When you’re pregnant, what do you need to add to your list and what can you usefully do to get ready?
A lot of people are desperately keen to breastfeed and are determined to make it work but most of their commitment to breastfeeding in pregnancy is buying a super expensive breast pump, a bunch of bottles and a steriliser.
Hold your horses.
That might all prove to be useful and especially useful if you are intending to be one of the many women who provide breast milk to their child once they return to work - but there are other things to prioritise in the beginning.
If something goes wrong, a breast pump might be your salvation but companies like Ameda can dispatch you a breast pump to arrive the next day and it will be hospital-grade and fully serviced and you won’t be stuck trying to patch through with the breast pump you probably bought for a completely different purpose. (http://ameda.co.uk/ameda-elite-hospital-grade-breastpump-rental-program)
The most useful thing you can do in pregnancy is get information.
That’s better than getting anything else.
Because unless you live in Alaska, most other things can be sourced efficiently and effectively should the need arise and having a house full of them may not send the best message to your psyche.
That might sound trite, but your belief in your own potential and your belief that breastfeeding is going to work and your faith that it probably will is part of your arsenal. Those who start with a ‘hmmmm, well, I’m going to give it a go and just see what happens. If it doesn’t work, at least I gave it a shot’ might be missing a piece of the puzzle. Your commitment and your understanding that you are a big piece of why this is going to work is pretty crucial.
Of course, for some people it might not work out. But the truth is that for the vast majority of people who really want it to work, it does. If you are prepared, if you know where to get help and when help is needed and you get help soon enough – the chances are you WILL be OK.
Those who give up early on and are unhappy about it, didn’t recognise when problems were occurring, didn’t realise what was normal breastfeeding behaviour for a newborn and struggled to find help when they needed it.
So what pieces do you need for your puzzle?
1. Read about breastfeeding.
This can start early. Do you really need to read a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding? Possibly not, but you might still not have an understanding of why exclusive breastfeeding is recommended.
Read some studies – not just a couple of pages in a jolly leaflet. This stuff matters.
You may well spend hours carrying around a book of baby names. Devote hours to this as well. Take some time to really understand what breastfeeding does for your baby and what NOT breastfeeding may do. There are links to many many studies here: http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/About-Baby-Friendly/Breastfeeding-in-the-UK/Health-benefits/
But read some books too. Books like ‘The Food of Love’ by Kate Evans or ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding’ published by the La Leche League or Dr. Jack Newman’s ‘Guide to Breastfeeding’ or his ‘Ultimate Book of Answers’.
Make sure you have an understanding of the relationship between ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ in breastfeeding, what a good latch and body position looks like and what is a normal pattern for the first few days.
2. Think about how breastfeeding might link with your other parenting choices.
Research tells us that the majority of mothers who breastfeed sleep in the same bed as their baby for all or at least part of the night for at least some of their breastfeeding experience.
They might start out believing strongly that this won’t happen to them but somehow along the way, it seems to end up feeling like the best choice.
It’s important it doesn’t happen accidently but happens with careful thought.
Bed-sharing isn’t safe for all families but with the right precautions it can aid breastfeeding and make a family safer as a result.
You can read some important guidelines in the UNICEF ‘Caring for your baby at night’ leaflet: http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/Resources/Resources-for-parents/Caring-for-your-baby-at-night/
If you want to look at this issue even further, take a look at some of the work of Dr Helen Ball (http://www.dur.ac.uk/sleep.lab/projects/bedding-in/). Her study on where infants sleep in the post-natal ward and how this impacts on breastfeeding is a real eye-opener. Also have a look at the work of Dr James McKenna: (http://www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna/)
Using a sling - not a structured upright baby carrier where the baby’s weight is compressed onto their lower spine, but a wrap or sling that allows your baby to rest in their natural position and with their baby weight evenly distributed – is something that also seems to fit naturally into the breastfeeding relationship. You can read more about this exciting world of shopping possibilities on www.thebabywearer.com and how the decision to ‘wear’ your baby is about so much more than shopping or ease of travel on the bus.
3. Write a feeding plan.
Got your birth plan? Write a feeding plan too. One sheet of A4 that explains to everyone around you what you consider important: your priorities for skin-to-skin and that early feed, what you want to happen in the event of a c-section or your birth going in an unexpected direction. On that sheet have phone numbers of helplines and local support and some key phrases to help you focus on what early latching and positioning will look like.
4. Find that local support
Don’t leave this until you are sitting there in a dressing gown with sore nipples, wondering what happened to the last couple of days.
While you are pregnant, do your research. You want 3 types of support – someone on the end of a phone, someone who can come to your home, and local groups where other mothers meet and you can develop a network of peer support and coffee friends.
Your midwife might be able to point you in the direction of all three. But if not, get hassling.
In the UK, there are FOUR charities that support breastfeeding: The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM), The NCT, the Breastfeeding network (BfN) and the La Leche League. Their contact details can be found on my links page. There are FIVE breastfeeding helplines. One for each of the charities and a fifth – the National Breastfeeding Helpline – funded by the Department of Health and staffed by the ABM and BfN.
In different parts of the UK, different charities are more active than others. You might have an active La Leche League group round the corner from you – with a dedicated La Leche League Leader and a network of supportive mentors. Or an NCT or ABM counsellor who does home visits and is a devoted volunteer. Or a Breastfeeding Network supporter who runs some local drop-ins and is a star. You might have to phone the charities to find out who is in your area.
Find who they are, talk to them WHILE you are pregnant and even better, if you can, go to a group and see some people breastfeeding. This might sound a bit weird but it really isn’t. It makes a huge difference to see some good latching and different positions and talk to others about their early days. You will be welcomed.
If someone asks you what lovely present they can buy you - the babywipe warmer or the cashmere booties? – ask for a session with a qualified lactation consultant (IBCLC). Get one round to check your latch and positioning in the first few days and answer a thousand different questions about breastfeeding and check to see you are on the right path. You can find who is your local LC by checking www.lcgb.org listings. Ask them to show you their IBCLC badge and check they have professional indemnity insurance.
You should also find some of your antenatal education focuses on breastfeeding. This will vary enormously depending on the type of class you are able to find. It’s a good place to find out who is active locally and start to build up the network of peers who may see you through some tough times.
5. Tell the people you love why breastfeeding matters.
Buy your mum ‘The Food of Love’.
Get your partner to read the UNICEF page which links to relevant studies.
Make sure people know how important this is to you and what a normal breastfed baby does in the first few weeks and what growth spurts are and what cluster feeding is. Tell people to spend an hour on www.kellymom.com and they’ll learn some things that will help them to become members of your team.
For many of us, the first time we see breastfeeding up close is when we will do it ourselves. That’s not always going to end well.
We don’t live in a culture where we’ve absorbed latching and positioning and normal breastfeeding behaviour since we were little girls. We live in a culture where bottle-feeding has been the norm for decades and as infants, fewer of us were breastfed than at any time in history.
If we want to change that, it's down to us.
Pregnancy is a great time to learn more and take responsibility.
It’s exciting and scary all at the same time – as are most things that are important in life.
And one little warning - once you start reading, it’s not always easy to stop!