You've likely heard ‘I didn't know breastfeeding would be so hard', 'I thought it'd just come naturally' or 'I wish I had known what to expect'. While there's a crescendo of conversations surrounding birth plans for mums-to-be, there's an echoing silence on the equally vital topic: the feeding plan.
The landscape of baby-feeding is vast and varied, spanning exclusive breastfeeding, pumping, formula feeding, and myriad combinations thereof. Prioritising a proactive approach into this vital topic before the arrival of your little one not only illuminates the basics but also primes you for potential challenges and introduces invaluable support services—key ingredients for a joyful and empowered feeding journey.
While the act of feeding might seem straightforward, the intricacies involved make a feeding plan an invaluable tool for new mothers. By planning ahead, you give yourself the best chance to make the feeding experience as fulfilling and stress-free as possible for both you and your baby.
Embrace the reality that breastfeeding can encompass a variety of experiences. From occasional leaks to engorgement, sore nipples, intense letdowns, blocked ducts, mastitis, and supply challenges—these are all part of the spectrum. Rest assured, it's not all gloom. Many women cherish joyful breastfeeding experiences. Yet, acknowledging that challenges can arise and that they are entirely normal can feel comforting during the tough moments.
Taking time before birth to learn the basics, being prepared for challenges and knowing what support services are available to you will help set you up for success in your feeding journey.
Just like a birth plan, the purpose of a feeding plan is to get a feel for your preferences, educate yourself about the possible choices and situations ahead of you, and to help you communicate these to your partner, family and healthcare provider.
Armed with firsthand experiences and expert insights, Mammae is here as your bosom friend, to guide you through crafting a comprehensive yet adaptable feeding plan tailored to your unique needs. My aspiration is that this article not only heightens awareness but also inspires thoughtful reflection and a proactive momentum towards enhancing breastfeeding experiences for all motherland.
Why Embark On A Feeding Plan?
Chat with new mothers, and you'll be met with candid reflections—'Why didn't anyone tell me breastfeeding could be this tough?', 'I assumed it would all just click into place', or the all-too-familiar, 'Had I only known...' Parallel to a birth plan, a feeding plan's essence lies in its threefold purpose: honing in on your inclinations, arming yourself with knowledge about potential pathways and challenges, and creating a bridge of communication with your partner, family, and healthcare practitioners. By defining your goals and priorities for this journey, you equip yourself with the knowledge and strategies to seamlessly navigate any potential challenges.
Where To Begin?
Initiating your feeding plan begins by identifying your primary approach: are you inclined towards exclusive breastfeeding, or are you contemplating formula feeding from the outset? Flexibility is key in your feeding strategy, but this foundational choice illuminates the path forward.
Additionally, even if you're firmly committed to direct breastfeeding, familiarising yourself with the intricacies of milk expression, storage, and preparation can be invaluable. Be it transitioning to pumped milk or introducing formula, this foundational knowledge ensures a seamless shift, allowing you to focus on savouring those invaluable moments with your baby rather than grappling with undue stress.
Anticipate Potential Breastfeeding Challenges Before The Birth
Breastfeeding, while a natural journey, is influenced by an array of factors, both biological and environmental. Biologically, conditions such as inverted or flat nipples, past breast surgeries, or thyroid disorders can play a role. On the environmental front, challenges can emerge from inadequate support systems, limited access to necessary services, or societal pressures.
Recognising these potential hurdles before your baby's arrival is instrumental. Not only does it allow you to delve into how these factors might affect breastfeeding, but it also equips you to explore supportive methods, services, or products tailored to your situation. This proactive approach enables constructive conversations with your healthcare provider and helps you pinpoint external support resources as needed.
Take, for instance, breastfeeding mothers battling hypothyroidism—many report challenges in establishing and sustaining an ample milk supply. Within your breastfeeding strategy, considerations could include potential techniques to adopt should your breastmilk supply fall short and whether you'd opt for supplementation through pumped milk, donated milk, or formula.
Enrol in a Breastfeeding Workshop
If breastfeeding is on your feeding radar, enrolling in a breastfeeding workshop is an invaluable initial step. This space offers a fertile ground for acquiring practical insights. It's often the first platform where you can pose tailored questions to a seasoned instructor, who is likely to be a midwife or a lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding workshops are widely accessible, with most hospitals featuring maternity wards hosting on-site classes. Furthermore, private lactation consultants also organise specialised workshops to cater to diverse needs. If in-person attendance poses a challenge, the digital realm opens up a plethora of online options, providing the flexibility to learn at your own pace and convenience. Beyond the classroom, a treasure trove of resources awaits to nurture your understanding of breastfeeding and pumping. The Australian Breastfeeding Association, Tresillian, Karitane, along with our own Breastfeeding Resources, offer a plethora of valuable insights. Delving into the basics of breastfeeding and the common challenges that many women encounter equips you with tools to surmount them, ultimately preparing you for the journey ahead. On that note, stay tuned as we have some very exciting projects underway - coming soon.
