Preparing to Breastfeed

My tips and top links for breastfeeding parents to be!

Having a baby comes with a lot of questions for parents to be. Which pushchair is best? What should my baby sleep in? What clothes do they need? How can I prepare for birth?

If you are anything like me, reading this while pregnant with your first child, the last one might feel a bit all-consuming. When I ‘prepared for my baby’ I read everything possible about birth options. I read next to nothing decent about breastfeeding.

When the midwife asked me how I planned to feed my baby, there was no question in my mind I would breastfeed. It didn’t occur to me I knew nothing about breastfeeding. I thought I had boobs and I would have a baby, and I had booked antenatal classes, so surely that would be enough. I thought my determination would fill in any gaps.

Really, what would have been helpful, was to have done less research into what Moses basket we needed for our baby (spoiler alert: actually a completely useless item) and a more research into breastfeeding. To have had a breastfeeding plan to sit alongside that birth plan. Why is this? For the simple reason, that while breastfeeding is a natural skill, it is a learned skill like walking, not an innate skill like breathing. Much like walking, while you learn to breastfeed you might land on your arse. You might need a bit of support. This is entirely normal in a culture where we do not learn to breastfeed the way we are supposed to. We are meant to learn by watching other people breastfeed, but very few of us see breastfeeding in our everyday lives. Bottle feeding culture prevails in the UK. Quite often, the first breastfeeding baby we might see is our own.

With that in mind, here are a few tips from me, to you, with the benefit of hindsight and a bit of training in breastfeeding support
💚 .

Book an antenatal breastfeeding workshop

In some areas, your local breastfeeding support groups may hold specific antenatal breastfeeding workshops. While lots of us will do an antenatal class, these breastfeeding specific workshops will be far more in-depth. Your midwives or health visitors would hopefully know if these run in your area. If not, it could be worth getting in touch with local support yourself to check if they have any upcoming sessions.

Sometimes lactation consultants will run antenatal breastfeeding preparation. Depending on the consultant there may be a charge for this.

If a face to face antenatal breastfeeding workshop isn’t available, the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers offer an online course for a small fee (£5.99 at the time of writing this blog).

Getting in touch with support options in advance to do this nicely leads me on to the next tip…

Visit a breastfeeding cafe

breastfeedinggroup

Visiting a breastfeeding group antenatally can be well worth doing. It might only take an hour out of your day and there are several benefits; you make contact with the support before you need it, so you know exactly where to go when baby arrives, you get to observe and take in what breastfeeding looks like (so important!) and breastfeeding parents will be able to talk to you about their experiences and what to expect. Breastfeeding groups are often totally free and informal. So you’ve really got nothing to lose💚.

Find your local breastfeeding support groups here and here!

Read a good book about breastfeeding

recommendedbreastfeedingbooks
Top left: The Food of Love by Kate Evans
Top right: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International
Bottom left: The Positive Breastfeeding Book by Amy Brown
Bottom right: You’ve Got it in You by Emma Pickett IBCLC

Reading a good book about breastfeeding can be really helpful. It’s also handy to have on hand for those early days when you might feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to forget what was said in the workshop or the hospital especially when you have a small baby. Popping this book in your breastfeeding box (more on this later!) can be super useful.

Like most things in life the quality of breastfeeding advice in print can massively vary so look out for the ones in the picture there. These are my favourite breastfeeding books for parents. All of them are evidence-based and written by people who know their stuff.

Think about safe sleep

baby-sleep-safe-sleep-image-thanks-to-basis

Image Credit: https://www.basisonline.org.uk/co-sleeping-image-archive/

Pre-baby it can be really easy to think you’ve got where the baby will sleep sussed. Chances are you’ve bought a Moses basket, a crib or maybe you’ve invested one of those co-sleeper cots that attach to your bed. However, it can be worth thinking about what you will do if your baby prefers to sleep closer to you.

Almost 50% of babies will have slept in an adult bed with one or both parents by three months, whether intended or not. Breastfeeding also releases oxytocin, which is a hormone which can make you sleepy (this is one reason breastfeeding parents are thought to get better quality sleep). There is a significant association between longer duration of breastfeeding and bedsharing. It’s important to be aware of safe bedsharing guidelines. You might not need to use them but it is far better to plan and be safe than it is to not plan and end up in a riskier situation, such as exhausted on the sofa.

https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/07/Co-sleeping-and-SIDS-A-Guide-for-Health-Professionals.pdf

I’ve written more about sleep here, click the link to find out more.

Prepare your breastfeeding box!

In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, expect to be breastfeeding a lot. This is normal and it is a good thing because it also encourages new mothers to rest and recover. A breastfeeding box can be helpful, it should be something you can easily move about the house with you. Things you might like to pop into it are:

  • Spare breast pads.
  • A large water bottle.
  • A leak-proof, insulated mug.
  • A muslin to catch spit ups.
  • The TV remotes.
  • Phone chargers.
  • Magazine or book, ebook reader or tablet (basically- entertainment)!
  • Your breastfeeding book (see above)!
  • Details of local breastfeeding support services.
  • Tasty snacks.
  • Tissues
  • A small pot of vaseline- either for your lips, or if you are unfortunate enough to suffer a cracked nipple, to help with healing.

You might also want to throw in a stretchy wrap for those early days. Find a sling library near you for lessons in how to babywear, you will be so glad you did!

If you have an older child, you might want to set up a breastfeeding box for them too. This can include crafts, colouring, puzzles, books, special toys or a special film to watch. Whatever you think will keep the older sibling engaged and happy. Consider things you can help with one-handed if needs be!

