It is World Breastfeeding Awareness Week, and this year's theme is about encouraging more support for breastfeeding mums, to get started and keep going with what is the best and most sustainable start in life for your baby.
Breastfeeding is natural, so it should be easy, right? But for many women (myself included), getting started is a bumpy and often painful journey. Whether a first-time mum or a third time mum, things can crop up which make breastfeeding more an act of will, than the smooth and nurturing bond we all hope to share with our babies. And the Covid 19 Pandemic doesn't exactly make things easy. It can already be an isolating time for new parents, but Covid makes it even more lonely, if health workers, family and friends are having to keep their distance. Good support is still available to help you with getting started and maintaining breastfeeding. Many support groups like La Leche League have moved their group meetings online; Lactation Consultants and breastfeeding counsellors are available to talk via phone, zoom or other means, and depending on where you live, may still be able to visit. With this support there are very few reasons why breastfeeding shouldn’t become a positive experience for you as a mum, as well as giving your baby the best start in life.
I was lucky enough to benefit from a wonderful parents network that provided breastfeeding support for my first two babies, and so when I got pregnant with my third, I decided to give something back and trained as a breastfeeding supporter. I did a year of training, and then was mentored through my first couple of years by an experienced lactation consultant, and I have been supporting mums with their breastfeeding issues for almost 10 years! Here are a couple of the most common issues I am called on to help new mums with:
Should it hurt?
Getting the position and latch right are the most important things in the beginning, but even with those right, it actually hurts to start with! Its important to differentiate between ‘normal’ pain and abnormal pain. If your baby has a good latch, with most of the nipple and aureole drawn far into the mouth, lips flanged out like fish, and you can see the baby’s jaw working, then the pain in those first few days (up to two weeks or so) is more like a “Ten Second Toe Curl” – that is, a temporary amount of pain or discomfort that will reduce during the feed, and that will also reduce down to no pain at all as your nipples toughen up a bit and you and your baby get into a good routine with each other.
It is not normal if the pain is extreme and/or lasts throughout a feed. The most common cause of pain is a poor latch – for example, if the baby just has your nipple. In this situation it is best to unlatch the baby (usually popping your pinky finger between your nipple and the baby’s mouth will help break the seal and allow the baby to come off without hurting you further) and start over.
Sometimes the pain can be an indicator of a further problem, for example, thrush, tongue tie - which can make it difficult for the baby to feed effectively (but is a simple problem to remedy once diagnosed), blocked ducts or mastitis. Blocked ducts are usually the result of engorgement and/or poor position meaning that the baby is unable to drain the breast well. You may notice a hard, painful lump or red, tender patch on the breast, and if unresolved, it can develop into mastitis (with flu-like symptoms, high temperature and often a need for a course of antibiotics). You can reduce the risk of blocked ducts by trying different positions for feeding, and hand expressing if you are engorged, just enough to soften your breasts a bit and make it easier for the baby to latch on. If you do have a blocked duct, massage, alternate warm and cool compresses, and starting feeding on that side, along with getting as much rest as possible, are ways to treat it. Further advice on dealing with blocked ducts is here.
How do I know my baby is getting enough milk?
Usually you will produce just the right amount for your baby, through all your baby’s growth stages. The first week or so you are producing colostrum, a rich and highly valuable source of nutrition for your baby. Your baby is only taking a little at a time to start with, so you should be feeding at least 8-12 times per day over 24 hours. If your baby is not waking regularly for feeds during these early days, then you may need to wake them. Once your milk comes in, you may well hear your baby swallowing/gulping during a feed, and during those early weeks, baby should continue to feed 8-12 times per day. If your baby is growing and gaining weight (usually 150-240g per week during the first 4 months), is producing several wet and around 4 poopy nappies per day, then baby is getting enough milk. More information can be found here.
Between 9 and 12 weeks there is usually a growth spurt when suddenly your baby starts nursing more frequently again. Quite often at this point, women might think they are no longer producing enough milk for their baby, and give up breastfeeding. But on the contrary, the increased demand from your baby is designed to boost your supply to the new levels needed by your baby, and the frequency will settle down again after a couple of days, once your supply has caught up with baby’s demand.
Very occasionally there are cases of genuine undersupply, and in these circumstances it is advisable to seek help from a Lactation Consultant who can help to figure out the possible cause, recommend action to boost supply, and/or help with a course of action to ensure you and your baby stay healthy. You cna check this resource if you are concerned you might not be producing enough milk.
Oversupply and/or a powerful letdown reflex also affects some women, in some instances to the point that it is hard to leave the house. There are many strategies to help cope with this and get supply more in balance with your baby’s needs, such as block feeding, and reclined positions. Again, if you are struggling with this, reach out to a breastfeeding counsellor or a lactation consultant to help support you in resolving this.
Connect with other breastfeeding mums and parent communities, such as through an organisation like La Leche League International, Message Paris, After Third or Bellies Abroad. It also helps to feel comfortable in what you are wearing when breastfeeding, especially if you are getting out and about with your baby. Aka+Pip carries a great range of stylish clothes adapted specifically for breastfeeding - you can check out our collections here!
Dont hesitate to contact me if you would like a chat about breastfeeding, and Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Week.