Rachel FitzD is a freelance midwife, infant feeding specialist and part of Henley Birthcare. We caught up with her over tea and vegan flapjacks to find out more about her role and to pick up some expert tips. You can find out more about Rachel’s services here: Rachel FitzD
What does your feeding role involve?
I get called to see clients for a variety of reasons when it comes to feeding. It’s usually, but not always, to do with breastfeeding.
My job is to normalise feeding and being with a baby – taking the “sciency” bit out and getting back to basics. Rather than ‘latching and attaching’, ‘nose to nipple’ and timings, we focus on nuzzling your baby in for a feed and how to get through your day. I also help parents to understand the difference between feeding and suckling time – when baby is doing something that feels like feeding, but they’re not taking milk.
When’s the best time to see a feeding specialist?
The ideal time is before you’ve had your baby. I would take a mum and her newborn on these visits, so my pregnant client can and watch the mum feed. We’d cover feeding during the day and night, evening crying behaviour and soothing techniques. Then another three hours soon after the baby is born – it can take two hours to get through a feed and a nappy-change. We’d also look at soothing techniques, making a sling, rocking baby back to sleep, how to feed sitting up, lying down or standing and how to feed one end and change the other. The most difficult times are when a woman has waited for problems to arise rather than getting in quickly and asking for support. If you get support early on then you might never have problems.
How did you get into this?
I think my fascination with the relationship between that new couple – the mum and her baby – and breastfeeding in particular has been there since I was an infant. My mum was one of the first teachers with the NCT and all the postnatal mums used to come with their newborns to our house. I decided I wanted to be a midwife when I was four and it was never really about birth. It was the antenatal education and the care afterwards – the feeding and changing and bathing.
Any famous clients?
Yes. One if the most notable ones was Jo Page (Gavin and Stacey), she breastfed her little one for over a year. They employed me before the baby was born and the day her daughter was born she called me in. She was great – she didn’t rush to lose weight after having her baby. She sent me a pic of her feeding her baby dressed in costume as Queen Bess, for a Doctor Who special! For Jo, breastfeeding was a real connection to her Welsh roots as her gran had breastfed her mum. We made a sling too and she said she remembered seeing photos of her gran carrying her mum in a sling.
Apart from having my own kids. I remember working with one mum, who came in not long after her baby was born. She had the worst nipple trauma I’ve ever seen and she’d been on antibiotics and treatment for thrush and infections, and she was in bits. We decided to take the baby off the breast for six weeks and all that time she worked on keeping up her supply, so expressing and bottle-feeding. Part of my job was to reassure her that this was fine and that there wouldn’t be any nipple confusion.
One day she came back in and she was healed. Her baby was seven weeks old. I said to her ‘is today the day?’ And she said ‘yes’, but she was clearly scared because her last memory was one of pain. So I said ‘let’s just tuck you up in bed and see what happens’. I remember holding her hand and we put the baby skin-to-skin in bed with her and the baby went on as if it’d had never been away, and she wept. It’s sad when it gets that bad but you can turn it back round.
Can you tell me about the Wallingford baby cafe?
It runs every Thursday from 12-2pm, in Wallingford in the Ridgeway community centre. It’s free access to women and their partners and there are free drinks and homemade cakes too. There’s such a lovely relaxed vibe. Women come for the social aspect, from pregnancy onwards. And they also come if they have any issues or questions, whether they’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. I’m usually there, and there’s always someone on hand to help with any trouble-shooting from very basics issues to complex problems. We have mums coming back when they’re weaning to ask questions, or if they’re re-lactating or going back to work and want to find out questions. There’s such a fun vibe – I cherish my Thursdays.
- Lie down
Evidence shows that those women who feed lying down for the first week go on to do better. Lie down and try not to look or interfere – baby’s have a reflex to suckle. If you wait for the big mouth then you remove the baby a bit.
- Lie down
- Get tips from family or friends
Get support from someone experienced – maybe your mum, or a friend, someone who has breastfed and can help and guide you – someone who will come at it from a practical point of view and not ‘teach’ you. If there is a tongue-tie or a poorly mum then it’s pathological and you should get medical help.
- Get tips from family or friends
- Get comfy
Cuddle your baby in underneath your breast and your baby will be like every other mammal on the planet and nuzzle round, look up and suckle.
Think about what do you want to do while feeding? Get comfy! Read a book, watch TV, send an email. Make sure you have drinks and snacks to hand too.
Top tips for bottle-feeding
- Suckling time
In the first 12 weeks of life your baby needs vast amounts of suckling time, that doesn’t involve milk, during a feed. So even though your baby could take all its milk in 5-10 minutes flat your baby may need 40-mins of suckling time. On the breast a baby can get 5 mins of milk in a 40 minute feed but a bottle fed baby could get 40 mins worth of milk in a 5 minute feed. So have a bottle and dummy to hand, after a couple of sucks, swap to the dummy and keep switching. My most experienced bottle feeders will have a break half way through (just as you would change boobs), change a nappy have a break and then give the rest of the bottle.
- Suckling time
- Don’t look at the amounts
Try not to look at the amounts, it’s a subtle thing that easy to do. You look at how much they’ve had and try and interfere and get just a little bit more down.