Author: Andrea Laidler – Lactation Consultant
I have had the privilege of working with women and babies as a midwife for 33 years. There have been stressful times sure, and some profoundly sad times also, but fortunately most of the time it has been joyous and fulfilling work. From my earliest memories as a student midwife, I remember being fascinated by a baby's ability to breastfeed and at the same time intrigued that others found it more difficult.
As I became more knowledgeable and experienced as a midwife, I learnt that so many factors were at play that influenced breastfeeding outcomes. Being able to identify why a mother and baby are struggling to make it work is part of the challenge that a good Lactation Consultant will embrace. The rewards in return when a woman achieves their breastfeeding goal is priceless whatever form that takes.
How long have you been a lactation consultant?
I have been a qualified Lactation Consultant for 20 years this year. This is an international qualification governed by the International Board of Lactation Consultants. Original certification and ongoing professional development includes an education in evidence based learning at one end of the spectrum and developing skills as a councillor with empathy and respect at the other.
What are some of the common issues that come up when you’re helping women breastfeed?
The most common issues I help women navigate are initial latching difficulties. Some babies really struggle with their innate ability to latch to a breast. This mostly occurs due to several unavoidable factors related to the birth process experienced. Other factors can be attributed more to a woman's anatomy, her lifestyle and their birth and life experiences in general.
What are your top five tips you’d give to new mothers who are struggling with breastfeeding?
My top five tips would be:
- Stay as calm as possible during attempts to latch as babies can detect levels of anxiety from the mother.
- Allow the baby to do most of the work. Enable them to rest calmly on the breast and allow them to find their way there with some gentle upper body support only.
- Because we are taught from the earliest age to mind the baby’s head women will often place their hands on the back of a baby's head. This prevents them from being able to position themselves optimally to latch.
- I would also remind women that the skill of breastfeeding that both mother and baby must achieve takes time. Like many skills that we develop in our lives, including the more complicated of ones, become second nature such as driving a car. No one ever expects to just jump in a car and drive. Breastfeeding is the same. It takes time to learn the manoeuvres and to learn about babies in general and then things start to fall into place.
- Lastly, I would say listen and learn from your baby. You are in this together and you will learn together.
What do you wish every mother knew when they are starting their breastfeeding journey?
I wish women would realise that it is never their "fault" if they are struggling with breastfeeding. Every woman does the best she can when learning to breastfeed and if it's taking longer than expected or longer than would appear with other mothers this is only what they're seeing on the surface. Women should never blame themselves. This is a relationship between the mother and baby, and it takes the two of them to work it out. The other underlying factor is that women rarely talk about how challenging breastfeeding is in the beginning or how easy it is once it is mastered. Difficulties with breastfeeding are somehow tied to how good a woman is as a mother which is simply not true.
Do you think breastfeeding is still stigmatised in our society?
I think we have a long way to go before society does not view breasts as sexual objects which means there will always be people who believe breastfeeding is not a natural human behaviour. We still have distorted perceptions of where women should breastfeed in public spaces for example such as tucked away in areas where toilets are located and not out in social settings for fear this may offend. Until this mindset changes and breastfeeding becomes something they are proud to do in public it will remain only what women do like other stigmatised acts in the secret women’s business realm.
What would you say to someone who says ‘Breast is best?’
I would say that this phrase came from a good place, but it is no longer relevant in the same sense as it once was. Historically 50 years ago most babies were bottle-fed from birth and once the science of breastfeeding was revealed to the world we saw an about face in breastfeeding practices. We also realised that what we had been told about formula being a superior product was untrue. We had essentially been lied to. This created a backlash of sorts where suddenly 'breast is best' was born. If women choose not to breastfeed they should never be shamed. It is a profoundly personal choice.
How long do breasts take too refill after feeding?
Usually with a good milk supply breasts will take 1-2 hours to refill.
How long does feeding generally take?
Initially breastfeeding takes around 30-40 minutes on each occasion however babies become very efficient at breastfeeding as they grow and it takes much less time for a baby to complete a breastfeed. After the first 6-8 weeks a breastfeed can take as little time as 5-10 minutes. Breastfeeding never continues like it is in the beginning where sometimes most of a woman's day is consumed by breastfeeding. This phase does not last for long which would be a further important point women need to know about breastfeeding.
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