Newsletter #42: Preparing To Breastfeed Before You Meet Your Baby
by BMSG Editorial Team
With greater awareness of the importance and benefits of breastfeeding, many expecting mothers want to prepare themselves for this momentous journey. But how can you actually get ready to breastfeed when you haven’t even met your infant yet?
Information is Power
Pregnancy often makes mamas attracted to peaceful, calm photographs of mothers breastfeeding their infants. It looks like the easiest, most wonderful thing in the world – and, of course, it can be.
However, the truth can be very different for many mothers after delivery, when your body feels as though it has been torn into two and you are battling with blood loss, pain, fatigue and hormones. Breastfeeding may look natural but it is in fact a learned skill that takes time and effort to figure out.
Yes, the truth is that many mothers may face difficulties breastfeeding in the beginning. These issues could range from flat nipples, sleepy jaundiced babies, tongue ties, extra-large breasts or nipples, or even just trying to figure out the best way to hold your floppy newborn.
Breastfeeding can be hard work but with some support and mental preparation, it can be a satisfying journey. [Credits: Lisa Matthews]
On the bright side, most of these problems are common ones with established solutions, and being empowered with information before you give birth can be the best way to prepare. If you know beforehand the kind of issues that many mums face, you will be less thrown off if it happens to you, and you and your partner will know that there are solutions you can employ to help make your journey a little easier.
Some ways which you can prepare yourself:
- Speak to mummy friends who have breastfed their children and ask them to share with you honestly what their pitfalls and problems were, and how they addressed them
- Join the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group Facebook group and read posts as they pop up on your feed. This is an easy way for you to get a quick handle on the common issues that many mamas face
- Attend prenatal classes (including BMSG’s Breastfeeding 101 workshops) to find out more about the journey ahead of you and how you can make it easier for yourself and your baby
Knowing where to find support, including seeking comfort in other mothers, can be helpful if you are overwhelmed or just need reassurance. [Credits: Lisa Matthews]
Form Your Support Team
Although much is made about the breastfeeding mother, the reality is that we create breastfeeding families. A mother is never alone in her journey and the best way to make sure you can succeed is to ensure you have everyone on the same page.
First and foremost, it is crucial that you have your spouse on your side. It is a wonderful way to bond and prepare for baby’s arrival by attending prenatal breastfeeding classes together and understand how important the role of each parent is.
Fathers must also buy in to breastfeeding, fully understand and support the decision to breastfeed. After giving birth, mothers are often disoriented, in pain, and may find it difficult to advocate for themselves. This is where Dad needs to step in and step up to support Mom. Be the guardian and a wall to block off unhelpful advice and unnecessary comments that may come from people who have good intentions but do not know better.
Daddies, don’t undermine your presence – mummies need you more than ever especially in the challenging early days of breastfeeding.
Choose Postnatal Support That Suits You
As mentioned before, being prepared is the best plan of attack. It would be useful to have the contacts of some good International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) whom you can speak to if you have any problems.
Many newly-delivered mothers in Singapore also hire confinement nannies to help out in the first month or more. Very often, mums hire these nannies based on word of mouth and friends’ recommendations.
However, it is really important to note that different mothers have different needs and requirements. A nanny who worked out well for your friend may not be as helpful for you if your needs are different. Therefore, if you intend to breastfeed your infant, look specifically for a confinement nanny who is fully supportive of breastfeeding and who can help you succeed. She should be up-to-date with breastfeeding knowledge and be willing to assist you as needed.
For example, while many confinement nannies try to make themselves useful by offering to take the baby at night so that you can “rest”, remember that night feeds are crucial to establish and maintain your milk supply and avoid engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis. A breastfeeding-supportive confinement nanny can help by changing baby’s diaper at night and then passing baby to you for a feed.
Confinement nannies and any other family member who is helping the breastfeeding mum should support the mother without imposing on her wishes. They can focus on helping mum on other mundane tasks such as changing baby’s diaper, cooking meals for her or doing other household chores to keep mum comfortable.
Ditch the Pump
Many mothers are told to bring the pump to the hospital and to start pumping diligently from the beginning. Wanting to ensure they have sufficient milk supply, mums bring out their expensive dual electric pumps and go at it in the hospital room – only to be devastated and panic when they find they are getting nothing.
In the first few days, your breasts make colostrum, a thick, rich, sticky liquid that is highly concentrated, full of protein and nutrient-dense. It’s the perfect food for your newborn and helps to fight infection, supports baby’s immune system and gut, and flushes out bilirubin through baby’s poop. Did you know that colostrum is similar to amniotic fluid? It’s the best bridge between the fluid baby has been swallowing in the womb, and the mature breast milk which he will eventually drink.
The keyword in all that information up there is “sticky”. Because colostrum is so thick and sticky, it is hard for a pump to extract it efficiently from your breast. Because your newborn baby has a tiny little belly, your breasts do not need to make a lot of it to fill baby’s tummy. Because of both these things, when a new mother tries to pump, most of the colostrum will stick to the flanges or on the sides of a bottle – wasting all that precious goodness.
Credits: Morgan Temple, IBCLC
New mums expect to see a bottle full of milk when they express milk; it is what we are naturally conditioned to see. So when we look at a handful of viscous droplets sprayed all over the flange and barely covering the base of the bottle, we panic.
What is the solution? Ditch the pump and hand express instead. Massage your breasts gently in circular motions to loosen the sticky colostrum from your milk ducts. Learn how to hand express effectively and gather the droplets in a 3-5ml syringe rather than in a bottle. The colostrum can be chilled and fed to baby, which can be especially useful just in case baby has jaundice or other unexpected medical issues which may result in prolonged separation from mum. A very helpful resource to watch and learn hand expressing from is this video by the Stanford School of Medicine, which explains and demonstrates via real mothers how hand expression can be especially helpful for new mums and newborns.
The pump is not a need as long as your baby is with you right from birth and breastfeeding well. When your milk supply is well-established, pumping may cause an oversupply. Use it wisely and only when necessary.
You Are Not Alone
Last but not least, remember that millions of women around the world have been where you are and come through on the other side. You are not alone, even though the nights can feel lonely. When your baby arrives earthside, cuddle that soft, sweet little infant (even when she’s bawling and angry and red in the face) and know that you have made a strong, wonderful choice to breastfeed. Hang in there Mama! We are rooting for you.
Credits: Illustration by Paula Kuka from Common Wild
Looking for resources for your partner? Read the following articles written by the BMSG to help dads learn how they can better support the breastfeeding mum: Role of Dads in Breastfeeding Families Part 1 and Part 2.
If you need help with breastfeeding, reach out to our BMSG volunteer counsellors by calling or sending a WhatsApp message to +65 339 3558 between 9am and 9pm daily.