breastfeeding before your baby is born can help you feel prepared, relaxed and more able to overcome possible challenges that may arise, all of which will contribute to getting things off to a good start.
Prepare a ‘Nest’
If you can, plan and prepare a comfortable and safe haven in which to rest, recover, bond with and feed your baby, so you are set up and ready from the word ‘go’.
Your ‘nest’ may look like a comfy armchair with plenty of cushions, a footrest, and a side table for drinks, snacks & other essentials such as your phone, TV remote, nipple balm and painkillers. Or it may be a side of the bed where you can prop yourself up with pillows and from which you can easily access the toilet.
Lesley explains: “Wherever and however you set up your nest, make sure it is a place where you feel comfortable, safe and enjoy spending time in, as this will help you to relax and allow all the right hormones to flow, making breastfeeding easier and more enjoyable.”
Wear Your Baby
Wearing your baby in a sling or carrier has many benefits, some of which directly benefit and facilitate breastfeeding:
- It can establish a closer bond between you and your baby
- It makes you more attuned to your baby’s feeding cues
- It helps settle your baby and can soothe tummy discomfort, both of which make breastfeeding easier as your baby is calmer
During your pregnancy, you can seek advice & support from your local sling-library, where you can try on and get a feel for different slings and baby-carriers.
Hydrate and eat Nutritious Foods
Eating a healthy and varied diet and keeping well hydrated will help with your recovery from the birth, enhance your wellbeing and make you feel more energised. All of this will contribute to you feeling better and, thus, more able to care for and breastfeed your baby.
So, try to plan ahead and fill your freezer with plenty of nutritious home-made meals, ask family and friends to sort a ‘meal train’, arrange a weekly fruit & veg delivery and treat yourself to a large non-spill bottle with a long straw that you can safely sip from throughout the day.
Make Sure Your ‘Team’ is Breastfeeding-savvy
Preparing for breastfeeding yourself is invaluable but if those around you are not well-informed and educated on the subject, you may find that their help and advice is at best lacking and, at worst, counterproductive.
So, if possible, attend breastfeeding classes or webinars with your partner and/or main support person, and give your loved ones reading material that is short and sweet (so they actually read it!), share videos and social media posts that help normalise breastfeeding and newborn baby behaviour, and ask that, unless you specifically request it, they keep their personal views and advice to themselves.
So, what can friends and family do to make sure a new mum’s breastfeeding journey is the best it can be?
- Understand that breastfeeding is a learnt skill – even if she has done this before it can be a different or more challenging experience – and it can take time to learn and become skilled at it
- Access support for her if she needs it. This can be online via breastfeeding support platform La Leche League or by asking her midwife or health visitor about what is available in your area. There may be a baby café nearby or breastfeeding peer support workers available
- Reassure her that she is doing an amazing job feeding her baby. Words of support and encouragement really help when you are tired and fed up
- Get stuck into the household chores. Washing, cooking, cleaning the bathroom, it all needs doing and the more partners, friends and family do the more she can focus on just feeding baby
- Make sure she is getting good nutritious food. Her body needs to recover and heal after the birth but also needs to feed another human being too. Freshly prepared and cooked foods, soups, stews and smoothies will also help her with bowel movements
- Her body may be aching after the birth and getting used to new feeding postures. Ask if you can help her relax by offering her a massage to release any tension from her neck, shoulders, legs, feet or wherever she chooses
“A mum’s breastfeeding journey may not always be a smooth ride but being able to prepare for, and address any problems effectively can remove the stress often felt in the early days and weeks with a newborn,” says Lesley.
“Equally, a mum who has a supportive network of close family and friends who understand how breastfeeding works and how to support a breastfeeding mother well is worth its weight in gold.”
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Why Should you Breastfeed?
There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your little one but probably the most well known one is boosting your baby’s immune system.
When a mother breast-feeds their child they are passing on their own immunities to their little ones. Researchers have found that there is a specific protein called soluble CD14 in breast milk that will start a baby’s immune system providing active protection to the baby. The protein develops B cells, which are immune cells that are instrumental to the production of antibodies.
As well as improving the health of your baby, breastfeeding has also been found to improve mums’ health in later life by reducing the risk of Osteoporosis. This is because bone density decreases in life in both sexes, but post-menopausal women are at the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis, because oestrogen protect against bone loss.
A study of women aged 65 years and over suggested that breastfeeding protected against hip fracture in old age, with a dose-response relationship between average duration of breastfeeding per child and risk of hip fracture.
Breastfeeding can also increase your baby’s IQ. While this may sound like an old wives’ tale, research has found that the brain is only 1/3 formed at birth, and that breast milk has been evolutionarily honed over millions of years to complete building the brain during the first two years of life leading to a higher IQ.
Read More: 5 Essential Tips for Breastfeeding in Summer
“There are quite a few common problems that women who are breastfeeding may experience which can cause them pain and discomfort or simply make breastfeeding harder than it should be,” says Eilis Mackie, Lead for Lactation and Infant Feeding at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA UK, “It’s vital to be aware of these common issues so you know when to seek help from a lactation specialist or doctor.”
Some common breastfeeding problems include:
What to do if You’re Having Trouble
A Blocked Milk Duct
A blocked milk duct can cause some discomfort whilst breastfeeding. It is a common issue women who are breast feeding will have and one that usually comes from breast engorgement – where your breasts may become too full of milk, causing pain and discomfort.
A blocked milk duct can lead to you feeling a small lump in your breast that can be painful to touch. However, continuing to feed your baby whilst suffering from a blocked milk duct is important, as this can help to relieve the blocked milk duct so try to continue feeding from that breast.
It should relieve over time, if left it can turn into mastitis which can result in breast pain, swelling, warmth, redness and potentially flu-like symptoms.
Sore or Cracked Nipples
Some women will experience sore nipples as a result of the baby not being latched on correctly, which can cause discomfort, it is therefore advised to seek advice on the correct way to get your baby to latch on, to minimise any pain.
Some new mums may experience pain as they start to breastfeed; however, do continue to persevere if you can, as with time it should become a bit easier.
If you are experiencing cracked nipples, a good nipple balm or cream can often help to moisturise the area which could reduce pain and tenderness in the long run. Some nipple creams will also be safe for your baby to breastfeed with, although ensure you do check the product to confirm this before using.
If you are experiencing severe pain or cracked nipples do get help from your lactation specialist or midwife to seek advice.
Some babies will experience tongue-tie, which is when the bit of skin underneath the tongue is shorter. This is a condition that is usually easily treated, but not always easy to diagnose.
Breastfeeding can be painful if your baby is suffering with tongue-tie, as their mouth cannot open wide enough to breastfeed properly. Therefore, if you notice issues like sore nipples or frequent mastitis, or if you baby looks like they have difficult breastfeeding, are sticking their tongue out or are underweight, it is worth checking this with your health visitor.
Read More: Why Breastfeeding Mums Should Eat More Eggs
There are several resources and support systems out there, some of which are available 24 hours a day. Some examples of breastfeeding support include:
- Dealing With Tongue-Tie & Breastfeeding: All You Need to Know
- 5 Essential Tips for Breastfeeding in Summer
- 16 of the Most Common Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Myths – Debunked With a Midwife