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Podcast: Supporting the new mother

Breastfeeding ... with ABA podcast. 

How dads, partners, grandparents and loved ones can support new mums and babies.

When you have a new baby so many people have opinions and want to help out as much as they can. Navigating this new world and discovering that breastfeeding, while natural is a learned skill for mother and baby, can be overwhelming for new parents. Janet and Dan chat about how well-meaning partners, grandparents, family and friends can support the new mother and her family.

Listen to the episode: here

Read the transcript: see below

For more about the information discussed in this episode:

 
Visit our companion blog on this topic: Supporting the new mother
 
Ways you can get information and support right now:

 

Credits and more:

This podcast is proudly brought to you by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). Produced by Belinda Chambers, Jessica Leonard and Eleanor Kippen.

This episode is presented Janet Sullivan. Featuring Daniel Spillman. Special thanks to Belinda Chambers. Audio editing by Jessica Leonard. Show notes and transcription by Eleanor Kippen.

 

Find out more about Breastfeeding … with ABA.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO 21659).


Episode transcript:

[music in background]

[Dan] I just think it’s a just wonderful thing! It’s most likely only going to happen very, very few times in your life, and, yeah, you just need to enjoy it as much as you can.

[Janet] Welcome to Breastfeeding with ABA, a podcast bought to you by volunteers from the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Breastfeeding with ABA is a podcast about breastfeeding, made by parents, for parents. In this episode we’ll be talking about supporting the new mother and how we provide love to babies without milk.

We’re recording this podcast in different parts of Australia and we’d like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we’re recording and which you are listening to in this podcast. We pay our respects to the elders past, present and emerging and to any Aboriginal people listening today. We also acknowledge the long history of oral story telling in this country, and the Indigenous women of Australia who have been living, working, birthing, breastfeeding and raising children successfully in this country for tens of thousands of years. In each episode you will hear from different parents from all around Australia. My name is Janet and I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor and community educator with the Australian Breastfeeding Association. And a mum and a grandmother. I’m speaking from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and on Boonwurrung country. Today I’m speaking with Dan, a dad, about his experience supporting breastfeeding in his family. Dan, would you like to introduce yourself?

[Dan] Yeah, I’m Dan, I’m a dad to Emily, who’s 4 and a half, and John who’s about 11 months. And I live in Perth, Western Australia, Whadjuk country.

[Janet] Now, research tells us that support from her partner and those closest to her makes a big difference to a mother and baby when breastfeeding. A mother can be up to 10 times more likely to breastfeed if they have their partner’s support, and a partner who wants their baby to be feeding this way. So today we’re going to chat about how parents and family and friends can provide that support and chat about common questions that partners might have.

[music fades]

[Janet] I have 3 daughters, all of whom have grown up, and I have 6 grandsons, age 10, 8, 6, 5, 9 months and 7 months. My girls grew up in a breastfeeding family and they were surrounded by breastfed babies, so this has helped them to know some of what to expect when they had their own children. When they were pregnant, I ensured they attended breastfeeding education classes with their partners, so this helped them both to prepare for their own babies. The first two boys were born in Alice Springs, and so while I visited them quite often, I spent most of my support time on the phone or doing video calls. This daughter returned to Victoria before her third baby was born and the other two live close by. So now, I’ve been able to have lots of contact with my grandsons.

So, what about you, Dan, before you had children, did you know much about breastfeeding?

[Dan] I didn’t really, which is strange to say because I’m one of 6 children, I’ve got 5 sisters and we’re all breastfed, and my wife’s family, she’s one of 4 and they were all breastfed. And I often think it’s … it’s kind of strange how we don’t, I mean outside of ABA, we don’t talk about breastfeeding all that much. I think it’s one of those things that everyone expects to just be a natural thing to happen. But all the time women don’t get the support, truly know what to do, or exactly how it all works and so forth. I think what you were saying earlier with the introduction, with the Indigenous people, I think that’s almost like a classic example. Like, for thousands of years, that breastfeeding knowledge has been passed among women, from aunties and mothers, and, all in one group. Whereas now, with the nuclear families, the Western nuclear families and the way we all live some of that information just gets lost. So yeah, I think ABA is a great way to share that knowledge in the interests of health for everyone.

[Janet] Where did your first contact with ABA come?

[Dan] I think my wife called ABA at one stage. I hadn’t put much thought into it before our first child was born. I know my wife wanted to breastfeed, and then we just ran into some troubles. And then she rang ABA, yeah, they were a wonderful help, and we just sort of went from there.

