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Thoughts from a breastfeeding dietitian

Posted by Emily on 7th August 2020 at 08:49pm

1-7 August is World breastfeeding week! 

Yes, I know, I’m late to the party, with me only finally doing a post on the very last day of world breastfeeding week. 

But, quite appropriately for this week...I’ve been otherwise occupied with breastfeeding my 4 week old baby around the clock.  

In my university training as a dietitian, we received plenty of education about breastfeeding. I graduated from varsity as a very eager dietitian who was passionate about the topic of breastfeeding and about helping and supporting moms to breastfeed their babies. I had fantastic ‘head knowledge’ about all the benefits of breastfeeding for moms, babies, our planet, and society as a whole. 

But, I also knew that I would only really and truly ‘get’ what it meant to breastfeed a baby once I had done so myself. 

And now, I can say that I have most definitely breastfed a child myself, and I’m ‘in process’ of breastfeeding the next little one. I breastfed my son until he was 3 years and 3 months old, at which point I was 2 months pregnant with my daughter Zara, who I am now currently breastfeeding. That means that I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding since January 2016! 

With that combined ‘head knowledge’ (from varsity and further reading and studying about breastfeeding), as well as the ‘heart knowledge’ (my personal experience with breastfeeding), I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about what has helped me to successfully breastfeed my babies..

1. Be quick to call in a lactation consultant to help you to establish breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding is a natural process, it does not come naturally to everyone. My son Noah was born premature, at 34 weeks. I managed to exclusively breastfeed him until he was 3 years and 3 months old. But, that was only because I called in the help when I needed it. In fact, I was so determined to breastfeed him that I met with my lactation consultant, Emma, BEFORE he was born (we knew he was going to need to be delivered early) so that I could get advice in advance and have a support team in place to help me breastfeed him. 

Towards the end of my pregnancy with my daughter, last month, I got in touch with Emma again. I let her know my due date and we even provisionally made plans for which day she would come to see me to help me after the birth of my daughter. You may wonder why I felt I needed to consult with a lactation consultant second time around, after I had successfully breastfed my son for 3 years. Well, experience had taught me how valuable it was to get breastfeeding support early on in the process. I didn’t want to assume that all would ‘go smoothly’ with feeding my daughter. I wanted to have help available. By the time I was discharged from hospital, 3 days after she was born, my nipples were bleeding and feeding her was excruciating. So, boy oh boy was I glad that I had booked for Emma to come and see me to help me the day after I arrived home from hospital. Her advice was invaluable. Feeding was still sore for a while after that while my nipples healed. But, now we are four weeks in and feeding is going so, so well. Only because I got the help and support that I needed, when I needed it.  

2. Feed on demand- ditch the clock

 Do not stress yourself out about making sure that your breastfed baby follows some ‘routine’ that you read about in a baby book. Yes, in the early days they do need to feed at least every 3 hours, so it is important that you take note of the time of feeds and offer them the breast if it’s been longer than 3 hours since the last feed. But, please don’t be obsessed with the will just stress you out. Feed your baby on demand, when they want to feed. Frequent feeding is great for building your milk supply. 

3. Baby wearing and co-sleeping to the rescue! 

Babies like to be close to you. They feel safe when they are close to you. And, keeping them close to you can also help you to be in tune with your baby’s needs and build your milk supply. Get a good baby carrier. (I love my ubuntu baby carrier.) If your baby doesn’t want to ‘settle’ in their cot, pop them in the carrier (otherwise known as ‘baby wearing’)  and continue with what you need to do. You are not spoiling your baby by keeping them close to you, you are helping them to grow a secure attachment with you. And the close skin to skin contact with you is great for building your milk supply. Also, keep your baby in the same room as you at night for the first few months. It can be useful to have a co-sleeper cot next to your bed so that you can feed them on demand throughout the night, without having to get out of your bed. 

4. Care for and nourish yourself 

Breastfeeding is beautiful and amazing. It is a massive privilege to be able to nourish a child from your own body. But it is also massively demanding on you as a mom. It requires a huge amount from you physically and emotionally. So, while you are literally ‘pouring yourself out’ for another little human being, make sure that you are ‘re-filling your tank’ too. Some things that I did to re-fill my tank were to hand my baby over to my husband early morning so that I could sleep in for a bit, after breastfeeding what often felt like ‘all night long’. I also went for a run alone a few times a week as soon as my husband got home from work. Those runs were essential for my mental health. 

Breastfeeding is also hugely demanding on you from a nutritional point of view. Your nutritional needs are very high while you are breastfeeding.  This means that you have to make sure that you are eating plenty of nutritious food throughout the day to fuel your body for the task of producing milk and breastfeeding and caring for your baby. I love working with breastfeeding moms in my practice, to give them advice on how to eat a nutritious diet while breastfeeding. It’s not about restriction, it’s about learning to nourish your body well. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too so that you stay well hydrated.

So, there you are…some tips from this breastfeeding dietitian. I hope that you find them helpful. And remember mamas…you are all total super heroes, and you’ve got this!