Positive Birth News

birth stories, news and articles to encourage and inspire


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Preparing for Breastfeeding – setting yourself up for a positive experience

This is an information page published in Birth Journeys, written by Leonie MacDonald

breastfeeding Trey

breastfeeding Trey (Photo credit: sdminor81)

Many women wish to breastfeed their baby. After birth, 92% of Australian babies are breastfed[1] but by 6 months the figure dwindles to just 14% and continues to decline. Beyond 6 months, very few babies are fully breastfed. Clearly there is something amiss when so many Australian mothers have been unable to keep on breastfeeding when it was their intention and their desire to breastfeed at birth.

Breastfeeding is a skill that often needs to be worked out by mother and baby together. The majority of women are able to breastfeed their baby, and the majority of babies are able to breastfeed (no, not all, but most). However, breastfeeding requires support and encouragement as well as patience and time. Personal and societal factors often make it very hard for new mothers to keep breastfeeding. Women may experience grief, guilt, or anger if they are unable to continue.

Just as with birth, a good understanding of how breastfeeding works, surrounding yourself with positive breastfeeding stories, and finding women and health care professionals who are supportive of breastfeeding is important. Attending a breastfeeding education class run by your local Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) or a qualified lactation consultant will provide you with the most recent evidence-based information on breastfeeding. This will help you prepare for breastfeeding and put you in contact with a community of supportive women and health professionals.

Your chosen place of birth should be breastfeeding-friendly. Your carers should be up-to-date with the latest breastfeeding information and provide consistent advice. Even so, if you are in a maternity ward, you may come into contact with many staff and a variety of approaches to supporting early breastfeeding. Many women find this experience confusing and discouraging. Your preparation for breastfeeding may include researching and choosing the carer or carers you will trust and call on for breastfeeding and post birth support.

Far from excluding your partner, breastfeeding is an area where your partner can do a great deal to help: looking after you with a glass of water and a nutritious snack while you feed, helping you relax with a shoulder and back rub, setting you up with a feeding pillow and supportive cushions, burping baby and keeping them upright after a feed, dealing with unwanted interruptions, fielding unwanted advice from well-intentioned observers, and making supportive, encouraging comments about breastfeeding to you and those around you. A supportive partner (and family) makes an enormous difference to your breastfeeding journey.

You may find that there are people who do not understand or value breastfeeding and those who hold outdated and unhelpful beliefs. As with birth, what was common practice in the past is not always the best choice for you and your baby today.

You may be encouraged to feed to a clock-based routine or limit the time your new baby feeds. However, reducing your baby’s time at the breast by spacing or limiting feeds will diminish your milk supply (unless carefully managed).

Concerned family or friends may suggest you offer a bottle of artificial baby milk to help your baby sleep through the night or give you a break. There is actually research to suggest that young babies are supposed to wake throughout the night to breastfeed and regulate their breathing and body temperature*. The misconception that all babies ‘should’ sleep through the night before a certain age often undermines breastfeeding (and a mother’s confidence).

You may be told that you do not have enough milk for your baby because they are unsettled or feeding often. If you breastfeed to your baby’s cues then this is unlikely to be the case. Babies do feed frequently as they have tiny tummies. They may also breastfeed more often when they are getting sick, teething or having a growth spurt.

It is sensible to seek reliable, up-to-date advice from the health professional you have chosen and trust, a breastfeeding counsellor, or lactation consultant before you act on the advice of well-meaning bystanders.

As we know from birth, when we are surrounded by negativity, misinformation and discouragement, it is much more challenging to keep focused on the positive outcome we want and to find the help we need to achieve it. To feel confident in your ability and your right to breastfeed your baby or toddler, it is very helpful to have support, encouragement, and access to advice you can trust.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a community organisation that meets this need around Australia through local groups in the community, a free government-funded counselling hotline, an informative website and an online forum. Visit www.breastfeeding.asn.au for more information.


[1] Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

* Sleeping with Your Baby, Dr James McKenna (2007).

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Beyond Birth: The List

I still remember the day.

