Things I wish I knew before I first tried breastfeeding
As a GP working with lot of new mothers and babies, I knew breastfeeding wasn’t always easy, but the health benefits, convenience and connection with the baby it offered always seemed worth the efforts. With my medical knowledge and attendance at classes offered locally, I thought I had enough of an understanding to get myself off to a good start.
The reality of learning this new skill after an exhaustive labour, with a steady stream of visitors, and a jaundiced baby was far from what I expected. Both me and my baby fell asleep during that first feed, hardly what I’d seen on the videos!
The emotional journey of poor weight gain, waking him for feeds, nipple trauma, expressing and top-ups for weeks tested me more than my years of medical training. I had a new appreciation for why so many mothers found these early days, and the conflicting advice of well-meaning health professionals and family members, leads them away from their intention of exclusive breast feeding. Thankfully myself and many others have benefited from the support of amazing GPs and Lactation Consultants to help us through these early challenges.
Back when I first became a mum:
- I wish I knew to curb the urge to share the news with everyone I knew. To put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign, postpone visitors, and silence my phone so I could focus on getting to know my babies cues and resting between feeds.
- I wish I knew to be present during these early feeds, not to multitask with catch ups, texting or TV, and to notice the sensations of my nipple and breast, the fit of baby into my body, to notice the suck and swallows, and how to intervene early if things were not right.
- I wish I knew how to position myself and my baby, to find our best fit together and not push through the pain which led to nipple damage.
- I wish I knew not to let anybody force him on, to avoid holding the head or neck, and that clothes, bras and pillows under the baby can compromise our fit and hold .
- I wish I knew how to break his strong seal with a clean finger rather than pulling against resistance and creating cracks, or to try micromovements instead.
- I wish I knew how important frequent feeds were in the first few days , not letting my reluctance to wake him, or protocols for pre-feed observations delay our feeds, and getting at least 8-12 feeds in to maximise my supply.
- I wish I knew feeds weren’t always ‘3 hourly’ and that offering the breast frequently and flexibly is the best tool to meet their needs and aid settling.
- I wish I knew to practice mindfulness strategies during pregnancy so I had the skills to be present in these amazing moments, to sit with emotional discomfort and open up to difficult thoughts and emotions that can come with the self- doubt and struggle. I wish I had found the Mental Health Tips for Parents with Babies earlier.
- I wish I knew that it wasn’t my fault that things didn’t get off to a good start. That it is normal to have unhelpful thoughts when facing breastfeeding difficulties. And that it wasn’t helpful to beat myself up about what I could have done differently, as I lost so much more sleep and chances to connect with my baby ruminating on it.
- I wish I knew that even though I questioned my instincts during this rough start, paying attention to his cues allows me to be the expert on my baby and to follow what my gut says is right.
- I wish I knew there was no shame in asking for help, to push for an early lactation consultant review, and use my village so I only had to focus on bub for that first week.
As well as an amazing GP and Lactation Consultant, I was fortunate to find the Possums programs and Gestalt online breastfeeding course (now all available in Milk & Moon) in the first weeks of my son’s life, which covered all of the information above and got me back on track. It helped me feed my son for nearly 2 years, bringing a valuable tool to aid sleep and settling, then to have a straightforward and pain-free journey with my second child. I now work primarily with women in the pregnancy and postnatal period using the Possums principles and love my work.
During your pregnancy, rather than just focusing on the birth, it is worth investing time preparing for life with a newborn, breastfeeding, and your emotional health. Consider the online Possums resources or connecting proactively with an NDC Accredited Practitioner to help prevent problems, or to help address these if they arise.