[Janet] Lots of parents before they have their babies don’t have much to do with small babies, and they’re really surprised at how much time and effort goes into looking after one tiny, little person. From both the mother and father. What surprised you about your first baby?

[Dan] Probably the dependence that baby has on the mum. Like, obviously you expect that to happen, but I was definitely still surprised at the magnitude of how much our first one depended on mum all the time. Sort of making my role in it, really focussing on what my role is, and that was to support Mon in every way I sort could, sort of thing.

[Janet] Some dads feel a bit left out, did you have that at all?

[Dan] Not, for me, no, not really. I still did things like, we, like every night for example I’d always do the bath sort of thing. All this bonding and things like that as much as you can. But, just recognising that well, the way I saw it, anyway. My role was to make sure that my wife had everything that she needed, like food and things around the house and things like that.

[Janet] Did you know anything much about breastfeeding before Emily was born?

[Dan] No, not really. Outside of just an expectation that breastfeeding was just something that just happened, and it was just as simple as that. I definitely know now that it’s not as simple as all that!

[Janet] Some of the things we need parents to know is that breastmilk is all that a baby needs for the first 6 months of their life, and it’s the most important food for the first 12 months of baby’s life. And continues to be of value. Because that’s the other thing that comes up, is people think that if babies, once they get onto solid foods, the milk doesn’t matter as much. But it really is still important, well into their second year.

[Dan] Yeah, I mean I always think about it in terms of what have we evolved to do? You know what I mean?

[Janet] Yeah

[Dan] And so, we’re evolved to have babies drink milk for an extended period of time, when they’re born. I always remember a quote, which I kind of love: ‘Evolution is smarter than you’.

[Janet] And the other thing that surprises a lot of parents is the number of times a baby will feed in 24 hours. I mean, you think of it, oh yes, they’ll probably have a night feed, but you don’t think of the fact that they usually feed between 8 and 12 times at least, in 24 hours.

[Dan] Yeah

[Janet] That means there’s an awful lot of time just spent sitting and feeding.

[Dan] The way I think about it is, just going back to that evolutionary sense, the baby knows when it’s hungry. It’s designed to ask for food, and again, the way I understand anyway, with the let-downs and things that work with breastfeeding, mothers are designed to respond to that. So, even the physics of it with a small stomach, it’s going to mean a lot of feeding. And with my experience I can confirm that. [laughter]

[Janet] And the other thing that surprises people is that babies don’t feed in a set pattern. Because for some reason, over the last few generations, we’ve come to this idea they feed on a schedule every 4 hours. And when they want frequent feeding at some times of the day, and then other days they seem to be chill and not really worry about it too much at all. I think one of the things to remind parents is that we don’t eat the same amount every day. On hot days we tend to have lots of drinks and lighter meals, and some days, we’re expending a lot of energy, so we eat more.

[Dan] Yeah, and well, we’re adults. We’re more conditioned to go to whatever eating schedule we’ve been accustomed to. Whereas a baby doesn’t have that conditioning to be any particular way outside of what’s absolutely natural for them.

[Janet] Of course, before they’re born, they have 24 hour, on tap food, so …!

[Dan] Yeah, exactly.

[Janet] So what did you do to support Mon and yourself before your baby was born? What did you do during the pregnancy, was there anything particular?

[Dan] Probably not as it relates to breastfeeding, because we sort of thought, we didn’t know what we didn’t know until it came up that first time.

[Janet] Yeah

[Dan] I mean, by our second child, John, we had our mind better wrapped around what was required and what we needed to do and things like that. One of the biggest lessons for me after Emily was born was just thinking about the energy requirements needed for Mon to produce that much milk and feed that baby all that time, and how hard it is, you know, and I know people joke about women having baby brain and all that, but I think the point is that it uses an incredible amount of energy. And if you’re going expend that much energy, then you’ve got to keep the food up to Mon. And also, even simpler things, which you don’t expect, things like decision making, use a lot of energy. If you’re able to sort of carve out some areas, where you just make executive decisions all the time, then that can ease the load a bit.

Well, I mean, one of the things in particular that I’m thinking about was visitors. Obviously, you have a baby, and everyone’s asking to come and visit and see the baby and once Emily was born and we went through that whole ordeal, we sort of learnt that by the time the second one came where, Mon just empowered me to make all those decisions about when people were coming to visit and what the schedule should look like. Instead of going to her to ask her all the time, are you ok with this person coming along, or this family member coming along, or this, or that kind of thing. For us, second time around I was just making those decisions, which meant Mon didn’t have to think about it, which kind of helped us. But, I suppose that’s reasonably context dependent on whether that will work for you or not.