Empower Yourself with Pumping Knowledge
Pumping, a less discussed aspect in standard breastfeeding classes, deserves its share of attention. While breastfeeding courses often offer a breadth of insights, pumping—its techniques, tools, and nuances—tends to be less prominently covered, making this critical facet of the infant feeding journey deserving of closer examination.
Effective pumping isn't solely about the act of using the pump; it’s about mastering techniques that maximise milk extraction while ensuring comfort. For instance, the "hands-on pumping" method, which involves massaging and compressing your breasts during the process, can significantly enhance milk output. Flange size, the funnel-shaped part of the pump that cups your breast, is pivotal in this journey. Ensuring that your nipple is centred and moves freely without excessive areola being pulled into the tunnel is essential for comfort and efficiency.
Once you've successfully pumped, the focus then shifts to storing breastmilk appropriately. Whether you're freezing it for future use or simply refrigerating it for the next feed, understanding and adhering to storage guidelines is crucial for preserving the milk’s nutritional and immunological properties. This extends to bottle preparation as well; warming breast milk requires a gentle approach, typically using lukewarm water or a designated and controlled bottle warmer, and it’s advisable to swirl, not shake, to maintain the milk's integrity.
The realm of pumping extends beyond the mechanics and into the world of accessories designed to optimise the experience. Nipple cushions, hands-free pumping bras, and specialised milk storage bags are just a few tools that can simplify and enhance the process.
As for the pumps themselves, the range is vast. Manual pumps, known for their portability and quiet operation, are ideal for occasional pumping. Electric pumps, on the other hand, are more suited for regular use, often boasting adjustable suction levels and the capability to express milk from both breasts simultaneously. For those seeking high efficiency, hospital-grade pumps stand as the gold standard.
Before investing in a pump, thorough research is paramount. Evaluating personal needs, such as frequency of pumping, portability requirements, and budget constraints, can guide you towards an option that seamlessly integrates into your own unique lifestyle. Above all, remember that pumping, much like breastfeeding, is a uniquely personal journey. What's effective for one person may differ for another, making it imperative to listen to your own body and remain equipped with the right knowledge.
Embrace Your Support Network
Is there a community of women within your family or among your friends who are currently or have recently been on the breastfeeding journey? Don't hesitate to tap into this reservoir of knowledge and experience. Connecting with them can provide you with invaluable insights, firsthand tips, and emotional support. As I often share that, ‘one mothers story can be another mothers saviour.’
The majority of mothers cherish the opportunity to pass on their wisdom and stories about breastfeeding. Those who have nursed their babies recently are especially beneficial to approach because their advice is fresh, and they might be familiar with the latest resources, techniques, and support services that can make your breastfeeding experience smoother and more fulfilling. So, take a moment to lean on your 'village, because it can truly make all the difference in your journey.
Plan Your Breastfeeding Transition Back into the Workplace
Transitioning back to work while continuing to breastfeed demands meticulous planning and open communication. Before your maternity leave begins, engage in a proactive dialogue with your employer to set clear expectations. Discuss not just where, but also when you'll be pumping, and ensure suitable arrangements are in place to store your breastmilk safely.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association offers an informative guide titled "Going Back To Work," which serves as a comprehensive resource. It not only provides practical advice for balancing work with breastfeeding, but also emphasises your entitlements as a breastfeeding mother. Importantly, every woman has the right to express milk in an environment that's both clean and secure. Familiarising yourself with these rights is pivotal for a seamless return to the office. In essence, returning to work while breastfeeding is a journey that requires forethought, but with the right resources and preparation, you can navigate this path smoothly.
Gathering and Preserving Colostrum
In the past, the practice of antenatal colostrum collection was primarily reserved for pregnancies with elevated risk factors, such as gestational diabetes, which could potentially result in blood sugar challenges for newborns, or for mothers scheduled for planned caesarean sections. However, the landscape has evolved, and the recommendation for colostrum collection now extends to all expectant mothers with medical authorisation from their healthcare provider. If breastfeeding is on your horizon, take a moment to contemplate whether incorporating colostrum expression and storage during the latter stages of pregnancy aligns with your plan.
