The honest breastfeeding survival guide
So, you’re having a baby and planning to breastfeed! Go you!
Not only are you sparing yourself from washing and sterilising bottles eight times, daily, during the all-consuming newborn stage, you’re giving your bub the divinely designed nutrition they were meant to receive.
We’re not here to guilt anyone who can’t, or doesn’t want to, breastfeed. I experienced breastfeeding difficulties, myself, and mix-fed both my babes until my supply stopped.
Every new mother’s experience is different. For some it is extremely taxing and adding breastfeeding to the mix can seem harrowing. You are responsible for the wellbeing of two people – yourself and your bub – and your mental health is paramount.
Some newbies take to the boob as if vying for gold in the World Breastfeeding Championships, while others aren’t so enthusiastic. Latch issues, intolerance to food in a mother’s diet, painful feeds and medical interventions, like c-section and anaesthesia can spoil the milk party, but there are ALWAYS solutions.
If you’re determined to breastfeed, we’ve got you! The following info is intended to have you feeling confident, empowered and ready for anything that breastfeeding throws your way.
Know that you were made to breastfeed your baby
There are very few women who, medically, cannot breastfeed. When you’re worried about your milk coming in or a dip in supply, know this: there are grandmothers who have re-lactated, post-menopause, in order to breastfeed a grandchild. Whether you think that’s weird or wonderful is your call, but one thing is certain – women’s bodies are amazing. Your body was designed to produce milk for your baby. Yes, there are certain hiccups that can make this more challenging for some mums and bubs, but there is almost no reason why you cannot overcome any challenges and breastfeed successfully.
Breastfeeding success starts before your baby is born
Some women begin to produce colostrum, late in pregnancy, and it would be a crying shame to let that liquid gold go to waste! Even if you’re not producing colostrum, it is sitting in your milk-makers ready to roll.
A double electric breast pump is a necessity if you’re planning to breastfeed, exclusively. The Medela Freestyle Double Electric Pump has a three-hour battery life, which is perfect if you don’t want to be chained to a power outlet every time you express. Invest in one at 38 weeks and begin pumping in your spare time. This way, you’ll have a decent milk stash by the time baby comes.
Many women experience stress while waiting for their milk to come in (which is extremely counterproductive) and feel pressure from midwives and pediatricians to supplement with formula (also counterproductive).
Adequate breastmilk supply relies on regular demand. The moment you begin top-up feeding your newborn with formula, they become less interested in working for their supper at the breast. Formula is extremely filling, whereas colostrum is low in fat, yet energy rich, prompting the newborn to feed often. This frequent feeding, or cluster feeding, is essential; it triggers all the right hormones, to get your mummy milk bar up and running.
Having a stash of colostrum to rely on, if early breastfeeding hiccups arise, will save your sanity and avert the need to supplement with formula, which can be damaging to your breastfeeding journey.
Self-nourish and milk will flourish
Taking care of yourself before and after bub’s arrival will give you the best chance of providing a healthy breastmilk supply. Avoiding drugs, cigarettes and alcohol is a no-brainer, but boosting nutrition is extremely important, too – take it from a mama whose milk dried up, 18 months postpartum, because I was running on empty.
Growing a baby and being their sole source of nutrients for the first six months is hungry work – it requires an insane amount of energy and you need to ensure that you’re replenishing what you’re expending.
Eat loads of healthy fats – avocado, tahini, hemp seed butter, coconut milk and oil, nuts and seeds; and don’t forget your protein sources – chickpeas, brown rice, wild caught fish and organic chicken and red meat, plus plenty of fruit and vegetables. Drink water like it’s running out – you need liquid to make liquid. Simples.
Taking a quality vitamin and mineral supplement preconception, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding, is essential. Some synthetic nutrients aren’t absorbed or used by the body. We’ve all heard that folate is essential in preventing neural tube defects in babies, but folic acid is NOT folate – it is a cheap, synthetic form, of little use to the body. Look for folinic acid or methyl-folate, two active, bioavailable forms of folate, found naturally in foods.
Similarly, a synthetic form of vitamin B12, called cyanocobalamin has limited use to the body and contains a cyanide molecule, causing the body to exert considerable energy to convert it to a usable form, and detoxify. Methylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin are preferable forms of B12.
Naturobest is an excellent Aussie supplement brand, containing highly available forms of nutrients. Their Prenatal Trimester 2 & 3 plus Breastfeeding is perfect for late pregnancy and all throughout your breastfeeding journey.
