Breastfeeding Support People are called all kinds of things. (Not all of them kind or nice things but that’s another story.)
Breastfeeding support is one of those areas where there’s little or no regulation as to who can set themselves up as a breastfeeding supporter or what they call themselves. One of the consequences is that you can see a lactation consultant and they might be someone with a degree in breastfeeding and many hours of experience supporting breastfeeding. Or they might be someone who used to be a midwife or trained as a nanny and thinks they know from experience. The thing is, some midwives know loads about breastfeeding and some nannies are great at educating themselves and naturals at support. But, you have no guarantees that you pick a great one and just as much chance that you pick one who really doesn’t know that much and will give you information and advice that leads to you giving up breastfeeding before you want to.
So how can you find good quality well-trained breastfeeding support? In the UK the best way to start is to look for local groups or ring a helpline that’s supported by the reputable and knowledgeable volunteers from one of the four main breastfeeding charities. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Breastfeeding Network, the La Leche League and the National Childbirth Trust. These organisations all train their volunteers to a great standard and also train them to be honest and refer mums to someone who knows even more than they do when they reach the limit of their knowledge.
But what if you need that top level of knowledge, that expertise? If someone calls themselves a lactation consultant what you need to know is are they certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Best way to find someone with this level of knowledge is to check the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website.
It might be that you still need to do some research into local people, to find the right one for you.
But that’s just like you do with doulas, it’s about getting that feeling and clicking with someone when you already know they have the knowledge and training you’re looking for.
Here’s a personal tale on not stopping at the first person you ask for support with breastfeeding.
When my third baby was born I was already a qualified breastfeeding counsellor (with the ABM) you would think if anyone was going to find breastfeeding easy it would be me. This photo of our second feed is lovely because it shows how easy it is for even babies who struggle to get a good latch to keep hold of it in that laid back position. I love the photo of our first feed too (it’s not on the right storage device to share here now but maybe soon) because it really shows the truth
about the post-birth glamour (there really isn’t any glamour but there’s a kind of raw beauty to be sure). But what you can also see in that first feed photo is that from the very first feed I had to support my daughter’s latch. She had a try at breast crawl and self-attachment and while she had it all going on with trying to find the breast she just couldn’t get a good enough latch to be happy until I gave her a little support.
Well as the first two weeks went by I put all the effort into all the things I was so used to telling other mums about. We used skin to skin contact and laid-back feeding positions but still, I was in so much pain I wanted to cry every time she wanted to feed (which was basically all the time.) But also because of having my breastfeeding training, I started to notice things about the way she fed and the way her tongue looked and wonder if she might have a tongue tie. Luckily for me, I also knew that the infant feeding co-ordinator at my local hospital was an IBCLC and that I could call her direct and say “help!” As a breastfeeding counsellor, I could be pretty sure we were struggling with tongue tie but it was so good to be able to hand over the worry and be reassured by the next level of expert. She confirmed that yes, that was the problem, and I hadn’t just forgotten everything I knew and ‘done it wrong’ (there’s no right or wrong in mothering but sometimes it feels like that in the heat of the moment.) Also, luckily for me although the local hospital wasn’t treating tongue tie I could go to the one in the next town away and another wonderful IBCLC was able to divide my baby’s tongue tie and it was onward and upward (although of course not without twists and turns in the road) from there on.
So that is why I’m grateful for IBCLC’s on a personal level and a professional level and why I’m celebrating #happydayoftheibclc and that’s why I think it doesn’t matter what your breastfeeding supporter calls themselves it matters what they really know. I’m grateful there’s an easy way to tell if someone really knows their stuff or just likes the idea of being a lactation consultant.
Are you starting out with breastfeeding? Maybe our top tips can help it go smoothly for you and you won’t need the top level of support but at least if you do you know where to find it now.
Skin to skin it’s the answer to everything.
You may have already read about skin to skin and how many benefits it has for babies when they are first born. If you’re pregnant now read up on those benefits and think about if you want to add skin to skin to be kept in your birth plan whatever else happens.
But if you’re looking back on what happened when your baby was born and skin to skin didn’t happen as you hoped for whatever reason don’t despair it’s not too late. Equally, if you’re looking back thinking how lovely that skin to skin time was now is a great time to get back skin to skin with your baby.
If you had a birth that didn’t go to plan or if you and baby are struggling to get breastfeeding going well or if you’re finding it difficult to feel that overwhelming bonding and falling in instant love that you’ve been lead to expect will happen as soon as baby arrives skin to skin can help. Skin to skin can happen as much as you like, any time you’re in the house you can snuggle skin to skin under a blanket or pop baby skin to skin in a stretchy sling. Skin to skin raises oxytocin (the feel good loving hormone) levels so don’t worry you can not overdo it. Babies and mothers (and dads, siblings, grandmas etc) benefit in many ways by spending as much time as possible skin to skin.
Bathing with your baby.
One way of being skin to skin that many people find really positive is to have a bath with your baby. Sometimes this is called re-birthing but it’s nothing spiritual or just for hippies just an opportunity for mum and baby to get the skin to skin and cuddles they might have missed out on at birth or just to get some more. Here’s a quick how-to guide if you think you might benefit from this.
