Go easy on yourself because babies are unpredictable, particularly newborns, there are no true rulebooks. All babies are unique so don’t have an expectation your baby will behave the way a book, friend or well-meaning relative says they should. Try your best to go with the flow. In time you will learn to understand your baby’s cues – hunger, tiredness, discomfort. Don’t beat yourself up if you get it wrong now and again.
Plan to have some support with you if possible, for at least the first few days after your partner has gone back to work. Even if it’s just emotional support by way of a phone call. Tending to the needs of a newborn can be lonely at times.
Consider getting a baby carrier if you don’t already have one. There are loads of benefits to ‘baby-wearing’ and there is nothing sweeter than carrying your newborn close to you. Aside from the sheer convenience of having two-hands available, it’s said that babies who are carried cry less, learn more, are more organised and smarter!
Kelly: Why do you think Australia has such low rates of breastfeeding? The intent is obviously there as nearly 90% of women start breastfeeding according to the latest AMA data, but by six months that figure is down to 15%. What can we do better?
Melissa: The research is telling us that mums still do not receive consistent, accurate and timely support for breastfeeding from the health system so it’s not surprising that so many mums give up due to lack of support. The public health messaging needs to go beyond the benefits of breastfeeding and encourage women to seek quality education during pregnancy – when they are doing all their other preparation like fitting out the nursery! Most expectant parents (and traditional antenatal classes) focus on labour and birth when the reality is, labour and birth is all over and done within a matter of hours. I’d encourage parents to seek out additional classes on topics over and above pain relief in labour, including emotional preparation for parenthood, recovery from birth, newborn sleep and of course breastfeeding.
Kelly: What are the key things that mothers who are nervous about breastfeeding can do before they give birth?
Melissa: Do as much research as you can before baby arrives. And allow yourself time. A lot of people say it takes six weeks to come together and I think that’s really true.
Work out your support networks, someone you would turn to for help, be it a friend or family member who has breastfed or is supportive of your decision to breastfeed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional if it’s really not working for you. And don’t let things spiral out of control before you do ask, no problem is too minor. As I mentioned earlier, start with the ABA helpline or the hospital where you had your baby. The other option is a private lactation consultant who can visit you and your baby in your home.
Give yourself a break. Most women can physically breastfeed but it’s the emotional hurdles that are often the most difficult to overcome. That’s where the support comes in. Don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t magically fall into place by themselves – the vast majority of new mums need help.
Kelly: When you’re a new mum it’s difficult to know whether your breastfeeding experiences are typical or not – is there really is such a thing as ‘normal’ breastfeeding?
Melissa: That’s a good point and probably the best piece of advice I can offer is for mums (and partners) to try and trust their gut instinct on whether something doesn’t feel normal. There are so many shades of normal in the life of a baby and this will change daily – which is a massive adjustment for adults who were used to their predictable and ordered lives pre-baby.
Kelly: Are there any techniques, products or perhaps expert assistance which you would most recommend?
Melissa: Whatever assistance you seek, make sure it’s from a qualified health professional. Sadly there are lots of (well-meaning of course) parents who have had children that go on to become sleep whisperers or feeding experts, yet have no professional training. All of our contributors are qualified health professionals plus our organisation is also accredited with the Australian Council of Healthcare Services as we take our role in supporting parents with evidence-based health information really seriously.
Kelly: Your service does an amazing job of filling that knowledge gap for new Mums. What elements do you think are most ignored or misunderstood by new Mums?
Melissa: I don’t think expectant parents necessarily ignore or misunderstand information. It’s more a case of there is so much information parents feel completely overwhelmed. I remember the feeling well and it was one of the primary reasons I developed Nourish – to remove the stress of information overload and allow parents to take it at their own pace. We also help ‘break it down’ for parents by personalising their journey. Once they enter their due date or baby’s date of birth, we provide them with bite size pieces of information and direct links to the relevant course module or lesson based on where they are at in their parenting journey. (vs. them having to navigate their way around a huge bucket of information).
Thank you so much Melissa. As expected, your knowledge of breastfeeding and indeed all other aspects of maternal education is amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me during Breastfeeding Awareness Week.
For those mums-to-be or new mums looking for assistance, Nourish Baby can be found at nourishbaby.com.au