Breastfeeding - it’s the normal way to feed your baby and has a long list of benefits for mother and baby. Yet sadly so many new mums struggle to establish breastfeeding and part of this is that many women don’t know what to expect or how to deal with the obstacles that arise in the early days and weeks of feeding a newborn. It also doesn’t help that maternity wards are so short-staffed and midwives simply don’t have the time that they’d love to spend helping women learn to feed their babies in the first days after birth. I’ve so far been breastfeeding my gorgeous boy for five months, and though the early weeks were challenging, feeding him is now easy and enjoyable for us both. Getting through the first 6 weeks is crucial to successfully breastfeeding your baby through infancy, so here are my tips on getting set for breastfeeding success.
Decide that you want to breastfeed
It might sound obvious, but making a conscious decision that you will breastfeed your baby will enable you to prepare and learn more in the months before your baby is born. Talking to your partner and family about why you are planning on breastfeeding and discussing how they can help this to happen is really important too, so you can have them on your team to advocate for you if feeding is difficult.
Find resources that you can refer to later
Websites like the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), KellyMom, and the Possums Gestalt Breastfeeding Course are full of useful and practical information, both to read during pregnancy and to refer to once bub arrives. ‘The Discontented Little Baby Book’ by Dr Pamela Douglas is an excellent read that covers feeding, sleep and fuss-cry problems in the first four months of life and discusses a gentle yet evidence-based approach to these issues. Once bub is born, the ABA Phone Helpline and in-person meet-up groups can provide invaluable information and support.
Talk to friends who have successfully breastfed
Spend some time with any mum friends who are currently breastfeeding or have previously breastfed their babies, and ask them any questions that you’ve been pondering about how it all works and how their experiences have been. The more you are exposed to breastfeeding, the easier it will be to make it happen for you and your baby.
Invest in some breastfeeding-friendly bras and clothes
Breastfeeding itself does not cost a cent, but investing in some good quality comfortable nursing bras can make a world of difference. My favourites are from Bras N Things and best of all the maternity sports bras from Cadenshae (I live in these along with my #mumlife activewear on the daily!). Some clothes are more feeding-friendly than others, especially when feeding in public. In the first couple of weeks, nursing singlets (from Kmart/Target/Bonds) are comfy and have super easy boob access. As you begin to recover from the birth and get out and about, most tops are easy enough to either lift up/pull down/unbutton. Cotton On do lots of activewear tanks with larger arm holes that can be pulled across easily. Dresses are a bit trickier but there are lots around at the moment with zips/buttons/press-studs providing easy access that aren’t necessarily breastfeeding/maternity styles - my favourites are from St Frock, Orange Sherbet and Forever New.
Put together a ‘breastfeeding station’
When the nesting phase hits, put some of that energy towards setting up a breastfeeding station - because you’ll spend plenty of hours a day snuggled up feeding your little one, in the first few weeks especially. You don’t need a fancy rocking chair or recliner, just your couch will do the trick. Basing yourself in the living area of your home rather than being stuck in the nursery is always a good idea too. Add plenty to your list on Netflix, have a couple of cushions handy, and put together a basket with a water bottle, healthy snacks, lip balm, a burp cloth and nipple cream. Once you get through the first weeks, are spending more time out of the house and your baby is faster at feeding, you’ll barely have time to check Facebook at each feed let alone switch the TV on, so be ready to embrace the initial seemingly endless feeds and the binge-watching that goes with it!
Expect that the first few weeks will be hard
Feeding a brand new baby takes up a good chunk of the day and a huge amount of your energy. It is exhausting and difficult and can make you wonder how on earth anyone could breastfeed for a year or more. However - keep in mind that breastfeeding in the first 6-8 weeks is all about you and your baby learning to feed, and about building up your milk supply. Breastfeeding works on supply and demand. The more milk your baby drinks, the more milk you will make. Your baby will feed frequently to help your body make more milk to sustain him as he gets bigger. Newborns need to be fed at least 8-12 times a day, so feeding every 2 hours or even more frequently is completely normal. A baby wanting to be fed often does not mean you don’t have enough milk or that your milk isn’t good enough - your baby knows what it is doing, as does your body. Young babies often “cluster feed” during the evenings where it feels like they are constantly wanting to be fed - this is normal and is one way that your baby helps build your milk supply. If you are able to persist through those tough weeks, the payoff is that feeding becomes easy. Your baby becomes an expert at latching on and becomes faster at draining the breast, and you become confident in feeding not just on your comfy couch but out and about too. Bottle-feeding might seem easier initially but in the longer term breastfeeding is much more convenient - no need to sterilise bottles, mix up formula, or carry around a bottle warmer; you literally have food for your baby on tap and also a very effective tool to soothe and calm a stressed out bub.
Advocate for yourself in hospital and afterwards
Make sure the midwives who are caring for you in hospital after the birth are aware that you want to breastfeed, and ask for their help checking that bub is latched correctly at every feed until you feel comfortable to go it alone. Ask if there is a lactation consultant available on the maternity ward, and seek their help. If you are not feeling confident with breastfeeding by the time you are going home from hospital, ask for referral to a lactation consultant or GP with an interest in breastfeeding. If at any point you are having difficulty, you can call the ABA Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 MUM 2 MUM - free help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from trained volunteer breastfeeding counsellors.
The reality is that breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally demanding but is worth weathering any initial difficulties as once you and your baby get the hang of it, breastfeeding can be enjoyable and relaxing for both mum and bub. Breastfeeding is an amazing gift to give your baby, and will set them up for the absolute best start in life. There will be times you will have to miss out on going to events that are not baby-friendly and you might feel like you never get a break from your cuddly koala baby, but this phase does not last forever. The time you breastfeed your babies is such a short period in your own life, but has the potential to give your baby benefits that last the whole of theirs. Breastfeeding also provides health benefits for mothers including decreasing your risk of breast cancer, with the risk going down the longer you breastfeed. Balance these positives with any FOMO you feel, especially in the first months of motherhood. Remember that breastfeeding is not just about food, it provides your baby with comfort, pain relief, perfectly balanced nutrition, quenches thirst and is a source of calm and relaxation. Taking time to learn about and prepare for breastfeeding before your baby arrives will give you both the best chance of reaping the rewards and enjoying breastfeeding success. Good luck!