[Janet] Did you use those little tricks that some people do of, when you’re having visitors, have a pile of washing there, ready to be folded and put away? And things like that? [laughter]

[Dan] To some extent. If it was either one of our mums visiting, there wasn’t much we could do to stop them doing things like that, so it kind of took care of itself!

[music in background]

ABA has many resources to support dads and partners, grandparents and anyone who is supporting a growing family. Many things about breastfeeding and raising babies have changed over the years, but the need to support mums and babies has remained the same. Our booklets, Breastfeeding: supporting the new mother, and Breastfeeding: diet, exercise sex and more are available for purchase from shop.breastfeeding.asn.au in electronic format for instant download, or you can purchase a physical, printed copy to be delivered. You can find them in the pamphlets and booklets section, or use the search bar in the top right-hand side of the page. And while you are there, why don’t you download our free eBooklet Breastfeeding Confidence, a handy, quick guide on the essentials of breastfeeding.

[Janet] When you were supporting Mon, after the baby was born, you did the bath and that sort of thing. What did you do to help her get more sleep?

[music fades]

[Dan] Yes, this is a bit of a story. When we started off, we had Em in the bassinet, and then, but we sort of looked at everything, and read probably all the wrong information or something, but that’s ok, the baby has to sleep away from you sort of thing. And Mon was getting up during the night, waking up, picking Em up, putting her back down, and that really was disrupting her sleep. And what we ended up doing was just co-sleeping. We sort of just thought about it and, for me again, I go back to the evolution aspect of it, I think, if you were 5000 years ago, it’s not as if you would sleep under a tree or whatever, and pick your baby up and take it 10 metres down the track and put it under another tree, and then go back under your tree and sleep. So, I kind of think it’s kind of, probably, for us, it’s kind of a natural thing to do. And after a bit of trial and error about how exactly we were going to do it, it really worked for us. Everyone was happier and John, now, when he’s hungry in the middle of the night, he just rolls over, and Mon feeds him, and everyone goes back to sleep.

[Janet] Did you access the safe sleeping guidelines?

[Dan] I dare say Mon would have looked at them.

[Janet] Some of the safe sleeping guidelines are things like don’t have a smoker in the bed with you, you can’t be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or that sort of thing when you’re sleeping with baby. And you have to be a bit careful about blankets and all that sort of stuff to make sure that you’re all comfortable and nobody gets too hot or too cold. And that it’s safe, that the baby’s not going to fall out. There’s a lot of scary tales told about co-sleeping, so it’s good to access that, and it’s on our website: breastfeeding.asn.au.

What about after John arrived, did you do anything different to support Mon in that time?

[Dan] We had a pretty good system working by the time Em was a few months old, and so we just sort of reinstated that. The basic outlines of that is co-sleeping. I do the baths, make sure Mon’s got all the food she needs. Probably the only thing different I did was much more focus on skin-to-skin. We still did it with Emily, but that’s probably the only major difference between Emily and John, that focus on skin-to-skin.

[Janet] Sometimes dads find it a time when they do a lot more bonding with their older child too.

[Dan] Oh, absolutely, yeah, 100%. Definitely. Once John was born, Monica just didn’t have the same number of hours in the day to spend the same amount of time she did with Emily anymore, so that dynamic definitely changed. Em and I got a lot closer when John was born, absolutely.

[Janet] So did you have any other people around that were good supports for you?

[Dan] Yes, Mon’s sister and husband live 100 m away, so yeah, that was fantastic, and I’ve got a sister who’s not too far away, and my mum’s not too far away, and yeah, just family and friends. Mon’s mum and dad live in Greenough which is a bit of a drive away. So um, I think Mon’s mum came down for about a week and a half when John was born I think, and about the same when Emily was born. So, and just helped out and did grandmother things.

[Janet] Yeah, because sometimes grandparents can be a little interfering and have different ideas about how you should be parenting. You didn’t have those issues then?

[Dan] I don’t think we had those issues, no.

[Janet] It sounds like as if you have a really supportive family around you, you don’t need to have any problems. But some people do find that their parents, parented differently, they didn’t breastfeed, and they don’t know much about it, so they tend to sort of say things like: ‘Oh, are you feeding that child again’ and all those sorts of things.