It's essential to note that colostrum expression and collection should only commence after reaching 36/37 weeks of gestation. This precaution is rooted in the concern of preterm labour, highlighting the significance of obtaining clearance from your healthcare provider before embarking on this journey. Your medical team's guidance and approval are paramount in ensuring a safe and optimal experience.
Nurturing the Golden Hour
The Golden Hour refers to the precious first 60 minutes or more after a baby's birth, where the newborn is tenderly placed on the mother's bare chest for an uninterrupted skin-to-skin bonding experience. When there's no pressing medical intervention needed for either the mother or the baby, this practice becomes the norm. Most post-birth evaluations for both the mother and the baby can be conducted during this intimate period.
The hallmarks of the Golden Hour include extended skin-to-skin contact, the choice of delayed cord clamping, and refraining from immediately cleaning the newborn. Brace yourself for perhaps the most visceral embrace you'll ever experience. It might be a bit messy, and yes, there's a chance your little one could have their first bathroom moment on you!
Beyond the emotional connection, the Golden Hour serves some essential physiological roles. It helps stabilise the baby's body temperature, aids in regulating their breathing, and reduces the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This window is also a prime time for mothers to initiate breastfeeding, as the baby may show interest in latching onto the nipple.
For those expecting to have a c-section, whether planned or due to unforeseen circumstances, it's worthwhile to discuss the feasibility of experiencing the Golden Hour or an adapted version with your healthcare providers. If, for any medical reason, you cannot partake in the Golden Hour, think about having your partner step in for the skin-to-skin bonding with the baby. Remember, while breastfeeding during the Golden Hour can foster a smoother initiation, missing out on this experience doesn't predetermine challenges in your breastfeeding journey ahead. Every mother and baby's journey is unique, and there are many paths to successful breastfeeding outcomes.
The Balance of Supplementing Strategies
Whether you’re considering exclusive breastfeeding, pumping, or supplementing with pumped milk or formula, it’s crucial to remember that each family's choice is unique, and the primary goal is ensuring your baby receives the essential nutrients they need. All these options are valid, and the decision rests on individual circumstances, preferences, and what aligns with your family's lifestyle.
Many women opt for exclusive breastfeeding due to personal convictions or because supplementing might cause fluctuations in their milk supply. On the other hand, some choose to exclusively pump or supplement with either pumped milk or formula. This choice may arise from a desire for more flexibility, the reassurance that comes from monitoring intake through bottle feeding, or allowing other caregivers the joy of feeding the baby.
Should you lean towards exclusive breastfeeding but find your baby needs supplementation, either temporarily or long-term, a well-thought-out plan can be invaluable during what might feel like a tense transition. Options for supplementation range from formula to pumped milk or even considering donor breast milk.
Historically, the prevailing advice was to promote exclusive breastfeeding for those babies who could receive adequate nutrition directly, avoiding the introduction of bottles or pacifiers, especially in the crucial first weeks of establishing milk supply. This stance was driven partly by fears of 'nipple confusion'—a concern that bottle-feeding might lead a baby to reject the breast. The contemporary perspective on this topic is varied, with experts holding differing views. However, it's vital to understand that breastfeeding involves a learning curve for both mother and baby. Babies who find bottle-feeding more straightforward might show a preference over time.
Another factor to consider is the importance of maintaining your milk supply when supplementing. Breastfeeding operates on a supply-demand principle. If a feed is replaced with formula or previously pumped milk, your body might not get the signal to produce milk unless you pump concurrently. This approach can sometimes feel more demanding than direct breastfeeding, especially when factoring in the steps of bottle preparation and cleaning. As you navigate this journey, weigh the pros and cons to find a balance that supports both your well-being and your baby's needs.
Navigating Postpartum Support in Australia
Postpartum is not a journey you should tread alone. Australia boasts an impressive framework of professional and community support, ensuring that every new mother feels understood, guided, and embraced as she embarks on the incredible journey of motherhood. The postpartum phase is a unique blend of immense joy, newfound responsibilities, and unexpected challenges. Recognising the available avenues for support is vital for a smooth transition into this new chapter.
In Australia, the nature of your postpartum support can vary depending on your locality, but here's a general guide on what to expect and whom to approach.
Midwifery Home Services: If you reside in certain parts of Australia, you can anticipate home visits from your midwife following childbirth. These sessions primarily focus on the well-being of both mother and child, ensuring key indicators like the baby’s weight and hip mobility are on track. It's a prime opportunity to discuss breastfeeding concerns, techniques, or simply to gather insights.
