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.
Getting in touch with support options in advance to do this nicely leads me on to the next tip…
Visit a breastfeeding cafe
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💚.
Read a good book about breastfeeding
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
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.
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.
- 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!)
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:
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
So today, while my daughter entertained herself by running wild in a soft play, I took some time to have a hot drink and play around on Facebook. I saw a cartoon which made me smile at first.
The cartoon showed three mums breastfeeding toddlers and the toddlers were doing various gym-nurstics and other cheeky toddler nursing antics. Probably the sort of stuff anyone breastfeeding beyond babyhood can relate to. Sat next to them, a lady who doesn’t have a child says “My mom always said anyone breastfeeding a toddler does it for their own pleasure, I can see now that’s not true!”.
After the initial smile, I paused. And I thought. And the more I thought about this cartoon the more annoyed it made me. I got very annoyed, not with the cartoon as such, but with our society and our wider culture which says “Okay, if we have to accept you might want to breastfeed an older baby or child, you absolutely can’t, absolutely shan’t, enjoy any minute of it.”
I know this cartoon wasn’t badly meant. It was meant to be funny. A bit of solidarity for parents breastfeeding older children in a world where there is little of it. I can applaud it for that. Maybe I just take things a bit too seriously. Maybe sitting in a Wacky Warehouse for three hours just makes me angry. If you don’t agree, I’m happy for you to scroll on by, no hard feelings. However, I need to speak my truth. I want to speak it for all those people out there feeding older children. The ones who also don’t feel they can say it.
I still breastfeed my preschooler. She’s pushing four. So obviously, I’ve been breastfeeding a while. We nurse maybe two or three times a day. As she gets older it happens less, becomes a brief sweet interlude in our busy days. I love my daughter and she loves her “baboo time”, and of course, I often do it for her. Sometimes I might not feel like it, I might feel a bit touched out, I might put her off because I’m not wearing the right bra or I’m in a nice dress with no boob access. I get to have a say too. And because I have a say, I will say: Sometimes when we breastfeed, I also do it for me.
It’s kind of taboo, especially with an older boobling, to say that.
I nurse my daughter for many reasons and some of those reasons are selfless. Some of them are not.
I wouldn’t breastfeed A if I didn’t like to breastfeed her. And no, I don’t mean I like it in that creepy way some people think of when somebody talks about nursing older children (if this is you, seek help m’kay?). Sometimes, just taking a moment in the day to reconnect, in a way that is special to us, is pretty wonderful. The oxytocin starts flowing and we are having a cuddle and I remember how much I love being her mum and just enjoy the closeness we have.
I also nurse her at bedtime because thank goodness for boob, it makes bedtime in this house so frickin easy. Ten minutes and zzzz, she is OUT. No bedtime battles here. I am happily smug, with a glass of wine by 7pm in our house. It’s not the bedtime magic bullet for everyone, but I am so glad it is for me!
I breastfeed my daughter because she rarely gets sick. I’ve had to take less than a handful of days leave from work despite her being at childcare four days out of seven. Hurrah for that milky, immune system supporting magic!
I nurse her back to sleep at 5.30am, because quite frankly, I am not ready to get up and it means I am not cursing CBeebies because it doesn’t start until 6am like some of my parent friends are. Seriously though BBC, sort that s*** out.
I nurse her because it cures any tantrum and upset without me having to negotiate a screaming, writhing, octopus child. This is great for me, I am not so great at negotiating with a screaming kid. My husband is awesome at it. Me? I’m glad I have a boob to use.
I nurse my daughter because it is special to me.
I nurse her because I love to see the sheer joy on her face as I say “oh okay then”, as she jumps on my lap and laughs as I cuddle her close.
I breastfeed her because I love it.
Breastfeeding is for the dyad. That means both participants. Not just the baby. When we deny this to the world and laugh and say “oh, it is all for them really” aren’t we really saying it is unacceptable for the mother to enjoy breastfeeding? Why do we have to be martyrs? Why does it feel so scandalous to say “You know what, sometimes I really enjoy breastfeeding my toddler?”