[Dan] Yeah, we didn’t have any of those problems that I remember. But definitely generally, I remember when we were deciding when to have our second child, and so what I did was I went around and asked everyone what they thought was the perfect distance between children. You know, do you have them close together, do you have them far apart. And by the end of it, I worked out what the answer was. And the answer was um, whatever they did.

[Janet] Unless they did it, and they didn’t like it, so they’d told you don’t do that.

[Dan] Well yeah anyone, the most extreme cases, like they had their two children really close together and they were saying no, this is great because you know, you have them close together and they’re friends and then they grow up and then you get back to doing what you want to do when they go back to school like that. Then the complete opposite, someone said, I think there was 11 or 12-year difference between their two, two kids, and they were like it was great because I could focus on one, and then on the other. So, I think there’s a strong bias to look back and think that whatever you did worked out alright. So, I think that may be something that older grandparents may think that whatever they did was the right outcome, regardless of what the possible alternatives were for any situation.

[Janet] I guess it makes you realise you have to make your own decisions.

[Dan] Exactly, you need to make your own decisions.

[Janet] Something dads and partners can support parents to be aware of is that breastfeeding, while it’s natural, doesn’t always happen like you said before. Some babies learn quickly and others take a bit longer, so learning how breastfeeding works can really help to you 1, not get into problems, but 2, recognise a problem that’s coming up and get onto it really early. We did sort of touch on that before, but it can help you if you know what you’re talking about or you know what’s going on, it can help you solve the problems a lot quicker. And also, if you know where you can get information, then you’re not stuck thinking, who can I get in touch with, do I get in touch with Dr Google and find out what’s going on, or do I ring someone and talk with somebody who probably knows what they’re talking about. So, the people that you can get accurate information from are the Australian Breastfeeding Association, a breastfeeding counsellor, or a community educator, your local maternal child health nurse, a lactation consultant or a medical adviser. And we need to support mothers who are having a hard time, and there’ll be times when she might not be up to making decisions like you said before, so we have to be able to be able to help her, just listen to her and be aware of what she’s going through and just keep things going when she’s having a hard time. We can’t always solve the problem, but often listening is enough to help, it’s a shared problem so it doesn’t seem as bad once you’ve talked it through.

The other thing we need to be aware of is that some mothers can develop postnatal depression and some suffer from anxiety after the birth of the baby. And about 1 in 6 mothers, and fathers, suffer from this. Mentioning this, that fathers, partners, can also suffer from depression and anxiety at this time. You need to be aware that if someone, one or the other of you, feels depressed, sad or anxious for more than 2 weeks, and it’s affecting how you can function, then you need to get help. And it can grow slowly, but if it continues for more than 2 weeks, it’s time to do something. We’ve got some links on our website, which is www.breastfeeding.asn.au you can talk to a medical adviser, or you can talk to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia which is shortened to PANDA, and they’ve got a helpline on 1300 726 306 or they’ve got a website: panda.org.au. And nobody has to feel bad about asking for help. Became if you need help everybody understands, and these people are trained to help you with that. So, did you have any issues with that at all?

[Dan] We didn’t have any issues with that, but you can see how it could happen, like it’s a huge change in your life. I think any situation where you have that huge change there could be a variety of outcomes to it. And so, it didn’t affect us at any stage but in saying I think it could definitely be like a natural outcome of the process, I think. It definitely shouldn’t be stigmatised at all, and if it happens, then get the help as soon as you can, don’t feel bad about it either.

[Janet] I think also partners are the ones who can often pick that up. Because you know what your partner is like, and you know what they’re like. You know whether they’ve changed their personality or anything, and you know that if they need help, you’re the one that can probably help, because if they’re going through that they probably can’t make that decision themselves. A lot of people just go down and they find it hard to reach out and do stuff. And I think that’s where partners have an enormously big role, to make sure they pick up on any of those things.

[Dan] It’s absolutely no reflection of the person at all of how much they love their child or anything like that. It’s just a natural response to a huge life change which, in many situations can be very stressful and traumatic. I mean, that wasn’t the case for us, but you could easily see it heading down that path. If it does happen and the partner picks it up, don’t feel bad about it, just something that needs, go and get some help.

[Janet] Because sometimes you can feel down for a day or so, but that’s not the same as getting depression. So, you know, cheering people up can be ok, but we need to be aware that it can be more than that.

So, what would you like to share with other families who haven’t had their babies yet, what sort of stuff would you like them to think about?

