Creating Optimum Conditions for Happy Breastfeeding
Back in the day we all learned how to breastfeed by watching the women our of community nurture their young. This was the only way of feeding our young, and if we experienced any kind of difficulty then one of our 'sisters' would feed our little one whilst we recovered.
These days we all lead more isolated lives and we are at least the second generation of women who have had the option of bottle feeding if we so choose. Our mothers were actively encouraged to bottle feed in the 50s, 60s and early 70s when it was considered that science had come up with a better option than nature!
We are lucky if we see some of our friends breastfeed or if we grew up around breastfeeding mothers in our community, or if indeed we were breastfed ourselves. Many of us simply don't have the 'program' to breastfeed in our genes and almost expect to have a difficult time of it.
"I'm going to try to breastfeed" is something commonly heard, as though there is the expectation that it will be difficult. Much of the time it is circumstances that make it a harder job than it needs to be, so its no wonder that so many women struggle.
Actions follow thought, so if you expect it to be difficult, you increase the chances of it being so!
What do you need to know or do in order to feel confident that you can breastfeed your baby?
If we can prepare to have an easier time of it and actually plan to enjoy it, how would we go about creating positive conditions to thrive as we nurture our young?
A resource that is found very useful in our classes is the Kelly Mom website. This is packed with helpful info to help you feel more confident about your baby's feeding patterns and any issues that may arise. Its also great for dispelling feeding myths that well meaning family and friends may have adopted over the years.
Here is a great video of the laid back Breastfeeding position. It can help encourage your baby to self attach.
First and foremost we need to see women breastfeed!
Whilst you are pregnant seek out opportunities to be around breastfeeding mothers. Notice if they feed their babies in a relaxed manner or if they look tense and uncomfortable as they prepare to feed.
Most of us have some reservations about getting our breasts out in public, and the media sadly has much to do with this. With the sexualisation of breasts, many women feel self-conscious about breastfeeding, especially in a public place and if members of the opposite sex are around.
If it is culturally frowned upon to breastfeed in public this can add to the pressure of things going wrong. Sometimes it is considered a sign of poverty to offer the breast over a bottle and sometimes religious beliefs confuse nurturing our young with sexual misconduct.
This leads to the vital need for privacy when first establishing breastfeeding.
Picture the scene: you have just given birth, often having exposed your most private parts to complete strangers in an effort to birth your baby, and now as you're coming to terms with the overwhelming emotions that come with having just birthed a baby, you are expected to very matter of factly also expose your breasts in front of doctors, midwives, nurses - people you haven't met before - as well as great uncle Bob who's turned up to say 'hello' to your new arrival.
Just as we know that women need privacy and to feel safe and unobserved in order for birth to go smoothly, so too do we need the same conditions to get used to feeding our precious ones. Every baby is different and it takes time for mother and baby to get used to how they 'fit' together. Therefore patience is essential.
Not too many visitors at first
We also need time to integrate this new phase of life and so countless excited visitors are not a good recipe for easy feeding.
Though there will be many friends and family that want to come along to see you soon after the birth, it's well worth considering a 'babymoon'. This is a period of time, usually one moon cycle of 28 days where both you and Daddy spend as much time as possible at home and in bed bonding with your little one. These days are precious and will never be repeated, and lay the foundation of everything from happy feeding, to happy digestion, sleep patterns and a sense of security for your baby.
Visitors are welcomed to come and cook and clean and help out with what is needed, but your baby belongs in your arms and is not going to benefit from being passed around to eager and noisy visitors! Yes, this includes both grandmothers! If the birth was not as planned then this is even more important. Babies take six times as long to process their environment as adults and so it is crucial that noise is kept to a minimum, lights are kept down low, voices are slow and soft and the environment you create at home is a nurturing one.
Communicate with your baby
It is helpful for all babies to be talked through their birth and explained the sequence of events that took place. They were there but they couldn't see what was happening! They were very intensely and physically involved in the process and it may well have been as overwhelming for them as it was for you. As your baby responds to your emotional state via the hormone exchange between you, there is no hiding anything from your baby! And this is ok as it helps to develop emotional intelligence. It is a good practise to show your emotions and allow yourself to own them.
