What do you think are the top 5 things you need to know about breastfeeding before the birth of your baby? Barbara Higham shares hers.
During pregnancy, focusing entirely on the birth can leave you somewhat unprepared for what comes next. What happens during birth may well have a big impact on whether breastfeeding is difficult to initiate, so it’s a good idea to be prepared and have thought about the options (that are yours) for how you want to give birth. You are less likely to encounter problems getting things off to a good start if you have a normal vaginal delivery without drugs or medical interventions.
Birth can, of course, be unpredictable and there is no guarantee of avoiding complications, regardless of how well prepared you might be, which makes it all the more important to think about every eventuality beforehand. These posts may help with your planning: Making Birth a Positive Experience, Giving Birth Without Drugs, Good Positions for Giving Birth, Birth Interventions and the Impact on Breastfeeding, What is Hypnobirthing?, Ten Tips for Your Birth Plan, Mindfulness and Childbirth, Labor and Birth in Water.
And these books.
You are more likely to have a positive birth experience if you give birth under the care of a known and trusted midwife. If this is not a possibility, and even if it is, you may want to consider employing a doula to support you before, during and after giving birth.
2. The Baby Moon
Time to recuperate. My midwife told me that even the gentlest of births can be compared to running a marathon in terms of the energy you have expended bringing your baby into the world, so resist the temptation to get up on your feet straightaway. This sage woman also advised me to stay away from the kitchen because it would be hard not to start cleaning up or preparing food.
During the ‘baby moon’ (which comes only once in a child’s lifetime), you should, if at all possible, relinquish household duties to someone else, be it your partner, mother, sister, friend or (if you are lucky) a combination of willing assistants who will rally round to take care of you and your family. These people will take responsibility and wash, cook, clean, take care of older children, and nurture you, so you can spend this precious time lying in bed with your baby, unworried whether it’s day or night, drifting in and out of sleep as you snuggle with your baby and help him gently wake to the new sensations of life outside the womb. This is the ideal nesting period in which to start to breastfeed.
If you stay in your PJs, this will help protect your need for privacy. If you receive any guests while propped up in bed, they will be more aware that anything but the briefest of visits is intrusive during this time. Chances are, you won’t want to get dressed because none of your pre-pregnancy regular clothes will fit you straightaway and you’ll be bleeding for a while and need to wear big sanitary pads too. The only time you’ll want to let your baby out of your arms will be to bathe or shower and perhaps if you want to sit down to a meal at the table. This is how it is.
3. Unrealistic expectations
One of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding is unrealistic expectations about what is normal new baby behavior. No matter how much people warn you, it comes as a shock that you can’t put your baby down. Sometimes, for your baby, even going to the bathroom is too long a separation from you. She wants to be in your arms pretty much continually. This requirement to be constantly available in a very physical way can be completely overwhelming.
Many of us enter motherhood directly from office jobs in which we felt in charge, organising how we ordered our busy schedules, accomplishing tasks according to a predictable timetable and feeling in control of how we managed the set number of hours we spent working. Then suddenly, we are catapulted into the chaos of home life, often alone with a baby who dictates when we can do anything and with no adult conversation for long stretches. Even the conversations you do get are mostly interrupted by having to respond to your baby.
This new boss-baby won’t let you sleep more than a few hours at a time, cries if you put him down and fusses often. You panic because it’s not obvious why he is unsettled and your health care providers might all say different things. You have no idea whether you are doing anything right! And, after a few days of trying, you may feel weepy and like a total failure.
Accept, in advance, that getting the hang of breastfeeding and caring for a new baby takes time (a lot of time—weeks and weeks, or months, of it) and a lot of patience. It’s not the vacation you hope it’s going to be. There aren’t necessarily quick fixes if breastfeeding proves to be an uphill struggle, but a tincture of time, good guidance, and trusting your baby as the leader will help you find your way. Seek help from mothers who have breastfed and understand how to lift you up. Lactation consultants can help by checking your baby is gaining weight well and suggesting strategies if she isn’t.
4. What’s normal
The old life you had before your baby was born is gone forever and things will never be the same again. The new normal is one in which your baby comes first. That’s really hard to imagine until it happens but when it does—and it’s absolutely inevitable—mostly, you will feel it is right. Nevertheless, you may continue to wonder, for some time, when normal life is going to resume but, rest assured, it’s not going to. In the long run, breastfeeding makes life easier but in the short term, it may appear considerably more restrictive. Stick with it because the dividends it pays are huge.
5. Forget perfection
Breastfeeding and taking care of your baby around the clock will take precedence over housework (and everything else!). This is one of the only times you will have a valid excuse to let everything get covered in dust. If other people in your family want a clean and tidy house, show them where you keep the vacuum cleaner and tell them how to work the washing machine.
There are often no quick fixes to the challenges we face as new mothers (3 Ways for a New Mother to Mother Herself). We often lack the confidence or the support we need to make the transition smoothly into motherhood. As with all new skills, how quickly and easily we master them varies considerably and depends on many things, some of which may lie outside of our control.
Surround yourself with others who have breastfed their babies and keep in mind that for more than 99% of our existence as a species, all human infants have obtained their main nutrition by breastfeeding.
You can do this!