Advice for pregnant mothers and new mothers
When they thought back over their experiences, most of the women we spoke to said that they had enjoyed breastfeeding their baby, even those women who had dealt with difficult times or weaned prematurely, and that there was no substitute for that experience. No one said that their experience had not been worthwhile. They drew upon their own experiences and things that they might have done differently when considering advice for other women. Many said that breastfeeding was the best thing that they had ever done and urged other women to 'give it a go', 'be confident' and 'enjoy it'. Many said that they wanted the best for their baby and breast milk was proven to be the best. They gained a sense of achievement from having been the only one who could provide breast milk for their baby. For many, it was a big part of being a mother. Several said that it had positively changed their lives and one woman said that it had helped her to parent her children in a better way. Another said that motherhood was an overwhelming experience, that it was important to acknowledge the emotional part that breastfeeding played and to be realistic about expectations.
Having her daughter changed her life. She said to enjoy breastfeeding, take it slowly, find a...
I think breastfeeding is one of the best experiences, it's just, it's, this is really weird for me to say because I was a clubbing girl, I used to go out all the time, my friends were a bit worried when they found out I was pregnant, you know, 'How you going to cope? We don't see you as earth mother'. And everything like that and then as soon as my daughter came along I just changed and, I want to do my best for my daughter, I will do anything for her and breastmilk is one of the best things you can give your child. It's natural, there's nothing bad in it, it's a natural way of feeding your child as we all know it's, you know, all these reports and that says you know, it's the best thing for your child and, I think it helps with your bonding. To new mothers and mothers that are expecting, I think I'd say to them that take it slowly, don't rush yourself, but I think that was my problem, like I said, I was out to the local town within a week and a half of having a daughter. I walked up the road to a local supermarket within two weeks and we're talking about huge hills and I'd had an emergency caesarean. Just accept the fact that you're going to be out of it for a few months. Your life doesn't carry on like it was before no matter how much you want it to, actually when you've had your child you don't want it to carry on like it did before it's, you know, you've got this other person in your life and, get, you know, go to your local groups that's what they're there for. I've made quite a few new friends, you have support, even if you don't want to see them outside the group, it gives you a good chance to go in and just offload everything, because you do need to offload. Although you're not, out for work and, all this other pressure that friends and family put on you, you know, 'When are you returning to work? When's this? When's that?' Just enjoy it, even if you feel like it's the worst thing that's happening at the moment, you've got so many problems, there is a time when hopefully it'll all get better and you'll really enjoy it, and you just take things steady.
She would tell a pregnant woman about the realities of breastfeeding, not just the benefits but...
I think I would try to talk about some of the realities of breastfeeding. I think with me experience with new mums and the pregnant mums, the benefits of it, are not something that actually makes a big impact on their decision, I think a lot of people have the, 'Well that won't happen to me anyway', sort of frame of mind, but I think looking at the other things about breastfeeding, that it's not just about benefits, it's not just that it's good for a baby, and it's, you know, it's good for a mum, but also the, the emotional part of it, what that has to offer. The feeling of holding that little baby that's been breastfed, and it looks up at you, and that connection and that eye contact, and that feeling then of wanting to protect this little bundle, and I think a new mum has, or an expectant mum that's very sort of, they're very focused on that, that immediate sort of birth and just after the birth and the first holding of this little baby, and the skin-to-skin contact, the cuddles that it brings, because it, you know, it's not just about the food, it's about a whole, it covers everything, the whole mothering of the baby, so I think looking at it like that, not only looking at what nutritional value it has, and what it may help prevent and things, but as a whole, and what the whole thing offers. And also again the reality is, you know, of how many times a baby feeds in a day, and that they don't necessarily want to be put down. And just, I've found actually with talking to the pregnant ladies that when you put it like that, when you say to them, 'You've carried this baby for nine months, it's heard your heart beat, and it's been awake and heard your voice and, everything that it's natural that he's going to want to be with you'. I think, they then think 'Well yeah' because like me with my health visitor it just makes sense. And it's easier to think of it that way, so I think that is important, but not to go into having a baby with great expectations of what it'll all be like and to, just acknowledge that it won't be this fluffy experience that we all think it will, because it is, it is that if you're not prepared for the other parts which are hard, the tiredness, sleepless nights, the feeling of, 'Oh my God, there's this baby that I've just had, What do I do? What do I do with this baby? No, no don't leave this room, you don't leave me with it, I don't know what to do' acknowledge that everybody has that, and you are not different and it's not that you're not bonding, and it's not that you're not a good mother, it's just such an overwhelming experience. I think that's important for people to know, and it all then comes together with breastfeeding, if you're aware of this it makes breastfeeding seem a much more natural and normal thing to do.
