“He’s just feeding for comfort” is a comment us breastfeeding supporters hear a lot.
And why not? Anyone who has breastfed will soon come to realise that breastfeeding is about far more than just food. Yes its handy that this act of liquid love is also optimally designed to grow and nourish our babies, but there is far more to it than that.
Of course babies ask to breastfeed when they’re hungry. And they’re hungry a lot! But they may also be thirsty and just want a quick drink, especially in hot weather. Or their bodies and brains may be in a fast period of growth which needs to be fuelled.
They may also ask to feed if they’re feeling cold, if they want a cuddle, if they’ve missed you, if they’re feeling lonely, or tired, or poorly, or scared. Or if they are in pain. All of these reasons are just as valid as hunger.
Breastfeeding your baby whenever they ask, ensures not only that they receive enough nutrition but that their physical and emotional needs are met as well.
Jan 2018 – The start of 2018 saw me setting up in private practice after finally qualifying as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Such an exciting time. It’s been such a difficult journey but finally I had qualified. Next I built the first incarnation of this website, got all my forms together, found insurance, registered my business with Lactation Consultants of Great Britain “Find an IBCLC” so that local mums could find me. It started slowly with a couple of home visits in Harrow and Uxbridge.
I also began my role as Regional Coordinator for the East for The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. My role is to support the volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellors with their National Breastfeeding Helpline duties, and the Trainee Breastfeeding Counsellors with their training. I also organise supervision and study days. I have been a Breastfeeding Counsellor with the ABM for several years now, taking calls on the National Breastfeeding Helpline and volunteering locally. Its a wonderful organisation and I am so proud to be part of the Central Committee.
Feb 2018 – Continued with a few home visits. Also I was very proud to host a “Supporting Breastfeeding Multiples” webinar for the National Breastfeeding Helpline. The technology worked and I had lots of lovely feedback about the session. I love talking to people about how to support twin and triplet mums to fulfil their breastfeeding goals. It’s the reason I trained as a peer supporter so many years ago when my now teenage twins were just 1 year old; to try to pass forward the amazing support I had received myself. So many people, including many health professionals, believe that it is not possible to exclusively breastfeed more than one baby. But it most definitely is, and with good, knowledgeable support mums can fully breastfeed if that’s what they wish to do.
Mar 2018 – This month saw a big surge in home visits mainly due to the weather I think! Its so lovely to be able to support a new baby and mother to breastfeed in their own home without the need to battle the elements. This is me dressed for the snow walking to my home visit as it was too dangerous to drive that day.
March also saw the launch of myself and colleague Miriam Feen’s specialist breastfeeding support group, The Lactation Corner. Myself and Miriam have worked together in the past and volunteered together for years so I was very excited about this collaboration. We have a beautiful venue at Eastcote House Gardens with a lovely light room. We have a breastfeeding group there, and also run Introduction to Solids sessions and Preparing to Breastfeed sessions.
April 2018 – This month took me all over the local area, from Harrow to Iver to Denham to Edgware to North London. This IBCLC will travel (I do try to keep it to within half an hour of my house, although I will go a bit further for a twin or triplet mum!)
April also saw my first LCGB conference. What a wonderful experience! The highlight for me was Dr Jen 4 Kids, also known as Dr Jennifer Thomas. Such an inspirational speaker and she blew my mind with further information on breastfeeding and the microbiome. And of course then there was Nancy Mohrbacher! One of my all-time breastfeeding heroes. And amongst all these was my friend and fellow Harrow Peer Supporter Zainab Yate talking about her Breastfeeding Aversion and Agitation project. I was so proud of her and all she has achieved.
May 2018 – May was far more Harrow based which was a relief for my fuel bill! Supported a mum with Insufficient Glandular Tissue to try to breastfeed. Such a heart breaking situation. Unfortunately mums with this condition can struggle to make a full supply of milk for their baby. So we discussed maximising the efficiency of the feed, and we also used a Supplementary Nursing System to give baby some extra milk. Some was donor breast milk and some formula. This is where specialist breastfeeding support really comes into its own. The health professionals who were supporting her just did not have the specialist knowledge to maximise her chances of breastfeeding and couldn’t spend the 2 hours with her which was really needed to get to the bottom of her problems.
I also had my first booking for an antenatal/postnatal package. I love talking to mums about preparing to breastfeed. Gaining knowledge of normal baby behaviour and how to tell if your baby is getting enough is incredibly valuable before baby arrives and before the brain goes to mush!
