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Dr Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant


  • COVIR-19 - Go to the Links page
  • Surviving the festive season Going away? Spending time with the extended family? Having a household of visitors? READ ON. (This article is also applicable if you are going on holidays at any time of year.)
  • Breastfeeding - what do I need?
  • How can fathers bond with their breastfed babies? (Useful for other family members, too)
  • What should I know about dummies (pacifiers)?

  • You will find other topics in my BLOG.

Breastfeeding - What do I need? Short version

When you are having a baby, suddenly people want to sell you something or recommend a product they've seen advertised. Family and friends may want to buy you something expensive for your baby. Advertising involving babies can be so appealing - as it is meant to be! Whoa!

Some questions to consider before buying a baby product marketed to help breastfeeding mothers, or using one you already have, are:

- Do I (or my baby) really need this?

- If I found myself marooned by floods or fleeing bushfires - and had no electrical power - would this item work?

- Will this product mean more work for me (rather than less)?

- Does this product come between my baby and me?

- Will I feel obliged to use it because of the cost?

- Am I using it because I feel obligated because it was a gift?

- What are the implications for the environment? is it biodegradable or will it contribute to landfill?

- Do the advertising claims seem too good to be true?

Be skeptical. Women can breastfeed their babies with no more equipment than their two breasts - or even just one breast. Some of the equipment out there certainly has a use in particular circumstances, but it is not an essential for all mothers and babies. You may find my checklist (above) helpful in deciding whether a particular product has a place in YOUR life or will just be another item to store in the back of a cupboard.  

How can partners bond with their breastfed babies?

Practical tips to promote bonding

Congratulations on becoming a parent. If this is your first baby, you may wonder how you can become more involved with the precious new little person in your life, especially if your partner is breastfeeding.

What you can do:

- Cuddle your baby skin-to-skin. Snuggling your baby, in just a nappy, against your bare chest raises levels of the hormone involved in bonding - yes, in men, too. The skin-to-skin contact helps your baby regulate his temperature and is good for his well-being. YOU will feel good, too. In chilly weather, you can put your baby inside your shirt or pullover, or wrap a large towel round both of you.

- Burp your baby after your partner has breastfed him.

- Change his nappy.

- Take charge of his bathing, or shower with him (with a good grip on his leg so that he doesn't slip). Many partners regard this as their special time with their babies.

- Hold your baby in front of you along your arms, facing you so that you are both in the en face position (face to face). Smile, nod your head, poke faces - and watch him copy you as he gains the ability.

- Talk to him or sing to him. Tell him of your hopes for him.

- Take him for walks round your home or outdoors in a baby sling.

- Take an evening walk as a family. Make a family tradition of an evening walk when both adults can talk about their day while the baby comes along, too, in a sling or baby buggy. It is a great way to soothe a baby in the "witching hour", a common time of day for babies to be unsettled.

- Develop your own ways of soothing your baby. He will probably respond differently to you, in your arms, against your chest, on your shoulder.

What should I know about dummies (pacifiers)?

c. Virginia Thorley, 2010.

Some of the most common questions I've been asked over the years are about dummies (pacifiers). The very word "dummy" indicates exactly what they are - a substitute - in other words, a substitute for the breast.

While there are occasionally good reasons for use of a dummy in particular cases, generally it isn't something you need. For normal babies, there are disadvantages in using dummies, particularly in the early days and weeks. This is a time when babies are learning to breastfeed and the milk supply is adjusting so that the baby's needs and the mother's milk supply match each other just right. Dummies that are a rigid, distorted shape, or are flattened, should particularly be avoided. The higher price doesn't mean they have any advantages.

Imprinting. Let's start at the beginning with the biology. At birth the human baby, like other young mammals, needs her mouth to recognise the shape and feel of her mother's nipple (oral-tactile imprinting). This is a survival need. This process of imprinting may be hampered if your baby, instead, imprints on an artificial nipple, such as a bottle teat, a dummy or a thumb. It is important to avoid any such faulty imprinting in the early days, so that your baby learns to feed effectively at the breast (Lawrence & Lawrence, 2011; Mobbs, 1989; Mobbs, 2007; Mobbs, 2012; Mobbs et al, 2015). It is easier to learn s good technique just once, than to have to unlearn one technique and relearn how to attach well at the breast..