Many women spoke of things that they wished had been different for them and incorporated these things into their advice for others. Many said that it was important to seek out support from someone who had breastfed or was knowledgeable about breastfeeding and to keep their phone number handy. Some said that they wished they had done more reading about breastfeeding before the birth of their baby while others recommended doing the reading after the birth and one said not to read too much but to trust your instincts. All agreed that it was important to become knowledgeable.
She advised all women to try breastfeeding and not to buy anything for it except perhaps a nice bra.
What would I say? I'd definitely encourage a pregnant mother to try breastfeeding. I think everyone should try breastfeeding. I'm becoming more and more staunch about that as well, because the more you read about breastfeeding the more you find out about it and your baby and you follow this path of breastfeeding, the more amazing you realise it is, and how terrible the breastfeeding rates in our country are. And we, we sugar coat facts a little bit as well, but we say that your baby's at lower risk of such and such, like lower risk of obesity if you breastfeed but you don't hear, see on bottles you're increasing the risk of your baby being obese if you give your baby this bottle. And I'd also advise a new mum, that you don't need to buy anything at all for breastfeeding, if you really want to splash out then buy yourself some nice breastfeeding bras with clips, but you don't need anything else. You don't need to pump yet, you can get that six months down the line when you go back to work. You don't need any of the things that people try to sell you. Breastfeeding's free and they're just trying to cash in on it, because if you choose to breastfeed then formula feeding companies lose a lot of money. Because formula is expensive and then the bottles, the steriliser's, the colic drops, all sorts of things can then be sold on to you, whereas if you choose to breastfeed, you're really saying, 'Don't need to spend any money this year, or this six months.' because some babies might wean before six [laughs] and count the solid food before six months.
A few women wished that, while they were pregnant, they had seen more women breastfeeding and been able to closely observe how it was done, for example, at breastfeeding classes, workshops or support group meetings (see 'Positioning and attaching/latching the baby at the breast').
Breastfeeding was a big part of being a mother and she wished that she had seen more women...
What would you like to say to a newly pregnant woman?
I'd like to say that if, once breastfeeding has been properly established it is the best thing, I mean it's enjoyable, the babies love it, it's a very good experience all round it really is a big part of being a mother for me. But it can be tough in the early weeks and to get all the support that you possibly can from people who've been there and who've, because I think there's no, there's actually reading books is fine but there's no substitute for hands on, someone who can actually pick up your baby and show you how to position it, and can also kind of hold your hand and give you that support and that encouragement to keep on going and not to say, 'Oh well perhaps you better try a bottle then', because once you start going down that road it's difficult to come back.
While many women found breastfeeding easy, several said that they wished someone had told them how hard it could be in the first week or two and that they would get through the difficulties. Several recommended setting achievable goals, like marking six weeks on the calendar as a time to aim for before reassessing the situation, to persevere and not to give up because it would get easier. Others said that it was important to get help early before problems became unbearable. One woman, whose baby was diagnosed with a heart problem before birth, recommended having a feeding plan in mind and discussing this with health professionals. Another said that she kept a diary to help her to remember when certain things happened and as a way of off-loading feelings.
She recommends setting up support networks, taking time to discover the breastfeeding...
She knew that breastfeeding was the most important thing that she could do for her baby in...
