Posts

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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. [Stock Photo]

 

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. [Stock photo]

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. [Stock Photo]

 

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.

 

August 2019 Issue: Tandem Nursing an Infant + Toddler

By Elaine Chow, BMSG Vice-President

This month, we speak with our Vice-President, Elaine Chow, who gave birth to her fourth baby this year. Read the heartwarming moments as she shares how she manages and overcomes the roadblocks of tandem nursing her baby and her three-year-old toddler while managing her own emotions and expectations.

==============================================

I am a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) with four children aged 11 years to five months. I was working full time when I had my first two children (and breastfed them both till age four, including tandem nursing them for nearly a year) but I have been a SAHM for the last four years. During that period, I have also been busy being part of BMSG’s EXCO and as a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor.

Tandem Nursing and Bonding

When I found out that I was pregnant with my fourth, I was still nursing my third child who was two years old at the time. Having nursed my older two children until the age of four, I felt it would only be “fair” if I continued nursing my third child. I also felt that he was too young to wean. Having already been through the experience of tandem nursing once, I knew that it would help manage the emotions of the older child through the rough transition of having another baby in the family. And so I made the decision to continue nursing through pregnancy.

After the gruelling nine months of nursing through pregnancy – when I endured nursing through sore nipples, dry nursing and nursing aversion – I was looking forward to tandem nursing. However, nothing beats the rollercoaster of emotions since the new baby was born!

At first, I was happy to nurse my toddler. It felt really nice to have both children at my breasts. I knew that continued breastfeeding was helping my toddler to stay connected with me during a time of immense change and upheaval, and it also helped him bond with his baby brother. I felt happy to be able to still be able to provide that bit of comfort and attention for him. Of course, breast milk is fantastic nutrition for children of any age; I loved that he could benefit from that instead of drinking other types of milk or beverages.

The Adaptation Period

Elaine’s fourth baby <3 Elaine had to adapt to the presence of her new baby while managing breastfeeding her older child.

But as the weeks wore on, I began to feel worn out by my toddler’s constant requests to nurse. I had wanted to let him nurse on demand, to meet his needs for comfort and security after the birth of his baby brother, but it turned out to be more demanding than I had expected.

Nursing aversion also made a return. Even though I had tandem nursed after my second child was born, I didn’t experience this at that time so it was a shock to me when it happened. It became very trying for me to nurse my toddler.

Finding Support is Key

I sought solace in a tandem nursing group chat in BMSG’s Facebook group. It helped so much to know that others were going through the same experience as I was. I even received some breastfeeding counselling myself from one of our fellow counsellors. I was really struggling. There were moments when I even contemplated doing cold turkey weaning. My commitment to child-led weaning was the only reason that kept me going.

With the support of my husband, I have night weaned my son and also weaned off nursing for naps. We now nurse three to four times a day, and this is much more manageable for me.

Managing Feeds and Taking Turns

During the day, I will try to get baby to switch sides. Nursing from both sides is important for baby’s even growth and development. I was initially worried about baby drinking too much of the watery milk and not getting to the cream, but it stopped being an issue after the first couple of weeks. Having my hungry toddler around was definitely helpful during the early days, and helped prevent any issues with engorgement or blocked ducts.

At night, it does get a bit tricky. I used to get baby to switch sides at every feed, but my toddler would usually come into my bed in the middle of the night, and I would worry about him stepping onto baby. So, I now fix baby on one side so that my toddler will know where he should go. With my toddler being night weaned, I am a bit lopsided now as one side remains full till morning. But I hope it will even out after some time.

Tandem nursing is a learning experience for everyone in the family, including toddlers.

Words of Encouragement for Other Mums

Tandem nursing can be really challenging. It usually means that you have two children who are close in age and that, in itself, is exhausting. On top of that, tandem nursing is mothering two children at the breasts and that is an even greater drain on you, so be kind to yourself. It is okay not to love every moment that you are breastfeeding but there will be moments which will touch your heart and make it all worth it — hold on to those. For me, it is seeing my two children nurse together. They are now able to hold hands when nursing and that is just the sweetest thing to witness every day.

Deciding to tandem nurse is part of the decision to embrace (or at least try) child-led weaning. Too often, society, and even other breastfeeding mothers, may find it hard to accept full-term nursing i.e. breastfeeding until your child decides to wean on his or her own. You are a hero for choosing this path: do not make light of this.

For mums who are trying to tandem nurse for the first time, I would highly recommend reading the book “Adventures in Tandem Nursing”. It helped me prepare my heart to bring another baby into my family and gave me practical tips on nursing two children at a go. I loved reading the many heartwarming stories in there. I cannot recommend it enough.

Through the challenges of tandem nursing, one thing that has kept me going is the realisation that my toddler is still very small. He may seem big next to my baby but he really is still a very small person, with a brain that is still developing, and who still needs lots of intense mothering at close quarters. I know my decision to continue nursing him will help him with that. And it is my hope that we will be able to continue breastfeeding until he is ready to wean on his own. Until then, I will enjoy the view of two babies at my breast – watching them hold hands, poke each other and give me milky smiles.