Last Saturday, V and I went for a breastfeeding class run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association. I know what you’re thinking (if you don’t have kids, that is)- “Why do you have to go for a class for that? Doesn’t breastfeeding come naturally?” Well, you can also figure out how to swim on your own if you really want to…but if you go for swimming lessons and have someone else teach you, it’ll just be a lot easier!
Getting breastfeeding right straight off the bat isn’t as easy or natural as you think. I think the INSTINCT to breastfeed is natural, but actually doing it and doing it properly- that’s a different matter. I’ve learned that it’s not as simple as shoving the baby on the breast- sometimes when you do that, the baby doesn’t attach properly because they’re not prepared. How many of us who haven’t had kids know exactly how a baby is meant to attach to the breast? How much of the breast is meant to be in their mouth? How should you be holding your baby to ensure you’re not hindering their sucking and swallowing? What do you do when your breasts become engorged or your ducts get inflamed? Should you feed your baby on a schedule or whenever they want it? How do you tell when your baby wants to feed (before they start crying)?
The more you know, the less scared you’ll be and the more you’ll be able to go into the birth and early days calm and fearless. For example, a lot of mums panic over how little colostrum they’re producing in the first few days (you produce this super nutritious yellowy substance initially before milk) and don’t realise their newborns don’t actually need much because their tummies are only the size of a marble. Others also panic at the colour of their milk when it comes in. I guess we all expect it to be white like cows milk or infant formula, but breastmilk is actually more gray like watery skim milk, and it actually changes over the duration of a feed, becoming a little creamier towards the end (I actually didn’t know that before this class!). Knowing all these little facts beforehand can prevent some very panicked “Is this normal???” calls to your doctor later.
We also had live nursing demonstrations at the class! I guess if you’re from a conservative culture, that can sound a little weird…but it’s so useful being able to see mothers breastfeed their kids in front of you. We got to observe how they put the baby on the breast, how the kids attach and suck, and also how different aged babies feed differently (older ones obviously have it all figured out and attach and feed without any fuss…but at the same time, they also get distracted more by their environment!). It was also great being able to hear different mothers’ experiences and what they did if they ran into any problems like bad attachment, cracked nipples, bad milk flow etc. What I found interesting was that they all said that every child is different- one mother was on her fourth child and still had issues for a couple weeks after birth. It stresses the importance of baby-lead attachment- you are the one who has to get to know your child and learn to work with them, not the other way around! They are all different!
Bottom line is that breastfeeding is not meant to hurt and not be hard in the long-run. It may take a couple of weeks to sort out, but the moment you learn to work with your baby and get it right, it’s smooth-sailing from there. All the breastfeeding mothers stressed that if something is not right, you should always seek help- don’t think it’s normal to feel pain. It’s a pity when some women think it’s normal and try to push through, and just end up giving up altogether when it gets too bad (although of course, some women do run into major medical problems where they have no choice but to turn to the bottles). I’m going to try to breastfeed for the recommended two years (6 months exclusively). Really praying that it’ll be a hiccup-free journey!
A new development in Week 22 is that Miss A seems to have found a new favourite position- horizontal with her head on my right and her feet on my left. It means I can feel her kicks really strongly when I sleep because I’m trying to sleep more on my left (recommended to keep the pressure off your growing uterus off the inferior vena cava- one of your main veins) and that’s where her little legs are going a mile a minute. Sometimes when she’s really lodged herself deep in my pelvis, I get a bit of pain when I’m sitting up or standing. I’m considering getting a maternity belt or pelvic/hip stabiliser to help this. A pregnancy hormone called ‘relaxin’ makes your joints looser to prepare you for childbirth, but the problem is sometimes your pelvis can get TOO loose and cause terrible pain. I’m a little worried about this because my joints were already naturally loose before pregnancy. I don’t want to get to that stage where everything starts stretching too much so I’m definitely looking at getting the support bands early to hold everything in place!
Not sure whether I’ve already mentioned this, but I also got a Belly Bean maternity pillow to support my tummy and back while I sleep. It’s really just two round pillows at the ends of one pillowcase- but the benefits are pretty amazing (who would have thought something so simple could be so good?). I love it! No surprises what colour I got it in- green tea! Highly recommended if you have tummy or back strain while you sleep.