- Have someone help you, run a nice deep bath, get in and relax.
- Have your helper pass you your baby.
- Hold baby between your legs (in the warm water) as you sit in the bath make eye contact and talk to your baby about how long you’ve been waiting to meet them, how important they are, how beautiful they are and how much you’re going to love them.
- Then bring your baby up on to your tummy/chest so you are tummy to tummy just as you would have been had birth gone to your original plan. Relax like that as long as you and baby are happy.
- Have your helper put a towel over your baby to keep them warm if necessary and be prepared to hold your hand or stroke your arm if the tears start to fall. If the tears fall do not be surprised, let them come and let the emotions out. Make sure you’ve picked a helper who is prepared to be with you through the emotion and offer loving sympathy not try to cheer you up or fix the problem. The talk and the helping may come later but this is the time for just feeling and letting the feelings out.
- It’s quite likely that in this position tummy down, head between your boobs baby will start to root. As long as baby isn’t getting upset try to leave them to it to find the nipple and latch on themselves.
- Your helper can take your baby and then offer a support if needed for you to climb out of the bath when you’re ready.
Your birth or postnatal doula will be more than happy to be your support person or helper through this process. If you don’t have anyone who’s right for the job yet check the find a doula page.
Establishing and maintaining a good breastmilk suply is one of the top worries that many mums have about breastfeeding. Our society and the prevalence of formula advertising have made us think that this is a very common problem but it’s really quite unusual to not be able to make enough milk with the right supportive atmosphere. There are some people who have conditions which mean they don’t make any or enough milk and if that’s you this blog post may not be of much use to you but you might need support from a qualified breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC.
Your doula is more than happy to provide you with practical support and confidence in your normal breastfeeding journey and will be glad to refer you to expert support if you need some.
Should you even be worried about how much milk you’re making?
Probably not if your baby is putting on weight, producing wet and dirty nappies, not making you sore and feeding frequently.
Making sure you have a good breastmilk supply and get enough milk into your baby is as easy (and as hard) as following your baby’s lead.
Here are our top tips.
- Make sure your baby has a good latch and can easily transfer milk from your breast. Being well attached to the breast makes it easy for baby to get all the milk they need and the more milk they take the more milk you will make. The easiest way to help your baby get a great latch is to use a breastfeeding position that will encourage all your baby’s natural instincts. Laid back breastfeeding positions are perfect for this. If you find it difficult to get a comfortable latch even in this position please get in contact with a breastfeeding counsellor or an IBCLC there are sometimes physical reasons for that pain (such as tongue tie) that need extra support and care. If you want to focus on relaxing and feeding baby, don’t forget your postnatal doula is there to bring you water and snacks and hang out your washing while you do this very important job.
- Get skin to skin. When babies are born they are ready and good to go with breastfeeding and the easiest start to that feeding journey and to having loads of milk is to hang out skin to skin as long as you can. If you miss out on this initial skin to skin don’t panic it’s never too late to get skin to skin with your baby and once is never enough. Hang out with your baby skin to skin anytime you like as much as possible for as long as possible. Not only is it great for your milk supply but it’s a great way for dads and babies to bond too.
- Feed feed feed. In the first few days, every moment your baby spends suckling is a moment that’s switching on more of the milk-producing cells in your breast. And in those first few weeks, there are many growths spurts where you baby (who will always feed frequently) will seem to feed constantly. That constant feeding suddenly happening again often makes women worry they haven’t got enough milk but it’s actually nature’s way of putting in the order for more milk in the next couple of days. Even if you think baby can’t possibly be hungry again allowing them to keep swapping sides and feeding more will allow them to build up your supply, never forget you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby.
- Look after yourself. Making all the food another human needs to survive and double their weight in six months is hard physical work. Make sure that you keep hydrated and well nourished and find ways to fit in any extra sleep you can get. Even malnourished women can make enough milk for their baby but a mother’s body will prioritise milk over its own well being and keeping your head in the game without feeling completely run down and overwhelmed is important too.
- If you plan to mix feed in the long term manage it carefully. Mix feeding is prefered by some women for many different reasons. It can be done and it can suit some families really well. But making sure that breastfeeding and especially your milk supply is established first is important too. Maximising your baby’s time at the breast in the first six weeks will mean your supply is well established and much more flexible after this time. If you do any bottle feeding before six weeks try to use your own expressed milk if possible and if you find baby is still hungry after a bottle feed offer a top-up from the breast, not the bottle. Also, remember the purpose baby is increasing feeds during growth spurts and add in extra breastfeeds not extra bottles.
What about galactagogues and lactation cookies?
You might like lactation cookies, lots of them are really yummy and there’s no harm in munching them if you do. But ultimately you don’t need them to make plenty of milk for your baby. Some women find them helpful especially during growth spurts and your doula will be happy to make you some but eating them is no magic pill and will only help if you’re also frequently feeding your well-latched baby. Sometimes complex feeding issues may be helped by the use of galactagogues but if you’re in that situation you need the expert help of a breastfeeding counsellor or IBCLC who will help you find the right solution for you.