That day is coming down the road fast, so fast. Too fast. I know the day when my child will no longer need those special cuddles and breastfeeds will come and go before I know it. This won’t be forever, and when it ends, I will treasure those memories, though my arms will ache and feel empty. Snatching a brief hug here, and a brief snuggle there as my child runs away to play with her friends. This is the way that parenting goes. It moves on, it evolves and often, you don’t get a say in whether you are ready. It just happens.
Once, way back when A was a babe I was agonising over whether to start putting her into her own bedroom. I remember clearly when this lovely lady who ran the group smiled at me and said, “Our children are always moving away from us, don’t rush it if you don’t want to”. Her words were so beautiful. I think I will remember them forever.
So I’m not going to rush it or deny what I get out of breastfeeding too. While I might not savour every moment, and I won’t tell you to, because that is false, and not how life is, I will also not be ashamed to say I breastfeed for me as well as for my child.
I will speak my truth.
Remember, it’s okay to speak yours.
Whether or not your baby sleeps through the night, remember your success as a parent is defined by so much more.
Without a doubt, sleep deprivation is one of the biggest challenges I have faced to date while raising A. The lowest points were after her twelve week birthday. We went to bed together one evening as normal and instead of the couple of hours I had become used to, she woke up after forty-five minutes. And then forty-five minutes after that. And…well you get the picture. For a long time, she woke very frequently. She was *gasp* a couple of months shy of four before she really consistently slept for most of the night.
I cannot count the hours I spent googling baby sleep. Sleep became an all-consuming topic for me. I read everything. Worried about everything. I was determined to find out WHY my baby would not sleep. I lacked a lot of knowledge about what is normal sleep, not just in babies, but in toddlers and preschoolers. I wasted a lot of time. While we did find some triggers for her frequent waking, some of it was just personality. Miss A is now a bright, inquisitive, smart and curious pre-schooler and sleep, well sleep is boring isn’t it? Her father also gets by happily on less sleep than average. Indeed, some studies have suggested the way our children sleep, may actually be largely genetic.
I really want to say one thing I think a lot of parents need to hear, so listen up. If your baby doesn’t sleep through the night, it is unlikely to be your fault.
Here are some of the most common myths about how and where babies sleep:
Your baby should be sleeping through the night by *insert arbitrary figure here*
A lot of popular information suggests babies should be capable of sleeping through the night from an early age. In reality, instead of talking about “sleeping through the night” we should talk about babies sleeping in ‘consolidated blocks’. In many scientific studies, ‘sleeping through the night’ is defined as sleeping a 5 hour period between midnight and 5am. Not quite the picture parents have in mind! Research has shown huge variance in when babies start to sleep in consolidated blocks and whether they settle themselves, or ‘signal’ (read yell their little heads off) for assistance. We don’t know why there is such a big difference, though many feel the answers lie in the personality of the baby.
BASIS suggests it is completely normal when infants wake frequently for the first year and beyond. Indeed, they say 13% of year old babies, still do not sleep in a consolidated block of 5 hours or more regularly. Gives us a slightly new perspective on those baby sleep books!
Toddlers definitely shouldn’t be waking up at night though right?
Though there seems to be a huge divide about when babies should sleep through the night, it feels like most people are in agreement that toddlers definitely should. However, again, the research doesn’t particularly back this idea up. Studies have shown that toddlers often continue to wake up during the night and need input from their parents, well into the second year of life.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, someone who has spent an awful lot more time talking in an evidence-based fashion about how children sleep than me, suggests sleeping through is more like a roller coaster, than a linear trajectory. Basically, children are all different, and some may sleep “well” from babyhood, others may well be into their pre-school years before they consistently start to “sleep through”. Both are normal.
Formula or solid food helps babies to sleep better at night
Yeah, I had high hopes for starting solids too. My baby was totally going to sleep through once she was on solid foods! Except she didn’t. Also, formula fed babies still wake up frequently at night, the difference is, you also have to go downstairs and make bottles when they do. When people insist babies fed formula sleep better it is frankly insulting to their hard-working parents, who are up with bottles in the middle of the night. Seriously, it’s not like safe formula prep at 2am is the easy option! I wish we would stop saying that it is. These pervasive myths are by far best addressed by this lovely video from the team at Swansea University (I apologise if the catchy tune gets stuck in your head!):
If you stop feeding your baby at night, you will get more sleep
Sometimes night weaning might be helpful, and sometimes- it might not. This is because advocates of night weaning often forget that night waking is not just about food for babies. Development spurts often play their part. It is particularly common to hear parents asking about night weaning when they are smack in the middle of a leap. This may be absolutely the worst time to attempt night weaning. Your child is waking because they need reassurance, pulling away might actually make things worse or result in a lot of distress. Successful night weaning often depends on whether the child (and the mother) is truly ready.