Get a hold of the book 'Breastfeeding Special Care Babies'*, borrow it from La Leche League, get to know your La Leche League Leaders, or other feeding consultants, know what you're about before the time comes, have a plan in place, yes you may have to change the plan but have a plan in place, know that you're going to breastfeed, don't think that you're going to breastfeed, know that you're going to breastfeed, and what tips you're going to use to make it work, if at all possible speak to anyone in charge, I mean we had a Cardiac Liaison Nurse who I could speak to before who knew how important it was to me and if you have someone similar speak to them, tell them how important it is to breastfeed. I wish I'd been able to get that book onto the ward and to the ward staff before I went through it and that might be an idea. And speak to anyone who's been through anything similar, if you can get hold of anyone through any of the heart charities, or I suppose charities with other babies with problems, but know in yourself that it is, both the hardest and the most important thing you can ever do for your child, forget the right school, forget living in the right area, forget anything like that, the most important thing you could do, especially for a special care baby is to breastfeed them.
*Footnote' The book that this woman refers to is 'Breastfeeding Special Care Babies (Second Edition)' written by Sandra Lang and published by Elsevier Health Sciences in 2002.
There were several do's and don'ts that the women mentioned. The do's included' expect the unexpected; go with the flow; accept that things will change; trust and follow your instincts; be confident; be patient and take it slowly; share your experiences with other people; let go of the housework and accept help so that you can spend time with your baby; only do what you are comfortable with; keep trying and stick with it for longer than a week; enjoy it the best you can; be proud of yourself and every drop of breast milk that you are giving your baby.
Her advice is to say that you want to breastfeed your baby and to hold onto that thought - it is...
The don'ts that the women mentioned included' don't be embarrassed, ashamed or scared; don't worry about what other people think; don't try to set up routines; don't buy unnecessary goods; don't expect breastfeeding to happen straight away; don't put pressure on yourself for everything to work out perfectly; and don't panic or beat yourself up if things do not go according to plan. Several women said that it was important to keep things in perspective and not to buy into the feeling of failure because any breast milk was better than none.
She thinks it is important to keep things in perspective and realise that you may not get it...
So what would you say to someone who feels that they are in that vortex that you describe?
I think to not eat yourself up, to give yourself a break and to think, 'I'm doing so, so well', I think that's the thing. It's maybe a women thing, a woman thing as well, to give yourself a pat on the back and actually acknowledge, because there are two schools of thought. When I was little, when I was a baby then it was formula is the best thing, now I know that breast is the best. I think if breast can be a big part of your baby's life then you're doing a fantastic job, but if it gives you a break to give a little bit of formula then you're not actually harming the baby, of course you're not, but if you need to give a little bit, then you should do it.
Do you think there's something in women that makes them strive for perfection?
Oh I think there definitely is, and producing a baby, then you've made something that is so perfect, then you want to get everything right for it, you want to do the best, it's an extension of you, you want it to be perfect. But the baby is also a bit of a spanner in the works as well because, you know, things happen and you learn things in the first few weeks of having a baby and you think, 'How come nobody ever told me about that?' so the best nappy cream, and the best teething gel, you know, things now that friends say to me, 'Yeah but what's the best in that?' And I'll just tell them what I think and they'll go, 'God how come nobody ever told me that?' So it's almost, when you're in the first few months of motherhood it's like a whole new world, and, so it's not like when you get a job because you're sort of sharing that, with other people, it's really quite a, it's a very, very special time and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It's very beautiful but with that also comes stress and striving to do the best and maybe not getting it right all the time.
Women who experienced breastfeeding difficulties thought it important to make new mothers aware that breastfeeding sometimes doesn’t work out. And if this is the case, they shouldn’t feel ashamed or stress out and that the most important thing is to enjoy the new baby.
Ruth’s message to new mothers is ‘Happy mother, happy baby, if you can breastfeed on top of that, fantastic’.
Lizzie’s message to new mothers is to do what works best for them and the baby and not to feel ashamed if breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated November 2011