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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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Ten Great Reasons to Choose a Doula

  1. A doula can help you have a better experience of your baby’s birth. A 2012 review of studies showed that women with continuous non-medical support throughout labour have better birth outcomes in every way.

    “Bottom line: Continuous support in labour increased the chance of a spontaneous vaginal birth, reduced intrapartum analgesia, caused no known harm, and women were more satisfied. In addition, labours were shorter, and women were less likely to have a caesarean section or instrumental vaginal birth, regional analgesia, or a baby with a low 5-minute Apgar score. There was no apparent impact on other intrapartum interventions, maternal or neonatal complications, or on breastfeeding… continuous support was most effective when provided by a woman who was neither part of the hospital staff nor the woman’s social network, and in settings in which epidural analgesia was not routinely available.From Continuous support for women during childbirth, Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, October 17, 2012 http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD003766/continuous-support-for-women-during-childbirth#sthash.VsvNUnvh.dpuf

     

  2. A doula is an independent, educated professional who will give plenty of time to hearing you, sharing information and helping you to identify what you need and want for your journey into parenthood. A doula has usually studied pregnancy, birth, labour, how to support couples and how to be at births. An experienced doula will have knowledge and intuition.
  3. A doula can help you and your partner to understand and communicate with health professionals. A doula can offer you suggestions for how to bring up issues or ask questions. She can support and assist you and your partner to explain what you need, want and are concerned about.This is particularly helpful if you are seeking non-standard care (eg for a VBAC) or you are planning and preparing for a natural and unhindered birth. Some might even say if you are seeking a natural birth then you are automatically seeking “non-standard” care in many hospitals in Australia and the US! If the policies and practices of your place of birth are not aligned with your birth wishes then a doula will be a very good ally.
  4. A doula can give your partner a break, work with your partner as a team, or support your partner in a practical role. A doula won’t take away from your partner’s role, nor destroy the intimacy of experiencing this rite of passage as a couple. However a doula can support and reassure your partner so he (or she) can support you throughout the birth.
  5. A doula is someone to ask you questions and help you reflect on your pregnancy, birth and motherhood. She may ask questions you wouldn’t think to ask or may avoid asking yourself. This process helps you to know yourself better and helps her to support you.
  6. A doula knows how to be around women in labour, to set the tone and protect the birth space you want. A doula is trained and practised in being with birthing couples without allowing her personal circumstances, history or other factors to affect her or you. A friend or relative may not be able to give unconditionally like this especially if they have not experienced positive births before or are bringing their own fears or negative experiences into the room.
  7. A doula is someone who knows your needs, wishes and your history in a personal and emotional way – as long as you let her in and trust her. Your partner also needs to be comfortable with her and trust her. Someone who knows you well is better able to read your needs and support you than a midwife who has only just met you and you are one of several women in her care at that time. A doula who you feel comfortable with will help you to labour well because her presence makes you feel safer, unobserved and more relaxed. This supports the hormonal processes that drive labour.
  8. A doula is someone to stay with you if your partner needs to go with your baby to the nursery, or you need some medical attention post-birth. This is not a scenario you would wish to focus on, but it is reassuring to know that in this situation you would have support.
  9. A doula is someone to visit you in the post birth days to help with breastfeeding, mothering, and your wellbeing. This may be as simple as making you a cuppa, bringing you one-handed healthy food, or holding your baby while you shower. These things are really helpful post birth especially if you do not have other people who will be there for you in this gentle, reassuring and ‘no strings attached’ way.
  10. A doula becomes someone special who has witnessed your baby’s birth in a non-medical, personal way. She will be able to share in your story, hear and understand your feelings, and affirm your memories of what happened. She will hold a special place in your heart and your family.
    Not convinced? Are there blocks to you considering a doula for birth support? Making Good Decisions for a Positive Birth examines some of the common reasons shared with me for not choosing or not needing a doula and asks you to dig deeper and examine what is behind the reasoning. Only you can know whether your reasons are based on evidence, a deep consideration of your needs and an understanding of your fears.