This post is all about breastfeeding. I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed my babies. But when I had my daughter Rosalie in May 2015, I certainly struggled with it quite a bit. Now I have had my second baby Gabriel, there were some things I wish I knew about breastfeeding the first time around.
I was so desperate to have skin to skin with Rosalie as soon as she was born and to feed her within the ‘golden hour’ after birth to establish our bond and encourage the flow of oxytocin to promote my colostrum and breast milk to come in.
Sadly, because Rosalie was born with a broken collarbone, pneumonia on one lung, a pneumothorax on the other lung and with the Group B Strep infection, she was whisked away from me within seconds and taken straight to neonatal special care.
Obviously it was the best thing to happen because Rosalie was treated with antibiotics and luckily recovered fully.
However, I still remember with clarity the heartbreaking moment when I was in the recovery room and another mother and her baby arrived and I heard the baby cue to feed and then soon after, gentle suckling sounds. I broke into tears feeling absolutely lost without my baby.
Rosalie struggled to feed during the first few days because her body was so weak and she spent so much time sleeping. But as we were in hospital for a week whilst Rosalie recovered, I had a lot of support from the midwives to get breastfeeding established and she managed fine.
It was a few months down the line however when my health visitor at the time – who was particularly unhelpful and unsupportive – was not happy with the pace that Rosalie was gaining weight.
I struggled to yield much milk from a pump and Rosalie wanted to feed constantly. We were essentially forced to supplement with formula and then the health visitor left me alone as Rosalie began to gain weight according to the graph.
At the time I was told that I wasn’t making enough milk and I was resigned to that fact.
With Gabriel, his labour was much smoother and he fed straightaway. He was born at 8lb 2oz and went down to 7lb 5oz and took a few weeks to get back to his birth weight. But unfortunately before we got there, his weight plateaued for a few days and a well-meaning community midwife instructed us to top him up with formula and any breast milk that I could pump.
I was reluctant to give Gabe formula but as I understood it, I hadn’t been able to make enough milk for Rosalie and so I believed that the same must be true for Gabe and therefore I was failing my son. I didn’t want him to go hungry but I found it very hard to yield any milk when I pumped after a feed. So my husband and I decided to follow the instructions.
Happily, Gabriel has been gaining weight really well since and after speaking to my own community midwife and my new – very supportive and friendly – health visitor I was able to significantly reduce the top ups that Gabriel was having.
However, I still really wanted to be able exclusively breastfeed Gabriel so I visited a breastfeeding peer support group – a room of experienced, confident and supportive women – who were all really helpful.
I am still in the process of reducing the last of the formula top ups that Gabriel is having, but even if we’re not able to do so, I am still determined to breastfeed Gabe as much as I can.
Here are some of the most important techniques, ideas and hacks that I have learnt so far during my journey. I have also detailed some of my favourite breastfeeding essentials and aids, which I find really helpful.
Techniques and ideas for breastfeeding
Aside from the usual tips from the midwives and health visitors, such as ensuring the latch is spot on, offering both breasts at every feed, ensuring the baby feeds for long enough each time to access both the fore milk and hind milk, checking for tongue ties and gently stroking the breasts to encourage the flow of breastmilk, I find that the following techniques and tips were really helpful for me to promote breastfeeding.
Skin to skin
Not only is this a lovely way to bond with your baby but it’s also one of the best ways I’ve found to encourage breast milk production. It’s also incredibly soothing for babies and mums, especially for those who’ve experienced a traumatic delivery.
I felt that skin to skin helped to keep me calm when I was feeling really stressed and anxious after having Gabriel.
I also loved to position him on my chest so that I could smell his head; I could feel myself start to unwind and I knew that it would help to promote oxytocin levels and get my breastmilk established, which happily it did. I still like to have skin to skin as much as I can with Gabriel.
Pumping after a feed
Although I often found that I struggled to yield much when I pumped, I still liked to do so as much as I could after feeds to stimulate my breasts as much as possible. Anything I did get, I would give to Gabe as part of his top up.
Feeding as much as possible through the night
As painful as it might sound, I wanted to be sure that I could continue to feed Gabe throughout the night as much as possible. The early hours of the morning are said to be the peak time for making breastmilk so stimulating the breasts at this time is really important for breastfeeding mums.
