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Breastfeeding

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...

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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Can you explain a bit more why you think breastfeeding's one of the best experiences? What is it about it that makes you glow when you talk about it?        

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...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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What would you say to a newly pregnant woman?

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.

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Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
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What would you say to a pregnant mother then?

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...

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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I wish I had seen more people breastfeeding, I wish I had known that the way you position them is important and the way you put their mouth to the breast is important, you can't just sort of put them on willy-nilly. I wish I'd known that it wasn't going to be easy straightforward, I mean I know for some people it is, but I would say the majority of people I know have had quite a lot of problems beginning breastfeeding. So maybe I wish I'd, armed myself in advance with a few books or maybe gone to some kind of breastfeeding workshop or classes or something. I really wished there'd been a Breastfeeding Clinic in London where I had my first baby, there is one where I live now, which has helped, helped me with my second baby, I should have mentioned that I, that I did go to see them and they were very good at telling you how to latch the baby on and encouraging you to keep persevering even if it was difficult. I think the encouragement and support from people who've breastfed themselves or who know, know a lot about it is one of the most important things. I wish that I'd had more family who'd breastfed or, more friends, I think if I had then I would've known what to expect a bit more with the first baby.

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...

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Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
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To a for a new mother who's planning to breastfeed I would say, 'Make sure you've got all your support networks in place, make sure you've got a lot of time to relax and a lot of time to discover your baby and discover the breastfeeding relationship lots and lots of skin to skin contact definitely a really big positive and if you have any problems at all get in contact with someone before they get so bad that you can't bear them.'

 
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She knew that breastfeeding was the most important thing that she could do for her baby in...

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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What would you like to say to a pregnant woman who found herself in a similar situation to you?

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...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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I think that the best thing that you can do is say that you want to breastfeed your baby and to hold on to that thought and to find as much help and advice that you can get to be able to continue breastfeeding. Now that can be from a breastfeeding counsellor at the hospital, it might be from your midwife, it may well be from a very supportive health visitor that you have in your area, it might be from a mother and toddler breastfeeding group, it may well be from someone like the La Leche League, but tap into it because it is there and there will be someone who can put you onto someone who will help you. If like me that you need to go and see somebody every day and you want to do supervised feeds there will be someone somewhere who can help you. There might be a breastfeeding mother mentor group in your area, but there will always be help to, for you to get through it. The other thing is if you do have problems is to realise that it's not going to be over and done with within a week or two weeks, it is an on-going learning process for you and the baby. And that was the hardest thing to come to terms with because of the worry about my maternity leave just going away on the whole problem with breastfeeding. But once I accepted it, this is my job to breastfeed my baby, my maternity leave is not a holiday it is maternity leave, it is here to look after my son. So once I looked at it from that attitude and once I then thought if I have to go to the hospital every day and breastfeed with a load of mums in a room then I will see this as an opportunity to meet other mums who I wouldn't have met had I stayed at home with my breastfeeding being absolutely excellent. So it's a, starting to look at the problems as being positives and opening up a new world for you really. But I would say don't give up because the power of breastfeeding is that you can go and do it anytime, anywhere, any place, you and your baby, and it is just so much easier in the long term. It's cheaper, it's easier, it's healthier, you bond better with your baby, and it's just the best thing.

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.

 
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She thinks it is important to keep things in perspective and realise that you may not get it...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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Yeah about keeping everything in perspective then my son is only three but now things, I don't remember things as being particularly difficult. So you asked me about weaning before and I was actually quite thrown because I thought, 'Oh I don't remember that being particularly hard' I remember being a bit organised in that I had a list on the fridge that I'd got from a book and I'd copied it out dutifully, and there were loads of things on this list, and it said that he could have baby rice for a few days and then he'd go on to the vegetables, and fruit, different kinds of things, and as he didn't react then I'd tick them off and do combinations of things. But as far as that all being difficult, then I suppose I think perhaps after all that I'd been through then that didn't really seem like a big deal. And again my priority has always been how can I do the best for him? Which is why I pursued the breastfeeding and I suppose there was, you know, bits of guilt in me at the time thinking, 'Oh why can't I do one hundred percent breastfeeding? Why have I got to do formula?' but looking back I think that was all because I was in a little, a tiny little vortex that going smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and more concentrated, but after a few months then the picture gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and things slip back into place and become more normal.

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’.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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Again, as I said, my attitude has changed. I’m probably a little bit more bolshie than I was before because I’d had such a bad experience with it last time and I’m not going to let people bully me in the same way as they bullied me the first time. But it does, I think there’s been a shift back more to the fact that it’s, mothers well-being is also important. That, you know, if you stress the mother out then they get over anxious. Then they either end up with more depression or the baby ends up with taking on the anxiety, getting more stressed and the baby can be more colicky and more cryie and less settled and not feed as well because it’s feeling stressed because the mother is stressed and all of that so I just think, you know, ‘Happy Mother, happy baby.’ If you can breastfeed on top of that, fantastic. If you can’t, don’t stress about it. And I think that’s certainly my message to other mothers is, don’t discount breastfeeding because I still think it’s a really, really good thing to do. But don’t stress yourself if you can’t do it. And there are lots and lots of people out there that have problems. They might all not talk about the fact that they’ve had problems but there are lots of people out there who have problems. So you’re not alone in having problems if you can’t do it and you’re not alone in not being able to do it if you can’t do it but don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t get stressed about it. The most important thing is a happy, feeding, gaining weight baby. So, you know, go with whatever works to be able to accomplish that for you.
 

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.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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I would say for - I would say don’t be ashamed of it. I think I felt ashamed that I couldn’t do it. And felt that - yeah, that I wasn’t a good enough mum. And I think, don’t ever, ever think those thoughts because you’re a good mum if you find a way to keep your baby happy and healthy. And I think, for me, I would still encourage women to do as much breastfeeding as you can, but to recognise that if it’s, if it’s not enough, then there is no harm, I feel, in topping up with formula. And that’s we did. It was definitely a, we didn’t replace. We topped up. So I would breastfeed. If he was still hungry, I’d, the, he’d then bottle feed. And that worked for us. I think after a while we then, as he needed more food because he was growing, we then did it so I then alternated feed. So I then did a, I did a breastfeed and then the next one was a bottle feed, next one was a breastfeed, next was the bottle. And we did that for a bit. And eventually it got to the point where I was just giving him one breastfeed in the morning. So it’s sort of going, start to recognise what works for you and feel confident enough that you’re a good enough mum that that’s, you know, you know how to keep your baby happy. So don’t feel that - feel that you’re letting your baby down. I think you’re, yeah, you’re doing the best for your baby by making sure they’re, they’re happy and healthy. However, whatever milk source that might be.

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated November 2011

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