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Breastfeeding: setting yourself up for success

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Lydia Emmanuel-Desir
Infant Feeding Coach

Breastfeeding can be daunting, and it might feel like there’s not much you can do before your baby is born to prepare. But in fact, putting in the time before the baby arrives can make all the difference to feeling confident, prepared, and ultimately reaching your breastfeeding goals.

Build your support system

Breastfeeding has so many health benefits for you and your baby, but it is not without its challenges. That’s why it’s so important that you get everybody on board as soon as possible, from friends and family to support services in your local community.

There are various types of support, such as local support groups, breastfeeding cafes, breastfeeding helplines, charities, and paid services from infant feeding specialists. Researching these services during your pregnancy will make it much easier when you need support in a hurry in the postpartum period.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help! Whatever kind of support you’re after, there’ll be something out there for you.

Learn how to hand express

Hand expressing is an extremely useful skill, both antenatally and postnatally. Not only will it allow you to collect colostrum (see next tip), but it will also help relieve breast engorgement. There are some great hand expressing videos from UNICEF and Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust.

Even if no colostrum appears initially, keep practising every day so that you are stimulating those all important milk-making hormones and feel confident when the time comes.

Collect colostrum

Colostrum is the first kind of breast milk that your body will produce, and it can be collected from 36 weeks. But know that every woman is different, and it’s totally normal if you can’t express any milk yet!

It can be really useful to collect and store colostrum during pregnancy as it means that if, for any reason, you’re unable to breastfeed when your baby is born, your baby will be able to be fed using your colostrum. It also gives you time to practise positioning and attachment whilst avoiding the use of formula to supplement, if you’d like to exclusively breastfeed.

If you are able to hand express some colostrum (and it really will be a tiny amount), you can collect it with some 1ml syringes with caps or, alternatively, you can use a sterilised spoon, cup, or bottle. You can then freeze your collected colostrum and keep it with you when you go into labour (make sure you know how to store and defrost your colostrum safely - you can speak to your midwife or read this NHS article).

Prioritise skin-to-skin contact

The more skin-to-skin contact you can have with your baby in the minutes, hours, and days after birth, the more likely you are to successfully establish breastfeeding. This is because skin contact stimulates the release of your milk-releasing and milk-making hormones, oxytocin and prolactin. Babies are born with the instinct to root, suck, and swallow, and undisturbed skin-to-skin will help your baby find your breast and feed.

If there are no complications during or after your birth, your baby should be placed on your bare chest as soon as they’re born and, ideally, kept there until their first feed. Your birth partner will, understandably, want to hold the baby. But, when possible, your baby should stay with you until the first feed.

If for any reason exclusive skin-to-skin isn’t possible immediately after birth, don’t worry - any skin-to-skin contact from either you or your birth partner will be beneficial to you and your baby.

Try frequent, responsive feeding

Feeding little and often is best for you and your baby. This will help to build and maintain your long-term milk production, and is also because your newborn’s stomach will be roughly the size of a cherry and cannot hold more than 5-7ml of milk at one time. Try to tune in to your baby’s cues and feed as and when, in response to those cues - this is sometimes called responsive feeding.

It is very rare that a mother doesn’t have enough milk for her baby, and this would most likely be due to a medical condition. The most common reason for low milk supply is not removing milk thoroughly or frequently enough in the early days. This is often because positioning or latch isn’t quite right or there could be other issues at play such as tongue tie, all of which can be solved with the right support.

Understand positioning and attachment

There are several different breastfeeding positions, and it’s so important to find what works best for you and your baby. A good position means that your baby will be able to attach effectively to your breast, but it also means a position that’s comfortable for you.

Attachment is the way that your baby takes your breast in their mouth. There are several things to look out for during a feed to identify a good latch and make sure your baby is feeding well, such as the shape of your baby’s mouth and lips, ensuring they take a good mouthful of your breast, and seeing/hearing them swallow.

Consider a feeding plan

You’ve probably heard of a birth plan where you lay out your preferences depending on the various scenarios that could happen during labour and birth. Well, you might also like to put together a feeding plan to think through your preferences as well as to communicate them so that your partner, family, and medical team can honour, support, and advocate for your wishes.

Hopefully this has given you lots of pointers on where to start with your breastfeeding journey. If you would like more information or support, my feeding support services are available via phone, email, or video appointments, making them accessible to all. Whether you would like a dedicated 1:1 consultation, a two week email support package, or some antenatal help to prepare ahead of your baby’s arrival, you can find a support option to suit your needs. View my full list of feeding support services here.