Breastfeeding Advice with Erin Phibbs - Midwife, Childbirth Educator & Mum of 4


Top tips for an empowered and supported breastfeeding journey

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, your breastfeeding experience, and The Birth Trust?

Hi, I’m Erin. I’m a midwife, a mother of four and the founder of The Birth Trust.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by birth and now, I’m lucky enough to work in a profession that is also my biggest passion. Empathy and my desire to help and support people is at the heart of my practice.

In June 2020, while on maternity leave with my third baby, I began sharing midwifery education and motherhood musings via @thebirthtrust on Instagram. It was a way for me to keep my midwifery hat on while I was knee deep in motherhood. One year later, after numerous requests for private childbirth education classes, I threw caution to the wind and started teaching private, online and face-to-face, antenatal childbirth education.

My own transition to motherhood changed me and it’s this transition that has remarkably transformed my practice as a midwife. Each of my pregnancies, births and breastfeeding journeys have been different and through each I have learned so much. My breastfeeding experiences were peppered with allergies, static weights, oral ties, reflux, breast refusal, nipple damage, forceful-letdown and oversupply. Each hurdle we faced with determination and a deep desire to overcome it in order to continue feeding. There were days and nights that I cried and thought “I can’t continue to do this” but, my motto for breastfeeding was ‘never quit on a bad day’ so we would persevere. The connection and bond I felt with my babies through feeding was something I was never able to let go of easily.

What are the key benefits of breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is an act of female power and for some women it is an opportunity to regain trust in their body, especially if they feel let down by their birthing experience. It’s an innate mammalian process, but it’s not easy. It’s a learned skill, and like any other learned skill it takes planning, patience and perseverance. Despite the challenges, breastfeeding brings with it a bounty of benefits for both mother and baby.

Colostrum (first milk) and mature milk is jam-packed with antibodies and good bacteria. Breastmilk is a complete food and provides your baby with optimal nutrition. It cleverly adapts to meet your baby’s changing nutritional needs throughout development and during times of illness. Breastfeeding facilitates bonding between mother and baby and reduces the risk of SIDS. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risks of colds, middle ear, throat and gut infections and has also been linked to reduced risk of developing diabetes, bowel disease and allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema. People who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and ovarian and breast cancers.   

Breastfeeding is also a learned skill. While it’s natural, it’s not easy and for some people it unfortunately never gets easier. Learning how to breastfeed, while sleep deprived, with raging hormonal swings, in the midst of recovering from birth all while adjusting to your new life as a parent, is not easy.

For some mothers, continuing to breastfeed can be detrimental to their health and in turn the wellbeing of her baby. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Breastfeeding is not sustainable (long term) if you’re depleted and unwell physically and mentally. This is why it is so important that new parents have the right education and breastfeeding support.

What are your top 5 tips for breastfeeding?

  • Learn about breastfeeding before your baby arrives. An antenatal breastfeeding class is worth every cent if you ask me. If you plan to breastfeed, understanding breast anatomy, the role hormones play in lactation and how to get breastfeeding off to a good start is going to make the transition to parenthood so much smoother.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Make sure that your closest friends and family understand how important breastfeeding is to you and how imperative their support is to the success of your breastfeeding journey.
  • “Do or do not, there is no try.” Set out with a clear intention. Tell yourself that you will breastfeed. So often I hear “I’m going to try” when I ask clients if they want to breastfeed their baby. A positive mindset goes a long way, and believing that you will breastfeed your baby, despite challenges that may come up along the way, will set you up for success.
  • Prepare a breastfeeding friendly wardrobe in advance. Getting out of your pjs and getting dressed for the day makes a big difference to your mood and mental health postpartum. Not having breastfeeding friendly clothing in your wardrobe makes this incredibly difficult. Button-down shirts, Henley tops, breastfeeding singlets and stretchy dresses are all great pieces to have on hand.
  • Breastfeeding is hungry work and baby’s take-up a lot of time. With this is mind, it’s helpful to batch prepare and freeze healthy nutritious meals before your baby arrives. If frozen meals don’t do it for you, another great option is a meal-train setup amongst your close friends and family. Having hearty and healthy meals readily available during the early weeks of parenting, while you’re learning to breastfeed and establishing your milk supply, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself or be gifted by others.

