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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).