Finally, it won’t go in the box, but a Netflix subscription would be a much handier present than flowers… I am looking at you, visitors and wannabe baby cuddlers! #justsaying

Antenatal expression (optional extra!)

DCF 1.0

Baby being syringe fed colostrum. With thanks to https://www.flickr.com/people/crimfants/

For some parents, antenatal hand expression can be great preparation for breastfeeding. This might be for many different reasons. Perhaps you are expecting an early delivery, or you have gestational diabetes, your baby might have been diagnosed with a congenital difference or you might have had a difficult journey the first time around. You might just want an extra bit of reassurance. Antenatal expression of colostrum is just that, an insurance policy. It should never replace at breast feedings unless it is necessary. The ideal situation is that you don’t use it. However, it can come in handy if something unexpected happens which means boobing isn’t going to plan or you are separated from your baby.

One advantage to hand expressing colostrum antenatally is that it gets you familiar with your boobs and how things all work. Studies have found hand expressing in pregnancy helps parents to feel more confident about breastfeeding, and that parents who do this breastfeed for longer.

Antenatal expression of colostrum is thought to be safe from around the 37-week mark. If you want to start earlier check with your midwife or consultant first. You can find out more about the antenatal expression of colostrum here.

You’ve done the prep…so now what’s your breastfeeding plan?

So hopefully after thinking about a few bits, you will have a better idea of what to put on your breastfeeding plan and what is important in order to get breastfeeding off to a good start!

The Australian Breastfeeding Association have some brilliant example plans which you can use or adapt here to suit: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/your-baby-arrives/my-breastfeeding-plan

Want to read more about early days breastfeeding?

Some brilliant extra reading to prepare you for your breastfeeding journey:

General questions about breastfeeding answered by the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers

Breastfeeding a newborn, what to expect by Kellymom

The First Time You Breastfeed, by Emma Pickett

A brilliant video about attaching your baby at the breast, by Global Health Media

Newborn nappy output- what to expect by the NCT

Identifying good transfer of milk, by Global Health Media

Normal newborn behaviour in the first months, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Cluster feeding and fussy evenings, by Kellymom

Emma Pickett reassures parents about normal feeding intervals

Find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

Prepare for the birth, but make sure you also prepare for what comes after!

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Review: Why Mothers’ Medication Matters

Author: Wendy Jones

Publisher: Pinter and Martin

ISBN: 978-1-78066-585-6

Why mothers medication matters review

“There is evidence out there for the vast majority of drugs that should enable mothers to continue breastfeeding while obtaining the medical treatment they need… none of this is difficult. If we value breastmilk for its wonderful properties, practice evidence-based medicine, and respect mothers, we could transform women’s experience of seeking treatment.” Wendy Jones “Why Mothers’ Medication Matters”

A while ago, I had the privilege of reviewing this wonderful book, my review has now been published, so I am excited to be able to share it with you all here.

Wendy Jones is an inspiring figure in the field of lactation. A massively experienced Breastfeeding Supporter for the Breastfeeding Network and a qualified pharmacist; Wendy has tirelessly worked to help parents who breastfeed. Any breastfeeding supporter or counsellor should be aware of the brilliant “Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service”. This wonderful resource tirelessly gives information to lactating people about medications they may need to take during breastfeeding.

Prescribing medication for breastfeeding parents can be difficult for health professionals yet parents often need medication, whether it is short-term use of painkillers, antidepressants, or drugs to treat chronic conditions. Women are often given misinformation about what medications they can and cannot take.

In this book, Wendy Jones sets out to give mothers and health professionals information they need to make decisions about medication and to reassure fears that parents may have about adverse effects on babies of drugs passing through breastmilk.

Wendy Jones opens her book with an introduction to her subject, providing heartstring tugging examples of why better support around medications and breastfeeding really matters. Putting a human face and empathy on what could easily be quite a dry subject matter is something she continues to do throughout the book. The case studies are really moving, covering examples like postpartum women on a maternity ward being told they could only take paracetamol while recovering from c-sections or episiotomies and mothers dealing with weaning decisions after being given a cancer diagnosis, among many others.

Further chapters explore topics like why prescribing for lactating people can be so fraught with confusion, drugs during pregnancy and birth and their impact, treatment of chronic health conditions and depression as well as looking at ‘lifestyle’ drugs including alcohol and recreational drugs. The chapter on over-medicalisation of common issues like infant reflux, CMPA and colic are a must read for any peer supporter, particularly those among us who provide support on online forums where suggestions of reflux and CMPA are common. Some of the facts and studies Wendy discusses are truly eye-opening and the book is well referenced with a focus on remaining evidence-based.

why mothers medication matters book

Wendy ends her book with a discussion about where women can go on to get support around prescribing issues, and talking about milk donation. The final chapters are a heartfelt overview of the differences between breastmilk and formula milk and why we shouldn’t be assuming “formula milk is fine” if a lactating parent needs medication and her conclusions about why medication matters for breastfeeding parents.

This book is about so much more than medication; it is a wide-ranging overview of issues breastfeeding parents may face dealing with their healthcare. The ideal length and level of detail for a breastfeeding peer supporter, as well as a good introduction to the topic for training breastfeeding counsellors and health professionals I would whole-heartedly recommend “Why Mothers’ Medication Matters to anyone.

Buy “Why Mothers’ Medication Matters” by Wendy Jones and other excellent titles from the ‘Why it Matters’ range, over at Pinter & Martin

Why mothers medication matters review by Oxytocin and other stories

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