I gently night weaned my preschooler when she was three. I’ll be honest, at first it made absolutely no difference to her sleep, and in fact, she still wakes up and asks for a cuddle and a drink. So if you are considering night weaning, it might be a good idea to think carefully about how you will feel if sleep does not improve. If your child still wakes up, will night weaning still help you feel more rested? For me, it made quite a lot of difference as I struggled to sleep through night feeds, but could sleep through a cuddle. If you are a mum who finds you can sleep through the night feeds anyway, it may make less difference.
Most gentle parenting and breastfeeding advocates do not suggest night weaning babies under twelve months old. These babies may still need night feeds. Which leads us on to…
A baby no longer needs to breastfeed at night once they have reached a certain age or weight
It is common for people to suggest babies do not “need” night feeds once they are six weeks/six months/double their birth weight etc…
Firstly, can we define ‘need’? Breastfeeding is, as well as a way to satisfy hunger, a relationship. A breastfeed is a cuddle, immunity, reassurance, warmth. How many times a night might you wake and have a sip of water, adjust your blankets, reach out for a warm body to snuggle into?
Secondly, this doesn’t take into account that all babies are different, and all boobies are different! Have a read about milk storage capacity here. Some mothers may need to feed more frequently to give the baby the same amount of milk per feed as her friend. This is not a mother with a supply problem, but natural variation. In order to support a healthy milk supply, breastfeeding works best when babies are fed to cue. In the first year milk is the most crucial part of baby’s nutrition and what is important is not how much baby gets per feed, but how much they get in twenty-four hours. A set rule for everyone just goes against basic biology.
In many cases, breastfeeding is a far easier way to get baby to sleep more quickly, and get better quality sleep. Use that magic while you can!
Responding to your baby every time they cry at night, makes children dependent and clingy
This is so far from the truth it makes me laugh. There is a wealth of research which suggests responsive parenting promotes healthy, secure and confident children. See Unicef’s “building a happy baby” leaflet or look into “attachment theory”. Not responding to children has been shown to do exactly the opposite of making children independent. Sleep training is a divisive subject and a blog post of its own. I will simply say, it isn’t the magic bullet people suggest, and that more information on it can be found here.
Bed-sharing is *the* most dangerous way for your baby to sleep! Don’t do it!
So this one was a massive bug-bear of mine. We previously have not been having nuanced conversations with parents about where breastfed babies should sleep. Positively, the tide seems to be turning a little recently, with the Lullaby Trust, Unicef UK, BASIS and PHE collaborating on new safe sleep guidelines which finally discuss bed-sharing in the mix.
Why is it important to talk about this? Because otherwise parents do not talk to their health visitors about this for fear of judgement. And then, they do not get the information they need about how to bed-share safely. On any given night 22% of babies will be bedsharing with their parents. Blanket recommendations not to bedshare have been clearly shown not to work and may have even increased the risk of SIDS for our babies.
We have historically focused more on the risk of bed-sharing to breastfed babies than we do on the increased risk of SIDS from other practices which parents might turn to instead- like sofa sleeping or giving formula instead to help their baby to sleep. Why have we not talked more about the impact of alcohol, smoking and drugs on SIDS rates? Risks which are so much greater? Why are we still not getting our knickers in a knot about the relationship between poverty and SIDS rates and holding society accountable for that? Focusing our support and resources on all of these things would have so much more impact.
For a long time health professionals have been in a tricky spot. Advocating 6 months exclusively breastfeeding yet having to advise against one of the tools that help many people to achieve it. Studies suggest “breast-sleeping” (i.e. bedsharing as a breastfeeding mother) supports breastfeeding, with mothers showing increased responsiveness and increased breastfeeding overnight (see below for links to a wealth of research information). Mothers who bedshare also tend to breastfeed for longer than mothers who do not.
