TAKING CARE OF THE BREASTFEEDING MOTHER
Nutrition and rest is crucial to our health.
There is not very much “hard evidence” on the exact recipe of what to eat or how many hours to sleep for tangible benefits, but there is a lot of common sense and wisdom sifted through trials of practice.
The medical mindset is always: “mum must breastfeed every feed to bring milk in”!
We had to make an adjustment in our own practice when we encountered many clients with a Chinese background prioritize sleep and nutrition over this “rule”. A family member would take the baby, mostly at night, for the mum to sleep. **Shock to the midwife**
These women were served lots of soups and easily digestible food. Come day three, their milk flowed in abundance.
The questions this sparked! Is rest and nutrition really the key to milk supply? What about the simulation from the baby to help the milk come in?
We love these moments where what we know is seriously probed.
It seems like milk coming in on the third day or so after birth is so strongly programmed in the body, perhaps dominated by the hormonal shifts post birth, that the lack of “ ‘round the clock” stimulation does not appear to interfere with it dramatically.
Well, both series have scientific backing. Baby’s sucking does send a signal to the mother’s brain to make more milk. The natural shift in hormones after birth does happen regardless if a mother breastfeeds, triggering the initial production of milk. Good nutrients and rest surely, could only aid our body in doing such high caloric work.
So now, our approach is more holistic.
We recommend feeding frequently and not skipping night feeds. But as new mums tend to prioritize their babies' needs over their own, we also make sure we emphasize nutrition, sleep, and how to play with these balances to find a fit for yourself.
The best piece of advice for a new mum is probably to plan how you will be taken care of when the baby has arrived.
The anxious energy during those last days of pregnancy can be channelled into prepping for mummy’s meals after the baby arrives. You have time to think of the nutritional balances in each meal, something your brain will have no time or energy for later.
See our specially compiled content for Breastfeeding Eating.
Some simple ideas are outlines below:
A hydrating bowl of nutrients
We are a fan of soups.
A lot of women from Asian heritages are served an assortment of high-fat, high-nutrient soups for easy digestion and hydration.
This is believed to help their recovery and help the milk come in.
Sometimes, a family member would bring a freshly cooked thermos of soup to the hospital after birth. As a tired, hungry midwife watching enviously, I think a hearty bowl of soup is only beneficial for everyone.
FISH AND CHICKEN
Typical high-energy ingredients
Vegetarian options include: tofu, eggs, chia seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, but some nutritious, high-fat content that is not too hard on the digestive system.
We have curated some high-nutrient, freezer-friendly meals here.
Pre-washing, cutting, and grouping ingredients can make it a faster and easier meal time preparation.
SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS
Snacks provide versatility, when it's just one of those days. You might not have time to prepare a full cooked meal, but you can still nurture your body. Preferably, snacks you can eat with just one hand.
You can find a list of moderate or low carb snack ideas here!
WATER, TEA & FANCY DRINKS
You might find yourself feeling parches as soon as your start breastfeeding.
PRO TIP: As soon as you sit down to breastfeed, have a glass of water.
You can incorporate some fancy drinks (ice teas, warm milk & honey) to give yourself an extra boost!
Supplementation is never essential, but it can help cover your bases when you are busy and overloaded.
You can continue your prenatal vitamins if you still have some left from pregnancy. If not, you probably don't need to buy a whole new bottle.
Most people need some vitamin D supplementation, especially in the winter. When you're breastfeeding, this is also important for your baby as vitamin D will pass through the milk.
You might consider an iron supplement if you find it difficult to get enough through your diet (dark leafy greens, chicken, clams). Iron can help with your energy level and replenishing your stores after birth.
Sleep is important. It can be tough to balance sleep with “not missing feeds” to establish breastfeeding and milk supply.
Sleep deprivation will not help milk production or a new mum’s mood. Passing on breastfeeding for multiple feeds can lessen the signals to your brain for milk production and take away practice time for you and your baby. This may create a cycle where breastfeeding becomes more difficult, takes longer, and less pleasant.
What can you do?
Assess the sleep situation.
You track diapers and feeds, but take a moment to recall your sleep pattern.
If you add up every 1 to 3 hour stretch are you getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep?
You should be.
Ways to pick up on extra sleep:
SKIP ONE FEED
Skipping a feed every once in a while will not make or break breastfeeding.
It could make you feel like a new, calmer person. Try to not go longer than 4-6 hours without breastfeeding. Your bursting breasts might even wake you up before that point.
Depending on your preferences, you could pump milk to use for the feed you skip, or supplement.
Which feed to skip?
There is no right answer to this. It depends on how tired you are at a particular moment and your baby’s own unpredictable pattern.
Babies tend to go through a fussier period in the evening, this might be a good time to offer them the breast, make sure they have a good feed, and pass them onto your partner for some much needed bonding time.
SHORTEN THE FEEDS
Feeds where you’re struggling with latch can take a long time. Sleepy babies can also make the feed longer. Understandably, the first few days feeds can last longer as you're still learning how to latch your baby. If you're finding feeds to consistently take longer than 60 mins, you can try:
Making it your job to keep your sweet babe awake at the breast. Try: gently blowing over their face, a cool cloth, tickling their feet, rubbing their back.
Actively observe your baby feed. If you see them slowly down after 20 mins or so, take them off the breast and switch sides.
Switch sides more often if you baby slows down quickly. Babies should be gulping at the breasts for 10-15mins after your milk has come in. If you find your baby slowing down after 2-5 mins, you can switch sides after 5 mins, and then switch again for a second round. That is: 5 mins left, 5 mins right, and repeat.
Breast massage or compressions can help your baby drain the milk
Have a shorter session with breastfeeding (around 15-20mins) followed by some pumping so someone else can finish the feed with the baby or use it at the next feed
Cluster-feeding is when your baby wants the breastfeed nonstop. This happens on the second day when they try to bring your milk in. This also normally happens during the night time, where your milk supply is lower.
We recommend offering your baby the breast anytime they ask for it, but it is your personal preference if you would like to let them continue suckling and soothing for comfort. An option to protect your sleep is to first ensure they have a good feed. Then, if they fuss again within an hour or continue suckling after their feed, have your partner or a family member soothe the baby instead.
I say sleep in, because early dawn and morning is usually the timeframe when babies have a longer stretch of sleep.
"Sleeping when your baby sleeps" can be hard for people not used to day time naps but sleeping-in is easier to do.
Naps are your friend.
If you find napping difficult because you’re normally not a napper, you might have to change your mind for a few days just to let yourself recover. You might have to let go of ideas you had of yourself and just go on pause mode.
When you wake up from the nap, you’ll be happier.
A Final Reminder:
No one is expected to navigate and take care of themselves on their own
- even if you are a power couple.
Reach out to family, friends, and your community.
If you find yourself needing extra expertise: a customized nutrition plan for optimal healing, or an individualized feeding plan that works for you and your family, we are happy to serve you with our no-time-limit