How to enjoy your breastfeeding journey

Recounting her own breastfeeding journey, a lactation consultant shares useful tips for making the most of your own nursing experience.

“When I was pregnant with my baby boy, I attended antenatal classes to prepare myself for childbirth and breastfeeding, even though I was already a registered nurse/midwife. I would recommend that expectant couples go for antenatal classes from 20 weeks of pregnancy, the earlier the better, so that experienced trainers can equip them with childbirth knowledge and hands-on breastfeeding and babycare skills. 

Antenatal tips:

* Read plenty of breastfeeding evidenced-based articles and attend antenatal courses to gain knowledge and skills.

* Don’t take friends’ or colleagues’ personal experiences as your own.

* Discuss how you plan to feed with family members to get their full support.

* Prepare yourself for exclusive breastfeeding for baby after childbirth.

After giving birth, I was so excited about my first feed, only to realise that it was easier said than done… Luckily, my breastfeeding technique gradually improved after my first two feeds.

I witnessed my colleague struggling to express breastmilk at work after her maternity leave. She had blocked ducts and mastitis because she was unable to pump on time when her breasts were full. I decided to stop breastfeeding once I retuned to work six weeks after my delivery.

After giving birth, I was so excited about my first feed, only to realise that it was easier said than done. I found it difficult to position my baby properly, since my hands were often in an awkward position. Luckily, my breastfeeding technique gradually improved after my first two feeds. I decided to train my baby to feed on schedule instead of demand feeding him, but after struggling badly, I surrendered to feeding on demand.

Postnatal tips:

* Get skin-to-skin contact if both mother and baby are well.

― This will stimulate baby’s digestion and interest in feeding, as well as releases mummy’s hormones to support her breastfeeding efforts.

* Let your baby room in with you day and night while you are in hospital.

― You’ll be able to learn if he/she has a soiled diaper, is sleepy, hungry or stressed.
― You’ll learn to identify baby’s early hunger cues such as rooting, opening the mouth and sucking on their tongue, fingers or hands.
― It will enhance your breastfeeding experience.
― Your baby will cry less and settle better.

* Breastfeed on baby’s cues (eight to 12 feeds a day).

― Enhance breastmilk flow by frequent and responsive feeding ― the more milk your baby drinks, the more milk the breast will produce.

― Ensure your baby drinks enough milk, especially in the first few weeks following delivery.

* Practise proper latching and positioning while in hospital, and find your preferred position before going home.

* Prepare a nursing station for easy access when you breastfeed ― include pillows, a nursing pillow, a box of tissues, wet tissues, nursing pads and nipple cream (optional).

* Express your breastmilk, if needed, to prevent breast engorgement and to stimulate breastmilk flow.

* Keep a baby activity log book to record your breastfeeding time as well as baby’s urine and motion output to monitor if baby’s milk intake is adequate.

Both husband and I were exhausted in the first two weeks following my discharge as we had to handle everything on our own, from cooking and household chores to babycare duties. Though I was tempted to give up breastfeeding, I decided to let go of non-essential chores instead, such as cleaning the house ― it worked wonderfully for us. With these adjustments, it was easier to manage breastfeeding and we were also able to get more rest.

Nursing tips:

* Know yourself well and draw up a plan for feeding, babycare and household chores.

* Set out your priorities to ensure you get enough rest ― and sleep when baby sleeps.

* Eat a well-balanced diet to regain your energy as quickly as possible.

* Drink when you are thirsty. Your body will release oxytocin during breastfeeding, which triggers your thirst. This is a natural way for your body to get enough water to make breastmilk. When you don’t have enough hydration, it will affect your general mood, your energy level and the health of your skin.

I’ve realised that the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to manage ― whether it’s breastfeeding or babycare!

I continued to breastfeed my baby boy for another four weeks, before training him to bottle-feed. When my baby daughter arrived, I told myself to do my best and just go with my daughter’s feeding pattern. She woke at intervals of two to two-and-a-half-hour during the day and slept four to six hours at night by the third week. I was also able to train her to bottle-feed without any hiccups.

Both my children provided me with very different breastfeeding experiences. But I’ve realised that the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to manage ― whether it’s breastfeeding or babycare!

Tips from my second nursing experience:

* Seek help from a lactation consultant early if you experience any breastfeeding problems. Don’t force your baby to latch on as it will leave a bad experience in their memory.

* Don’t blame yourself for everything. Some mums feel guilty when their babies develop jaundice or show signs of inadequate milk intake. As long as you do your best, you’ve done the best for your baby. However, some babies might need alternative supplements for medical reasons ― expressed breastmilk is always the first choice if your baby needs supplements.

* Some babies can latch well right after they are born, while others need a few days to a few weeks to learn well.

* Every baby and mother is different. Don’t compare yourself to your friend ― it will only give yourself unnecessary pressure and stress.

Breastfeeding is a bumpy road for some mothers. Practice makes perfect, so never give up!”

Fonnie Lo, 59, a lactation consultant (IBCLC) and assistant director at Thomson Parentcraft Centre, is the mother of a daughter, 25, and a son, 27.

Dr Tan Yia Swam, clinical director at Thomson Breast Centre, also has tips for breastfeeding mothers.

Dr Tan advises that mummies see a GP for antibiotics if they have complications such as mastitis. If the doctor suspects conditions such as a breast abscess or cancer, he/she will refer you to an appropriate breast surgeon.

This article was first published on SmartParents.