“When in doubt, breathe out” – tips on how to overcome breastfeeding issues from an opera singer

when in doubt breath it out

“When in doubt, breathe out.” Useful information from an opera singing, breastfeeding peer supporter. I breastfed all three of my children (now 10, 8 and 5 years old) and found it a wonderful experience. And I had whoppers! Three big babies – and this led to a fun discussion at the baby clinic with my youngest, who was born 4.5kgs (9lb 12oz.). He was not my biggest baby either!

At the time of this conversation, he was then 5 months old and a “healthy size”. The health visitor was delighted to hear he was exclusively breastfed, despite his weight. I must have given her the “I love breastfeeding” aria because she then suggested I train to be a peer supporter. Well, that started my journey to take my passion for breastfeeding outside the family and into the community.

I’m a soprano, and now a breastfeeding peer supporter

I trained with the Breastfeeding Network and started to volunteer in the Well Baby clinics in my borough in the South East of England.

I’m a classical musician – a soprano, who (pre-COVID) travelled the world singing in concerts, operas and on recordings. I have always taught singing as well – for over 20 years now.

I’m a classical musician – a soprano, who (pre-COVID) travelled the world singing in concerts, operas and on recordings.

The links between being a singer and a breastfeeding supporter seem tenuous! However, there is one thing that comes up again and again when I work with singers and with mums with breastfeeding issues: They hold their breath. It was then I knew that I could share my tips on how to overcome breastfeeding issues by showing them how to breathe well and release tensions.

I titled this article “when in doubt, breathe out” which is a standard singer phrase! We all know it and we all repeat this like a mantra. It’s the best advice to improve your sound, find ease and reduce tension, especially in pressured situations like performances, recordings and auditions. When we are tense, scared or in pain, we hold our breath. This leads to an immediate increase in tension and starts to have other physiological effects pretty quickly. Your pulse rate quickens, your muscles contract and you find yourself in an uncomfortable state.

Why breastfeeding tension can occur

Adding tension to breastfeeding leads to problems with latching, it unsettles babies, and often mothers end up with a sore neck, back, or with headaches.

Tension in breastfeeding can present as:

• uneven shoulders (one higher than the other)

• mothers attempting to bring the breast to the baby, rather than the baby to the breast so they twist and injure their backs.

• Headaches or neck pain as mothers try to watch the latch from a twisted position.

• An anticipation of pain before the baby has latched.

Often mothers end up with a sore neck, back or with headaches

tips on how to overcome breastfeeding issues

So, here is the best information I can give you when you’re scared and worried, in pain or worried you soon will be: Breathe out. Consciously make that choice. There is a reason breathing has been used for centuries for meditation, yoga and religious practice. I don’t care if you blow all your air out noisily (though your baby might) and I don’t care if you try to make it last for ages and you aim to be utterly silent. Keep a steady stream of air flowing out. Breathing out well will allow you to breathe in well. Every time you take a breath in, it will be more effective if you breathe it out and vice versa.

There is a reason breathing has been used for centuries for meditation, yoga and religious practice.

In the throes of managing busy toddlers, screaming babies and the unprecedented COVID demands being home all the time has brought, when you next go to feed your baby, try this for me? Breathe out. Be proactive against additional tension. Bring as much calm as you can to that moment. You absolutely have this. After all, you have been breathing quite successfully for some time.

Tips on how to overcome breastfeeding issues by breathing well

Here are four tips for breathing well and releasing tensions

  • Try belly breaths rather than higher breaths, if C-section scars and baby’s position allow. You’ll be able to take more air in and follow the natural arc of the breath if you can expand when you breathe in and slowly contract as you breathe out.
  • Allow the ribs and the belly to expand a little. Movement here is good. Shoulders moving is less useful – for your lungs are not located in your shoulders.
  • Aim to breathe out for longer than you breathe in. Use counts, if that works for you but pick unusual numbers such as in for 7, out for 11 so you’ve got to think about it a bit. If you’re not a fan of numbers try a shorter mantra for inhalation (e.g. “I can find calm”) and a longer mantra for exhalation (e.g. “ I bring peace and joy to every feed.”)
  • Try to breathe the tension out of your face as you breathe out. Can you find soft lips, soft jaw and soft cheeks? This leaves you free to smile at your baby, not grimace through tension!

When in doubt, breathe out. Happy breastfeeding. You’ve got this. (Oh and sing a bit! Babies love to hear their parents sing. But then again, I would say that……)

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