I could go on about this forever, but I won’t. I am glad the guidance is finally start to shift in line with the reality for many families. If you are considering bedsharing with your baby, read evidence-based information and decide what is right for your baby. Safety guidelines are really important if you go ahead. You can see these in the new guidance I have already linked, as well as here, and here, and here.
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing, what would it be? I would love to do away with this culture where parents who announce their child is sleeping well get congratulated. I slept well for years before children. I am pretty sure nobody said “well done” every time I woke up after a full 8 hours. Nobody insinuated this made me a better person, or that it was because of the big dinner I had that night. I want to stop having to reassure and comfort tired parents in breastfeeding groups who think their baby is broken. Not because it annoys me to do so, but because this crippling pressure is unfair to them. We create it with expectations which are so off-kilter from reality it is ridiculous. I would love people to start showing empathy to parents rather than judgement. Maybe help them out around the house, or make them a coffee. In the absence of a magic wand, I hope the myths busted in this blog help. Watch this space, and subscribe or like me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for news of upcoming blogs about how to cope with frequent night waking, and gentle night weaning.
You can find more good information about sleep here:https://www.basisonline.org.uk/
Recommending reading about infant and child sleep:
Evidence based bedsharing info from BASIS site
Confession time. This is a scary blog to put out there. I’ve dithered posting it and re-drafted it a million times because it is so personal. But here goes. I struggle with social anxiety. Some close friends and family already know this about me. Some people might be surprised I guess. It is something I have lived with to varying degrees since I was a child. Over the years I have developed coping strategies, and mostly, I get by. I can usually play the part of a functional adult. However, still, on very bad days the idea of the smallest interaction with someone else can make me feel pretty stressed.
My anxiety was probably worst during my pre-teen years and adolescence. At its peak, during my first year at secondary school, I barely talked to another person, aside from my teachers, or family. Not an exaggeration. It was a really unhappy time for me. I am amazed now, that not a single teacher spoke to my parents about it. This was during the ’90s. I hope social anxiety is more recognised now, that young people get more support than I did.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety isn’t simply shyness. It’s intense fear that can affect everyday life. Lots of people feel uneasy in social situations. However, for someone with social anxiety, those feelings can be very difficult to manage.
According to the NHS, you may have social anxiety if you:
- dread everyday activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping
- avoid or worry a lot about social activities, such as group conversations, eating with company, and parties
- always worry about doing something you think is embarrassing
- find it difficult to do things when others are watching – you may feel like you’re being watched and judged all the time
- fear criticism, avoid eye contact or have low self-esteem
- often have symptoms such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
Personally, my anxiety manifests in a few ways. Much of the above is very familiar to me. For example, in a conversation with another person, I am often half listening, wondering how I am coming across to the other person. What are they thinking? Do they like me? What should I say next? Did they just give me a funny look? Am I boring them!? This distraction isn’t a lot of fun for the other person either to be fair. On bad days this internal narrative is so overwhelming my mind goes blank, and I cannot think of a thing to say. Sometimes, I respond almost defensively to the most innocuous of questions. A simple, “How are things with you guys?” can send me into a panic. I desperately try to think of something interesting to say, and fail, awkwardly shrugging “Oh well, you know, nothing really”. Then I spend the rest of the day (even days) berating myself.
I apologise to all my friends who have endured these painful interactions with me. Thank you for seeing past it all and being kind. In truth, I am luckier than some. I have a loving husband and family, I have had help, my anxiety is always there, but mostly under control. I can go to a party where I don’t know people well. I have some good friends. Held down a career in freelance design. I do volunteer work that I love. You see, I do actually want to be around people. People think socially anxious people don’t want to socialise, and that’s just not true, at least not for me. It is just we also find it incredibly difficult.
