Congratulations on the arrival of your baby! There is no doubt that breastfeeding your baby can be a truly remarkable experience. Offering an army of health benefits for you and your baby as well as the opportunity just to sit and be with your little one. That said, for many women, the reality of establishing breastfeeding can feel far removed from initial expectations of sitting serenely in a newly decorated nursery enjoying bonding time with your new addition. A much more realistic version of breastfeeding is that some help is often needed so that the baby can breastfeed smoothly, so if you need some breastfeeding support, then you’re not alone.
Throughout pregnancy, many women look forward to having their baby in their arms and enjoying the many pleasures that breastfeeding can bring and therefore, many a tear can be shed when things don’t quite go to plan.
Our Resident Midwife, Louise, AKA, The Honest Midwife, has put together a step-by-step guide to enjoying breastfeeding in the hope that you and your baby really will enjoy your breastfeeding journey and be able to navigate any bumps in the road.
Plus, to support you through your breastfeeding journey, we’ve also put together a list of some resources and breastfeeding support groups for you to turn to if you need some help. So, if you’ve been looking for some breastfeeding support, you’ve come to the right place!
Your guide to breastfeeding
First up, colostrum harvesting! Colostrum is the first milk that mothers make in preparation for breastfeeding and is packed full of nourishment for your baby, promoting good gut health, regulating temperature, and boosting the baby’s immune system. This is just mentioning a few of the many benefits of colostrum.
In recent years the practice of “Colostrum Harvesting” is becoming ever more popular and can help expectant mums to prepare for breastfeeding. From 37 weeks, colostrum can be expressed into 1ml sterile syringes and stored for use once the baby is here. Having a little store of colostrum in your freezer can be reassuring for parents in the days whilst trying to establish milk supply and latch. However, it is essential that women don’t get stressed about Colostrum Harvesting. Some women can collect syringe after syringe and have a huge stash waiting in the wings, while other women don’t manage to get a single drop. Your ability to harvest colostrum is not an indicator of future milk supply and bears no connection to your ability to breastfeed. For more information on Colostrum Harvesting, why not sign up to Louise’s Infant Feeding Class? It provides an in-depth understanding of the physiology of breastmilk production.
Is the latch the catch?
Breastfeeding really shouldn’t be painful. However, we know that there are potentially 1000s of women who would gladly throw a breast pump at us for uttering these words! However, the reality is that if your baby has a good, deep latch, breastfeeding should be a comfortable experience. Just like us, the roof of our babies’ mouths is made up of a hard and soft palate. The hard palate, located at the front, is made of bone and tissue, and provides structure to the mouth. This makes up two-thirds of the roof of the mouth. The last third is right at the back and is our soft palate made up of connective tissue and muscle. When a baby latches, to avoid pain and soreness, as much breast as possible must be taken into the mouth so that the nipple is bouncing happily against the soft palate and not the hard palate. Not only will this prevent nipples from becoming cracked and painful, but your baby will also get a better feed as they are activating all of the milk ducts and therefore getting a better supply of milk. WIN-WIN!
If you are struggling with getting your baby’s latch comfortable, you must get some support. Ask your Midwife if a visit can be arranged or make an appointment with a lactation consultant so that you can get some help before you become too sore.
Nipple care is also essential. Ensure you have an excellent fitting nursing bra and use nipple cream both before and after feeds. When possible, allow some aid exposure time for your breasts as this too will help with healing. Make sure you regularly change your breast pads to keep your nipples nice and dry when not feeding.
Also, don’t forget, breastmilk has healing properties, so if you have cracked nipples, put a couple of drops of breastmilk on the affected area, and this really can work wonders.
Is your cuppeth overflowing?
It is not unusual, especially in the early days after your milk comes in, to feel that your breasts are too full. If your baby is latching and feeding well, this feeling of fullness usually regulates and passes quite quickly. However, if your little one is a bit reluctant, milk ducts can become engorged, leading to tender, hot and uncomfortable breasts. This feeling usually passes within a couple of days, but if it persists or you start to feel feverish, make sure you make an appointment to see your Midwife or GP as this can progress to become mastitis, an infection in the breast.
Even if your milk supply is precisely as you would expect it to be, it is not uncommon to experience some leaking from your breasts, especially during feeding. Known as “let down”, you may find that while you are feeding the baby on one side, the other breast gets a little over-eager and starts to release some milk! Equally, you may not even be feeding, but then you hear your baby cry and “Hey Presto”, your breasts leap into action and start to release milk a little prematurely! You may also find that you wake up in the night in a puddle of breastmilk, especially if your baby has treated you to an extra hour of sleep and your cuppeth really does overflow! Make sure you are wearing good quality breast pads to soak up the spill or, even better, milk collection cups sit nicely in your bra and collect your milk so it can be fed to your baby later.
Is your cuppeth not overflowing?
Unlike the previous section where we discussed a feeling of too much milk, a significant percentage of women stop breastfeeding far sooner than they would have liked because they are worried that their milk supply is not sufficient for their baby’s needs.
Understanding the physiology of milk supply is necessary to allow parents to feel confident in providing enough milk for their baby. Milk production is a supply and demand process and really does rely on your baby being able to feed at the breast on demand. Assuming that the baby has mastered how they attach to the breast and are allowed to feed when they ask to, milk supply should meet your growing baby’s needs. Again, for more information and education regarding the physiology of milk supply, sign up to The Honest Midwife infant feeding class, which will give you a great understanding of how the supply chain works!
All tied up?