June 2018 – June is always Conference time for the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. This was my first conference where I was on the Central Committee. I realised just how much organisation this takes! This year the highlight was a visit from Kimberley Seals Allers who flew in from the USA to talk about her book The Big Let Down. It was a very thought provoking presentation. I highly recommend reading her book.
June also brought my first support session via Skype. Such a useful medium for follow up or general breastfeeding concerns, baby behaviour, returning to work, or other non latch related scenarios.
July 2018 – Home visits continue to be steady. The Lactation Corner have also begun to offer Introduction to Solid Foods sessions. This is a lovely interactive session with evidence based information and lots of myth busting! We either host it at Eastcote House or for a group of mums I one of their houses.
Aug 2018 – I took a few weeks off and travelled round the country a bit seeing relatives. One highlight was trying out Ivan my self-build campervan for the first time. It worked, we fitted myself, my partner and 4 children all sleeping in a campervan!
On my return from our adventures the volume of home visits sky-rocketed over the Bank Holiday weekend and the following week. Again I was travelling far and wide from North London to West London to Uxbridge to Watford supporting mums and babies with latching difficulties.
Sept 2018 – My youngest started school. He ran in without a second look. I put this down to him being a seriously high-needs baby and toddler who was, on the whole, responded to as best as I could. He is now so securely attached that nothing phases him at all! The youngest starting school is quite a monumental thing for our family. Now all 4 kids are at school. Not all in the same school, but all in school! This means I have a bit more time to really focus on supporting more mums alongside my other work commitments. Although there still does not seem to be enough hours in the day to do everything.
I also began working at an IBCLC led breastfeeding group in NW London. Its been fantastic to work alongside such passionate and experienced IBCLCs. I’m very lucky to have been given this opportunity.
Oct 2018 – My main focus this month was hosting a National Breastfeeding Helpline Study Day for the East of England. We went to Ely, Cambridgeshire, and lots of BFN and ABM breastfeeding counsellors, trainees and mother supporters came along. Subjects covered were Breastfeeding Premature Babies, Genuine Low Milk Supply, Breastfeeding in Slings, Gentle Night Weaning, and Referral Scenarios presented by me and some of my colleagues. The day seemed to be a great success and we got really good feedback.
Nov 2018 – November turned out to be an incredibly busy month with home visits squeezed into every available slot in the week. I also managed to find the time to attend a Tongue Tie Study Day with Sarah Oakley, IBCLC and Tongue tie Practitioner. Quite a high proportion of the mums I support are having difficulties with breastfeeding due to their baby having a tongue tie. Sometimes we manage to work around it with improved positioning and attachment and ensuring baby is feeding as effectively as possible. But sometimes we decide we need to refer on to a tongue tie practitioner to have the tongue tie divided. This session consolidated the knowledge I had already gained in my IBCLC training on how to assess a tongue tie and its impact on breastfeeding.
And my Facebook support group, Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK tipped the 4000 members mark. I’m so proud of that group. Its such a wonderful, empowering and friendly Facebook group. We keep it evidence based and supportive, and me and my fantastic team of admins very rarely have to step in. Its my favourite place on the internet!
Dec 2018 – Breastfeeding support calmed down a little leaving me time to go and watch the film Tigers . This is such an important film from Danis Tanovic based on the true story of former Nestle Pakistan salesman taking on the baby milk industry with the help of IBFAN. I was disappointed to miss it when it was shown a couple of years ago so when the chance came again I jumped at it. There was an added bonus as co-writer and co-producer Andy Paterson was available for a Q&A session afterwards. I have just finished off the year with a couple of home visits.
December also sees me completing a Holistic Sleep Coaching course, just the assignment to go and I will be a qualified Holistic Sleep Coach. The Holistic Sleep Coaching Program focuses on supporting and empowering parents, providing gentle strategies (based on evidence), which never involve leaving babies to cry alone. I am very excited to be able to offer this service in the new year (once I’ve completed the assignment!). Watch this space!
And of course, continuing to offer Specialist Breastfeeding Support. It’s such a privilege to be able to help mums at this important time. Thank you so much to all the families that have invited me into their home.
Thanks Shel Banks IBCLC Lactation Consultant for creating this meme on the mnemonic B.R.A.I.N. used for making decisions. She has made it relatable to medical care for you and your baby
So important to consider when health professionals or others are encouraging interventions that are not in your plan.