We just had our first visit to the hospital antenatal clinic and we were so excited to receive a bag filled with brochures, discount vouchers, guides to pregnancy and labour, and advice about all the products we should have now that we were about to become a family of three.

We were paying off a new home and a new car. We would be going from two incomes to one. We didn’t know how much money we would have. We didn’t know much about babies at all. The only time we had changed a baby’s nappy we had to fasten it together with bandaids!! (I’m not kidding!)

Now we had this list to tell us what we needed. We would be alright.

But there was a problem. This list was enormous. Apparently our baby was going to need an incredible number of things to survive and thrive! Not just milk, nappies, clothes and a place to sleep.

Nappy wipe containers with heaters, special wedges to keep him from rolling over in bed, nappy dispensers and special nappy bins, disposable nappy bags, a portable change mat and nappy change bag, a change mat cover for a change mat to go on a change table, a bouncer, a rocker that played music and had pretty light, mobiles that spun around and played music, play mats, bottles, special teats and formula just in case we couldn’t breastfeed, a steriliser for cleaning the bottles, a bassinet, a cot, a cot mattress and linen, dummies, blankies, lovies and onesies…what were we getting ourselves into?

This was going to cost thousands. Already my stress levels were rising. How could I be a good enough mother when I’d already failed the first step? I couldn’t afford all these things on The List.

So we did something radical! Instead of starting with everything we decided to buy the minimum and see how we went. We bought a beautiful convertible cot, we were given a pram, we bought modern cloth nappies, some beautiful linen for the cot and the basic clothes (singlets) the rest we were given as gifts. And we had the all important car capsule on hire. My big luxury was a rocking chair – a beautiful cane rocking chair that I just had to have.

We had no change mat, no change mat cover, no bassinet, no dummies, no blankies or lovies, no steriliser, no bouncer, rocker, nappy wipe warmers or any of those extras. Most of the items on the list got a firm line through them.

And, it actually worked out fine. Our baby didn’t want to sleep in his cot much. He preferred to sleep on my chest. And it turned out I don’t like rocking chairs. But apart from that we didn’t waste much money!

After our son’s birth we bought a baby bath, a change mat and a modern take on the old fashioned very simple bouncer. As we got to know our baby we experienced how useful these would be and we were able to buy the items that suited our needs and our baby.

And perhaps because we didn’t have everything on the list we had to rely on ourselves to soothe our baby instead of using devices.

We felt the joy and exhaustion of dancing around the lounge room (we got to practise our ballroom dancing at the same time and now my husband does a great foxtrot with a tiny baby in his arms). We learnt new songs and remembered old lullabies to hum or sing to our baby as his head was snuggled over our shoulders or beneath daddy’s neck. We bought good baby carriers as we learnt that our baby wanted to be held in our arms and the pram became a shopping trolley. We learnt that in truth, what babies and new parents need most is left off The List.

So here is My List:

  • Love – love for yourself, your baby and your partner
  • Patience – with yourself, your baby and your partner
  • Support – yes, you need and deserve support. Don’t try to do this all by yourselves.
  • You – your baby needs to be in your arms, on your chest, and preferably at your breast. Your baby needs to be held close by you. At first this is a very physical closeness and babies want to be held by you as much as possible. Later as your baby grows up this is an emotional and mental holding close as you keep in tune with how your child is experiencing the world and provide stability, love and reassurance. And forever it is holding your baby in your heart – no matter how old they are now!
  • Breast milk (or the best substitute available for your baby’s needs if this is not an option)
  • Somewhere safe for your baby to sleep (cot, bassinet, arms reach co sleeper, baby hammock, well researched safe co-sleeping)

There are many practical things you will need and want to help you care for your baby. These are the simplest and most important ones on my list.