Parties or gatherings of large people can be most difficult for me to navigate. I make sure these days, that I don’t allow my anxiety to control whether or not I go. I used to just turn down invitations to parties. I still get that white-hot fear though, when I walk into a room full of people even if I know most of them. How I feel the event went can have a profound impact on my mood. If I think I managed to navigate it with more ease than usual, I am happy. If I have an awkward moment, not only am I anxious about how that must have looked, but it descends into this horrible feeling of shame and embarrassment about who I am as a person later. The self-loathing sometimes lasts for days. Regardless of how the event went, I am often exhausted afterwards.
At 35, when I had my baby, I was thrown into a new world. I suddenly had to have adult conversations in a room full of parents I didn’t know, a situation which scares the pants off me. I didn’t do many classes and groups. I often found myself making an excuse to avoid them. “Those classes more stress than they are worth” (true, but not entirely the truth). I went to one baby group where not one person spoke to or made eye contact with me. It was such a triggering experience, I didn’t ever try another local village group. Despite tons of breastfeeding issues, I think my daughter was months old before I managed to get to a breastfeeding support group without a friend. The kindness of peer supporters and mothers there made that group my lifeline really. Thank goodness for boob group, NCT friends and Facebook because I think these things actually saved me from acute loneliness in the early days of motherhood.
People sometimes don’t believe me when I say I now do volunteer work yet am socially anxious. Especially when I say I also do telephone support and they are familiar with me dithering around, taking a week to call a plumber! However, my support work is so much easier to navigate than a baby group. It is like putting on a costume. I have conversational tools from my training to support women. There are some questions you always have to ask, some issues which are so very common, these things form a kind of familiar script, so I always have something to say. Silences are encouraged so it gives me time to think. I am often asked about specific issues and have a bank of knowledge I can draw from to move the conversation forward. Crucially, I am not focusing on myself, but on someone else. I can largely forget about what people are thinking about me. I don’t have to worry about making the mums I support my friends. In fact, it is actively discouraged. The tools I have gained in training have been immensely helpful to me in ‘real life’ social situations, however, and it has really built my confidence.
As my daughter gets older I now find myself often scrutinising her interactions with other children. My biggest fear is that she ends up like me. The maddening thing is, I know the more anxious I am around people in front of her, the more likely this is. This encourages me to navigate situations I would have previously avoided. My daughter drives me on to be my best self. While she is a little shy as a child and often overwhelmed in busy situations, I have seen how well she interacts with other children at nursery or smaller groups. I try to reassure myself she’s doing fine, and no different to many of her peers. Next year she starts school. I cannot articulate how worried I feel for her. I desperately hope she does ok, that she makes friends and has a “normal” experience.
If you are a parent with social anxiety but you push yourself into situations which make you anxious try to remember this: it takes guts. Finding the courage to go to that group is amazing. Even if you don’t speak to anyone, feel proud. You were brave. Being a parent with social anxiety can be hard. You may lose the “crutches” or coping strategies you had developed pre-children. On top of this, as parents, we may be dealing with a loss of our professional identity and other parts of ourselves. You are navigating a new beginning. Like many new starts, if you lack confidence, it can be even more stressful. So give yourself credit where it is due.
I still remember the girl who finally befriended me at school during my worst period of social anxiety. I don’t think she knows what she did but she made a lifelong impression with her kindness. My appeal to everyone is, please say hello to that quiet mum in the corner of the playgroup if you can. Make eye contact, smile, reach out, be kind. Sometimes, someone is standoffish because they are anxious. Please be forgiving. Engage that scared looking person in a conversation. It might not be the start of a beautiful friendship, but you might be the person who helps them get through the day smiling or encourages them to come to the group again. They may actually make a friend or two eventually. Small gestures count. Make them a cuppa. You never know the difference your kindness might make to someone.
Social anxiety support:
If you can relate to the issues raised in this blog, first and foremost, seeing your GP might be helpful. You may also have local counselling services you can self-refer to. CBT is considered one of the most effective interventions for social anxiety.
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Enjoying the holidays, and breastfeeding your baby are not mutually exclusive
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Soon many of us will be spending time with friends and family, and while we may look forward to the holiday, some may find the idea of breastfeeding over the Christmas break brings up a few anxieties.
First of all, in my view, there is one brilliant advantage to breastfeeding over the Christmas period, You have the perfect excuse to slip away and get some quiet time (hopefully with a box of choccies to keep you company) because “baby feeds better without distractions”. Another bonus- you also have the perfect excuse for turning down events you don’t really want to go to. Maybe that’s just me. I am happiest in PJs with a glass of wine.
