By Lynsey Hansford
The idea of nourishing your new baby at your breast is a source of great excitement for many pregnant and new mothers; you want to find out how best you can prepare yourself for getting breastfeeding off to a good start. Perhaps your previous breastfeeding relationship ended before you wanted it to and now you’re pregnant again your heart is set on meeting your own goal this time round. The good news is some of the practises I have heard recommended such as hair-drying your nipples, rubbing them with a flannel or otherwise ‘toughening up’ them up (ouch!) is unnecessary and could actually be damaging. There are, however, some very helpful (and less painful) ways you can prepare.
One of the most valuable things you can do is educate yourself about breastfeeding ahead of your baby’s arrival. Find out about common challenges others mums face and about the normal behaviour of a breastfed baby. Find out about how your body produces very small amounts of colostrum to begin with and how this suits your newborn’s tiny stomach. Find out about the purpose of your newborn’s very frequent feeding. Find out about the risks of introducing formula milk or artificial teats to your baby and how this might affect the breastfeeding relationship. Remember not all sources of information are equal; question what you hear and read.
Spend time with breastfeeding mothers and babies if you can. Go along to a breastfeeding support group in your area. The NHS or La Leche League group in your area will hold regular meets. Many new mothers have never seen a breastfeeding baby before their own. Most of the mums you meet will be delighted to speak to you about their experience and let you know what they have found helpful. They might be the first one to welcome you and introduce you to the group when you arrive holding your new baby, think of it as ground work for the postnatal period.
“Establishing breastfeeding is a short and precious time… do what you can to gift yourself the time to relax and enjoy it.”
Learn to trust your body; it is built for this purpose. Try not to be discouraged by stories of difficult nursing relationships, your experience is yet to come and can be a very positive one. Your body has already started to prepare itself for feeding your baby whilst you are pregnant. You may have noticed changes in your breasts or small amounts of colostrum leaking from your nipples already. If you need more proof, take a look at your growing bump and imagine the tiny human being with perfectly formed organs and body parts growing there with his own filtering system to keep him safe from toxins until he is ready to be born. He started out as a tiny group of cells. Your body is amazing, it works as it should.
Make plans to meet your needs postnatally, this will look different for each family. Maybe your baby’s dad, friends and relatives can make themselves available to spend time with you and your baby. You might want to cook and freeze some meals and set up online shopping ahead of time to make feeding yourself and your family an easier task in the early days. Let your friends and family know you will graciously receive any help they can offer. Consider hiring a doula or other postnatal support person who can both help and support you with the breastfeeding relationship and do light housework and prepare a nutritious meal for you, leaving you with time and energy for feeding and caring for your baby. Finances need not be a barrier; the organisation Doula UK has an Access Fund that can pay for doula support for women who can’t afford it. Establishing breastfeeding is a short and precious time, your baby will want to nurse often to establish your milk supply, do what you can to gift yourself the time to relax and enjoy it.
More help and information:
La Leche League GB 0845 120 2918
National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212
NCT Helpline 0300 330 0700
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International
Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Jack Newman and Teresa Pitman