Professor Amy Brown is based in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences at Swansea University in the UK where she leads the MSc in Child Public Health. With a background in psychology, she first became interested in the many barriers women face when breastfeeding after having her first baby. Three babies and a PhD later she has spent the last twelve years exploring psychological, cultural and societal barriers to breastfeeding, with an emphasis on understanding how we can better support women to breastfeed and subsequently raise breastfeeding rates.
It’s a pleasure to welcome Professor Amy Brown to the blog with her breastfeeding advice.
However you feed: breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the most important thing is a fed and happy baby and a happy mum.
Over to Amy……
Breastfeeding your baby is one of the most natural things in the world, right? Well yes, but natural doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Lots of things that are natural take practice– none of us learn to walk without a few bumps – and breastfeeding is no different.
Getting good information and good support is really important. Unfortunately,not everything you read will be accurate or have your best interests at heart. So here are nine truthful things to expect when breastfeeding…
- Latching your baby on might look different to what you imagined
Babies don’t feed by just sucking on the nipple. Instead, they take a large mouthful of your nipple and areola (the darker skin around your nipple) and draw your nipple right towards the back of their mouth, whilst massaging the underside with their tongue.
This isn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds – nipples are remarkably stretchy. But it is important to get it right and that can take practice. A good latch helps them get lots of milk, and stops you getting sore. Ask your midwife for support, check out these great videos for a visualisation of what you’re aiming for (https://bit.ly/2j1Ics6) and don’t be afraid to keep on asking until you’ve got the hang of it.
- Breastfed babies feed lots, and I mean LOTS
If you listen to great aunty Mable she might tell you babies should be fed every four hours on the dot. Indeed, in the 1950s babies were brought from the nursery to their mother every four hours for a feed. You’ll still find books telling you this is how babies should feed. However, this advice, quite simply, is nonsense.
We now know that feeding your baby responsively e.g. whenever they ask to be fed, day or night, helps build a good milk supply. Trying to stretch out feeds has the opposite effect. Babies can feed at least every 2 – 3 hours, as breast milk is easily digested. This is rarely at set times, as they can’t read clocks, but do you eat and drink in a set routine?
- Night feeds are very normal
…and what you feed them has no impact on sleep despite what people might suggest. Babies have tiny tummies so need frequent feeds, and just because the sun has gone down, doesn’t mean their other needs have disappeared. Babies have short sleep cycles and wake for many reasons other than hunger. What you feed them won’t help them if they wake because they are cold, need a nappy change or just want a cuddle. And breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep as it’s quicker to breastfeed at night rather than prepare a bottle.
- You’ll become fascinated with the content of their nappies
Yes really. One of the best ways to tell whether milk is going in, is to look at what is coming out. As your baby takes in more milk in the first days their nappies will change from a black sticky colour to mustard-y yellow. By day 6, they should be having at least 6 wet and 2 dirty nappies a day (after 6 weeks some babies have fewer dirty nappies).
You can estimate what a wet nappy feels like by putting 2 – 4 tablespoons of water into a nappy and feeling its weight. A poo counts as a poo if its roughly bigger than a £2 coin. Yup, you’ll never look at £2 coins in the same way again.
- Complete strangers will have an opinion on how you feed your baby
This one actually isn’t specific to breastfeeding. Some strangers just like to tell all mothers they’re doing it wrong. Breastfeeding? Wrong! Bottle feeding? Wrong! Baby sleeping? Wrong! Not sleeping? Wrong! The key is to realise there is no right answer and it’s about them, not you. Just smile and nod or ask, ‘Why do you want to know?’ Or breastfeed in front of them – that’ll make them go away.
The same goes for people who tell you exaggerated horror stories. This is a tough one as most likely they themselves were given bad advice or didn’t get the right support and in their own way, are trying to help. But their story does not have to be your story.
- It’s normal to find some days tough
You might really want to breastfeed. But that doesn’t mean it will always be wonderful. You will have tough days and may tell everyone you’ve had enough. But that’s OK. There is no prerequisite that you have to love breastfeeding every day, or even at all. After all, you might love your job or your partner but that doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes feel frustrated or fed up with them.
Saying that, it’s easy to blame breastfeeding when things are tough when actually it may just be the responsibility of caring for your tiny person. Stopping breastfeeding won’t stop them needing to be fed, changed, or continually jiggled. Motherhood itself is tough. And you know what? It’s also fine to say that.
- You’ll fall in love with your partner in whole new ways
A friend told me how she never felt more in love than when her partner was massaging a blocked duct on her breast at 4 am. Another burst into happy tears when her partner stood up to an uptight relative who told her she shouldn’t be feeding in public. Another bonded over the shared joy of a full nappy. OK, maybe she was a bit sleep deprived, but you get the gist…
- You’ll feed anywhere if your baby is hungry
Before your baby was here, the thought of breastfeeding in public made you a bit anxious. Fast forward a few months and anything goes. Up a mountain, in the supermarket queue, during the vows at a very serious wedding (yes, the bride) …
When you have a breastfed baby, you quickly learn that your nipples will solve almost everything. Breastfeeding has all sorts of health benefits but the ability to soothe a crying baby within 15 seconds is top of many women’s reasons for breastfeeding.
- One day, it will all just click
Sometime, probably when they’re around eight weeks old, you’ll realise it all suddenly got that bit easier. You’ve got your latch sorted. You’re leaving the house without thinking too much. You’ve fed in so many places that you no longer think twice. Your postman has quite possibly seen your boobs, both of them, and neither of you care.
Keep going, it’s worth it.
The Positive Breastfeeding Book by Amy Brown is published by Pinter & Martin £14.99