If we give Gabe a top up in the evening, it would be a small amount a little in advance of bedtime to be sure that he would still wake a few hours later to feed from me.
It is certainly tiring but I found that I can still rest if I feed Gabe lying down. Though I’m always cautious to follow the guidelines for safe sleeping to prevent sudden infant cot death.
I would also say that self-care is extremely important and prioritising your own mental and physical health is vital. My baby needs a healthy, happy mum, and I, like every mum know where my limit is.
If I find myself struggling with feeding this frequently through the night, at any point, I am prepared to supplement the feeds with some formula for the good of my baby, the whole family and myself.
Paced bottle feeding for breastfeeding mums
I learnt about this clever technique at the breastfeeding peer support group that I attended. Paced bottle feeding is a method of bottle feeding a baby in a way which mimics breastfeeding and is therefore more protective of breastfeeding and less likely to result in a baby getting too comfortable with the fast flow of milk from a bottle and as then later reject the breast.
It’s a popular method in the USA where mothers often have to return to work a lot earlier than we do in the UK. It enables mothers who take their babies to day care to breastfeed at home and either pump breast milk or provide formula for their babies to have during the day whilst they are at work. You can read more about how to use this method at kellymom.com.
Having confidence and faith in your body
I also learnt to have confidence in my own body’s ability to provide breast milk for my baby from the women at the breastfeeding peer support group. Without them I wouldn’t have had the confidence to try to reduce the formula top ups. If you are struggling with any aspect of breastfeeding, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to seek out a breastfeeding support group at a Children’s Centre or even a local independent group, as mine was.
It’s not all or nothing
The breastfeeding mums at the support group also encouraged and supported me by letting me know and reassuring me that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There is no shame in needing – or for that matter, wanting – to top up a baby with formula because feeding a hungry baby formula is not failing. It isn’t possible to fail when you’re providing your baby with the sustenance and nutrition that it requires, however you are able to provide that, be it breastmilk or formula or a mixture of the two.
Must-haves for breastfeeding
This one by Mamas and Papas is really neutral and cute.
Midwives swear by the Medela breast pumps.
My favourites are these by Aden and Anais.
Diet and supplements for breastfeeding
Aside from drinking plenty of water it’s important to ensure that your diet is healthy and balanced; that is really essential for breastfeeding.
A typical breastfeeding day for me consists of a bowl of porridge or sugar-free muesli for breakfast, topped with ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds, acai berry powder and a few sliced strawberries, blueberries or grapes with oat milk; for lunch, I usually opt for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and avocado on whole-wheat toast, plus mixed salad leaves; as an afternoon snack, I might have a lactation cookie or a lactation smoothie and for dinner it’s pasta with pesto and veggies, perhaps a roasted free range chicken with roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and kale or roasted wild salmon with sweet potatoes and kale or Swiss chard. After dinner, I like to have a piece of fruit and a few squares of organic dark chocolate with a cup of tea or hot chocolate. I also always have a large glass of water with me throughout the day and I drink at least a glass after every feed.
Aside from eating a balanced diet with plenty of healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates for optimum nutrition, I also find that incorporating the following elements really helps with breast milk production.
I use these ones from Holland and Barratt.
As well as fennel tea I also like to add fennel seeds to my meals; I use it with meat and fish and in sauces.
Made with oats, brewers yeast and flaxseeds, these can include your favourite flavours; I love dark chocolate chunks but you could choose milk chocolate and hazelnuts, white chocolate and cranberries, raisins and almonds or any combination you like. Here is my sugar-free and dairy-free recipe for lactation cookies with dark chocolate chunks
I used these delicious vegan smoothie mixes by Boo.b Smoothies, which contain brewers yeast and flaxseeds.
Oats are known for encouraging breast milk production. Try a bowl of porridge with fruit or cinnamon or put together your own muesli mix with a combination of oats and your favourite nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Or if you don’t have any brewers yeast and flaxseeds, why not try these Chocolate and Almond Oat Cookies.
My hypnobirthing teacher Siobhan Miller also provides a placenta encapsulation service. I found that these helped me very much in the early days with lifting my mood as well as improving my milk supply.