Photo from bellybean.com.au
My Mum is constantly amazed when I tell her all these things I’m getting for my pregnancy and the classes I’m attending. I actually don’t realise it’s not normal to obsessively research things until someone points it out. I’ve always enjoyed reading up on everything…well, everything I’m interested in anyway (I was terrible in school!). ..and pregnancy and childbirth has always interested me. I don’t just love knowing what to do to be prepared, but I love reading up on all the medical details too since I’m in healthcare.
So if it helps anyone, these are some things we’ve done that I’ve found useful:
- Go for a medical checkup: Yes a lot of people conceive and make healthy babies all the time without any prior planning…but it can’t hurt to be prepared, right? After all, we have Medicare in this country! Might as well milk it! All you need to do is tell your doctor you want to start a family and he/she will give you helpful advice and do a blood test to check for genetic diseases, vitamin deficiencies, hormone levels, and whether you need any immunization boosters. You really never know what you need- I always assumed I was completely healthy until the results came back! Thankfully V didn’t carry the same genetic blood disorder I have, but I did find out that I was severely deficient in Vitamin D, had low thyroid hormone levels, and that my rubella immunization had run out (even though I got all the mandatory jabs in high school)! So we had to sort all that out before we could start trying.
- Start taking prenatal vitamins (I like Blackmores because it has all the necessary stuff plus a good dose of fish oil): This is mainly for folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects. Obviously by the time you realise you’re pregnant, your baby has already come to be- so it’s generally recommended to take folic acid at least a month before conceiving. That really is the bare minimum though if you ask me. Your body can take a while to build up a good storage of vitamins so the earlier you start, the better. To illustrate how long it can take: I started taking a double dose of Vitamin D 10-11 months ago and it’s only now that my levels have doubled to reach the minimum for a pregnant woman. Most people are actually deficient in Vitamin D so best to get that checked out. In some Asian countries, they will give it to you without even testing you because it’s assumed everyone deficient (and it’s much harder to overdose than you think). If you’re still deficient by the time you give birth, this will mean your baby won’t get enough via breastmilk so they’ll have to be given a mega dose of Vitamin D via drops before they leave hospital. (On the topic of vitamins, it also won’t hurt to get your partner on multivitamins too if they aren’t already taking them- they provide half the genetic material, after all!).
- Get healthy: You can’t do heavy exercise while pregnant, so do them before! Pregnancy and childbirth obviously puts a lot of stress on the body so the more in shape you are, the better your body will cope.
- Classes we have attended/are attending: Hynobirthing, breastfeeding, childbirth education (hospital-run). Think about your birth plan early on so you can think about what kind of classes you want to attend, which hospital you’ll choose, and what you need to discuss with your doctor/hospital. The earlier you can figure out what you want to do, the calmer you’ll feel about pregnancy and childbirth- and staying calm is very important!
- To prevent stretchmarks: Moisturise 2-3 times a day (don’t forget to moisturise your breasts, bum and thighs too as stretchmarks can also appear there). Slow weight gain is also important to give your skin time to adjust- don’t go crazy eating for two.
- Exercises: I’ve found pregnancy pilates with an exercise ball useful. Concentrate on your core and pelvis to prevent injuries. You can find plenty of free instructional videos on YouTube. Daily pelvic floor exercises are also very important because pregnancy and childbirth puts immense strain on those muscles! Many hospitals also provide free pregnancy physiotherapy classes so look that up if you’re interested.
- Perineal preparation: To prepare your perineum for childbirth and prevent tearing and bruising, try perineal massage as well as a little handy device called Epi-No (look it up on Google). The Epi-No is a little silicone balloon which you can use from 36 weeks onwards (when your hormones makes things stretchier) to slowly stretch your perineum. I heard about it on forums as well as at my hynobirthing class- everyone seems to recommend it. I think it not only helps you prepare your body physically, but it helps you prepare yourself mentally for childbirth too. The more you feel prepared, the calmer you will be and hence the easier and faster the birth will probably be. I’m definitely planning on getting it. If you find the concept of using a pumped-up silicone balloon strange, I will say: whether you like it or not, a baby is going to come out of you! I know I’d rather be prepared! And at least with the Epi-No, you can start small and gradually build up. I imagine if the head was the first time you felt that stretch- it would hurt a lot more!
Those are just a few of the things I can think of off the top of my head. Hope they were helpful. Onto Week 23! I’m attending a friend’s hen’s party/trip this weekend- and one of the things involved is yoga! Will be interesting to see how much I can do now with this growing belly of mine.