  • Breastfeeding – bamboo breast pads, nursing bras and a good breastfeeding pillow. Some breastfeeding tops or stretchy T shirts and long tummy covering singlets to wear underneath. The phone number of your local ABA group and the breastfeeding hotline. Better yet, go along to meetings and make contact with your ABA group in your last months of pregnancy. If you need support after birth these women will be there for you!
  • Baby clothes – soft, natural fibres, without intricate fasteners and no appliques (cute as they are the underside of a heavily appliqued top can’t be that comfortable for a little baby)
  • Nappies – of your choice. Cloth nappies are amazing these days and all in one pocket nappies are my first choice. There’s nothing wrong with buying a mix of disposable and cloth nappies to see you through the early days if you’re not sure about washing all those cloth nappies and their inserts. If you decide to use disposable nappies think about those with the least environmental impact if possible. But the highest priority for me was nappies that worked, nappies that didn’t break (no more bandaids to fasten a broken disposable please!!) and nappies that were comfortable for my baby. You may like to learn about elimination communication too. I have friends who have great success with this approach to toileting and baby care.
  • Wipes – bamboo velour cloth wipes, disposable wipes – I quite liked Gaia and other eco brands.
  • Change mat – buy a nice comfy one with good high sides to help keep your baby from rolling. Don’t go for seatbelts though! Get soft and easy care covers and make sure either cover or mat has a water resistant layer for little change time accidents.
  • Change table – (yes we got one second time around!) yes they are very useful. You can judge whether you need one or not.
  • Baby wraps – nice soft really big ones. Don’t bother with ones less than 1m square as they won’t last long. Baby cocoon wraps look quite good too for keeping your baby snug and secure feeling. But both my babies hated being wrapped from quite early on and I didn’t wrap for many months.
  • Lotions and Potions – tea tree oil to make up a weak antibacterial wash for wiping your baby’s bottom if needed. Olive oil for their skin. There are many beautiful products for looking after baby’s skin. Look for simple ingredient lists and be aware that your baby’s skin can react to the same products that another baby’s skin loves. Take it slow.
  • One baby sling or carrier – a stretchy or woven wrap like a Moby wrap, Hug a Bub or any of the many beautiful woven wraps is my first choice after two quite different babies. You can buy different kinds of slings and carried nce you know what suits you, your baby and your lifestyle. You don’t really know until your baby is here. Please don’t buy a carrier that pins your baby to your body with their legs dangling straight down. Do look for carriers that an older baby almost sits into (such as the ergo carrier) as this is much better for their body.


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Don’t Miss Out!

StoriesHave you signed up to my free monthly newsletter Positive Birth News?

Positive Birth News for June is all about VBAC and it will contain a fresh new birth story, an article “Once a caesarean always a caesarean?” and links to helpful resources for recovering from caesarean and preparing for birth after caesarean, including the guidelines from the obstetric colleges in Australia, US and UK (and these are really interesting to compare!)

The birth story shares Kush’s empowering journey to a straightforward and beautiful VBAC, but more than that, how she found the confidence to speak up for herself and her needs. I have been working with Kush to explore her story in the same way that I did with the stories in the Birth Journeys book (only in a week instead of a year so I know her story could go even deeper – it’s amazing what a few questions reveal!). So, this is more than a raw account of a birth – like the stories in the Birth Journeys book, it is a story with wisdom and positive messages for you to learn from.

I am trying something a little different this month and the newsletter content will not be up on the blog straight away! I want women who sign up for the free newsletter to receive something special, something that is worth signing up for – in addition to the content on the blog. It’s also important to me that when you read the newsletter, you don’t have to keep clicking on the blog links to finish reading! Each newsletter will now have a theme with a birth story, one in depth article and links to support you in your journey to birth or in your role supporting pregnant women.

I will continue to post articles, women’s stories, inspiring quotes and links to the blog and put the newsletter content up later on.

The July issue will be all about doulas and the August issue will be about having an empowering caesarean birth.

The Positive Birth Newsletter will be emailed out by the end of this weekend, so sign up now so you don’t miss out!


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Beyond Birth: Where Will Our Baby Sleep?

When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband and I read our way through a pile of books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting. As we eagerly discussed all our new ideas, my husband shared one that floored me.

He wanted to ditch the beautiful, adorable, and rather expensive convertible timber cot we had just bought after a great deal of deliberation…and have our baby sleep in our bed! Did I mention how beautiful that cot was? It was our one big baby purchase. I loved it so. When we set it up in the ‘nursery’ it seemed to say “This is real. We’re having a baby!!”

