8 Tips To Increase Your Chances of Exclusively Breastfeeding
I received quite a few requests to write about this and since breastfeeding is one of my favourite topics, I just couldn't ignore. There is a wealth of information out there but I'm just going to share a little bit and include links for you to explore further.
So...Exclusive Breastfeeding...what's that anyway? The World Health Organisation (WHO), The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the National Health Service (NHS) and other health organisations recommend that babies receive only breastmilk for the first 6 months. It is widely considered to be the best form of infant nutrition with lots of research to back up the claim. So naturally new mothers are to be encouraged and supported to breastfeed from the moment they are pregnant. But surprisingly and unfortunately, help isn't always available to new mothers, which often leads to problems that hinder exclusive breastfeeding. Having breastfed exclusively twice and supported other women in doing the same, here are eight tips that I think will help increase your chances of exclusively breastfeeding:
1. Start preparing when you are pregnant.
Acquiring as much knowledge as possible about breastfeeding while pregnant is essential. For something so natural, it can take a while to get used to not just the physical act of breastfeeding but also the amounts of information one needs to know in order to avoid pitfalls. Many of those pitfalls can be avoided with appropriate knowledge and quality support. Check out my useful links page for some excellent websites that provide all kinds of information about breastfeeding. Ignorance is not bliss!
2. Know how breastmilk production works.
I have found that knowing how breastmilk production works helps put the mind of new mothers and their families at ease. It's a lot of information but I will try to summarise. The first milk that is produced during pregnancy and early post partum is called Colostrum. This milk is full of proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins and is all your baby’s tiny and immature stomach needs in the first few days. It is full of antibodies and acts as a laxative to get rid of meconium (baby’s first stools). Colostrum is measured in teaspoons so it may be confusing for new mothers who may think that they're not producing enough milk and start supplementing. Mature milk can take between 2-5 days to fully come in. Breastmilk production is supply and demand so the more you put baby on the breasts, the more they'll be stimulated to produce milk.
SIDENOTE: There are certain foods and herbs that promote lactation called Galactagogues. Probably the most common and easily accessible galactagogue is Oatmeal. If you feel your supply dipping, you could try eating oatmeal in different forms: biscuits, granola, porridge etc. Read about other galactogogues HERE. The average woman doesn't need anything to boost her milk supply but it is good to know just in case. Also remember to stay hydrated. There's no need for excessive amounts of water, that's a myth. Just drink to thirst and eat as healthily as you can.
3. Supplementing with formula or giving a bottle/pacifier too early may cause problems.
Now that you know that breastmilk production works by supply and demand, it only makes sense that anything that would mess with that demand thereby leading to low supply, should be avoided. Supplementing with formula/giving bottles or a pacifier too early are not recommended in the early days because they will reduce the time needed at the breast to boost milk supply. It also helps to avoid "nipple confusion" that could cause issues with proper latch. Yes some babies have no issues going back and forth between breasts and artificial nipples but why risk the possibility of having issues at all? I didn't and don't advise you to. It is recommended to wait till your milk supply is established around 6 weeks.
4. Beware of possible hurdles.
Poor positioning and latch, tongue or lip ties, thrush, mastitis, low supply are just a few of the potential challenges a nursing mother may encounter. Most of them can be easily fixed with help from a person trained in breastfeeding matters. A poor latch or tongue tie may be missed by an untrained eye and things can go downhill very quickly. So watch out for those obstacles and get help as quickly as possible.
5. Baby needing to feed often is completely normal.
It doesn't mean baby is extra hungry or that your supply is low. Please bear in mind that breastmilk is easily and quickly digested and babies have very small stomachs. Breastfeeding is not just for nourishment but also for comfort and bonding. Don't underestimate just how often your baby will be feeding in the early days. Forget about people telling you a newborn should be feeding every 3-4 hours, they are hugely misinformed. A newborn usually needs to feed often. My babies fed sometimes hourly in the beginning but then it settled and they started going longer periods between feeds. If you really can't cope, consider expressing to do one or two feeds but remember point number 3 before making that decision. Don't let bottle-feeding limit the actual time baby spends at the breasts. And don't worry! I promise this phase will be over before you know it.
6. Take a nursing vacation.
My dear mama, you just had a baby! Why the rush to be up and about? I encourage all new mums to take a vacation in bed. Put some Netflix or your favourite DVD on (do people still watch DVDs?), cuddle up with your baby, just relax and nurse nurse nurse! Do this for the first week or more if you can. There are different breastfeeding positions, my favourite is breastfeeding lying-down and I encourage you to try it. Have your partner or whoever is with you bring you meals, run your bath, and do all those other pesky chores. Focus on feeding baby and recovering from what your body has just been through. You may even want to consider co-sleeping at night if you haven't already. Read about our own experience HERE. I can't emphasise the benefits of taking a nursing vacation enough.
7. Know where to get support if necessary.
A good support system will be invaluable in your breastfeeding journey. In the UK, we have access to trained breastfeeding peer supporters (like myself), breastfeeding counselors, lactation consultants (IBCLC) and various support groups. Internationally, La Leche League runs support meetings all over the world. Have a look on their website to see if there's a meeting near you. Otherwise speak to your nurse, midwife or doctor but bear in mind that they may not necessarily be trained in breastfeeding and may not be able to help you like a person specifically trained would. There are also many online communities of women supporting each other. You can start by doing a Facebook search. Again check my useful links page to see if you can find help there. Even if you're in a country that doesn't have all these resources available, just speaking to other mums who have successfully exclusively breastfed coupled with info you find online could be super helpful. Don't struggle alone. Support is everything!
8. TRUST YOUR BODY!
Many women before you have exclusively breastfed. I've done it twice so believe me when I say it is very possible. Your body can produce enough milk to nourish your baby for the first 6 months, don't mind the naysayers. With the right info and support, you can avoid or overcome any hurdles.
So there, eight hopefully helpful tips. If you have more specific questions, you can leave them in the comments section or contact me directly. Don't forget to check the useful links page, you may find the help you need from one of the listed websites. Most importantly, take good care of yourself and welcome help when it is offered. Don't neglect your nipples. Rubbing some breastmilk on them before every feed really helps. You can also use lanolin cream or my personal favourite, coconut oil. Nipple soreness shouldn't hinder your journey.
One last thing I really must add before I wrap this up is this; there's every possibility that after trying all these things, breastfeeding exclusively might not work. Don't feel bad, banish the mum-guilt! Every drop of breastmilk you're able to offer your baby counts. You're giving your baby your best and that's all that really matters.
If you're reading and have any other tips to add, please feel free to do so in the comments section. Let's help and support each other as best we can.
HAPPY MILKING MAMA!