Birth plans and antenatel classes can really help us to focus on the type of birth we want to experience, but what about breastfeeding? We may know and say that we want to breastfeed, but can expectant Mums be doing more to ensure success?
I’m a natural planner. When I was expecting my first baby I thought long and hard about the type of birth I wanted. I researched online, read books and went to classes. I wrote my own detailed birth plan – stapling it over the small space provided in my antenatel notes. I knew what I wanted and more importantly what I didn’t want others doing, during my baby’s birth. I fished out that birth plan the other day and I found one single sentence referring to feeding my baby. ” I plan to breastfeed my baby, please don’t give any formula”. At the time I guess I thought it was all that was necessary. But now it seems crazy! All this time and money spent on planning the birth -well spent I might add, and barely a thought on how I could help breatfeeding to be sucessful. Of course, how our little people enter the world is so important. But feeding your baby starts after birth and continues for months and perhaps years. It is the first stepping stone to a lifetime of good nutrition and health.
So here’s some preparation and planning that could help you with successful breastfeeding.
Our society does not prepare us well to breastfeed. Unless you are lucky enough to have lots of family members and friends breastfeeding around you, you probably haven’t seen an awful lot of latched on babies. If you do have any friends who breastfeed, ask them about it and spend time with them.
Many of us have Mothers, Aunts and Grandmothers who breastfed, which can be a wonderful source if information. However, just a word of caution, that breastfeeding information given to parents in the 70s and 80s was different to now. Mothers would spend a week in hospital and feed their babies every 4 hours. In between feed times the babies were often in their little cots in the nursery and not always next to Mum. We now know that in the early days babies need to feed very frequently because their tummies are so tiny. They need as much skin to skin as possible so that they can recover from the birth and use their feeding reflexes to attach to the breast.
Understanding what a good latch looks like. As well as looking at reading books and articles on breastfeeding (I recommend the womanly art of breastfeeding, published by Le Leche League (8th Edition)) is very useful. Research any local breastfeeding groups as most welcome pregnant mothers. You may even make some new like-minded new friends!
The most valuable part of knowing where your local breastfeeding group is that you know where to go if you need help after your baby is born. If you cant find any groups nearby ask your midwife if she can give you the details of local breastfeeding support. You could also contact your local children’s centre or search online for your nearest Le Leche League group or breastfeeding café.
Birth Plan. Once you have planned your birth then think about how you will initiate breastfeeding. Having skin to skin immediately after the birth is the best first step for both Mums and babies. If you are having a planned C-Section or even a urgent one, then skin to skin can be requested. Make it a priority for you and your baby. Skin to skin contact helps babies to start breastfeeding and babies who are breastfed in the first hour after birth have more chance of successfully breastfeeding for longer (WHO, 2016). It also helps babies and mothers to bond and recover from the birth together.
Useful sentences for you birthplan could be:
I do not wish to be offered pain relieving drugs that could interfere with breastfeeding by making my baby sleepy.
Please let me be skin to skin with my baby immediately after the birth,
We would like to delay our baby being weighed until after the 1st breastfeed.
We do not wish for our baby to be washed after the birth.
I would like to stay in hospital until my baby is breastfeeding.
Please do not give any formula milk our my baby. If I need to, I will express milk for him/her.
Find out about normal newborn behaviours. Newborns have tiny tummies (about the size of a cherry), so they need to feed very often. Fortunately, the colostrum that you produce in the first few days is perfect in form and volume. Babies take about 5mls each feed to start with. For this reason babies will feed a lot in the first few days and weeks.This feeding, in turn, helps to build-up and then regulate Mother’s milk production.
Babies also like to be close to Mum (or Dad!), they like the sound of the heartbeat and warmth of another human being. This means that they often don’t want to be put down. The first 3 months are often referred to as the 4th trimester, because it is seen as an extension of pregnancy and the baby’s life in the womb.
I hope this highlights why thinking about breastfeeding before the birth can be so beneficial. We really owe it to our babies and ourselves to learn and plan not just about birth but also breastfeeding and those early weeks of a newborn’s life.
What planning did you do during your pregnancy? I’d love to know how you included breastfeeding in your birthplan and what other preparations you made.