Different mouth actions. Artificial suck objects, such as dummies and bottle teats, require different mouth actions by your baby and may confuse her, making her less effective at getting the milk she needs from the breast. Be skeptical about advertisements that claim that a dummy or bottle teat uses a similar action to that used at the breast. Similar claims have been made for other products over many years. Designs keep changing, but the claims are similar (Thorley, 2007).

Getting the supply / demand balance right. A baby's stomach capacity grows a good deal in the first week and the "work" of the baby is to go to the breast very frequently to stimulate the breasts to make more milk to fill that extra space. (This is why babies usually want to feed, feed, feed in the second week. which is normal.) More stimulation (sucking) means more milk; less stimulation means less milk. Use of a dummy in the early stages may reduce your baby's interest in sucking at the breast - as her sucking needs have already been met on a fake breast. It stops her from doing her "job" of boosting your supply.

Engorgement. Suckling as often as your baby wants, with no restrictions, is believed to lessen your chances of having swollen, engorged breasts in the first few days. Reducing your baby's time at the breast through use of a dummy may increase the likelihood of engorgement.

Unplanned early weaning. It seems that babies who use dummies very early and those who use dummies regularly to space feeds, may end up weaning earlier than their mothers hoped. Less stimulation, you will remember, means less milk.


Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: a guide for the medical profession. Maryland Heights, Missouri: Elsevier, 7th edn., 2011: pp. 202-203.

Mobbs E. Human imprinting and breastfeeding: are the textbooks deficient? Breastfeeding Review 1989; 1(14): 39-41.

Mobbs E. Thumb-sucking and dummy-sucking: evidence for human imprinting. Sydney: G.T. Crarf, 2007.

Mobbs E. Latchment before attachment. LCANZ Conference poster, Sydney, September 2012.

Mobbs EJ, Mobbs GA, & Mobbs AED. Link to new article.

Thorley V. Australian mothers' decisions about infant feeding: an historical analysis of public health advice, marketing, and other factors influencing their choices, 1900-2000. PhD thesis, University of Queensland, May 2007.


Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, Grad Dip Couns, IBCLC, FILCA

The festive season can be an enjoyable and heart-warming time for families, and with a new baby in the family, it can be very special. The downside is that often we need to travel to family events and celebrate them away from our own homes, with other people to fit in with.

Being prepared for issues surrounding this season is a good way to prevent factors which may impact on breastfeeding. Here are some ideas.


Low supply due to delayed feeds.

a) This can happen while travelling, if a baby is soothed to delay a feed or feeds. This reduces the stimulation that the supply needs.

        Solution: Pull over and stop the car somewhere safe, to breastfeed your baby when he needs to.

b) Loving family members offer to take your baby to give you a break, or to soothe him, when what he needs is a feed from you.

        Solution: Explain you need to breastfeed first, but that you’d love them to cuddle and burb your baby, and get to know him then. Make the most of the extra pairs of arms!

Avoiding the herb sage.

There are anecdotal reports of the “drying” effects of sage, including on the milk supply. (It has even been used to down-regulate over-abundant supply.) Christmas is a time when sage is a common ingredient of food, more so than at other times of the year, e.g. the stuffing in poultry. It is easy to avoid this item.


Alcohol? If you are going to indulge and have just one drink, it is better to drink at the end of a feed, so that there is a period for the dose to clear before the next feed. If planning more than one drink, it is a good idea to express milk for a day or so beforehand and store enough for a feed or two. Then just express and dump if you happen to have a few drinks - we are not sure what the safe dose is. (ABA has a leaflet with guidelines on this topic.)

Research by J. Menella and colleagues demonstrates that babies tend to sleep for shorter times after ingesting alcohol via milk. They go to sleep - but wake sooner. They may also drink less milk.

Most foods are okay for breastfeeding mothers, especially if a wide range of foods is eaten. Your baby was used to the taste of the foods you ate while pregnant, as strong tastes come through in the amniotic fluid. Babies drink some of this while practising sipping before birth. As an example, if you ate garlic during pregnancy, your baby will recognise and enjoy this familiar taste in your milk. If you encounter any issues, though, consult your IBCLC (lactation consultant).


Taking time out for a rest is a good idea, for any mother of a young baby, however fed. If may be necessary to organise this in advance, if staying with family. A good time to rest is while your baby is asleep. You will go back to the festivities refreshed and ready to enjoy the company.

Enjoy the festive season!    Have a great time!

NB. Especially if visiting or receiving visitors, remember to stay COVID-safe during the festivities, by following the requirements for your state, region or country.