Other people may prefer to drink their wine wearing their party gear, and worry that this breastfeeding malarkey means they are going to miss out on all the fun.
I know often concerns revolve around family members, particularly breastfeeding in front of them. Some people worry that Auntie Lynda will go on (and on) about how she thinks the baby should be on bottles/formula/Christmas dinner and all the trimmings by now.
So here are a few of my thoughts on how to make life easier as a breastfeeding mum over the Christmas holidays.
Worried about baby being passed around like the tin of Roses, during peak cold and flu season? Wear your baby! You will be surprised how much less well-meaning relatives will demand a cuddle when they see a baby all cosy in a sling.
Wearing Your Baby has the added advantage of keeping them close, which leads me onto my next point…
Expect Baby to Change Their Feeding Habits
Often over holiday periods, things are busier and babies are more stimulated. It is easy to miss feeding cues, or breastfeeds. During long journeys, a baby might sleep more than usual. Lights and music and new people often mean distracted babies that don’t feed as well or cue for a feed less. Quite often babies are being passed around for cuddles. Sometimes Uncle Gary might decide he can soothe the crying baby himself rather than passing them back to Mum. Sometimes mum is distracted entertaining friends and family or making food.
Building in times during the day to breastfeed might be a helpful way to combat this, or alternatively see above; Wear baby more so they stay close! If you are undertaking long journeys build in some rest breaks to allow time for boobin’.
Alternatively, baby might be out of sorts, cranky, overstimulated and want boob ALL THE TIME, also normal! In fact, in these situations, nursing can be a godsend. It is often much easier to calm a baby with a breastfeed.
Nursing also gives you an excuse to get out of peeling the sprouts or doing the cooking. I may or may not have personally used this as an excuse to sit on my bum eating Christmas cake (“It’s for the baby!”).
Make time to express if you are apart from your baby
If you are away to a party, or out for the day Christmas shopping you may want to build in some time to express. This is more important the younger your baby is. Not removing milk from your breasts may lead to engorgement and blocked ducts, and eventually lowered milk supply.
If you do find you develop some blocked ducts or engorgement, following self-care is important, this is great information from the Breastfeeding Network.
If your baby is having bottles while apart from you, making sure responsive feeding methods are used can be helpful. Click the link for a video demo.
Alcohol and breastfeeding
Most sources suggest a moderate intake of alcohol while breastfeeding is fine. You can still have a glass of wine or two and breastfeed. However -and this would be true however you feed- as a parent you need to be careful you are still fit to care for a small child. Bedsharing after drinking alcohol is also a no-no. If you fancy a blowout, expressing some milk in advance might be helpful, as well as enlisting a babysitter.
Some useful links:
Pass the stuffing, please!
Christmas is often a time when the food police come out to tell you that you can’t eat your veggies because “baby might get windy” or that you need to avoid the stuffing or after-dinner mints because the sage or peppermint might “lower your milk supply”.
The good news is, there is no evidence-based research showing foods themselves will make your baby gassy (unless they already have a known allergy or intolerance to a certain food), and you would need to be eating absolutely VAST quantities of stuffing/mint for there to be any effect on your milk supply, so tuck in, and don’t worry.
In case you overdo things, many indigestion remedies are safe to take while breastfeeding. All on the link there. You’re welcome.
Don’t feed the baby!
I’m not talking about breastfeeding here of course! However, older babies that have solids may be filled up with Christmas ‘treats’. It can be helpful to put aside some time for boobin’ toddlers too unless you are planning on weaning.
Sometimes, you may need to watch out for relatives trying to feed younger babies solids. Remember, some relatives may be from a generation where babies were given solids much younger than they are now, and may have no idea this isn’t OK. If you suspect this might happen, it might be helpful to be upfront; for example saying something along the lines of “It is important to me that the baby is closer to six months before giving them food, the research now suggests this is best for babies, and this is also what our health visitors have recommended”.
You may even want to think about ‘recruiting’ any prime suspect onside, have them “watch out for anyone who might give baby solids accidentally”. It is amazing how well giving people some trust and responsibility can work in your favour.
