National Breastfeeding Week (01 to 07 October) is an opportunity to discuss the importance of breastfeeding as the normal and healthy way to feed babies and young children.
Breastfeeding gives babies the best start for a healthy life and it protects both mother and baby, the health benefits are undisputed. It is crucial that women are empowered, enabled and supported on their breastfeeding journey.
Trina Dinan, Lactation Clinical Nurse Specialist at Letterkenny University Hospital has the following advice for women who are thinking about breastfeeding, preparing to breastfeed or who need support to continue breastfeeding:
Prepare for breastfeeding when you’re pregnant
While breastfeeding is a very natural process, it is important to remember that it is a new skill for both mother and baby and support is key. However, knowing what to expect in advance can be really helpful. Understanding what is normal is a great start therefore attending a breastfeeding preparation class can give you some valuable insights into what to expect in the early days and weeks after birth.
Breastfeeding preparation classes are incorporated into all antenatal preparation classes offered in Letterkenny University Hospital. Classes are available via zoom and more recently in small groups. These are facilitated by Antenatal Education Coordinator Danielle Begley, who is also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Mothers are referred via the Antenatal Clinic but can also self-refer if needed. There are also online videos available and other advice on preparing to breastfeed at mychild.ie.
Antenatal staff also provide information and support on an ongoing basis and if needed, additional antenatal support can be accessed by referral from the clinic to lactation support services within the hospital. Mothers can also contact the service directly on 074 9123673 if they have any queries or concerns they wish to discuss.
Build your confidence
Confidence in your body’s ability is also key. During pregnancy your body has already started to prepare to feed your baby by producing colostrum which is rich in nutrients, antibodies and stem cells. Once your baby arrives, it is vital to have the appropriate information, guidance and support to succeed, so do ask for as much support as needed to start you on your journey and build your confidence.
Keeping your baby close and holding skin to skin are hugely beneficial and you will quickly become confident at recognising your baby’s feeding cues. In the very early stages babies will initially feed very frequently getting smaller volumes of colostrum. This is referred to as ‘cluster feeding’ which stimulates your milk supply and often leads to an abundant milk supply and a very content baby who will gradually stretch out their feed times. However, a lack of information often leads to self-doubt where mothers question if their baby is getting enough. Not being able to see a specific volume often leads to mothers wondering how much their baby is getting but it’s important to know that a well, term baby will self-regulate and tell you exactly what they need so following their cues and feeding responsively is important. While we can’t see exactly how much a baby is drinking there are a number of ways which we can ensure all is going well. Ensuring your baby has a deep and comfortable latch during the feed is a good indicator that your baby will be able to drink well at the breast – some mothers do experience some discomfort on latching but that should ease very quickly and discomfort or pain should not persist. Observing your baby’s behaviour while feeding and recognising little gentle swallowing sounds can also be useful indicators but certainly monitoring their nappy output will offer reassurance that your baby is drinking plenty. A guide of what to expect in terms of nappy output is often discussed before your leave hospital and written information on same is given both antenatally and postnatally.
There will be times when your baby will want to feed a little more because they are having a growth spurt or a developmental leap but breastfeeding is more than feeding, it offers closeness and security too. It can be a really helpful parenting tool to sooth your baby. It can be really useful to connect with other mothers who often happily share their experiences. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months breastfeeding support groups will be able to resume and there will be the opportunity to meet other mothers. However, in the meantime there are a number of local and national groups which offer online support and virtual meet-ups, such as La Leche League, Cuidiú and Friends of Breastfeeding.
As your confidence grows you will find that breastfeeding can be so convenient when your ‘out and about’ or travelling. Many people don’t realise that your baby is feeding, as it looks like you are cuddling your baby. It’s the perfect food source, available at the right temperature and tailor-made by you to meet your baby’s individual needs. There is flexibility also and having a supportive network can be really helpful. Partners, family members and friends can provide immense support.
Breastfeeding when you have COVID-19
Breastfeeding is highly encouraged, even if you have COVID-19. Breastfeed at this time will help boost your baby’s immune system. The benefits of breastfeeding strongly outweigh the possible risk of transmission.
If you’re feeling unwell and think you might have COVID-19, practice good hygiene during feeding.
The advice is to:
• Wear a face covering during feeding
• Wash hands with soap before and after touching your baby
• Wipe and disinfect surfaces regularly.
The HSE encourages all pregnant and breastfeeding women to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your midwife or GP if you have any questions.
Seek out support to help continue breastfeeding
Partners, close family members and friends can provide amazing support. After you leave hospital, your Public Health Nurse will be available and will continue to monitor and support you and your baby.
If you encounter challenges after you leave hospital, Letterkenny University Hospital also offers lactation support if needed. Advice is available over the phone or you can arrange a ‘one to one’ appointment by contacting 0749123673 directly.