Topping up with formula because of poor weight gain is one scenario where this is really useful to use. Asking your midwife/health visitor/paediatrician these questions when formula top ups are being suggested may make them think a bit more about their recommendations. And will mean you can make an informed choice as to whether this is something that needs to be used. My experience of supporting many breastfeeding mums over the years is that often formula is offered as an easy and less time consuming solution than helping a mum to breastfeed more effectively or increase her milk supply. Generally very little thought is given to the consequences.
– increased weight gain
– less risk of health problems related to poor weight gain
– drop in mother’s milk supply
– bottle preference
– baby developing cows milk protein allergy
– changes to the gut microbiome
– damaging maternal confidence in breastfeeding
– specialist breastfeeding support to assess feeding, improve latch and milk transfer
– increasing frequency of feeds
– breast compressions to increase milk transfer
– expressing mother’s milk to offer as a top up
– use of donor milk from milk bank or other trusted donor.
– what is the mother’s gut feeling telling her? Mother’s intuition is often correct.
– what happens if we wait? Sometimes mothers and babies just need time for their feeding to click into place
– sometimes weight gain will continue to be a problem and so an intervention is necessary.
Of course, formula can be life-saving given in the correct circumstances. But it should never be given without good breastfeeding support offered, risks discussed and alternatives considered.
There are several reasons milk supply may have to be established by expressing and not by directly breastfeeding. Mother and baby may have to be separated after birth due to prematurity or illness, or maybe baby just cannot latch on for some reason. Maybe baby is tongue tied, has a cleft palate or is too sleepy to feed effectively.
So how does a new mum start to establish a milk supply if she is not directly feeding her baby?
After birth you should be encouraged to hand express colostrum within an hour of birth if possible, or at least within the first 6 hours. Ask to be shown the technique by your midwife, or there are plenty of great video tutorials online. This one from Global Health Media is particularly good, click here. It is important to massage the whole breast and the nipple for a couple of minutes before starting. Hand expressing is recommended for the first two to three days until the milk begins to come in as colostrum is very thick and sticky and is in small quantities, so will get lost in a pump. However, if large quantities of colostrum are being expressed, you could move onto the pump earlier. Also there are settings on some hospital pumps designed for expressing colostrum and some mums respond better to this. The pump can also be used just for stimulation.
Babies only need a small quantity of colostrum, so every drop counts. These small drops can be sucked up with a syringe direct from the nipple or dripped into a small cup and then sucked into a syringe. This can then be given directly to the baby. You should be encouraged to hand express 8 to 10 times in 24 hours to mimic the baby’s feeding patterns. This will give enough colostrum to feed and to prime the lactation sites so that you will have the greatest chance to make a full supply or as near as possible. Some mums do struggle to express any colostrum in the first few days. It does not mean it’s not in the breast, we all start making colostrum in the second trimester of pregnancy, but it can be a bit challenging to get it out. If it is proving difficult then maybe ask about donor breast milk until your milk “comes in”. Most mums find they can express mature breast milk much more easily.
Moving on to the pump. Milk begins to “come in” around 3 to 5 days after birth, a process called “lactogenesis II”. It is triggered by the birth of the placenta and will happen whether a mum is breastfeeding, pumping or doing neither. Breast milk gradually changes from colostrum to mature milk over a number of days and volumes should begin to increase. Continuing to pump 8 to 10 times a day will help ensure you establish a full supply.
Top tips to establish a good supply!
Frequency – There really is no better way to get a full supply than to pump frequently; 8 to 10 times a day to begin with is essential. Some mums with large storage capacities may be able to drop a couple of sessions and continue to make enough milk, but for many frequency is the key. Expressing sessions do not need to be equally spaced. And if you miss one for some reason, try to shuffle up the others so you still get the same number over 24 hours.
Efficiency – Using a hospital grade pump is recommended. In hospital the staff should be able to provide one for you to use, normally in the pumping room, sometimes by baby’s cot or incubator. Once discharged, hospital grade pumps can be hired either direct from the manufacturer or from a local pump agent. If baby is in NICU there is often a discount code.
Breast shell size – It is really important to get the pump’s breast shell size correct. This will mean pumping should be comfortable and not cause any damage to the nipples, and it will also help maximise milk production. Just a note to say sometimes a pair of breasts need two different sized shells! And sometimes you need to change size as you go through your pumping journey as breast size changes. Nipple diameter is the key. Check your manufacturer’s information on this and experiment a bit.
Power pumping – This mimics a baby’s natural cluster feeding pattern and can help stimulate milk production. The pattern is as follows using a double pump: pump for 20 minutes, have a 10 minute rest, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes and then pump for a further 10 minutes. This can be done once a day to help boost supply. If you are using a single pump then you can power pump by pumping 10 minutes on the left and then 10 minutes on the right, rest 5 minutes, pump 10 minutes on the left and 10 minutes on the right, rest for 5 minutes and then pump ten minutes on the left and 10 minutes on the right again.
