Making breastfeeding work when you #StayAtHome

Photography:Poppy Peterson Photography

By Emma Pickett

So, you are home with your new baby. Someone said something to you antenatally about ‘taking time’ as a new family, reducing unnecessary visitors and making a ‘new baby nest’. 
 
And the world has taken it upon itself to make all that happen by arranging a global pandemic. 
 
Slightly over the top perhaps, but here we are. I hope you have everything you need. And don’t be shy about asking neighbours to help you if not. 
 
There are negatives in this situation for so many of us, but there are also some surprising positives. You will not get work harassing you to pop in for a meeting next week. You will not have your mum’s friend Sue ‘popping by’ to make unhelpful remarks about how often your baby is feeding. You will not be distracted by the desire to go to a restaurant on day 6. You can wear pyjamas all day and feel like you are helping humanity. 
 
We always knew partners had a key part to play in helping to make breastfeeding a success (and a partner may be a husband, wife, parent or good friend living with you in isolation), but now you are even more special as access to face-to-face trained breastfeeding support is likely to be limited for all of us. 

Breastfeeding has never been more important. It’s the perfect food for your baby and a wonderful medicine – giving pain relief and delivering anti-bodies and ingredients that kill and limit bacteria and viruses while providing calm and reassurance.

It can also reduce anxiety for parents too and we know that when someone reaches their breastfeeding goals, it can reduce their risk of mental health problems. 
 
This article is a summary of some key things you need to know to be the best enabler of good breastfeeding in the days and weeks to come. 

1. Despite how it may feel, you are not alone 

In most areas, you are being called by your community midwife soon after getting home and if you need to be seen face-to-face, that can still happen. You will get a face-to-face visit within the first few days where your baby will be weighed. Most babies will lose some weight after birth but ideally not more than 10%. If you are ever worried about any aspect of feeding, find help. Don’t wait to see if problems will work themselves out. The breastfeeding support community (lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters) are sitting at home too. Calls to the helplines are answered by volunteers who are specifically trained in being able to talk about breastfeeding without being able to see you. It always sounds a bit daft, but we know how to support with positioning and attachment without being in the same room. Try the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am-9.30pm).  There are several other helplines with different hours. You can also contact lactation consultants from across the UK who will use phone and video consultations to support you.  Many local breastfeeding drop-ins have moved to being online. 
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Have a look here for details on how to find different kinds of support.

2. Use technology to your advantage

Many lactation consultants and local breastfeeding support teams are using remote support like Zoom consultations, WhatsApp chat, Facetime calls and Skype. We can SEE breastfeeding sometimes more effectively than we were able to before. It’s useful for us to check how a baby is swallowing (more on that later). Usually during a breastfeeding assessment, we politely lean over to take a look at the baby on the breast for a few moments. With video, and a moveable camera like a phone or iPad, we can hover 5cms about the baby’s cheek for 10 minutes and no one thinks we are weird. 
  
It’s really useful if you can record some short videos to share with your breastfeeding supporter. Short ones that are less than 30 seconds will be easier to send. Take a video of the feed from different angles including standing a few steps away.

We’re looking at how the baby is held, the arms holding them, the chair, the cushions. And close up too – from above and then come around to the side so we can see both of the baby’s cheeks.

Stay above for a moment so we can see the baby’s chin moving as they are at the breast. And at the end of the feed, as the baby comes off, what does the shape of the nipple look like? 
  
We will keep these videos securely and respect your privacy. We may suggest that during our conversation, we all watch the videos again together. A bit like you are a professional tennis doubles team and we are your tennis coach watching a replay. We’ll talk about what we notice and how perhaps slight changes can improve things. 

3. If breastfeeding is uncomfortable, there are small changes that could make all the difference

You don’t always have to be trained in breastfeeding support to be able to suggest some changes that could really help. If your partner is in pain, just one comment, just one observation could transform everything and help the baby to get more milk. Breastfeeding isn’t supposed to be painful. A stretching feeling in the first few seconds of early breastfeeding is not the same as a feed that is painful, hurts all the way through and leaves a nipple looking squashed/ pointed/ ridged. If breastfeeding hurts, talk to someone. However, you may also be able to make some suggestions. 
  
Are they moving the breast TO the baby? Almost like they are bottle-feeding with a breast? Perhaps they are leaning forward, pulling the breast out of its natural position to reach the baby? If that’s happening, chances are that it’s shifting inside baby’s mouth once baby is on and bringing the nipple back to rub somewhere it shouldn’t. We talk about BABY TO BREAST. Make sure, if cushions are being used, they are the right height. Check they aren’t leaning forward to get to the cushion or lifting up their breast so there’s space for baby to fit in. This article outlines lots of the common adjustments that can make all the difference.

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