Breastfeeding: A Midwife’s Perspective

Our final guest post comes from Harriet, an experienced midwife in the NHS. She has worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals to homes – she even had a little accidental cameo in One Born Every Minute. She’s also Mummy to 2 gorgeous pups, Lola and Nellie, as well as being a yogi.

As a midwife one of my favourite parts of my role is supporting and empowering women who want to breastfeed. This starts with conversations during pregnancy about breastfeeding, exploring the woman’s plans about feeding her baby, and I can help start the couple prepare for their breastfeeding journey. After birth, I love watching babies snuggle skin to skin, making their way to the breast, and looking up at their mum. Supporting mothers with that amazing first feed is so rewarding, empowering them to learn with their baby and begin their breastfeeding journey is one of the best parts of the job. Breastfeeding can also be challenging, and I try to prepare couples for the reality of a journey which is not always plain sailing, it is entirely normal to have wobbles, and moments of self-doubt, but there are so many victories and moments of pride to be found also. I always try and involve partners, sisters, grandparents, friends in breastfeeding conversations if they are visiting, because they are absolutely vital in supporting the mother on her journey once she is at home.

Top tips for a breastfeeding mum:

• Try to go to a breastfeeding group or class, with your birth partner too, so that they can learn how to support you with feeding. Team work makes the dream work!

• Get comfy, you may be there a while feeding! Keep hydrated, and it takes roughly 600kcals a day extra to breastfeed, so keep the snacks and meals coming.

• Ask your midwife to show you a few different positions to feed in, as this is helpful to alternate where the pressure on your nipple during sucking and helps drain all the breast.

• Responsive feeding is best- babies show signs they are hungry, like rooting for the breast, sucking hands, craning their neck to try and find the breast. Ideally do not use dummies, as this can mask these signs and lead to confusion between dummies and the nipple.

• You know that feeling when you’ve waited over an hour for your meal at a restaurant and you’re ready to go to a drive- through instead because you’re so over waiting? Babies cry as a last resort for a feed, so always try and start feeding before baby reaches this point. It is also a myth that you can cuddle or feed a breastfed baby too much, babies want to be close and held, this is entirely natural and they won’t become ‘spoilt’.

• Ask your midwife to show you how to hand express, in case when the milk comes in your breasts get engorged. Sometimes babies struggle to latch onto a bigger and swollen breast, so expressing a little milk off before feeding baby can help her to latch.

• Your baby will get all her food and drink from good breastfeeding, and like us, sometimes she will want a snack, or a quick drink, perhaps a comfort feed, or a big 3 course meal, so it is normal for feeds to vary in length.

• It is normal for breastfed babies to feed frequently in the early days, this is your baby’s way of ordering plenty of milk. Hormone levels are higher at night, so your baby is clever and is likely to feed more overnight, or cluster feed. Don’t worry, you’re doing a fabulous job, and naps in the day are really important to prepare for night feeds.

• Visual guides are helpful, like Youtube, ‘off to the best start’ and popping along to a breastfeeding group can be helpful and reassuring.

• Don’t compare your baby’s feeding pattern to a bottle fed baby- the milks have very different components and are digested very differently, so the two are not comparable. You are not starving your baby, just because she doesn’t sleep through the night like your neighbour’s baby.

• Key phrases to help remind you of good positioning are:

1. ‘Tummy to mummy’- have baby skin to skin ideally to aid bonding, let down and brain development. Keep baby’s tummy turned in towards you with her head, neck and body in a straight line.

2. ‘Nose-to-nipple’- line baby up so that her nose is opposite the nipple, this will stimulate her to open her mouth and take a wide latch of the areola (darker area around the nipple.)

3. ‘Angle of the dangle’- Our breasts are all different shapes, sizes and are all angled differently. It’s best to work with your body, and move baby accordingly to line up with you. Resist the temptation to move the breast towards baby, as this can cause problems with the latch (once you let go, the breast will move back to where it usually is!)

I would love to see more women breastfeed in the future, but I think a lot has to change in our society and healthcare for that to happen. Why do we as a society deem it normal to supplement with cows-milk and continue to drink it way into adulthood, but so many feel uncomfortable being around a mother breastfeeding her baby like nature intended? It’s sad to think that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, and a large part of that is to do with how we as a society view breastfeeding. We do not nurture or support new mums enough to breastfeed. Despite this, there are so many amazing groups, social media accounts and teaching tools available, and there is always someone to turn to for advice and reassurance. As professionals we can give a lot of support and advice, but we are not with women for long, and there is a lot more we could be doing as a society to increase breastfeeding.

So, the next time a friend mentions to you she is thinking of breastfeeding, but is worried what her friends might think, remember to give plenty of words of encouragement and perhaps you could invite her round for coffee with your other friend who’s breastfed for 6 months, so she can give some tips and explain she felt the same at first. When you’re next in line at a café and you see an awesome new mum breastfeeding in the corner, why not pop over with a glass of water and a slice of cake, and remind her she’s amazing and she’s welcome to feed her baby wherever you are. It’s part of a midwife’s job to start a mother and baby off on their breastfeeding journey, but it’s up to all of us to love those mothers and nurture them along the way. Who can you reach out to today to support on their breastfeeding journey?

Thank you, Harriet. What fantastic tips for mums-to-be and those who want to support new breastfeeders! How well they are supported can make or break a mum’s experience of feeding.

Who can you reach out to today to support on their breastfeeding journey?

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