IBCLC Support: In Australia and New Zealand, lactation consultants work in public and private maternity hospitals, child health services and in private practice. Your GP or health professional may be able to recommend a consultant, or you can source one independently, without the need for a referral. To access an IBCLC® in private practice, click on the Find a Lactation Consultant Link. Private fees vary and health insurance rebates may apply. Lactation consultations are not covered by Medicare.
Child Health Nurse Visit: Apart from the midwives, you’ll also be greeted by a visit from your local child health nurse. Their role complements that of the midwives, offering guidance, and introducing you to the resources available at your local Early Childhood Health Centre. Additionally, they can connect you to local mother's groups, forming a community of parents with babies around the same age—a potential support system and a way to share experiences. There are also several specialised support services available to new mothers.
Australian Breastfeeding Association: The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is an incredible registered training organisation and the largest information and breastfeeding support service for the community, new mothers, and health professionals, in Australia. ABA breastfeeding counsellors are mothers who have breastfed and completed 900 hours of breastfeeding education and counsellor training. ABA peer volunteers provide reassurance and up-to-date information to women about breastfeeding, as well as practical tips and suggestions. ABA peer counselling is based on a Rogerian model, which is a relationship-based model of care, and includes communicating empathy, building rapport and having a non-judgemental positive regard for the woman. ABA predominantly provides support through their 24 h telephone helpline, and online or in community group meetings. Face to face peer support with a trained ABA counsellor can be provided on an ad hoc basis.
Tresillian and Karitane: Beyond their array of online resources and phone support, both Tresillian and Karitane stand out for their residential stay services. These programs are designed to aid new parents in feeding and settling their babies, all under the guidance of experienced professionals.
Your Personal Network: Often termed as your 'village', your family, friends, and community are indispensable pillars of support. Whether it's practical assistance like helping around the house, emotional support during tough days, or simply offering a listening ear, the importance of a nurturing personal network cannot be overstated.
Consider the Length of Your Breastfeeding Journey
Navigating the course of your breastfeeding journey is deeply personal and isn't something that needs a rigid timeframe from the outset. It's beneficial to ponder the potential duration as it can guide decisions, especially during challenging periods. For the initial 12 months of a baby's life, they predominantly rely on breastmilk or formula. After this phase, should you choose to transition, cow's milk and plant-based alternatives can serve as suitable replacements.
However, the journey of breastfeeding can sometimes face detours. Many mothers have an envisioned duration, but a myriad of unforeseen circumstances can usher in earlier weaning. Persisting breastfeeding challenges, such as blocked ducts or mastitis, can be overwhelming. In other situations, the commencement of certain medications or treatments that aren't breastfeeding-compatible may necessitate a shift. Other potential reasons include the mother's prolonged health issues affecting her milk supply, or the child developing allergies where formula becomes a more manageable solution. Sometimes, life throws in unexpected long separations from the child, or the baby might develop a declining interest in breastfeeding. For mothers balancing work and nursing, maintaining a consistent supply through pumping can present its own set of challenges. And, very importantly, a mother's mental or physical well-being can be a significant consideration.
Every mother's experience is unique, and each decision point, especially the choice to wean, is valid and deserves to be honoured and respected. As this chapter closes, it's natural for mothers to wade through a blend of relief and a touch of nostalgia.
Our Shared Journey
As we wrap up this discussion, we're reminded of the beautiful journey that lies ahead, one that we embark upon together. At Mammae, we understand the intricacies of motherhood because we're not just a brand – we're your close companion during this transformative season and thereafter.
Crafting a personalised breastfeeding plan with Mammae isn't just about checkboxes and schedules. It's about empowering you, celebrating your uniqueness, and supporting you in creating the most nurturing start for both you and your little one. We know that your journey is unlike any other, and that's why our products and guidance are designed to be flexible, adaptable, and responsive to your needs.
As you step into motherhood, remember that Mammae is here to walk hand in hand with you. Our commitment goes beyond just providing exceptional holistic care products; it's about fostering a community, a sisterhood of mothers who understand the joys, the challenges, and the sheer wonder of nurturing a new life.
So, let your breastfeeding plan be a roadmap to confidence, a source of comfort, and a reminder that you're never alone. Our passion lies in being a part of your story, your journey, and your legacy as a mother. Here's to embracing every moment, cherishing every bond, and entrusting Mammae to be your steadfast companion every step of the way.
Author | Founder Erin Deger
Visuals | Claire Mobbs