What is a tongue-tie, and does your baby have one? A tongue-tie, otherwise known as ankyloglossia, is a very tiny strip of skin connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth and can be problematic if it is shorter than usual.
A tongue-tie may be diagnosed within a couple of hours of your baby’s arrival but, in some cases, can go undiagnosed as it may not always be obvious. Many babies cope well with a tongue tie, and it doesn’t cause any problems. Whilst for other babies, it can hinder breastfeeding as the baby struggles to maintain latch, which, in turn, can result in mum developing sore and cracked nipples. Signs your baby may have a tongue-tie include struggling to keep a latch, being at the breast for extended periods and then demanding a feed a very short time later. A clicking sound whilst suckling can also indicate that the baby is struggling with latch. Poor weight gain can often go hand in hand with tongue-tie.
Although tongue-tie does not always require treatment, many babies really benefit from tongue-tie division, where the strip of skin is snipped to allow more significant movement of the tongue. Many women report that their feeding experience was unrecognisable (for the better) following this quick and straightforward procedure.
We hope you’ve found Louise’s guide to breastfeeding useful, and it helps to set your mind at ease. We know that when you’ve got a new baby at home, there can be lots going on, and you need all the support and help you can get.
Need some breastfeeding support?
Whether you’re a first-time mum or you’ve been through this before, sometimes we can all find breastfeeding overwhelming, as well as all the expectations and pressure that we put on ourselves. If you need some breastfeeding support, then look at the list of support and resources below. We’ve compiled our favourite go-to apps, websites and organisations that can support you as you go through this process with your little one.
The Honest Midwife’s Infant Feeding Class
Louise has a whole range of information on breastfeeding and support on her website. If you feel like you need some more information, education or general breastfeeding support, sign up for The Honest Midwife infant feeding class.
Your local children’s centre
Several different organisations, for example, Family Action and Better as well as your local council, run children’s centres across the country, and it’s a place where families with young children can go to use facilities, receive any support they need, including free health and parenting support. They’re also great places to meet other parents and find people in a similar position to you. You can search on Family Action, Better and the Government website for your local children’s centre or ask your Health Visitor or Midwife to find out your local centre.
Often described as tinder for mums, Peanut provides access to a community to listen, share information, and offer valuable advice on a range of different topics and struggles that many new parents face. Creating a network of mums at different stages in their baby’s development, Peanut offers the opportunity to connect with other mums 1-2-1, in groups that share certain interests/topics and offer you the chance to get support by asking questions, plus they have podcasts on different parenting topics led by experts.
Many of us feel like we should just know what to do when it comes to our little ones and their needs, but if you need any help or breastfeeding support, then antenatal classes can be a huge source of support. Your Midwife or Health Visitor will be able to tell you about any antenatal classes that are running in your area. Plus, so many have moved online after the pandemic. For example, Blossom Antenatal runs a free 90-minute breastfeeding class and other antennal classes.
Speak to your Midwife
If you’re struggling from the early days of bringing your baby home, then speak to your Midwife. Whilst it varies from council to council, they should be able to refer you to a Breastfeeding Specialist who can visit you at home and provide you with breastfeeding support in the comfort of your own home.
Visit your baby clinic
You’re probably already regularly attending a baby clinic and talking about your little one, but if you’re concerned that they’re not getting enough milk or latching correctly, they can refer you on to specialist services or signpost you to breastfeeding support.
NHS Breastfeeding Support Groups
The NHS runs breastfeeding support groups where you can meet up with other mums, get breastfeeding support and reassurance for you and your baby. Find your local breastfeeding support group on the NHS website here.
Contact the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) offer a range of breastfeeding support, including a national helpline, email support, webchat, a library full of breastfeeding information as well as local breastfeeding support groups. Take a look at their support page for more information on how to contact them. They provide a wealth of knowledge and can provide you with a range of breastfeeding support. Find your local ABM support group online here.
Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding or have any questions, then call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212. Operated by the Breastfeeding Network, the Registered Breastfeeding Supporters are trained to give breastfeeding support and information by telephone.
In addition, they also offer a range of other services, like webchat, drop-in groups, and local peer support groups. Take a look at the Breastfeeding Network for more information on contacting them. As well as regular support, if you’re concerned about any medication that you need to take whilst breastfeeding, you can also contact their Drugs in Breastmilk team here.
The NCT has a lot of fantastic support for the first 1000 days of your little one’s journey. They offer access to breastfeeding counsellors who are here to support you and your family on your feeding journey. They’ve all had extensive training and will listen to you and your challenges without judgement or criticism. You can access their support in various ways and at the different stages of your journey. Take a look here for more information on how to access their support.
In addition, they have a library of videos available to provide you with a guide on the different elements of breastfeeding. Access their library of breastfeeding support videos here.
Contact La Leche League GB
Offering a wide range of resources, including information, free online breastfeeding classes and local support groups across the UK, La Leche League GB has a wealth of knowledge and is created by women who’ve been in your exact position. Take a look at their breastfeeding support page for more information on using their services.
We know that breastfeeding isn’t always straightforward. It can be tough, and really take a toll on you, both emotionally and physically. It can also take a little bit of time to feel confident about breastfeeding your baby. However, the great news is that there’s lots of support out there to help you on your breastfeeding journey. As you can see above, there are lots of ways to get support, including over the phone, online and in-person in your local community.
Remember, breastfeeding really is a beautiful way to feed your baby, BUT… all the benefits really can be outweighed if you are not enjoying the process. Whilst there’s a lot of emphasis on the breast is best, we all know that fed is best. So, if you are struggling, make sure you get the support you need, you’re not alone, and the help you need is out there.