Breast is Best, so the saying goes. And as a mummy who now is almost exclusively breastfeeding my baby, I definitely agree. There’s no doubting that breastmilk is better for your own baby, considering that it tailors itself to suit your baby’s needs – adapting to aid the immune system and adjusting as the baby grows. I’m no expert in this matter, and I’m not claiming to be, so here’s a link to the wonderful Dr Sears to explain what I’m talking about in more detail
However, breastfeeding (although obviously the most natural way of feeding your baby), is not always easy at first. I’d love to blog here that it is – that it’s just so simple, but that’s not always the case. Some mummies and babies just need a bit more help at the start, and that’s also totally normal. I think that if more mummies got proper, educated support from the start then the rates of continued breastfeeding (rather than what people do in the first couple of weeks) would rise.
I thought I’d share with you my experiences, as my breastfeeding journey really hasn’t been an easy one at all. But nearly seven months later, I’m still feeding Monkey myself and it’s just wonderful! I’m very proud of myself for persevering and I hope that by writing down what I’ve been through, it may be of use to others.
When Monkey was born, I had a waterbirth – so we had immediate skin-to-skin contact and he latched on straight away, which was fantastic. So when we left the hospital we were exclusively breastfeeding and I was one very happy mummy.
But, within about three weeks it started to become obvious that Monkey just wasn’t getting enough at each feed. Add to that the fact that breastfeeding was exceedingly painful (but his latch, according to the midwives, was fine) and he was screaming uncontrollably at every feed – I was getting very upset. I did everything that I could think of, read information on many websites (including the brilliant Kelly Mom website) and called my midwife and local breastfeeding support workers (a.k.a. The Pink Ladies). The midwife came around and, to be very honest with you, wasn’t very helpful at all. She suggested that I might need to top up with a formula and didn’t give me much more help than that. So we did…
Topping up with normal formula was an unmitigated disaster as it turned out that Monkey is lactose intolerant and instantly developed a horrendous rash all over him, was projectile vomiting and firing out the other end. He had ulcerated sores on his bottom and it was just miserable. A quick emergency dash to the doctors, plus a stool sample test confirmed the intolerance and he was put on a prescription hypoallergenic formula that I could use to top him up to aid my pitiful supply.
Then a lovely Pink Lady came along (breastfeeding support worker). She instantly diagnosed tongue tie (which I had suspected and had asked her about). This was confirmed by the doctor and we were referred to a local NHS specialist to have it divided, as it can really affect a baby’s ability to breastfeed properly and correctly stimulate the production of milk. This entails a really quick snip of the tightened skin under the tongue, which doesn’t hurt a younger baby much at all. It was done incredibly quickly and he was put on the breast immediately afterwards. The difference was astounding. There was no pain, at all, and he was suckling away very happily. However, my supply was still very low and the doctors (after much persuasion from the Pink Ladies) prescribed me Domperidone tablets to increase my supply. You can get these over the counter (they’re called Motillium), but they cost an absolute fortune and you should always go and see your doctor if you want to use them, rather than self prescribe.
I decided that there must be things that I could do to help me increase my milk supply further, so I started to read more and more via the net. Various groups online gave me ideas and I added in some pumping sessions in between feeds to trick my body into creating more milk. If I was feeding Monkey on one side, I’d pump on the other, which really did make a difference. I also made sure that I kept up my fluid levels, avoided too much caffeine, started to drink fennel tea and take fenugreek supplements (all of which are meant to help increase production).
Then I started to think more about my diet. Someone suggested that I eat oats as they help to increase milk supply, so I looked that up online. Then a whole new area opened up to me that I’d previously known nothing about. There are certain foods that can help a mum to increase her supply and are not difficult to get hold of, or cook with. The more I looked into it, the more I found out about lactogenic diets. Diets where you purposefully eat foods that help to promote prolactin and avoid foods that can restrict the amount of oxytocin (the two hormones that are key to creating milk).
There are some fantastic recipes online for lactation cookies, and that’s the first thing that I started to make and eat. My favourite recipe is this one
but there are many others that you can get hold of online when you go searching.
However, the main problem with finding things for a lactogenic diet, I’ve found, is that most of the recipes are American (with ingredients weighed in cups) and being utterly exhausted with a colicky, refluxy baby that hardly sleeps, I just kind of gave up on finding other recipes that I could easily use, as they flummoxed me a bit!
Monkey has been obviously doing well on mainly my milk (with some occasional top-ups if needed) but I started to realise that if I wanted to keep him mainly on breastmilk when I go back to work then I needed to think about upping my supply a bit more, as I just don’t get much out when I pump. That’s apparently really common, but with a low milk supply anyway, trying to get a decent amount of frozen breastmilk is proving to be a bit of a challenge.
After a long search, I’ve finally found something that I think might prove to be very helpful for me. ‘The Contented Calf’ www.contentedcalf.com is a cookery book by two UK ladies, called Elena and Jassy, that has lots and lots of recipes that help to promote milk production. I’ve literally just got it yesterday morning and am going to have a good flick through it over the next few weeks to get some ideas. I plan to blog about them and let you know which ones work the best for me. There are some gorgeous-sounding ones, such as Fig and Fennel Scones (yum!) and Coconut Fairy Cakes, so I think I’ll be having a lot of fun making them.
I’ve recently talked to some paediatric nurses who were fascinated by the idea of a lactogenic diet and I also discussed with them the use of galactogogues (substances, usually herbal) that can increase milk production. Both these nurses hadn’t heard much about this approach to increasing supply and they have both since looked into it more detail (and are very impressed!) If there’s a more natural way of helping mummies to feed their babies themselves, then surely it should be something that more people should be trained in. I would have loved to be given some advice about how to alter my diet to help me when Monkey was tiny – it would have save an awful lot of heartache and problems. Hopefully this new approach to my diet will help me achieve my goal of feeding Monkey myself for longer.