How to get off to a good start on your breastfeeding journey
If you’re pregnant and planning to breastfeed, there are a number of things you can do before your baby arrives to increase your chances of success.
Breastfeeding is a completely natural thing but this doesn’t mean it is always easy. Both you and your baby need to learn how to do it and many new mums find they need some additional support at the start of their journey.
The most recent Infant Feeding Survey found 81 per cent of mums start breastfeeding their babies but by the time their babies are six weeks, just 24 per cent in England are exclusively breastfeeding. These figures indicate that many women encounter difficulties in those first few weeks and perhaps end up giving up breastfeeding before they had planned to.
So what can you do to help yourself while you’re still pregnant?
Find out about local support in your area
When your baby arrives, you’ll have your hands full looking after your little one and finding out about breastfeeding cafes or looking up the number of a helpline may be a job too far when you’re exhausted and struggling to feed. Find out what support is available in your area now and make a note of it so you know exactly where to turn if you encounter issues. Breastfeeding support varies depending on where you live but your midwife should be able to tell you what is available in your area. There are also some national helplines you can call for advice, including the National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm), Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – 0300 330 5453 (9.30am to 10.30pm), La Leche League – 0345 120 2918 (8am to 11pm) and NCT – 0300 330 0700 (8am to midnight).
Read up on breastfeeding now
Reading about breastfeeding on parenting websites or in books and magazines will help give you a clearer understanding of what to expect and how to combat common issues which might arise. Think about breastfeeding as a new skill you want to learn. You might not be able to get any practical experience before your baby arrives but learning the theory will help. You can also save any articles you find particularly useful so you have them to hand when you actually start breastfeeding.
Plan to succeed rather than prepare to fail
Breastfeeding can be a very emotive subject as eight out of 10 mums end up stopping before they want to. This can mean you hear negative stories about other people’s experiences while you’re pregnant which may make you doubt your own chances of success. If you are clear that you want to breastfeed, the best thing you can do is plan as if you WILL. Get everything you think you might need for breastfeeding – nursing bras, breast pads, breastfeeding-friendly clothes and nipple cream – so you’re prepared from the very first day.
However, try not to buy formula to keep in your cupboard just in case. If you already have formula to hand, you’re much more likely to reach for it if you’re feeling tired or finding a feed tricky. If you do find you decide to switch to formula feeding at any point for whatever reason, there are a lot of places where you can buy infant formula no matter what time it is, including 24-hour pharmacies supermarkets, petrol stations and convenience stores. Your hospital will also have formula to hand should you need it. And never be ashamed if you need it. This is ok too.
Include breastfeeding in your birth plan
When you write your birth plan, include that you want to breastfeed so the midwives supporting through the birth know that you will need help with your first few feeds. Make it clear that you want skin to skin contact your baby as soon as possible after the birth as this can help boost your milk supply. It will also have a calming effect on both you and your child and will help regulate their breathing and keep them warm.
Aim to breastfeed within an hour of your baby’s birth, unless there is a medical reason why this is not possible. Breastfeeding your baby as soon as you can will help you feel more confident and will make sure your little one gets the benefits of your colostrum - the first milk which is packed with nutrients and protective antibodies – straight away. Getting started with breastfeeding quickly will also mean you have a midwife to hand to offer support and advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for someone to sit with you and observe a feed to check your positioning and latch.
Take each feed one at a time
If you’re not sure about breastfeeding or you experience difficulties at first, it can be daunting to think about continuing until your baby hits a particular age. Don’t think about your long-term goals at this stage, just focus on taking each feed as it comes once your baby is born. Every ounce of breastmilk your baby receives matters, so chalk every feed up as a win. And remember if you do decide to give formula, that doesn’t mean you have to give up breastfeeding (unless you want to). Plenty of parents successfully feed their babies a combination of formula and breastmilk. One thing to remember though is that the more you feed your baby, the more milk your body will produce so if you do give formula, your supply may be lower than if you were to exclusively breastfeed.
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