If well-meaning relatives are convinced giving baby Christmas dinner is the key to a full nights sleep- show them this!
Dealing with criticism
Make sure people know that you are proud of your breastfeeding relationship and that you see it as a good thing. If your relatives don’t see this as a chore they can relieve you of, you might find their attitude changes.
If you feel your choice to breastfeed is questioned, or that those surrounding you aren’t supportive, the “pass the bean dip” approach can be useful: https://twolittlegrasshoppers.com/tag/the-bean-dip-method/
If you have an older nursling, and you are worried about people questioning why you are “still breastfeeding”, Kellymom has some useful suggestions here too: https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/criticism/
Family members are generally well-meaning. They may be basing their ideas on outdated things they have been told. They might be open to learning about how recommendations have changed if you approach the subject gently.
Remember, you are the advocate for your baby/toddler/child. They cannot stand up for what they want. Give yourself permission to be unashamed. You do not have to answer to anyone else about your feeding relationship. Your boobs, your baby, your choice.
Choose clothing that provides easy boob access
Worried about feeding in front of family members? Consider practicing in front of a mirror, seeing how little is exposed might reassure you a little, especially if you use the “one up, one down” technique.
If you don’t feel comfortable getting your boobs out in front of family (maybe you have an inappropriate drunken uncle or two), the muslin trick is an inexpensive tip. Using a large muslin, tie one corner to the strap of your bra, and use the loose cloth to cover up any exposed areas. Or employ your partner on distraction duty to get uncle Roy into the kitchen for another sherry if that’s what makes you feel happier. Or, if like me you like a bit of a breather, use it as an excuse to get a bit of peace and quiet. When it comes to feeding, it is about what makes you feel more comfortable first and foremost.
If you need a party outfit or even some new fashion ideas for breastfeeding friendly clothing, why not join Can I Breastfeed In It? They are a UK facebook group, which have fantastic tips and ideas for feeding fashion (and they even have a selling page so you can grab yourself a bargain too).
So there you have it, some helpful tips for enjoying Christmas while continuing to breastfeed. Is there anything you think I have missed? What are your tips for breastfeeding over the holidays?
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Are the images we see of parenthood realistic?
Back in 2014, I remember it quite clearly, I was sitting in an antenatal class with other expecting parents, who later went on to become good friends. We have often talked about those classes, but one memory which stands above the rest for me is one of the exercises, where we planned “24 hours with our new baby”. I remember filling in hourly slots on the flip chart with stuff like “going to the coffee-shop with the baby” and occasionally saying things like, “Ooh, it has been four hours, so we probably should be feeding the baby now too?” or “Perhaps baby will need their nappy changed now?” It always makes me chuckle when I remember it. I honestly don’t remember if the antenatal teacher tried to question this chilled out picture of the day we painted. I do wonder now how much she was laughing internally at our naivety. The perception some of us had, after babies, was this: the realities of parenting were a well-kept secret, and not to be discussed, at least not until after you have the baby.
Culturally we are all influenced by the image of “happy motherhood”. The commonly sold narrative is that all parents will naturally transition to life with a baby with ease, and will innately understand all aspects of parenting, especially if we buy the right “stuff”. In reality, we are social creatures, and what we learn about parenting, comes from what we absorb, from our wider lives, childhood, and culture. Many of us simply are not around babies and children much, except as children ourselves. We may have had a sibling, but chances are we do not really remember them being babies. We often grow up in small nuclear families, rather than extended families or small communities. We might see a lot of babies on the screen, but many UK parents have rarely held a baby before the day comes when they hold their own.
