23 May

Basics of Breastfeeding

While the basics of breastfeeding are the same, the experience is different for everyone. If you need help or support, call our NCT Feeding Line on 0300 3300 700, 8am-midnight, every day.

1. Colostrum is the first food for your baby. This protein-rich substance is packed with antibodies, and mothers start producing it during pregnancy.

2. Following the baby’s birth, it is the birth of the placenta that triggers build-up of the hormone prolactin, which controls the mother’s supply of milk.

3. In the first few days, babies feed very frequently (around 10-14 times in 24 hours). Each feed stimulates the release of more prolactin, and builds up the milk supply.

4. Spend as much time with your baby skin to skin on your chest as you can. This encourages newborn reflexes such as mouthing, rooting, and stepping, which help babies to position themselves and latch on.

5. Lots of skin to skin contact helps to stimulate the milk supply too. It also calms the baby, regulates his/her temperature, and helps to populate their immune system. Skin to skin with dad is great too!

6. Around 3-4 days after the birth, the volume of milk increases, sometimes dramatically, and the breasts may get engorged. If this happens, gentle hand-expressing, a warm flannel, or a bath may help.

7. A good position for breastfeeding is any position where the mother is comfortable and the baby’s body is fully supported by her body, not just her arms.

8. Feeds can last anything between 5 minutes and 45 minutes. Follow your baby’s lead, and try not to restrict the length of the frequency of feeds, because this may mean they don’t get enough milk.

9. If breastfeeding hurts (beyond the first few seconds), this is usually a sign that the baby is not well latched on. This can make feeds less effective, and reduce the supply of milk. Hold your baby comfortably so that he/she can open wide and get a good latch. If you need some face to face support with this, there are many local drop-in groups you can go to.

10. Newborn babies need to be close to someone most of the time, so there is plenty of opportunity for dads to help out with soothing, settling and cuddling, and babies will usually sleep well on their father’s chest.

07 Aug

One Week

Recently a father-to-be in an antenatal session asked about my work and commented on how varied it is. On a busy week I sometimes feel it might be a bit too varied! Now it’s the summer holidays and I’m not doing much at all, which is another big advantage of being self-employed. I thought I’d share a typical week:

In the morning I drive down to Hampshire to help at a breastfeeding drop-in running alongside a Health Visitors’ weighing clinic. It can be quite quiet but today there are a few mums and babies, and it’s a nice place to work because there’s another Breastfeeding Counsellor working alongside me. As you will see, while almost all my work is with people, it’s not very often that I work with a colleague.

Back from Hampshire in time to record an episode of Sprogcast with Mark Harris. This is a newish project, and great fun to do, but it’s pretty time consuming with the preparatory reading, interviews, and editing. It’s getting easier, though.

My son has a playdate after school so I don’t have to worry about doing his tea, but I do have to feed myself and my partner before I go out to facilitate session two of an NCT Essentials Antenatal Course. Session two is the one about labour and birth, so quite an intense evening for me, as this is not my specialist area.

I usually have to wind down in front of the television for an hour or so after an evening class; it’s nice to have some time with my partner, too.

This morning I’m running an Introducing Solids workshop in Reading. These are quite a challenge because the clients have such differing needs, and because I’m not used to working in a room full of babies. You would think that I’d be more confident, having done them for years now, but I have to take a deep breath before every one of these workshops.

I get home in time for a swim, before picking my son up from school and taking him for his own swimming lesson. No evening class tonight so I can chill with my partner.

On Wednesdays I run the local NCT Bumps & Babies group in a church in a town centre. I usually cycle in, then go for a swim afterwards. Bumps & Babies is fun, usually a good age range (the babies, that is!), and lots of chat. It’s a great place to come to meet other new mums and find out about what’s going on locally. We talk a lot about sleep, and nurseries.

In the afternoon I do a couple of hours on the NCT Breastfeeding Line, talking to (mainly) mums all over the country. Sometimes when the line is quiet I use that as my admin time, but sometimes a two-hour shift features back to back calls and a load of voicemail messages too.

The evening is tricky because my son has a karate lesson, and I have an antenatal group reunion, now that everyone in the group has had their baby and had a few weeks to get used to the idea. The group wanted it to be early evening, in a pub local to where I ran the course. This involves driving my son to my partner’s office, where he eats a picnic tea before getting the train home and walking up to karate; then going on to the pub and leaving in time to get back and pick him up at the end. And after that I had my tea!

