Breastfeeding and how to prepare for that journey, with Jenny Patterson
Dec. 1, 2020
I’ve been wanting to include a blog post on breastfeeding for a while now, and I thought what better way to share information about this than to collaborate with someone who’s been supporting women and their families in the perinatal period for over two decades?
As such, I’ve asked Jenny Patterson if she’d be up for answering a few questions on the subject of breastfeeding, and – to my great delight – she kindly agreed. I met Jenny through the great work of the Pregnancy and Parents Centre. I first got an insight into Jenny’s vast knowledge when I attended an event at the PPC where Jenny shared her refreshing and thought-provoking Fringe show ‘Neglecting Midwives gives Women PTSD’. More recently, Jenny joined us at the PPC as our Preparing for Breastfeeding workshop facilitator, which we are delighted about!
But enough of my writing! Let me share with you Jenny’s own words as she shares her knowledge and wisdom on the benefits and misconceptions of breastfeeding, how to prepare for breastfeeding and how to access support.
Hi Jenny! Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a mother of four sons, all now adults. Following the birth of my youngest son in 1997 I knew that I wanted to work with women and birth. I completed the Scottish Birth Teachers training via the PPC (at that time known as the Birth Resource Centre) and also doula training. I worked as a doula for around 4 years and then began my midwifery training, qualifying in 2007. As a midwife I have worked both within the NHS and as an independent midwife and spent 3 years working in the Lothian breastfeeding clinics. Now, having completed a PhD in PTSD and childbirth I am working as a midwifery lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University. So, I have spent over 20 years in and around women and families and midwifery. I am passionate about supporting women to have positive experience of childbearing and parenthood. For me this means up-to-date and informative antenatal education, excellent one-one support, and empowering women to discover their own path and realise their own potential as mothers.
What would you say are the benefits of breastfeeding?
The milk a mother makes in the first few days after her baby is born is called colostrum. Colostrum is rich and concentrated and provides the baby with a wealth of antibodies, nutrients, calories, as well as sugars that are designed to feed and establish healthy gut flora that boosts the baby’s immunity and gut development. Even if a mother only breastfeeds for the first few days, this is a valuable boost that is not possible from formula milk.
Breastfeeding usually takes a little time to learn and establish, with the right preparation and support this can be within the first few days to the first few weeks. Once established, breastfeeding is very convenient. Your milk is always ready, at just the right temperature, and perfectly designed for your baby’s needs, adapting as your baby grows. You always have a ready source to feed, soothe and comfort your baby, wherever you are. In Scotland, the law protects breastfeeding mothers with the right to feed their baby wherever they wish.
There is no question that with regard to health outcomes breastfeeding is best for both the mother and the baby. Breastfed babies have fewer infections, such as gastric or ear, less diarrhoea or vomiting, fewer visits to hospital, lowered risk of sudden infant death syndrome, less obesity as children or adults and reduced risk of heart disease as adults. For mothers, breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast or ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease and obesity.
These reasons are why midwives strongly promote breastfeeding.
What are some of the common misconceptions about breastfeeding?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that breastfeeding is painful. It should not be painful. Pain is a sign that something isn’t quite right, most often the way the baby has attached or is positioned can lead to the mother experiencing pain. Getting the right support and information can quickly resolve this. So many times, we met women in the clinics, and within a few minutes of guidance around how to hold and support their baby to attach well, the mothers experienced a pain free feed. Less often, there might be other causes such as breast or nipple infection or tongue tie. The important thing is that pain is sign something is not right and it is important to seek advice rather than grin and bear it.
Another misconception is that breastfeeding means that the mother is responsible all the time and unable to take a break from her baby, or that the father or partner misses out on connecting with their child. It is true that in the early weeks breastfeeding is frequent and time consuming, but there are lots of times when the baby will not be feeding and these are excellent times for the partner to be with their baby providing other care and getting to know each other. Meanwhile, the mother can take some time to care for herself. Usually by at least 6-8 weeks there is a more defined pattern and routine in the baby’s feeding and it becomes easier to plan life and self-care.
Another misconception is that it’s not possible to become pregnant again while breastfeeding. This is both true and not true. When the baby is only receiving breastmilk and no other supplements, feeding every few hours both day and night, ovulation can be suppressed. However, any longer gaps between feeds, such as sleeping longer at night, having a supplement feed, and sometimes other health factors can mean that ovulation will re-occur. So, breastfeeding should not be relied on as a means of preventing another pregnancy. More information about using breastfeeding as a means of contraception can be found through https://fertilitycare.org.uk.
What would you suggested women and pregnant people do before birth to prepare for breastfeeding?
If possible be around other breastfeeding mothers. Ask them about their experience, observe them feeding their babies. In the current Covid-19 situation this is difficult, but perhaps joining into online groups may be helpful. One example is https://llledinburgh.co.uk
Access good quality information about breastfeeding. The Off to a Good Start book provided by midwives is very useful. Also, some websites have lots of information and videos, like the ones below:
Attend a breastfeeding preparation class. At this time, many NHS classes are suspended. If you source a local class that may be helpful. Also, at the PPC we run a Preparing for Breastfeeding Workshop.
Can you share some tips for success?
One of the most helpful things in the early hours, days and weeks after your baby is born is to spend time with your baby in skin to skin. During the first hour after birth, your baby is highly attuned to your body and follows strong instincts to find and attach to your breast. Spending the first hour or so after birth with your baby in skin-to-skin with you enables your baby to follow these instincts and learn very early about how to attach well. Sometimes, depending on the type of birth you have and what you need directly after, skin to skin might not be possible immediately. But your partner can offer skin to skin with your baby which is also excellent. Once it is possible for you, your baby will continue well with you.
Over the next days and weeks being in skin to skin will be soothing and comforting for you and your baby and will help your baby to develop their ability to breastfeed well. Being in a space that is private, warm and safe can help you relax. Your baby can be dressed only in their nappy and a baby vest if you prefer.
Another helpful tip is to prepare things at home, such as food shopping and preparation. Filling your freezer with home cooked nutritious meals can be a wonderful resource in the early days. Establish online shopping (again this has been impacted by Covid-19) but it should be possible now to set this up. Identify friends or family who can help with practical things in the first weeks. Usually, people are very keen to help so don’t be shy to ask. Some good tips can be found here.
Be patient and kind to yourself. Recovering from birth and learning how to be new parents, breastfeed your baby and establish your new way of life can be challenging. Be gentle with yourself. If things are not going so well, remember this is normal, you and your baby are learning, and you will get there.
Protect your space. Limit your visitors to what feels right for you. In the first days and weeks having the space and privacy to be in skin to skin, to spend time with your baby and sleep or relax whenever you can is really important.
How can parents find more support?
These NHS pages provide lots of good links and info:
And here’s some info and support for dads or partners - http://www.newdadmanual.ca
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Preparing for Breastfeeding workshop at the Pregnancy and Parents Centre?
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova
Every two months we run this workshop at the PPC. At the moment we hope to keep this face to face, with strict social distancing and hygiene practices in place. During this workshop we will cover understanding how breastfeeding works and what helps it go well. We will cover the frequently asked questions and concerns around breastfeeding and have time for you to ask specific questions. It is a great chance to meet other women or couples and its often helpful to hear other people’s questions and thoughts.
Thank you so much, Jenny, for taking the time to share such useful information and knowledge!