[Dan] I just think it’s a just wonderful thing. It’s likely only going to happen very, very few times in your life, and you just need to kind of try and enjoy it as much as you can. As far as breastfeeding and stuff go, it can be difficult at the start, if you don’t know what you’re doing, and we definitely found that with our first child. But once the system works and you know what you’re doing, it’s such a beautiful, wonderful thing that’s healthy for baby and it’s healthy for mum. There’s actually one saying that I heard, and I thought sums it up perfectly. Breastfeeding is like sex, it’s natural, but it doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing the first time.

[Janet] Yeah, fair enough.

[Dan] Yeah, I really like that analogy. It is natural, but there are things to learn about it, and once you get it organised it’s great.

[Janet] Yeah. But it’s also not the same second time around too, because, well, you would find, with your first baby has her own personality, but your second one has a different personality. And the way that Emily breastfed and wanted things and all that, might not be the same as what John wants.

[Dan] Absolutely. And even like a direct example of that I suppose was that when Emily breastfed, just say she was upset about something, she fell over, or something like that. Mon would just pick her up and breastfeed her straight away. She would drink, regardless of how emotional she was, whether she’d fallen over or whatever, or whatever happened, she’d be drinking. Whereas John doesn’t do that. He needs to be calm and then drink. So, if he falls over you need to comfort him, and then once he’s pulled himself together, he will drink after that.

[Janet] And I know one of my daughter’s partners said to me at one stage, that he thought it was really strange that when his mum said to him, one of the biggest pieces of advice I’ll give you is this will change, this will pass. He said he thought this was a pretty weird thing to say. This was before the baby was born. But afterwards, he realised that yes, you don’t have to look at this, like this is going to be the rest of your life, things change all the time.

[Dan] 100%, yes! Even going probably, a step further on that, yes it will pass, and then as soon as they age you will never get it back again. Like you know what I mean, it will be gone forever. I think you can conceptualise it, as oh yep, that’s over and then you can concentrate on the stress, or you can concentrate on the joy, that life gives you.

[Janet] Yeah, and I guess the other thing is to remember with small babies is you can’t give them too many cuddles, you can’t love them too much you can’t sort of, do too much for them. You’re not spoiling them, not making a rod for your own back, to comfort them when they need it. To get together with them, to do little things together all the time. And I guess when John was born, Emily would have been very excited too?

[Dan] Yeah, no, she was very excited too! I think she was really looking for a sister, not a brother. Yeah, but I suppose that’s another thing, ensuring that they have their own relationship, Emily and John, from the very start was something that was important to us.

[Janet] And also making sure you include the older one, because you can. Often visitors will focus on the baby and forget about the older one, and they’re used to being the centre of attention. So, it can make a difference to their, well it does make a big difference, to their lives. But, yeah, so we have to be careful of the big feelings in the little people, don’t we?

[Dan] yeah, 100%.

[Janet] So, if dads or family members around a new mother are looking to get more information on this topic or any of the others, they can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, or access LiveChat at: www.breastfeeding.asn.au and it’s not just for mums. Our trained breastfeeding educators are there for dads, partners and everybody, so when we talk on the Helpline, we often talk to other family members or interested people and we don’t stop, we don’t have any problems talking to other people about it. We have a booklet Breastfeeding: supporting the new mother which is available for purchase from: shop.breastfeeding.asn.au in a physical copy or electronic download, and that means you can get it instantly too. And there’s lots of information on the website too.

So, parenting a new baby can be tiring and challenging, but it’s exciting. And it passes quickly, so you need to enjoy it while you’ve got it.

[Dan] Absolutely.

[Janet] And don’t forget to cuddle your baby and discover what a precious unique little person you brought into your life. And you need each other as well, so you need to maintain your own relationship as well. How your baby is fed is important, but it’s part of the big picture of being a parent. And your support of breastfeeding and the mother-baby relationship will make a big difference. And there’s many ways you can love you baby and your family without giving them milk. And grandparents and extended family and friends, their support’s really important too, to help the mothers get through.

So, for more information on this topic, you can go to ABA’s website at: breastfeeding.asn.au and check out the show notes for a link to this episode’s blog post. To speak to a breastfeeding counsellor, call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268. Or you can also use LiveChat which is available on our website at: breastfeeding.asn.au. And you can find your local ABA group by visiting our website, where you can find lots of information and a link to join the Association as a member. And, um, I guess one of the things that we’ve learnt in the last year is that we can get lots of support online, even though, for a lot of us, we haven’t been able to meet together, personally.

So, thanks for listening to us, and thank you Dan, it’s been a good time.

[Dan] No worries, I’ve enjoyed it very much.

END

TRANSCRIPTION // Eleanor Kippen