The aim of Mammæ is to support mums through the weeks leading up to birth and for the early postnatal period. We know that most mums stop breastfeeding before they want to and we also know that mums who are still breastfeeding at 6 weeks are much more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals. My goal is to answer your real concerns that you are hearing from friends, family and society about breastfeeding and to help you reach that 6 week mark.
What is so magical about 6 weeks?
What changes at 6 weeks? Why do so many new mums stop breastfeeding during that time, and why is it different in the weeks that follows?
Parenting is exhausting at times, and perhaps never more so (at least physically) in the first few weeks. It is exhausting for all mothers, regardless of how they choose to feed their baby. Birth is a major biological event for the body and we need to recover. Many mums, who birth by cesearean section have a surgical wound to heal, our organs need to readjust from where they had moved during the pregnancy, our hormones dramatically shift and we begin to produce milk.
On top of these shifts we suddenly have a new person to care for. Whether it is our 1st or our 5th baby, caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. There is a steep learning curve of finding out about this new person and their needs, and a seemingly constant cycle of feeding, winding and changing which continues day and night. It can be a profound shock to the system and the broken sleep of the early weeks can be hard.
How does breastfeeding play into that picture?
Breastfeeding is a skill. It is natural, yes, but many skills that are natural need to be learned. Take walking as a perfect example. Walking is so natural for most of us that we don't even think about the actions we are taking, but look at a toddler. A toddler taking their first steps wobble, they fall and they need someone to hold their hand for a few weeks until they gain their balance. Learning to breastfeed takes more effort to learn than learning to bottle feed.
Look again at the graph though. Although breastfeeding begins as more effort, the effort required drops rapidly. By the time the graph reaches 5 weeks (which incidentally is when milk production is fully established) it crosses the line with bottle feeding, and continues to drop, until a low at 8 weeks where it settles as an easy, effortless way to feed your baby. Bottle feeding however continues to have the effort involved in making up formula in a safe manner, washing, sterilising etc
6 weeks is the magic number as that is when breastfeeding becomes the easiest way to feed your baby, and it remains that way. Partly the change occurs as both mum and baby get more skilled in breastfeeding. Partly it occurs as expectations change - the family becomes more adapted to the rhythm change that has come with having a small baby in the house, and mum has adjusted to the needs on her time. Partly it also occurs as the baby has become slightly more mature, he has settled into his new home and his feeding has become more efficient. We'll deal more with the immaturity of small babies in a later post.
How do you maximise your chances of getting to 6 weeks?
Forewarned is forearmed! Just being aware that breastfeeding will continue to get easier and that it will make parenting easier in the longer term will in itself help you to reach 6 weeks. The biggest thing that you can do to maximise your chances though is to get informed and have realistic expectations. Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding and what to expect before you give birth. Through this site I intend to give evidence based information that will be realistic and practical, and to point to other sources of good information BUT online support (no matter how good) is never a replacement for real life support.
Find out where your local support group is and go along before you give birth. Talk to the mums who are there. There is no better way to set realistic expectations about life and breastfeeding with a new baby than to talk to mums who are in the middle of it. You will hear the good, the bad and the way those mums cope with difficulties. You will hear how they may be struggling with getting enough sleep but how the smile of their newborn, or the milky falling asleep cuddles make it all worthwhile and that they wouldn't want it any other way. You will find a group of mums that you can lean on in a few weeks when you need them, and you will know where to find help. If you find a breastfeeding group that has a qualified breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant, you will also know where to go if you have problems or wobbles and it is likely that you will. We all wobble when we are learning to walk. Breastfeeding groups exist because we all have to get through those 6 weeks of learning. The beauty of finding a group near you, is that you come out the other side not just with easy, effortless enjoyable breastfeeding, but also with new friends who understand.
Over the next few posts I hope to cover what to be prepared for in the first 6 weeks. Maybe you have questions about how best to get breastfeeding started, or perhaps you are worried about stories you have heard. Maybe you are wondering if there is anything you need to buy, or to do. Let me know and I will cover them in another post. In the meantime, find your local support group and say, "Hello" :)