Miss A is nearly one and our breastfeeding relationship is still going strong. Of course there were plenty of bumps in the road initially. Miss A fed constantly and I had an oversupply and all the problems that come with that- painful engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, etc.; but we persevered and it eventually got easier and easier. When people ask me if I’m still breastfeeding and I say I am, they often seem amazed and ask how I did it. This would be my advice to mothers-to-be who would like to breastfeed:
1. Attend a breastfeeding class
Knowledge is power. Although breastfeeding is considered a natural act, you might not find that it comes so naturally. Knowing as much as possible about breastfeeding and the potential problems you might face will help you survive the tough times. For example, if you did not know that you first produce colostrum and not mature milk for a few days following birth, you might wrongly assume that you “have no milk” and that baby is going hungry when they are not. This may lead you to resort to “topping-up” with formula and not latch baby enough to stimulate adequate milk production.
I attended a breastfeeding class run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association. It was very helpful learning things like how to latch baby, what issues we might face, and how to tell if baby is getting enough milk. We even got to watch breastfeeding mothers breastfeed their babies and talk to them about their journeys which was extremely helpful.
2. Just keep latching, latching, latching
The most important thing you should know about breastfeeding is that supply = demand. The more you latch baby, the more your breasts will produce milk. The less you latch, the less your breasts will produce. One of the main reasons that some women fail in breastfeeding is because they do not latch baby enough, especially in the first few weeks. It is the initial weeks following birth that are most important as that it is when milk-production hormones are highest and your breasts are working out how much it needs to produce. This is why it is advised not to supplement with formula and to avoid pumping at least for the first month.
It is normal to feel like all you’re doing is feeding baby in the beginning. If you want to succeed in fully breastfeeding, you just have to keep latching. Being connected to a baby all the time might be a shock initially, but rest assured, it does get easier and babies also get more efficient with nursing over time. By about 5-6 months, I think Miss A could nurse in 5 minutes. Breastfeeding is simple. Don’t overthink it. You don’t need to work out how much they are getting as long as they are producing enough wet nappies (at least 5 a day once your mature milk comes in). You don’t need to pump to see how much milk you’re producing (this is very inaccurate as a pump will never draw as much milk as a baby and some women do not respond well to a pump too). Cry? Latch. Cry more? Latch again. Baby wants to feed? Latch. Baby wants comfort? Just keep latching. It is okay to nurse to sleep (if you want to). It is okay to be feeding hourly. It is quite simple really! Modern parenting books make you think that babies only need to be fed 3 hourly and don’t need night feeding after 6 months etc., and this may be the case for some babies, but definitely not all. If it makes thing easier, learn to breastfeed in a sling or carrier.
3. Build your support team
Do talk to your partner and your close family members and make sure they know you intend to breastfeed. Because when you are exhausted and struggling, the last thing you need is a family member in your ear going “Your baby keeps crying! Are you sure you’re producing enough?” When you’re a new mother, self-doubt is inevitable and you need the people closest to you to build you up and not add to your worries. So make sure they are on the same page as you and remind them to encourage you when things get tough. If you do not plan to give formula, make sure they know not to keep it around the house or suggest it to you. If they do not know much about breastfeeding, you can also send or print out articles to inform them about the benefits. Most breastfeeding classes will also allow you to bring your partner or another family member along with you.
It is also important that you attend a breastfeeding-friendly hospital and that your obstetrician and pediatrician will support you too. Here in Australia, we are quite lucky that most hospitals and doctors are breastfeeding-friendly, but I know that in many Asian countries like my home country Malaysia, this is not the case. Do not assume that “doctors know best”. The truth is that doctors hardly receive any breastfeeding education in medical school so most of them actually do not know much about it (or care much for it) unless they seek further education or have personal experience. I have heard of doctors who tell mothers that formula “has more nutrients than breastmilk” (clearly untrue) and even tell mothers off for breastfeeding past 6 months! There are also nurses out there who will push you to give formula after birth, telling you you have “no milk”, and confinement ladies (a traditional Chinese practice) who will tell you to give formula at night because “baby will sleep better” and that “you need rest”. You really don’t want to be fending these people off as an exhausted new mother. Of course, to clarify, I have nothing against formula if you have made an informed decision to give it. What I am against is pushing it upon people who clearly intend to exclusively breastfeed or giving them untrue facts about it.
Another great thing you can do, especially if you do not have family support, is to join a Facebook breastfeeding support group. I have found this is a great source of encouragement and support. There are lots of women I know who have breastfed successfully only due to the support of thousands of strangers. These forums are also very informative for women who need to return to work and pump for baby. You can find lots of information about how to go about it, talk to women in the same situation, and find the support to keep going.
4. Get comfortable breastfeeding anywhere, anytime
Babies feed a lot. And they don’t like to wait when they are hungry. So if you are shy about feeding in public, I think your journey will be quite a difficult one…unless you plan to stay home for the first few months. You can use a nursing cover and practice feeding at home with it in front of a mirror first if that will help boost your confidence in using it. It does get much easier over time anyway. You can also get breastfeeding tops or singlets if that will help. I personally did not like the design of breastfeeding tops so I wear breastfeeding singlets under my tops (so that when I pull up my top, at least my tummy is still covered- and then the top can be adjusted to protect my modesty once baby is latched). If breastfeeding in public really does not appeal to you, you can also look for nursing rooms (pretty good in Australia) or breastfeed in the car. Some people might choose to pump and bring milk out with them to bottlefeed. I personally find it far more convenient giving it straight from the source, but that is up to you. Whatever it is, prepare yourself to feed on the go.
5. Get the stuff
Some people find that lanolin nipple creams are quite essential to survive the first few weeks. For me, my essential tool is definitely my breast pump. Not to pump milk for baby but to clear blocked ducts as I am very prone to them. Usually if I feel a lump, I latch Miss A, then continue pumping and massaging after she is done to make sure I’ve drained my breast properly. I would not survive if not for the invention of a pump! Other “stuff” which I have discovered along the way are nursing pads (essential if you leak), breast shells (to collect milk that is leaking from the other breast when you are feeding on the other side), and little hot/cold gel packs which are great to use when you have blocked ducts or mastitis. Apparently there are even nipple protectors that you can put in your bra to wear to prevent your nipples from rubbing against the fabric when they are sore (as they will be initially)…Basically, what I’m saying is that there are things out there designed to make your life easier. If you need them, do look for them.
I have to mention that while I strongly encourage mothers to breastfeed, I definitely also understand that it can be very tough initially, especially for working mothers who have to return to the workforce very soon after giving birth (I salute you!). If in the end for your the sake of sanity, you have to give it up, there is absolutely no shame in it. If you have made the choice not to breastfeed at all from the start, then that is your choice too. But if you are determined to exclusively breastfeed till the end, I would like to encourage you that is really is a beautiful journey and it does get SO much easier as time goes on. Now I barely think about it- it is such an easy part of my life. I wish all you Mummies-to-be the best!