The societal norm of not really talking about how parenting can be unless you are talking to another parent, of not admitting to our real feelings, of not discussing widely how normal it is to find it difficult, perpetuates the “big secret” about what it is really like. Search an image site, or google for the term “motherhood” and what you will find is similar to the photo above; a gallery of soft focus images of babies being cuddled, smiling mothers and heartwarming memes talking about how amazing mothers are. And we are amazing, but that doesn’t mean we feel like we are. Yet we are constantly bombarded with this stuff. “Enjoy every minute, it goes so fast!” the memes cry, or they say things like; “Motherhood is messy, and crazy, and challenging, and sleepless, and giving and still unbelievably beautiful“. And just sometimes, seeing this stuff can make you want to scream; “I don’t feel the bloody beauty! I am tired, I am fed up, I want to shower without interruption, I want to pee by myself, I want a full nights sleep and I want my old life back, just for a day”. It can be especially hard to be a new parent in a world where we can be bombarded with “insta-ready” images of parenting. We see smiling parents in adverts for “stuff”. We see lovely snippets of life with kids on our social media feeds, a place where we compare the best parts of other peoples lives, to our everyday.
Amidst the “pre-baby” expectations of what we might gain- a lovely cute ‘bundle of joy’, love, fulfillment and happiness (all of which may be true) we may feel ashamed to admit if we feel a “loss” too. A loss of our old identity, our autonomy, our old body, our professional selves, our time and our sleep! I clearly remember having the realisation myself that my life had completely changed now. It was never going to be what it was ‘before’ and that there was no break from this, no holiday, no time off- and in that moment the responsibility I felt was completely overwhelming.
When you ask new parents what they feel is the most unexpected aspect of caring for their baby, quite often the knee jerk response is: “no-one prepared me for the sleep deprivation”. Our cultural norms do not prepare us for what normal infant sleep is and fears around bed-sharing, can mean more exhaustion for western parents, who are frequently trying to get babies to “go down” in a separate sleep space or even a different room. Their small human often has an entirely different agenda. When we see babies on the television, or in movies frequently we are shown a picture of a newborn, alone, in a lovely crib, while they sleep soundly. In fact to prove this point, here are the top images from a google search for “sleeping baby”.
No wonder it can all come as a bit of shock when the reality for many is not a baby who is happy to sleep alone, but is in your bed, latched on. You are in a fleecy M&S onesie with one boob out because you know you shouldn’t use a duvet, and any sheets that do remain have a few dubious stains on- “Is that breastmilk or baby vomit?” you briefly wonder, before turning your attention to other more pressing matters, like getting your baby back to sleep. Again.
And while we often focus on only how the mother is doing after birth, the same difficulties are often true for the other parent too.
Before we had our baby, my husband often remarked he didn’t see how it would change things a great deal. I remember having a conversation with him about how I wanted to make sure I got my hair done before having the baby, as I might struggle afterward. He was confused by my worries, in his mind, of course I would have time. In reality my baby was 6 months old before I got to the salon. The transition to fatherhood was equally hard on him, and I remember he was also emotional and overwhelmed at times. I’m ashamed to say, I resented him for this at the time, I was dealing with my own struggles to breastfeed, and my transition to motherhood. Where previously we would have shown each other empathy, instead we were often in conflict. Having had a very happy relationship ‘before’, the strain we came under came as a shock to me, we hadn’t anticipated it at all. Our experience felt dramatic at the time, it was our first maritial “rough patch” but we weren’t unique. I only realised this a couple of years later, having a lunch date with an old friend, who confided in me (after a few drinks) she had a really similar experience. Difficulties in relationships after having children are well documented, and also backed up by research. Yet it seems like the huge upheavals to relationships and subsequent difficulties are only alluded to in passing conversations, rarely discussed openly, if at all.
Obviously I love my daughter with a passion, I would never change a single thing about her (ok that is a lie, I do kind of wish she would sleep but that is another story). I don’t want to paint a negative picture because I have gained far more than I ever lost, and being a parent really can be so very wonderful. I think parents are amazing, and that we often are far too hard on ourselves. But I think we need to be telling real stories. Parenthood isn’t trite memes. It isn’t soft focus images of cuddled up babies and tiny feet. Breastfeeding isn’t always smiling down lovingly at a suckling baby, especially at first. Sometimes there is pain involved in becoming a parent, physically and emotionally. Often it is hard work. There is a learning curve. We might not be able to fully prepare for it, but we can be prepared to be surprised. And as we shed our old skin, and our old lives, and become something forever changed, we should reflect on the stories we tell to others who might be next. Our real stories deserve to be told. The truth is rarely “insta-ready”, but sometimes it is good to get a little bit real.
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