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Early years

03rd Aug 2021

A midwife and breastfeeding expert on how to prepare yourself and your family for breastfeeding

Trine Jensen-Burke

How to prepare yourself and family for your breastfeeding journey

Aoife Kenny is an Irish midwife, clinical midwifery specialist and childbirth educator living in Melbourne, Australia.

Having worked as a midwife in public hospitals both in Ireland and Australia for more than a decade, Kenny now runs Back to Birth – an online antenatal educational platform designed to educate, empower and inspire you and your supportive partner surrounding all things pregnancy, birth and beyond the big day ahead.

Through Back to Birth, Aoife offers a range of private, virtual educational classes via zoom, which covers all relevant need to know topics such as pregnancy expectations, labour, childbirth, the postpartum period, newborns and feeding methods.

As so this World Breastfeeding Week, we reached out to Aoife to get her advice on how to best prepare yourself and your family for breastfeeding – and just why breastfeeding is a shared responsibility.

“Just to start off – I am really passionate about holding space for mums who don’t breastfeed or have decided to end their breastfeeding journey due to challenges and lack of support,” Aoife points out.

“I would never want anyone to feel less of a mom or triggered by my words.

Protecting breastfeeding should be a shared responsibility

This World Breastfeeding Week’s theme is protect breastfeeding: a shared responsibility.

“Firstly, no matter the chosen method of feeding, nourishing your baby and ensuring that they’re well-fed is a true labour of love and a significant role in motherhood that should be praised,” Aoife is keen to stress.

“And as much as I adore and welcome this year’s theme, I am quite aware that this week can be triggering and or upsetting for some. Breastfeeding is a very personal and often fraught choice for many new parents. Ensuring your baby is healthy and well-fed is honestly a full-time job, on top of the full-time job that is motherhood. Regardless of how you nourish your baby, you are doing an incredible, lifesaving job.”

“However, in keeping with this year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme, I completely agree that breastfeeding is indeed a shared responsibility,” says Aoife.

“Although belief and support at an individual level is very important, breastfeeding mothers should not be solely responsible for the massive job of upholding exclusive breastfeeding rates. Protecting breastfeeding should be a shared responsibility among partners, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, extended family, healthcare professionals in hospital and in the community.”

Why, you may ask. What has the wider community to do with how we are feeding our babies?

“Because breastfeeding is a public health issue and therefore requires further investment at all levels.”

And with that in mind, we asked Aoife for her best tips on how to prepare yourself and your family for your breastfeeding journey.

What to do before your baby arrived

  • Link in with a lactation consultant antenatally either through your care provider or privately if you have had breast surgery before, concerns re your breast anatomy or previous breastfeeding challenges.
  • Have a local lactation consultants’ number on the fridge before baby is born, in order to save you tackling this hurdle postnatally in case you, your partner and or baby are in tears at all hours.
  • I like to think if you are planning to breastfeed, plan to succeed.
  • Follow breastfeeding Instagram pages run by healthcare professionals and certified lactation consultants for evidence-based tips, videos, podcast recommendations and more.
  • Strong evidence suggests that breastfeeding education is effective in increasing both the rate of breastfeeding initiation and breastfeeding duration. For this reason, signing up to a breastfeeding class with a midwife/childbirth educator antenatally is invaluable as it can be quite overwhelming to start learning the basics of breastfeeding when you and baby are recovering from birth.
  • Back to Birth’s breastfeeding bundle is called The Golden Hour. The Golden Hour is a one to one, comprehensive hour-long interactive class purposefully designed for expectant parents to prepare for breastfeeding in the vital days, weeks and months after baby’s birth.
  • Spend time with a friend or family member who is having a positive experience of breastfeeding. In the case of breastfeeding, seeing really is believing. Watch your friends/family members feeding, listen to their valuable tips and familiarise yourself with their common challenges as you likely may encounter one. When new mothers spend time with other breastfeeding mothers, they’re more likely to persevere if they encounter any initial challenges.
  • Join an online breastfeeding mothers support group. Cuidiu/le leche league are two wonderful Irish organisations.

Steps to maximise your chances of successful breastfeeding once baby arrives

  • Aim for one hour (or more if possible) of uninterrupted skin to skin with your baby immediately following birth. This magical experience will stimulate your milk-making hormones, support baby’s transition from womb to world and will help enormously with your bonding. Once your baby is placed skin to skin and offered either breast, they are programming each new experience. The more skin to skin and breastfeeds, the more likely they will ‘remember’ how to breastfeed. The earlier the breast is offered, the less problems there may be. Research states newborn’s that are placed skin to skin immediately with their mother appears to interact more with their mothers, maintain their temperatures and cry less.
  • Breastfeed within the first hour of baby’s life so baby is able to enjoy the immunological benefits of colostrum, your first milk. It is important that health professionals protect the first hour after birth and help mom and baby bond in a natural, uninterrupted way to maximise the chance of baby latching onto the breast, i.e. delay weighing baby and performing newborn injections with consent while baby is skin to skin.
  • Keep baby close and in your room at all times, so that you can hear, read and recognise your baby’s feeding cues.
  • Always offer both breasts at each feed. Only offering one breast per feed can lead to slow weight gain for the baby and lower milk supply for you. If your baby is milk drunk and or is too sleepy to feed from both breasts, hand express or pump for 10 minutes on the breast they haven’t fed on so that you continue to stimulate your powerful milk-making hormones and therefore continue milk production.
  • Be prepared for the fact that it’s normal for your baby to want to spend the majority of their time in your or your partner’s arms. This contact is deeply reassuring, comforting, natural and physiologically regulating for them. The womb is all they know and skin to skin, your smell, your heartbeat is the closest thing they have to their first digs. Enjoy the cuddles. You are not spoiling your baby. I promise.
  • Know the signs that your baby is getting enough milk. In the early weeks, your baby’s nappy output and weight gain will give you all the information you need. Day1- 1 wet nappy, day 2- 2 wet nappies.
  • Understand the key elements of attachment and positioning. As breastfeeding is a new skill for you and your baby, try and use the first few days to get your position and attachment correct. If you experience continued severe pain or damaged nipples during a feed, this is likely down to your baby not attached correctly.
  • Ring your bell and ask for help. Get your partner to help position your baby if needs be.

Be honest with those around you about your experience

Aoife is keen to point out that every mother deserves to have the opportunity to share their own breastfeeding experience – whether they breastfed for one day or two years.

“I feel so many hide their true experiences in the shadows,” she explains.

“I believe it’s in hearing honest real-life birth and breastfeeding stories, we create connection and help fight the darkness that is isolation, especially in our current climate. Therefore, I encourage and welcome any mother who wishes to truthfully and bravely speak out about their unique breastfeeding story, to comment on Back to Birth’s breastfeeding posts this week or reach out to me privately via Back to Birth, in order to achieve breastfeeding awareness, confidence, valuable knowledge and realistic expectations.”

She continues:

“And to anyone reading this who isn’t breastfeeding or doesn’t have a child, the next time you see a mom out breastfeeding, give her a reassuring smile and an encouraging word. We have done a lot of work and come so far but there is still so much to do. In summary –breastfeeding is hard. Mixed feeding is hard. Exclusively pumping is hard. Tube feeding is hard.

For those who choose to breastfeed, ALL your journeys are valuable and should be supported and celebrated. And that’s what this week is all about! Admire yourself and your selfless efforts. I certainly am in awe of you.”