While breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally, especially in the early days, most mothers assume they’re supposed to know exactly what to do from the get-go – and inevitably feel like a failure when things go wrong. But nursing a baby is no easy feat, especially if you’re new to it, and that’s where lactation consultants come in.
Specialising in the clinical management of breastfeeding, these health professionals are on hand to help with everything from sore nipples and diminishing milk supply to finding an optimal breastfeeding position for you. We tapped one such professional whose experience and expertise awaits at King’s College Hospital in Dubai: Dr Sabeen Adil. Certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, she has been working in the field of lactation for the last 12 years and is deeply passionate about supporting families – not just new mothers – through the breastfeeding journey. Here, she shares eight things about breastfeeding that every beginner should know.
1. The onus is not just on the mother.
“Mothers should know that breastfeeding is not just their job. It will work only if everyone around her – her family, her doctors, her support system – comes together and supports breastfeeding. Only then it can work. Many times, the mother has not made any mistakes, but she did not get the support she needed from her paediatrician or her place of work, and that is why breastfeeding did not work out for her.”
2. A little preparation is in order.
“It’s common for new mothers to think that they don’t have to do anything to prepare themselves for breastfeeding. In fact, I often encounter mothers who admit that they didn’t think it would be hard. I recommend that pregnant women seek help, seek information before the baby is born because you will need to know how to breastfeed soon enough. Take some time to get yourself properly educated because, many times, it’s actually breastfeeding that becomes the most difficult part of the whole process. Luckily, there’s so much more information online compared to a few years ago. And of course, a lactation consultant would be happy to give you antenatal breastfeeding classes.”
3. Milk supply and a mother’s diet aren’t correlated.
“Breastfeeding is a natural continuation of pregnancy; that’s the normal physiology. Pregnancy ends and breastfeeding begins, so take care of yourself – hydrating adequately and getting the right nutrition – just as you did while you were pregnant. This will ensure that your own well-being is in order. Breastfeeding problems happen when there’s an impediment in the transfer of milk from the mother’s body to the baby’s body. And while there’s no specific diet that a mother needs to follow, a reduction in milk production indicates that a problem has already arisen.”
4. Breastfeeding products aren’t necessary but can help.
“You don’t actually need anything to breastfeed, but there are things like nursing pillows and nursing bras that can help – this can change from situation to situation. Breast pumps do have some utility in different scenarios, especially for working mothers and mothers who want to gain some of their independence back. It is a great tool because not only can it help in situations where milk supply is low or there’s a problem with milk transfer, but you can also use it to bottle-feed your baby after a certain period. There are more specialised devices out there, but I would only recommend using them under the care of a lactation consultant.”
5. Persistent soreness is a sign that something is off.
“I usually recommend that a mother apply her own milk to the areas that are sore because it really helps – but we don’t want to assume that soreness is a normal thing that will always occur. Yes, you might feel sore in the first week or so of your breastfeeding journey, but if the soreness and pain persists beyond that, you need to see a lactation consultant and get it sorted. Something’s wrong if breastfeeding is hurting.”
6. Stress will negatively impact the lactation process.
“One very important aspect within the environment is the mother’s stress levels. Oxytocin, the hormone that causes milk ejection, will be released if she is relaxed. And it will not be released if her stress hormones are high. This is the physiology of breastfeeding, so it’s really important that she is comfortable, not in pain, not in a hurry, and not worried about anything. If we want breastfeeding to work well, we really need to support the mother – ensure that her pain is being managed, that she’s eating enough. I always recommend you put on music or watch the next episode of your Netflix show while you’re breastfeeding so that you are relaxed and comfortable.”
7. A foolproof breastfeeding position doesn’t exist.
“There’s no one perfect position – I like saying that there are 360 ways a baby can latch on! As for my favourite position to teach? Breastfeeding while lying down. A mother can simply lie down and have the baby next to her. It’s a very comfortable position. Many, many women don’t know how to nurse in that position, and they’re surprised when I guide them on how to – it’s my favourite thing to teach new mothers.”
8. Understanding newborn behaviour can help new parents.
“It’s normal for a baby to ask for milk again and again. It’s normal for a baby to not sleep long hours – no baby sleeps like a baby. That’s such an incorrect concept. Every baby’s breastfeeding pattern is different, and it’s not something you can clock or time. Another thing I remind new parents is that a newborn has only two things to do in life: sleeping or eating. This means when he or she is done sleeping, it’s most probably time to eat, so don’t wait for your baby to cry out of hunger – crying is actually a very late sign of hunger. A good time to initiate a breastfeeding session is the moment a baby is waking up and getting alert about their surroundings. A crying baby is agitated and really hungry, so getting into an organised state becomes very difficult. As adults, we lose our patience when we are hungry – it’s no different for babies.”