Lots of expectant mums worry about whether they will be able to breastfeed, especially if someone they know in the family has had problems. However, history doesn’t have to repeat itself. Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies for thousands of years. Like other mammals, we have evolved breast milk and it gives our babies all the nutrition they need.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill and is often not passed from one generation to the next. So lots of expectant mums have not really seen their family, mum, cousins or big sisters breastfeeding and only start to think about breastfeeding when their own baby is born.
The good news is there is lots of support and advice around to help you get breastfeeding off to a good start with your new baby.
Include a breastfeeding plan in your birth plan
If you are hoping to breastfeed it’s a good idea to write a breastfeeding plan in the same way as you will probably write a birth plan. When you write your birth plan, include some thoughts about your first breastfeed.
If you’ve had a straightforward birth and feel ready, it’s a good idea to have lots of skin-to-skin contact after your baby is born. When your baby lies on your chest they will smell your skin and will often look for the breast very soon. It can really help get breastfeeding off to a good start if your baby is able to feed as soon as they would like to after they are born.
Low milk supply
Lots of new breastfeeding mums are concerned they do not have enough milk for their baby. Most mums do have the ability to produce enough milk but it is important to understand that it may take a few days before you can build up your milk supply. Help it along by letting your baby try to feed very often. This will stimulate the milk supply. It is also important to give your baby breastfeeds at night – since your baby needs them, and as night feeds also help boost your milk supply.
You also need to be sure that your baby is attached properly to the breast, as this will best stimulate your breasts to make enough milk for them. If you are concerned ask your midwife, public health nurse or local breastfeeding support group to check your baby is latched on properly and listen for good signs such as the sound of your baby swallowing milk.
Breastfeeding works on supply and demand, so the more your baby feeds the more milk you should produce. A good sign that you have an adequate milk supply is that your baby is producing lots of wet and dirty nappies every day and putting on weight.
Will I be able to breastfeed with small breasts?
It is not the case that women with large breasts produce more milk than women with small breasts. Both large-breasted and small-breasted women will see that their breasts get bigger and heavier when they begin breastfeeding. This is due to an increase in breast tissue and milk being produced in the breast, which enables mums to provide their babies with adequate milk.
Will I be able to breastfeed with flat nipples?
As you may discover on the maternity ward or at your local breastfeeding clinic, nipples come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Some women have large, very erect nipples and other women have very small ones that are soft or flat. Babies take a lot of breast tissue into their mouths when they breastfeed, not just the nipple. This means that whatever shape nipple you have it should be possible to breastfeed if you make sure your baby is properly attached at the breast.
If you are worried about your nipples, do talk to your midwife or local breastfeeding counsellor before your baby is born to discuss how best to get breastfeeding going well.
After your baby is born, go to your local breastfeeding support group to get reassurance that your baby is able to latch on properly. It’s really important to get expert advice sooner rather than later, as just a small change in the way you position your baby can help him to suck properly which makes all the difference. Your baby is not expecting a certain kind of nipple; yours are the only ones your baby will know.
Make sure you offer your baby lots of feeds and try not to allow your breasts to get too engorged as it can sometimes be difficult for a new baby to attach to very engorged breast. Sometimes, it can help to hand express before you let your baby breastfeed as this make it easier to your baby to scoop up lots of breast into their mouth.
If you are unable to breastfeed for medical reasons
A small number of mums, although they would like to breastfeed, cannot breastfeed for medical reasons. If you think this is the situation for you, talk to your doctor about whether you might be able to, for example, change your medication.
Will I be able to breastfeed if I have had breast surgery?
Breast surgery, breast implants and breast reduction surgery can all affect your chances of being able to breastfeed. If you have had surgery and would like to breastfeed, speak to your surgeon to find out more about the procedure you had and its effects on breastfeeding.
If one breast has had surgery or been removed it is possible to breastfeed a baby on just one side. Your breast will be able to build an adequate milk supply for your baby if you get good support from a breastfeeding expert.
If you have had breast surgery for breast injury it is important to know the signs that your baby is getting enough milk.
It can be upsetting to discover that you are unable to breastfeed your baby. Be reassured, that it will be possible for you to sensitively bottle-feed your baby either with expressed breast milk or formula milk.
There are various organisations, such as Cuidiú, Friends of Breastfeeding and La Leche League of Ireland, who can offer help with and advice on breastfeeding. Visit breastfeeding.ie to find a support group near you.