Hands on pumping technique – This is a technique which incorporates massage, hand expressing and pumping all at the same time. Many have found that this can greatly increase output. For a more detailed explanation watch this video
Hand expressing – after the flow has slowed you could try finishing off by doing some hand expressing. Often a little more can be squeezed out by hand
A hands free pumping bra – This can make the above massage much easier, as you use the bra to hold the pump onto the breasts and so hands are free. It also means you can pump and do other things at the same time. This can be essential, especially if you have older children. You can buy them or make your own by cutting vertical slots in an old bra or sports bra where your nipples are, and you can insert the cones through the slits.
Warmth – Applying a warm compress just before you express can help the let-down reflex.
Skin to skin with baby – Skin to skin, or kangaroo care as it is often referred to, helps boost oxytocin and encourages the milk to flow. Oxytocin is one of the key hormones involved in the production of breast milk and, amongst other things, stimulates the let-down reflex, meaning milk flows more easily when pumping.
Look at baby – Photos, videos, pictures, pumping next to the cot, listening to your baby. All these remind the breasts what they are supposed to be doing! They also stimulate oxytocin and help with supply.
Latch baby – If baby is beginning to latch on to the breast, pumping straight afterwards can make it much easier for the milk to flow as the baby will have stimulated the let-down reflex.
Distraction – “A watched pot never boils”. It’s the same with pumping. If you watch what you get, you will likely not get so much. Distracting with listening to music, relaxation recordings, mindfulness, watching comedy, chatting to other mums or friends and family all have been shown to increase milk production. Stress can inhibit the let down reflex so these techniques can help keep you relaxed.
Eat and drink – Good for health and energy of the mother, not necessarily for milk production.
Rest – It is really essential for mums to rest. Yes we also want them to wake once or twice a night to pump, but getting a good amount of sleep is so important to cope with the stresses and strains that you feel when a baby who is latching. Get help with all the usual household chores, looking after older children and cooking. Mother the mother so the mother is able to mother the baby.
Galactagogues – There are many foods or medications out there which either have some scientific evidence behind them or have anecdotal evidence that they can increases milk production. However, none of these work unless the milk is being removed frequently from the breast. They are not a magic wand. For more info on galactagogues have a look at this link
It is important to look at 24 hour output, not necessarily what is expressed in each session. This is because there is often a wide variation in amounts from different times of day, and also each breast often gives a different amount. Over the first few weeks, we hope to see a gradual increase in volume in each 24 hour period.
Once babies are strong enough or well enough they should be able to move gradually on to breastfeeding directly. Make sure you seek some support from a trained breastfeeding specialist to help you achieve this.
Babies and toddlers wake in the night. We know that. Babies and toddlers often like to feed a lot in the night. That’s a given. But sometimes it all becomes too much. Sometimes its exhaustion, sometimes its nursing aversion, sometimes work commitments and sometimes it’s just that mum has had enough. Night weaning is generally not recommended until after 18 months by most Gentle Parenting experts. At this age they have some understanding of what is going on. Sleep is a developmental stage, like walking and talking, and babies and toddlers will do it when they are ready. Some will have large chunks of sleep from an early age and that’s fine, but others continue to wake frequently well into their second year. There are definite genetic factors at play.
Breastfeeding is by far the easiest and fastest way to settle a baby back to sleep when they wake. But there may be a point where mum needs to stop it. This should be for the mum to decide and nobody else. She will know if she is ready to night wean. If she is not sure whether she should, then it probably is not the right time yet. It is nobody else’s decision; not the health visitor, grandmother or even the partner. And just to make sure you understand, night weaning will not necessarily make them sleep any better. They may still wake, and you will have lost the easiest way to get them back to sleep. However with lots of consistent alternative reassurance they will begin to be able to transition from one sleep state to another. Toddlers not being too over tired during the day will also help with this.
Breastfeeding at night is not so much about nutrition for toddlers. There is a big emotional context to it. Breastfeeding is helping them feel safe, to deal with all the big emotions of being a toddler, to deal with the pain of teething, to reconnect after being separated due to work and child care. There’s a whole load of stuff going on. So it’s important not to take away the other comforts that they are used to whilst you try to night wean. Co-sleeping, bed-sharing, cuddles, using a comforter like a toy. These can help the transition away from relying on the breast to settle back to sleep.
