Answer by Sharon George – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (ICBLC).
It’s a great idea to start thinking ahead about breastfeeding before your baby arrives. Some top tips I’d encourage all prospective mothers to consider:
Planning where you’ll get help from when your baby arrives:
Think about who & where you’ll be able to turn to for feeding support when your baby arrives. Ask family and friends about their feeding experience now so that you can take this into account when you’d like help postnatally. Grandparents, birth partners and friends are hugely influential on a new mother’s breastfeeding or bottle feeding experience.
Research evidence shows that our partners are our number 1 support so take time together before your baby arrives to discuss honestly how you feel about feeding. Does one of you feel very strongly about breastfeeding / formula feeding and the other doesn’t? How will you work together with these different views? I encourage parents to think about their ‘feeding wishes’ in the same way that you might have thought about a ‘birth plan’.
Ask your midwife team about what support they’ll be offering in hospital and at home after your baby arrives. Are they offering home visits still? Will they be able to stay longer if you’re experiencing feeding issues? If they’re not visiting or cannot stay longer who can you call then? Knowing what’s available to you in advance can really help to boost your confidence.
If you’re attending an antenatal course find out what information they can provide about feeding support. Local NCT groups in Clapham and Wimbledon, for example, are currently offering virtual support with breastfeeding drop-in groups on Zoom on Mondays and Thursdays alongside Whatsapp discussion groups facilitated by trained NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors. As an IBCLC Lactation Consultant I’m offering private one-to-one videocall consults to support new parents too. I helped my first set of twins virtually this week!
Gaining body confidence in breastfeeding:
I really encourage all mothers antenatally to have a go at some hand-expressing in the weeks before their baby arrives. This is less about storage of early breast milk (called colostrum) – our breasts start to produce this from around 20 weeks into our pregnancy – and more about getting familiar with our bodies. Here’s a good link to a hand-expressing video from Unicef that would be helpful to follow: https://vimeo.com/255757128
Antenatally you won’t see the milk flow or volume shown in the video but smaller golden droplets of precious colostrum. At this point, the idea of practising is:
To get familiar with how your breasts feel now so you’ll be able to observe how they change as your mature milk transitions during the first week;
To prove to yourself that you do have milk! It’s there, ready and waiting for your baby. This can really help to boost a mother’s confidence to know that she’s going into hospital with her own milk ready for her baby;
To reassure yourself that if your baby isn’t interested in breastfeeding / is too sleepy / in Special Care etc then you have a back-up plan ready as you know how to express your own milk ready for your baby;
Planning ahead so that if your breasts become uncomfortable / engorged at some point then you know how to soften them with hand-expressing techniques.
If you have a medical condition such as gestational diabetes then antenatal colostrum expressing (or harvesting) and storage is advised. Some mothers like to store their colostrum as an additional resource too. If you’d like to do this then do speak to your midwife or IBCLC about the best ways to do this.
As an IBCLC Lactation Consultant I offer antenatal consults to parents-to-be to plan areas like the above alongside discussing other confidence boosting strategies such as signs of knowing that your baby is feeding enough and the role of partners with feeding.