So you’ve conceived, gone through pregnancy and then had your baby (and let’s not overlook what an important and transformative process it is to birth a small human). Now comes the next big thing on the to-do list: you need to learn how to feed them.
One must acknowledge that you are also at this same time recovering from pregnancy and birth as well as learning to take care of yourself in a very new way – with a baby. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of change happening consciously and subconsciously at this time.
Now back to breastfeeding: so many of us enter motherhood without knowing that breastfeeding might even be a challenge. We are told it’s free (though that’s only if you don’t place a value on a woman’s time and care) and we often think, ‘it’s so natural’… translation: we assume it just happens without any effort.
Many mums are blissfully unaware that breastfeeding is a highly nuanced and bespoke skill requiring women and their babies to pay close attention to each other and learn an entire skill set in the early days and weeks after birth.
The best way it was ever described to me (by a beautiful La Leche League volunteer – more about them later) is that it is, “…a dance between mother and child”. This has really been true to my experience and as I write this I’m still ‘dancing the dance’ with my third babe who is, at the time of writing, just over two years old.
First, the basics. If you are unable or unwilling to feed your baby via breast, no worries. If you live in the first world you likely have access to clean drinking water and can adapt your habits accordingly if formula feeding. Do be mindful though of lead levels in tap water if you’re in Sydney, or anywhere with brass fixtures used in the plumbing system.
It is worth noting that breastmilk is a magical substance that adapts to baby’s needs and aids in the development of immunity so if you cannot breastfeed and you are in a position to consider expressing then that is highly recommended and worth the effort. The World Health Organization at the time of writing this article recommends breastfeeding up to at least two years of age for optimal health, however, this is not currently the average anywhere in the world. Exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months is highly recommended.
To that end, here are my top resources for a mother breastfeeding their baby and looking for some backup – support is key so do not be shy and always seek it out relentlessly if you need it. Accepting help is so important in the first days and weeks of motherhood.
When baby was born, you will likely have come into contact with a midwife or three. These men and women bear a wealth of information and are there to help you at this time.
Breastfeeding is a highly personal experience and differs greatly from person to person, emotionally, physically and physiologically. There may be several answers to each scenario so just keep trawling for answers and seeking information and support till you find what works for you. Some women might want a midwife to just grab you by the boob and shove that baby on there to get it all working, whilst others might need to gently work it out themselves. Neither approach is wrong or right per sé, but either one may be wrong or right for you. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable and let your support people know what you need – it’s all part of becoming a mum and being an advocate for your new family.
You will also usually find some help from breastfeeding counsellors through your public health networks or the hospital or midwife that you birthed with. This is a great place to start but rest assured if you need help sooner than you can get an appointment there are other options.
Hands down the best and most comprehensive site for breastfeeding mothers on the internet is KellyMom.com. If you have any questions at all – start here. Being a website it’s also perfect for those middle-of-the-night solo moments when you just get stuck and need some information when the rest of the world is asleep.
La Leche League
The La Leche League is an international group of volunteer breastfeeding consultants. They are incredibly dedicated and even mandated by the United Nations. I wish I’d known about these wonderful people when I had number one and two, but I didn’t come across them till I had number three in Bath, England where they have a small but active group. Their website is a wonderful repository of information and well worth a look, they also have volunteer groups and meetups all over the world which you can find by carrying out a quick search on this page. I cannot speak more highly of this organisation and its wonderful work.
Women for the most part, especially mums, love to help other women. Ask another mother who has breastfed to answer your questions and more than likely they will be happy to share their story. There are often local mums groups on Facebook these days (or even less geographically based ones like this one that I started) so it’s good to get involved with those when you’re ready. Find one that fits your values and connect with your community.
Women for the most part, especially mums, love to help other women. Ask another mother who has breastfed to answer your questions and more than likely they will be happy to share their story.
What you can do
There are a few things you can do to help yourself and baby bond and also to help your milk supply adapt to baby’s needs in these early stages. You can contact nap – all other things being equal (that means, as long as you are not under the influence of any substances and you keep far away from pillows, duvets, blankets and soft or cushioned surfaces). To find out more about that, go to the Beyond Sleep Training page on Facebook, they have some amazing evidence-based resources on this. Essentially, the more skin to skin and body contact you have with baby, the more your milk and your sleep can adapt to meet the needs of the babe. It’s honestly miraculous what these bodies of ours are capable of.
It’s also great to spend the first at least four weeks at home (as is customary in many cultures around the world – except ours anymore). Let the world go by and just rest and recover as much as your life allows you to. Avoiding stress, good nutrition and rest are the best things for you and your baby.
Alena // Soul Mamma is a writer, educator, ethical digital creator and mum of three little darlings based in Freshwater Beach, in Sydney. You can join her and bumble through this parenting malarkey together with other lovely souls in the Soul Mamma Crew.
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