A quiet day! So I might go for a run or a swim in the morning, and the only work I’m doing during the day is an hour on the Breastfeeding Line and a call with one of my BFC supervisees. Any spare time will be spent editing the podcast.

In the evening I drive to Windsor where I’m facilitating an antenatal breastfeeding session for NCT. This always feels like my “core” work, the thing I joined NCT to do. Most of the time it’s the best, easiest and most rewarding of my many roles. Even the challenging groups are usually fun, and if you like the inside of church halls, then oh my goodness this is exciting work. That’s not the main thing for me, though…

I’m in Didcot training a group of dedicated and enthusiastic mums to be Breastfeeding Peer Supporters. This is new work for me, and I’m learning a lot as I go along, as – I hope – are they! With the driving time, it takes up the full day and I’m usually home about five minutes before my son gets in from school. We usually spend Friday afternoon after school over at Ailsa’s house where the boys play together and we get to drink tea and debrief.

Over the last year I’ve tried to cut out weekend work altogether, although I do sometimes offer my time on NCT’s Crisis Support line for other practitioners. Sometimes I do a class on a Saturday morning, but particularly in the summer I try to avoid this. I used to do two a day on a Saturday which was exhausting but paid well enough to justify giving up half my weekend.

This was a typical week, with about 18.5 hours of paid work and I can only hazard a guess at how much unpaid work I do on top of that, with things like volunteering for my NCT branch, taking local breastfeeding support calls, and all the admin that my roles entail. And this is a week with no doula client, and possibly the reason why there’s no doula client is that I just can’t spare enough regular hours to support someone properly. I love my work, I love supporting new parents and being part of this massively varied and positive profession. And I love having the flexibility to drop it all in the summer holidays so that I don’t have to worry about childcare – and I love my partner (not only) because without his support I’d never be able to do any of this.

Views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of NCT.

10 Apr

ME time!

There’s no doubt that becoming a mother is a transformational experience. Initially absorbed in your new baby, obsessing over feeding or nappies or sleep, spending more time with new friends who are also new parents, evolving into a family instead of a couple: so many new things, so many changes. Some of us rail against it, fighting to get back to a long-lost ‘normal;’ others let it flow over us, knowing they won’t be small for very long. But all of us are fundamentally changed by the experience, whether we intended that to happen, or not.

One mother’s sense of lost identity is another mother’s sense of growth. We might mourn our freedom, high heels, spontaneous nights out, spare cash, hot cups of tea and the chance to finish a thought. And becoming a mother changes the way you are in your existing roles: you’re a different daughter, once you’re a mother. You’re a different wife or girlfriend. You’re a different sister, and a different friend.

For some people, going back to work renews one’s identity. For me, it brought it home to me how meaningless my work really was – and this despite working in the social compliance industry, which really does do a certain amount of good in the world. But paying to leave my baby with someone who didn’t love him as much as I do never felt right; trekking into Reading on a train with a hundred other miserable faces didn’t fill me with joy; the pressure to achieve miracles in a job that was both too easy and too hard was soul destroying. In the end I had to admit that I didn’t want my old identity back, I wanted to create a new one.

Maternity leave felt like a limbo between one state and the next: not enough time to adjust, and the looming return to work with its tantalising promise of a return to my old, easy life. Except it didn’t give me that, because all the mothering remained to be done outside my working hours, and I was still a different person in all my relationships, except my working relationships where motherhood seemed to count for nothing.

A few weeks after my return to work, I answered an ad in the NCT newsletter to train as a Breastfeeding Counsellor, not realising at the time that this was where my new identity would finally make sense. It’s now eight years since I sent that email, and I can barely recognise my pre-pregnancy self in the me that I am now.

Working in breastfeeding support appeals to my contrary nature (it’s controversial), my social and political conscience (breastfeeding is undervalued – and feminist), and my desire to do something good in the world. I like to be busy and it certainly meets that need. There’s a lot of interesting science stuff to know about. And with the addition of my work as a postnatal doula and other small related roles, I’ve been able to scrape a self-employed living at it, so I no longer have to answer to an employer. Nothing could make me happier.

My training with NCT and my ongoing reflective practice have helped me to develop empathy, listening skills, and a love of working with people instead of spreadsheets and schedules. I feel like a bigger person, a nicer person, and a person with more going on in her world than ever before. My whole life is so varied, and full of people; and for me, life since becoming a mother is glorious technicolour compared with the grey I can remember from before.

Views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of NCT.