What are some of the breastfeeding positions every mum needs to have in her repertoire?

No two bodies or babies are the same. This means that everyone experiences breastfeeding differently. Thankfully there’s numerous positions that you can try until you find what works for you and your baby. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different positions and holds until you find one that works best.

Three common holds that most breastfeeding people find useful (especially in early breastfeeding) are:

  • Cross cradle: Sitting in an upright position, bring your baby across the front of your body, supporting your baby’s body with the arm opposite to the breast that baby is feeding from.
  • Football/clutch hold: Tuck your baby in nice and close at your side. Baby should be resting on your forearm with his feet towards your back and his face looking upward. Use a pillow for support. This is a wonderful position/hold for those people that have larger breasts and can also be useful for people recovering from caesarean birth.
  • Side-lying: Lie on your side and place your baby on his side facing in towards you. Support your baby’s back with one hand and bring him in nice and close to your body. Baby will latch and feed from the breast closest to the mattress or surface that you’re lying on.

Sometimes rather than focusing on a particular hold or placement of your baby, it can be more helpful to focus on your position in relation to your baby and allow your baby to lead the feed (encourage baby-led attachment). Is your baby ‘tummy to mummy’? Are you holding them nice and close? Are you comfortable with soft, relaxed shoulders? Give your baby freedom to move, anchor themselves with un-swaddled hands that can touch your breasts and give them an opportunity to latch independently. Sometimes doing this results in a more comfortable latch and a more settled baby at the breast.

What are some of the must-have products that have helped you during your own breastfeeding journey?

I believe that the most helpful breastfeeding product to have on hand postpartum is a natural nipple balm. A hot/cold pack for sore engorged breasts is wonderful too.

However, rather than spending loads of money on products and gadgets, my advice is to put that money towards quality antenatal education and/or a lactation consultant that can provide you with breastfeeding knowledge, support, advice and reassurance once your baby has arrived.

Any tips on how to wean your baby and look after yourself during this emotional transition?

Weaning looks different for everyone. Some babies slowly lose interest in the breast, while others require (for whatever reason) more of a ‘deliberate’ mother-led weaning method to conclude the breastfeeding journey. Weaning from numerous feeds in a 24-hour period is a lot harder than weaning from one or two. There are several ways to wean your baby from the breast and I think that if you’re struggling or unsure of how to navigate this, it’s helpful to seek the guidance of a lactation consultant.

From an emotional standpoint, weaning can be incredibly difficult. Not only are you dealing with changing hormones that will greatly affect your mood, you’re also likely mourning the time spent with your baby at the breast and connection that breastfeeds provide. Give yourself time and space to grieve. If you’re able to, consider weaning ‘gradually, with love’ and drop breastfeeds slowly. This will ease the transition for both you and your baby.

Could you share one of your favourite breastfeeding memories with us?

There’s so many! I really struggled during my feeding journey with my third baby and because of allergies I was advised to wean her from the breast and introduce a prescription formula. I remember crying about it for about 4 days before attempting to introduce the formula. Despite my best efforts my daughter refused the formula and we continued to breastfeed. Every feed thereafter felt stolen and even more special, especially the calm, quiet, middle-of-the-night feeds.

Any final thoughts on breastfeeding and what could be done to provide mums with better support?

We need to scrap the ‘it’s free and easy’ narrative and properly prepare people for the harsh realities of breastfeeding. It’s hard. It requires sacrifice, patience, perseverance, support in spades and persistence. In an ideal world pregnancy care providers would have more time and resources to provide all couples with comprehensive antenatal breastfeeding education and follow-up support postnatally.

 

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