However long or short your breastfeeding journey is, both you and your baby will receive lifelong benefits from your efforts, and the longer you feed, the greater the benefits to both parties. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months however the UK statistics fall woefully short of that with only a quarter of mothers still breastfeeding at 6 weeks.
Mums cite numerous reasons for giving up prematurely – primarily poor professional guidance, inconsistent advice and lack of easy access to support. Some early planning preparing for breastfeeding can really help to increase the chances of feeding easily and for longer by:
- planning ahead – include breastfeeding as part of your birth plan
- find a source of knowledgeable support
- shop ahead for equipment – feeding pillow, breast pump
Your birth plan
It is often clear to me as I work with new parents that they have returned home after delivery, physically exhausted and emotionally spent following their baby’s arrival. Continuous contractions and delivery are incredibly hard work (hence the term ‘labour!’) and particularly if protracted, can have a real bearing on the subsequent breastfeeding journey. It is my firm belief, after 30+ years of providing breastfeeding support, that sheer post-delivery physical and emotional exhaustion are major reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than intended.
If you’re labouring at home, eat small regular healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up. Once in hospital, no medals are presented for bravery – prudent use of pain relief enables you to rest, and in some cases (injectable pain relief and epidurals) sleep while labour progresses – so many women decline it, in the belief that it may adversely impact their baby, but used wisely it can provide an opportunity to recover and recoup some energy for delivering your baby and for the weeks beyond. Being able to breastfeed successfully because you have saved some stamina for that 6 week marathon will deliver short and long term benefits to your baby, and can be a positive way of preparing for breastfeeding.
Find a source of knowledgeable support
Whether it’s a local breastfeeding support group or a professional 1:1 support service like my own (TheLatch.co.uk) consistent, knowledgeable advice is key to successfully preparing for breastfeeding. If you’ve never done it before, you will have little idea of the challenges that lie ahead. I provide step-by-step support to my clients from the day of birth and throughout the first six weeks during which both the skills and the physiology of breastfeeding become established. We may chat over several feeds on the same day to iron out positional or latching problems, and along the way I anticipate the babies’ growth spurts, and offer advice to deal with these.
Talking to other breastfeeding mums at a support group can help with similar issues, too. Having a source of support and the answers to your many questions, is key to relieving stress and maintaining a relaxed mindset which is so important in the process of delivering nutrition and comfort to your baby. Identify a source of support before your baby arrives, so that you know where to turn to if you hit problems. When you’re tired and emotional, it’s difficult to think straight, so have this invaluable contact noted down ahead of the point at which you may need it.
Research and shop ahead for equipment
I always provide a shopping list ahead of delivery for my clients and this is a very practical way of preparing for breastfeeding. Key items I recommend include:
You will be spending many hours over many days, feeding, so it needs to be as comfortable and convenient as possible. A feeding pillow which ties around the mother’s waist to support their baby in a favourable position, meanwhile allowing the mother to relax is critical.
Another important piece of equipment that the vast majority of breastfeeding mums will need to support nursing their babies alongside busy lifestyles, is an effective electric breast pump. I recommend use of these from the first days of breastfeeding. Their primary use – as soon as the milk comes in – is to enable mums to build up a store of breastmilk so that their baby can be fed breastmilk by partners or carers while mum is able to snatch some sleep. Later, they are invaluable in short-cutting growth spurts or boosting the milk supply by stimulating the breasts to produce more milk over a shorter time.
Trained midwife, general nurse and homeopath, Alison Lovett, has spent over 30 years supporting new mothers to breastfeed their babies. For full details of all her support services, please visit TheLatch.co.uk