Plan ahead for a positive breastfeeding journey, says lactation expert Vanessa Christie.
The Breastfeeding Mindset
For most parents, the furthest they will get in terms of ‘preparing’ for breastfeeding during pregnancy is attending an antenatal breastfeeding class and buying a bra or two! This is a great start, but if you want to dig a little deeper, there are some simple ways to build up the breastfeeding scaffolding, so that if the building (i.e. you!) starts to wobble, you have a pre-built frame of strength around you. I have often seen this approach help mums and babies have an easier time feeding, and it’ll help you feel more calm and confident in times of need. Try these simple strategies…
Thoughts during pregnancy tend to centre around how your baby is growing, trying to keep as healthy as possible, and making plans for the birth. Yet if I had a pound for every time a parent has retrospectively looked back and said to me that they wished they’d also delved a little deeper into what feeding was all about, with a view to feeling more mentally and practically prepared, I’d be stinking rich!
Being open and honest about breastfeeding and formula-feeding and the fact that, yes, they are indeed different understandably opens the floodgates of emotion and opinion. But, without question you are in control and absolutely have the right to say no to anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Decisions on how you feed your own baby are for you and only you to make. No one should ever feel ‘guilt-shamed’ into making decisions they may or may not have any control over.
If you’re not sure how you feel or what you want to do, always know that no plans or decisions must ever be fixed in advance. You could simply start with some skin-to-skin cuddles after birth and see what may or may not lead on from there… Some mothers and babies take to breastfeeding like ducks to water, however, you’ll also be in good company if it doesn’t seem all that straightforward, especially to begin with. But if you do decide you’d like to give breastfeeding a go, it’s perfectly possible to prepare ahead now, and give yourself the best chance of a happy breastfeeding journey.
Build a breastfeeding village
While it’s often said that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, I ama strong believerthatit also takes a village to raise a parent. We were never set up to do this alone, and the evidence is indisputable that women breastfeed more happily, and for longer, when they feel they have a solid, supportive network that has their back.
Depending on your situation, this ‘village’ may be ready and waiting for you, or it may take a little work to start to build the foundations.
Sowhere to start? Your own family and existing friends. In an ideal world they live close by, are rooting for you, will listen closely to what is important to you, and want to help in any way they can. But we all know that life isn’t always this straightforward. You could also try making new friends. Whether it’s through a ‘dating’ app for new parents or simply diving in and starting up a conversation on the street, connectingwith like-minded new parents can lead to all sorts of awesomeness. And seek out local feeding support, too.
Write down and keep somewhere close to hand the contact details of your local support groups, breastfeeding professionals, helplines, and online closed support groups.
One of our major barriers to feeling confident in our own ability to breastfeed comes down to the fact that it’s not necessarily something that we see every day in the UK, so it can naturally seem a little alien and daunting. But there are easy ways to counter this…
Watch breastfeeding videos on YouTube (just ignore the weirdo comedy ones!).
Follow breastfeeding influencers and hashtags on Instagram, such as #normalise breastfeeding, #breastfeedingsupport, #breastfeedingmama and #breastfeedingbaby for tons of inspiring pictures and stories.
Visit a local breastfeeding drop-in group. These may be run by midwifery or healthvisiting teams in a children’s centre, or by a charity or local voluntary-run group, and staged in cafés or churches. Most people there will have already had their baby, but you will always be welcome to attend antenatally.
Create a breastfeeding vision board. It sounds kooky, but trust me, they help! Having a Pinterest board is one thing but it’s even better to have a hardcopy vision board that you can put up somewhere on the wall at home, where you will see it at least a few times a day. Cut out positive and inspiring words and pictures you find in magazines, and add your own creative sparkle, too.
Feeding is not a cloneable one-way street. It is a distinctive, physical and emotional dance between you and your baby that cantwist and turn, and never be entirely predictable.It’s knowingthat if plans shift about,there’s never anyblameor shame tolay at your feet.It’s knowing that millions of parents and professionals all around the world get it and have your back.It’s knowing that being informed and believing in yourself can influence the course of your feeding goals and help you ride the waves that can wash in with the tide.We all have our own feeding stories;each one filled with a different beginning, middle and end.Reach out for help if you need it, listen to your heart, and you will be dancing this ‘feeding tango’ like you never knew you could bust moves before!