Lastly, lactation cookies are bae – these are easy-to-make (or buy) nuggets of high-energy, milk-boosting deliciousness. There were days I subsisted on little but Franjos Kitchen Choc-Chip and, while that’s not ideal, they got me through some exhausting periods where I was either feeding or expressing my cluster-feeding babe and had no energy to shop or cook. Bake up a stash before baby arrives or buy a few tins and try not to eat them all in one day.
Find the right support
When I had my first baby, I knew only one mum who’d recently been there, done that and could give me rock solid advice. And further, because every new mum’s experience is so hugely unique, I found that advice from other mums just wasn’t relevant to me.
When I ran into problems breastfeeding, the two ladies I had to lean on were a mum, who’d exclusively breastfed two kids with nary a qualm, and a mother-in-law, who’d switched to formula after six weeks because shit was hard.
I felt so lost because I was in completely new territory and I didn’t know which advice was gold (feed on demand and abandon any concept of a schedule) and which I should smile and nod to, but roll my eyes at as soon as the well-meaning contributor wasn’t looking (babies only need to feed every four hours).
Enter: the lactation consultant.
What I needed was personalised info, for a very unique set of circumstances. Sadly, I didn’t then know that such a marvellous, mythical creature existed.
When bub number two rolled around, I was much wiser, having honed my motherly skills, read loads of Pinky McKay blogs (woman is a pink-haired angel) and joined some solid gold mum’s groups on Facebook. When I encountered painful feeds and a newborn who was slow to gain weight, I immediately googled International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) – shining beacons of hope, who will visit you in-home, observe baby feeding and provide invaluable advice and support.
Many are qualified midwives and all have undergone extensive training and practical experience and passed a detailed exam to register as IBCLCs. Whatever challenges you’re experiencing, they’ve addressed it. Both times I’ve met with an IBCLC, I’ve never felt more heard or supported as a mother, and I don’t know that I have since.
If your lactation consultant is a practicing midwife, Medicare should provide a rebate for the consultation. Also, check with your health insurer, if your private health cover includes lactation consults.
Where else can you turn for advice? The Australian Breastfeeding Association staffs a free hotline (call 1800 686 268) and live website chat. The website is chockers with helpful breastfeeding resources, covering any breastfeeding topic you can think of!
A little tenderness is normal
With the surge of hormones after birth, breasts full of milk and a little boob monster hoovering at your nips, it is SO completely normal for the girls to feel tender. This pain is minimal and should peter out after a week.
What isn’t normal is persistent stinging pain, chafing, cracking or bleeding. These problems are usually due to a poor latch, which can be the result of soft palate malformations in baby’s mouth, like tongue tie and lip tie. An IBCLC can identify this problem with one visit and refer you to pediatric dentist for correction.
To give you relief, while you work on poor latch, or wait for revision of ties, nipple shields and a quality nipple ointment are your friends. I used the Medela Contact Nipple Shields in large (always buy the large) and Nature’s Child Organic Nipple Balm. You might also wish to express and bottle-feed, to give your nipples a well-earned break, but do this sparingly as it may impact breastmilk supply – regular skin to skin contact between you and baby is important.
Abandon the schedule and trust your supply
Many new mums underestimate just how often babies have to feed in those first couple of months to establish adequate breastmilk supply. Some feel frustrated, believing that they aren’t making enough milk, and some are just plain exhausted, so they turn to formula. But, as mentioned earlier, this is counterintuitive and can signal the beginning of the end of what was a normal, healthy breastfeeding journey.
Newborns aren’t too good about schedules – they don’t have toast and coffee, do their morning poop and get on with their day, breaking for three meals a day. They poop, sleep and eat at all hours of the day and night and early breastmilk is lower in fat, so they’ll want small amounts, often.
The easiest way to accommodate your near-constant milk machine duties is to invest in a co-sleeper bassinet, allowing you to easily roll over in bed and feed your baby. Co-sleeping is inevitable in any breastfeeding journey, so learn how to do it safely by consulting the authority on the subject, James McKenna, PhD, of Notre Dame University.
It’s more than okay to be selfish
Don’t expect anything of yourself during those early months – you and your baby are the priority. Cuddle up with your bub, enjoying plenty of skin to skin contact, call in favours from loved ones to cook a meal or help around the house, even indulge in a cleaner and meal delivery service if it’ll save your sanity. Establish boundaries with visitors and don’t let people overhandle your baby, when you can see that they’re ready for a feed.
I lived by this rule: if in doubt, whip it out. There is almost nothing that a boob can’t fix for a crying baby and I so loved knowing that I had the means of comforting my little ones with something so simple and natural. Breastfeeding can be amazing, tiring, comforting, frustrating, rewarding and laborious, but the bond it will forge between you and your baby is incomparable.