Find other ways to settle your toddler at night. There are many different things you can try as a replacement for breastfeeding; cuddling, stroking, patting, singing, use of a special toy or blanket, music, white noise, whatever works best for you. Some will work better than others and everyone is different. You will find the best option for your family.
One thing to try is to cuddle or stroke back to sleep whilst they’re stirring before properly awake. Toddlers go through sleep cycles from deep, slow wave, sleep to light REM (rapid eye movement) sleep regularly and it is during the REM sleep that they often fully rouse and need help to resettle back into a deeper sleep again. Unfortunately a toddler’s sleep cycle is much shorter than an adult’s. This only really works if you are bed sharing as you will need to be in close proximity to be aware when they are about to wake. But if you can cuddle or rest your hand on their body and settle before they are completely awake, you may find they go back into another deep sleep without fully waking and demanding to be fed. I found turning my toddler away from me and cuddling tightly from behind worked fairly well.
Try with just one of the night feeds. Try the first wake-up of the night and see if you can settle your toddler in a different way. This is the most likely night feed to be able to drop more easily. As the night progresses and morning approaches, sleep often becomes lighter and toddlers are more difficult to settle back to sleep. They often like to get up very early at this age. The most likely thing to help you stay in bed for a bit longer is to continue to breastfeed in the early mornings!
Find another comforter. Toddlers often like to have a comforter in bed and these can really help to transition away from breastfeeding being the major comfort. The comforter can be anything your toddler is attached to. It can be a toy or blanket, or sometimes physical touch can replace breastfeeding; my toddler would slide his hand up my sleeve for comfort. The replacement comforter should be introduced well before the night weaning process is begun as it should not be seen as a replacement for breastfeeding but a separate comfort. Then slowly you can encourage your toddlers to become more dependent on this and less dependent on breastfeeding.
Shortening feeds. This can be especially effective if you are experiencing nursing aversion. Nursing aversion is a negative feeling some mums get when feeding. It is often hormonally driven, ovulation and menstruation can be a trigger, and pregnancy is a major culprit. So in order to continue being able to breastfeed, shortening the feeds can work well. You can talk to your toddler about having “a little bit”. To start with, tackle the bed time feed, pull off the breast by sticking in your little finger and breaking the seal just before your toddler is about to drift off to sleep and encourage them to do that last bit on their own. You can always re-latch them if it doesn’t work. Once the toddler is used to this you can gradually unlatch sooner and eventually they may settle to sleep from awake on their own. Some mums like to sing a song during this feed and when the song is finished, the feed is finished. If you are having a particularly bad day you can sing faster! Once they are good at settling to sleep without the breast they may be more able to move between their night time sleep cycles without feeding. They may settle for the song. Or they may settle with just a few of sucks.
Talk to your toddler throughout the day about how boobies will be asleep tonight and how they can have some in the morning. Let your toddler choose which comforter they would like to use. Remind them again just before bed time.Try to keep it positive. When will they be able to feed again, you can feed once the sun shines, boobies have gone to bed and will be back in the morning. Try not to focus on rejection; on saying no, not now. Some parents find a Gro-clock can be a great visual aide for this method. The Gro-clock can be set to go from day to night at a certain time and you can explain to your toddler that they can breastfeed once the clock says it is morning. You can set an early time to begin with and extend it later on, once they get the concept. There is also a lovely book called “Nursies When The Sun Shines” by Katherine C Havener which focusses on night weaning and explains to the toddler that she will be able to nurse when the sun comes up.
If your toddler is happy to settle with your partner, and they must be truly happy, sometimes this can be a good technique to night wean. Your partner can go in first and try settling first. If it doesn’t work then you can go in and breastfeed back to sleep. Some babies are more receptive to this than others. But often only the breastfeeding parent will do and if this is causing further distress it may be a good idea to stop. Remember for a toddler breastfeeding is a way to connect with you, their mum. So keeping the connection is important. We don’t really want to remove the mother completely from the comforting, just the breasts
Night weaning is often a very gradual process. Aim for small goals and baby steps. And don’t be afraid to stop if it does not feel right. Teething, illness, changes of circumstances, can all increase night waking and sometimes it may just be easier to go back to breastfeeding in the night again. Then once the unsettled period has passed you can try again. Also don’t be afraid to stop at a certain stage if you are all happy. Sometimes mums find that one or two night feeds are actually quite doable and continuing with these can actually make night times easier. Each journey is very personal between mum and her toddlers and what will work for one family will not necessarily work for another.