My husband gave me plenty of reasons for co-sleeping or bedsharing and they all sounded remarkably sensible. He told me how co-sleeping regulates baby’s temperature, heart beat and breathing, promotes breastfeeding, and provides our baby with the reassurance and comfort he is used to.

But I was terrified of putting my baby at risk. A baby seemed so fragile. Surely, our baby would be safer in a cot on his own? We would start with the cot and maybe when our baby was a bit bigger he might sleep next to me.

Our newborn had his own ideas. He preferred to sleep in my arms and preferably chest-to-chest on top of me with his head just below my lips. I didn’t mind – I loved smelling his fuzzy, soft, fresh baby hair. I kept putting him down in the cot once he was asleep but when he was about four months old, he moved into our bed and slept next to me each night from the beginning. He didn’t go back into the cot until we converted it to a toddler bed when he was older.

During this time, I did my own reading about co-sleeping so I could make sure we were using the safest arrangement possible. I learnt from Dr James McKenna that it was best to put the bed on the floor. So out to the shed went our bedframe. We put away the feather filled doona and used blankets and sheets only. Now we had the peace of mind knowing that our baby wouldn’t roll out and hurt himself and he wouldn’t overheat. I slept with one small pillow long ways, under my head and not near my baby. I was very careful with where the bedding was placed and checked for any gaps around the mattress frequently. Our bedroom may have looked odd to other adults but it worked well for us.

When it came to our second baby, I didn’t think twice about bedsharing. I knew the benefits and was confident I knew how to keep my baby safe. I also knew that there were no significant difficulties in transitioning a child out of the bed and my older son was now sleeping happily in his own bed and own room most nights.

Many families will have a baby or toddler in their bed at some stage. Occasional and unplanned bedsharing seems more likely to be risky, as parents may not be aware of safety recommendations or may not be able to set up a safe sleep environment. For example, parents end up bedsharing with their baby in a hotel room or at a relative’s house when baby is unsettled away from home. Or an intoxicated or exhausted parent accidently falls asleep with baby in the bed and sleeps too heavily to be aware of where the baby is. Smokers should not bedshare and either should obese parents according to research into safe co sleeping. Occasional and unplanned bedsharing seems more likely to place a baby at risk of suffocation or an injury than planned and carefully considered bed sharing.

Now researchers from Murdoch University are asking health organisations to rethink their statements about the risks associated with bedsharing.

Associate Professor Catherine Fetherston said a critical risk factor was unsuitable environments, which could involve too much soft bedding, sleeping with siblings or pets and sofa-sleeping.

“Often when researchers look at bedsharing, they include sofa-sharing or armchair-sharing, which have been shown to be very dangerous, with a number of associated deaths,” she said. “In fact, when you remove deaths associated with sofa-sharing from the analysis, the rate of bedsharing deaths is lower than the rate found in babies sleeping by themselves in cots.”

She added that more could be done by agencies to highlight breastfeeding’s role in protecting against SIDS, saying breastfed babies who bedshared benefited physiologically, with more stable temperatures and heart rhythms, better oxygen saturation and fewer pauses in breathing. “While we accept the need for preventative strategies to reduce sleep-related infant deaths, we believe health agencies should shift from absolute messages discouraging bedsharing to messages that address known risk factors.”

We need to focus on knowing what the safest bedsharing looks like and avoiding sleeping with our babies when the conditions are not ideal.

Links for further reading:

http://cosleeping.nd.edu/safe-co-sleeping-guidelines/

http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastfeeding-co-sleeping-and-sudden-unexpected-deaths-infancy

http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-co-sleeping-a-sids-danger

*Now I have read the reports in the media recently about the study from Auckland that concluded there was a significant increase in SIDS amongst cosleeping infants under 3 months. haven’t read the actual paper to see what information they used to reach the conclusion. I think parents are still going to co sleep, either intentionally or out of fatigue and desperation when nothing else seems to work, so we need to realise this and educate and support parents about the safest options for sleep and what alternatives might work for them if they are not going to bed share and bed share safely. Personally I would still prefer to have my babies within arms reach than in that beautiful cot across the room or in a separate nursery.