"Yes baby, how was being born for you? Were you frightened? You were so brave making your journey into my arms... you did such a wonderful job!" Allowing your baby to talk to you through their cries and bodily gestures will help you to start to understand your baby's communication and 'story'.
You may find it very healing to write down your baby's birth story and also your experience of pregnancy, whilst they were on the inside. This is a beautiful gift to give them when they are older and you feel it is time to offer it. There is no need to be prescriptive about this, but its ok to tell the truth in as loving a light as is possible.
The latest developments in neonatal psychology point to how vital it is to appreciate birth from the baby's perspective, and if there is any perception of trauma from the maternal viewpoint, then this is worth addressing with your baby.
It can be sometimes that feeding issues can be related to the perception of birth trauma. It may be possible that babies who refuse to feed from their mother are in some way taking responsibility for the perceived trauma of the mother. This does not in any way negate how scary a difficult birth can be for the mother, and it can be possible to feel stuck in the experience.
When an account is re told it changes over time and this helps with the healing of the event. Its just worth considering that if all that the baby hears is how difficult and scary for the mother their birth was, then its easy to understand that the baby may perceive they are responsible for causing the trauma. This goes hand in hand with how we talk to our babies.............do we call them 'difficult' or 'little monsters'? Just choosing to become more sensitive to the words you use with regard to describing your baby and their birth can be really insightful for you both and help to create more positive patterns of communication.
The work of Dr. Stella Acquerone and the infant mental health organisation is pioneering in repairing such occurrences. Dr. Ray Castellino has also based his life's work on understanding pre and neonatal communication and how behavioural development is influenced by our earliest experiences inside and outside the womb.
Being calm and relaxed
Taking time to relax and centre yourself as you prepare to feed is always a good start. Yoga breathing such as Ujai along with long sighs will help you to relax your own abdomen so that your baby is relaxed too.
Good feeding posture to help with feeding
Crouching over your baby so that your shoulders and back become sore will do nothing for stimulating your desire and drive to breastfeed and may also contribute to your baby not having a satisfying feed. Using pillows under your baby or specific feeding cushions designed to keep you supported around your back whilst baby is elevated towards you will make each feed an enjoyable experience and opportunity to deepen your bond whilst getting a chance to relax a little yourself too!
Breastfeeding is meant to be pleasurable!
To allow the milk ejection reflex the hormone Oxytocin needs to increase in production and this hormone is the love hormone vital during birth and lovemaking. Please don't be surprised if you find you genuinely gain a pleasurable feeling all over your body as a result of feeding your baby. Nature is clever! She made feeding pleasurable so that you wouldn't mind doing it so often! It is not wrong or immoral to experience a sense of well being and tremendous love, even euphoria as a result of relaxing into a feed with your baby.
A healthy and relaxed focus on your baby's feed
This is your opportunity throughout the day and night to take time to tune into yourself, to empty your mind, deepen your breath and take a mini-rest. Busy people know that it doesn't matter how much work you get done, there is always more to do! It may help you to see each feed as an opportunity to meditate and tune into your inner world, the calm under the chaos.
So it can help give in to this, at least for the first few minutes of each feed. Then you will get a breathing rhythm established, tune into your baby and then if you want to enjoy some pleasurable entertainment go ahead!
Obviously if there are other siblings who need you too, it can feel very frustrating and some Mums feel very guilty for not being able to attend to all children at once. The guilt doesnt serve anyone and its worth reminding yourself that at all times you are doing the very best you can.
It makes sense that if you're filling your mind with distractions that make you feel angry or frustrated this will also translate into the feed. It could be a good idea to experiment with avoiding soap operas, chat shows and the news for a happy feeding experience!
You can also use each feed as an opportunity to tone your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. Special techniques that work with the breath are taught in our Mummy and Baby Nurture and Baby and Postnatal yoga classes.