I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Brittney McCullough, a nurse and lactation consultant based at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (UHNBC) in Prince George. She told me a bit about herself and shared tips for pregnant people who want to breastfeed.
How did you come to be in your current role?
I found a passion for breastfeeding when I worked in Labour & Delivery, and Maternity. Just after the birth of my first child, I applied on the lactation consultant role and was awarded the position. While I was on maternity leave, I studied and passed the exam to become an international board-certified lactation consultant. So I was furthering my learning about breastfeeding at the same time I was learning to nurse my son!
Tell us about your own breastfeeding experiences
It turned out that my son had a significant upper lip tie (a growth of tissue that attaches the upper lip to the upper gum, and can contribute to breastfeeding challenges). Thankfully, we were able to learn techniques for feeding without needing to clip the tie.
With my daughter, we had different challenges. She had reflux, though it didn't bother her, and she gained weight well. However, when she started solids, she struggled with food-protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). I was so grateful that breastfeeding was a safe way to meet her needs while we sorted out her food allergy.
How do your personal experiences inform how you support other parents?
I aim to meet parents where they’re at. I know that having a newborn is an intense time. There are hormonal swings, you don't know whether to laugh or cry, you’re healing from a vaginal birth or a c-section, and you’re also trying to take care of yourself. All this, while you’re caring for this new child who you’ve just met, and maybe for others, too! So I work with parents to create a feeding plan that considers everything they have going on.
What are your thoughts when you hear pregnant people say, "I’m staying open-minded. If breastfeeding works, then great; if not, I'll bottle-feed."
Having an open mind is good. However, when your goal is to breastfeed, it’s very helpful to learn about what breastfeeding looks like and what to expect. For example:
- During prenatal appointments, talk with your care provider about infant feeding options. They can answer your questions and give you factual information to help you make informed decisions.
- Look at videos and photos about nursing positions and latching technique. I encourage people to take a peek at Northern Health's breastfeeding webpage.
- Talk with your partner and/or support people about your goals. It helps to have everyone on board.
In terms of what to expect, what should parents know about the first few weeks of breastfeeding?
It's helpful to know about how your body makes milk. There are a few stages you’ll go through:
- Halfway through pregnancy, your body will start to make colostrum, the first milk. You may not notice this, or you might find that it leaks from your breasts.
- Your body will make colostrum until the hormonal shift that happens a few days after birth. It’s normal for baby to lose weight at first and to start gaining once your milk comes in.
- When your milk comes in, you might have a slow increase, or you might find that you suddenly have enough milk to feed twins or triplets. You might feel quite engorged.
- After this time, your body will shift to making the amount of milk your baby needs, based on the amount of milk that’s removed from your breasts (i.e., supply and demand). It might take a few weeks or a few months for your body to adjust. When it happens, your breasts may not feel full like they did in the early days.
- It’s normal to have more milk in the morning and less later in the day. You may notice that your baby feeds less often in the morning, and more often into the evening hours. Some people describe that their baby is "cluster feeding" before bed.
- Time spent at the breast is not the best way to know how well your baby is feeding. Look at other things: How does it feel to you? Are they swallowing? Are there lots of pees and poos? Are they gaining weight?
When should parents reach out for support with breastfeeding?
If you’re having challenges with breastfeeding, it’s good to get help sooner rather than later. Various people can support you, such as local health professionals and peer supports, like La Leche League.