The most natural thing in the world, right? Should be automatic and come naturally to mom and baby, right? The easiest thing in the world because both mom and baby have the reflexes and instincts already preset?
Couldn’t be further from the truth. And certainly does not describe my breastfeeding journey in the slightest.
With baby number 1 we were those over achiever parents: we found the best most highly recommended antenatal classes, bought all the baby supplies brand new, didn’t drink a drop of alcohol or swallow anything stronger than paracetamol, trying our hardest to provide the perfect foundation for the beginning of our first daughter’s life. No one had taught us yet, that as parents, you will always feel like a failure, no matter which yardstick you are measuring yourself against. And it’s ok to cut yourself some slack here and there.
There were some fortunate serendipitous encounters throughout that process though, and one of them was with the nurse who ran the clinic at the mom and baby wellness centre where we attended antenatal classes. She was a nurse and certified lactation consultant, and we diligently attended our antenatal training on breastfeeding, and booked our tentative hospital and home visits.
And good thing too. Although I don’t carry any trauma related to our birth story, an induction was followed by an emergency caesarean, during which an undiagnosed placenta accreta was discovered which had not been apparent from any of my pregnancy scans. I lost A LOT of blood after the surgery and can barely remember the first 24 hours after Button’s birth, and only changed her first nappy on day 3. Gratitude in abundance for hubby having the foresight to arrange a private hospital room, in which he slept on the pull-out couch for three nights and pretty much was the only parent she knew initially. So - latch, what latch? Nurses strong-armed us into starting our daughter on formula within her first days of life, in spite of our very different intentions.
Months later I would learn about the significant proportion of delayed milk onset in placenta accreta cases. But I would like to share some of the things I learnt that got us on our journey from a formula fed newborn to 100% breastfed in about 3 weeks:
1. Don’t give up. Understanding of course that your body DOES have limits, and some things will just not be medically possible.
At around day 10 we were in discussions with our lactation consultant and referred to Medela for a consultation on a Supplementary Nursing System (SNS) among other potential options we had been researching.
While there, we opted for the SNS as well as a short-term rental of a medical grade breast pump.
We shortly gave up on the SNS as expressing after every feed with the medical grade pump resulted in full volume milk production within a matter of days, and successful breastfeeding for just over a year!
2. Be prepared to breastfeed anywhere and everywhere to maintain your supply. There’s a lot of information out there on mixed feeding, bottle in public, exclusive pumping etc., and every woman deserves her personal choice. One thing is scientifically concluded though, and that is – no breast-pump in the world is as efficient as a suckling baby.
So, in our experience, we wanted discreet, comfortable, breathable breast-feeding solutions that made anytime, anywhere feeding possible.
Many of these are in our range, such as a breastfeeding cover with convenient stay in place clips (out of stock but back soon), a feeding top to convert all tops to lift-and-feed, and our soon to be launched multi-purpose stretch car chair cover that also serves as a feeding shawl.
3. Drink A LOT of water and stay hydrated.
This may sound like an obvious one, but did you know inadequate hydration could be one of the first reasons your supply dips or dwindles? Depending on your height and weight, you may need to double your water intake to keep up with the demands of milk production.
Consider adding re-hydration solutions if you wake up feeling parched. Sugar free options are also now readily accessible if you are concerned about the sugar in some of these products. Limit the intake of liquids that can be diuretic such as coffee and tea, cold drinks etc. that contain caffeine.
With baby number one we were so desperate to get the milk supply going we threw everything and the kitchen sink at it in those first few weeks – a diet full of “galactagogues”, herbal supplements, old wives remedies, you name it, just stopping short of prescribed medicines. Bearing in mind that a lot of things can be excreted in the breast milk in unknown quantities, and some could affect your- or even your baby’s blood sugar levels, our advice would be the following:
· Don’t take advice from all well-intentioned onlookers – while certain things may have worked for them historically, every woman and baby are different, and your birth, medical history etc., should be considered when thinking of herbal or medicinal solutions
· Learn to turn down uninvited recommendations for wonder-drugs, miracle cures (and other unsolicited parenting advice) with a soft non-committal phrase such as “Thanks, I’ll look into that”. I will never forget the one woman who started every hot tip she wanted to give me with a zealous “I PROMISE you, XYZ is the answer, you HAVE to try it” followed in subsequent conversations with “Have you tried XYZ yet?”
· The best advice comes from certified lactation consultants or your gynae and/pediatrician
· Dietary supplementation can be useful. Late into the breastfeeding journey with Button, when supply was starting to wane, we came across Mrs Milk bars. They are great tasting, and we think they were a valuable addition to the armory.
5. Think milk
So this was one of the more interesting pieces of advice from a lactation consultant along our journey, and I am sure there are ways to interpret this such as meditations etc., but here are some of the practical interpretations we put in place:
· Relax during breastfeeding and/or expressing: stress is proven to have an impact on milk supply, so if you can let go of the to-do lists, what’s facing you when you get back to the office, the million demands from the toddler and everything else that is running through your head, you can focus on the task at hand and set yourself up for success
· Inter-related is your environment: although we are also in support of breastfeeding anytime and anywhere, you need to be calm and comfortable. Top tips would be a comfortable feeding chair and feeding cushion, maybe even some soft music that is relaxing both to you and baby. Keep a small table nearby for quick reach and access to some essentials – a bottle of water, tissues, burp cloth, nipple cream, feeding diary and pen/pencil, a spare blankie in winter, breast pads and whatever else you would want within arm’s reach without disturbing the feed
· Get enough rest in between feeds – often easier said than done, but your body needs this time to rejuvenate, and yes get back in the milk factory
· Snack often or break bigger meals into smaller more frequent meals – you need nutrients to make milk, and you are making milk all day. It may help to consult a dietician to help you get the balance right
6. Join a support crew
One of the happiest accidents of my momming journey was being invited to a mom’s and baby’s tea with a group of ladies who all knew each other through each other. There were 5 or 6 of us who were all on maternity leave simultaneously and had little girls or boys within 3
or so months in age of each other. There is nothing on the planet better than being able to talk about your struggles or what is going on with your body and baby with a group of women who are going through the exact same thing. This forms a bond and creates psychological support like nothing else available. Also, there is no judgement for tears, milk leaks, poonami’s, spit up stained clothes or any of the usual mom-glam.
7. Believe in yourself and know when to let go
All of the above can become an all-consuming stressful cycle. Ultimately, we know how much hard work breastfeeding is, and if you have powered through some struggles and succeeded, we salute you. If you have tried everything and you still have a baby that wakes every 5 minutes with a hungry cry, then you may reach the point where mixed feeding, or even exclusive formula feeding is your only option to make sure your baby is thriving (don’t
forget those clinic visits). At the end of the day, that is what is most important – the health and well-being of you AND your baby. You won’t be able to give what you do not have, so be sure that your breastfeeding plan also includes looking after yourself. Reaching a decision that the journey is not- or is no longer sustainable for you and baby is not quitting
These are by no means medically endorsed recommendations, although we do strongly advise roping in your whole multi-disciplinary team and support crew into your decisions and choices. Bringing a new life into the world is tough, and a huge adjustment, and no amount of antenatal classes, reading, Googling, or advice from elders can actually prepare you for your new reality. All you can do is your best, and that is all your baby expects of you. You are already a superhero for growing a tiny human and bringing him or her into the world.
You got this mama.