Breastfeeding is such an emotive issue.
I need to say right here that if you, having looked at all the information and weighed up your options, feel that formula is the route for you, then I have absolutely no problem with that. Your baby, your body, your choice.
What I do resent is that so many women are currently failed by a system that pushes breastmilk as the gold standard, and then fails to provide the resources to adequately teach, support, and enable women to provide it!
Most women want to feed their baby themselves, even if only ‘to see how we get on with it’. We all know how beneficial it is. But if it doesn’t work straight away, then it’s just another time when we’re left feeling like failures, that our body has betrayed us, and then felling guilty.
But if you do want to breastfeed – and it’s not going smoothly, read on!
What to do?
Firstly, get help with problems sooner rather than later.
You may initially think all hope is lost, that you can’t get your baby to attach, that you aren’t making any/enough milk. The longer this goes on, the more certain this will come to be true, but in a quarter of women milk can take longer than 3 days to ‘come in’ – sometimes up to 5 days. The sooner you can get help, the sooner you can begin to establish a nursing relationship that works.
Breastmilk works on a demand leads to supply system. The more you take from the breast, the more you will make. Draining the breasts frequently (whether by nursing or expressing) is absolutely the key to success.
Secondly, remember that a newborn’s tummy is tiny. Really tiny. You may be worried that you’re only making a few drops of milk, but in reality, that may be all your baby needs to begin with. Not being able to express much/any milk is a red herring. If your baby seems content and is making wet nappies, that’s your best guide.
If you are supplementing with formula on medical advice, remember that any mummy milk is good mummy milk, and the more you take, the more you’ll make! You can still build up to an exclusive breastfeeding relationship, it may just take perseverance, determination and support over a few weeks.
Thirdly, remember that in an ideal world, midwives, hospital staff, and health visitors would be expertly trained in the art of breastfeeding, and would have all the time in the world to help and support you to do it in an easy, pain-free way. But this just isn’t the case. Breastfeeding is just one very small element of their training, and unless the Health Care Professional (HCP) in question has a personal interest, or has undertaken additional training, they (with the best will in the world) are NOT the best people to help you here, if breastfeeding is your goal.
Midwives are very keen to see your baby gain weight ASAP. This is often not perfectly compatible with the early days of nursing, which can be more of a slow burn, and so they can often be the one pressuring you to ‘top up’ with formula – which then has the knock on effect of reducing the demand on your breasts to produce, and then consequently sees a reduction in your supply.
So who should I speak to? Where can I go?
For a helpful pdf on the different types of breastfeeding adviser available, click on this leaflet produced by the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain:
Who's Who in Lactation Support (505.2 KiB)
There are many levels of skill in advisers, and for most, a peer supporter is enough to help you fix common problems like positioning and attachment etc. and just give you some much needed support and reassurance. Just Google “breastfeeding support” or “breastfeeding cafe” + your area, or call the National Breastfeeding Helpline between 9.30am and 9.30pm.
If you feel your problems go deeper then this, or a peer supporter/BFC has been unable to help, the absolute Oracle on breastfeeding advice is an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). You can find your nearest one here:
These are people who have undergone EXTENSIVE training in all aspects of breastfeeding, are regulated by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and are required to recertify every 5 years with continuing education annually. They are the professionals, know about all sorts of breastfeeding complexities, including special needs babies, breastfeeding after breast surgery, how to mange with inverted/flat nipples/large breasts etc etc; a lot more than just the common problems faced, and you will be in no better hands.
Many are employed by healthcare trusts and if you’re lucky, will run a clinic or baby café somewhere near you where you can seek out their advice for free. If you wish to hire them professionally to support you, you’re looking at around £100 for a 1.5-2hr home visit, but then, if you weigh that up against the potential monthly costs of formula feeding (and that’s ignoring all the other benefits breastfeeding brings!), it can still represent a good investment. Some even often pay-by-instalment plans!
If you seek out one of these lovely people and they aren’t able to help you (incredibly unlikely), then you will be able to rest knowing that you truly did everything you could to try to feed your child yourself.
I’m so confused! The breastfeeding counsellor is saying one thing, but the midwife is saying something different!
Yup. Welcome to parenthood! I’m afraid this is how it works. You’re almost guaranteed to find at least one school of thought (and usually many, many more!) on how to do everything. I’m afraid this is where you have to decide on what you want to do/try and do your best to block out all the rest as white noise.
Do what feels right to YOU. Do what you want to do. Don’t let friends, family, midwife, or a bossy website tell you how to raise your baby! These decisions are yours and if you just ‘do as you’re told’ then you may come to regret not following your instincts later.
All mums are different. All babies are different. Do what feels right for you right now. And if it stops feeling right, do something else. Relax. You got this.
How to do it?
I’m not going to go into the mechanics of breastfeeding here – that’s for another post and there are many resources on the internet to help with that. I will say, that for positioning and attachment I particularly found instructional YouTube videos helpful.
I’ve already posted some links above, but here are some trusted resources, since I haven’t got round to writing a BigBirthas guide to setting up a home dairy yet!
https://kellymom.com/ – a great, really helpful, encyclopaedic site covering all aspects, from an IBCLC (Breastfeeding Oracle) and mum of three living in the US.
https://breastfeeding.support/breastfeeding-with-large-breasts/ – another encyclopaedic site by an IBCLC, this one is based in the UK
http://www.plus-size-pregnancy.org/NursingWhenWellEndowedFAQ – Another US site, the page is quite text-heavy, but lots of really useful info about strategies and techniques to help bigger mums.