Despite being the most natural thing, breastfeeding does not come without its challenges! Learning about breastfeeding whilst you are pregnant is a lot easier than trying to read whilst struggling with a newborn, and it is definitely worth finding out as much as you can as early as possible. Some lactation consultants and breastfeeding groups also offer prenatal classes.
Once you have given birth you are recommended to start breastfeeding as soon as possible as this is when your baby’s sucking reflex is at its strongest. Doing this also helps your uterus to contract and placenta to be delivered faster. You should try to have as much uninterrupted skin-to-skin as possible. Having skin-to-skin helps your baby to adjust to life outside of the womb, and also helps them with breastfeeding.
You may have noticed that your breasts get larger during pregnancy; however, until 3 or 4 days postpartum you do not yet have your ‘real’ milk in yet. Instead you are producing Colostrum, a thick yellowy milk that is perfectly tailored to you newborn baby. It is higher in protein and lower in sugar and full of disease and infection fighting antibodies. This milk has a laxative effect that helps babies pass their first bowel movements, the black tar like substance called meconium. This first feed is extremely important as it teaches baby how to feed, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is also where reading up and watching videos beforehand will help as sometimes you can get bad advice that can confuse you and make it harder.
Your baby does not just suck from your nipple. To get a proper latch that is pain-free and enables your baby to get as much milk as possible, your baby should have as much areola and breast in their mouth as possible. Their chin and nose should be touching your breast with their lips splayed out, and you shouldn’t be able to see any nipple. Signs of a bad latch include baby's lips being curled in, their chin not touching your breast, and you feeling pain for more than 30 seconds after latching.
Getting the latch right is vital as an improper latch can be very painful for you and can make feeding for them difficult and unpleasant. Again, always ask for help if you are worried. If you are afraid that your baby's latch is incorrect, then gently insert your little finger between your breast and the corner of their mouth and try again. Wait till your baby opens their mouth wide and then try again.
If you find that your baby is having continued trouble latching on then seek help as soon as you can, as this can often lead to trouble feeding later on. There may be a chance that your baby has tongue-tie which can make latching-on difficult for them and painful for you; if this is the case then it can be easily and quickly rectified and you will notice an improvement in their feeding and weight gain very quickly.
Breastfeeding will start with short quick sucking that will trigger your ‘let-down’; after this your baby will slow down and her sucking will become rhythmic with swallowing. The first phase is where your baby will get the ‘foremilk’ which is a thinner watery liquid more meant to act as a drink. After this comes the ‘hindmilk’ which is thicker and creamier and this contains all of the calories. Ensuring that your baby has emptied the first breast of this milk before switching to the other one is important so that they can get as much of this milk as possible. When a baby has not had enough hindmilk you may find that they are fussier and feeding again sooner, and their weight gain may drop.
You may notice a little blister on your baby's top lip, this is completely harmless and painless, and it will go soon enough.
Breast milk is digested faster than formula milk and so breastfed babies will feed more frequently. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are doing something wrong. Some babies will need waking up to be fed, whereas some will feed on the hour every hour; this does not necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong, or that anything is wrong with your baby. The early feeds may last up to 40 minutes, but remember that to your baby you are more than just food. You are safety, comfort and love; please don’t let anyone tell you that you are overfeeding your baby or setting bad habits. You are developing a wonderful bond and enabling them to become independent in their own time whilst knowing that they still have their mummy. And remember that you cannot overfeed a breastfed baby, they will only get what they need. As long as your baby is happy, healthy, gaining weight and having 6-8 wet nappies a day, plus 1 or 2 dirty nappies, then you are doing a great job.
Frequent feeding is your baby’s way of building up your milk supply. Supply and demand means that the more your baby goes to your breast, the more milk your breasts will make. These early days help you to build up a good supply and as you and your baby get better at it, they will develop more of a routine and space the feeds further apart. Look out for early signs of hunger in your baby to avoid them crying out. The easiest way to identify this is by watching for ‘rooting’, i.e. turning their head from side to side and making open and close mouth movements. Feeding on demand can be hard work and tiring, but it is extremely beneficial for you and your baby.
To avoid back pain try to bring your baby to you as opposed to slouching over to them. Relax and put your legs up when you can. Having your legs up helps you make milk, as does being calm. Many mums notice the difference when pumping if they have been very stressed. It is well worth investing in a breastfeeding pillow and sitting in a comfy chair to help you unwind and enjoy feeding your baby. Always try to have a bottle of water with you when feeding as it is thirsty work. This will keep you hydrated, as well as helping you produce more milk. And don't clock watch! Rushing and keeping a note of the time can be counterproductive and make you concerned and stressed; just take some time in a calm environment.
Feeding in Public for the first time can be a daunting thing, but it doesn't need to be. Make sure that you are as prepared as you can be by wearing a nursing bra, and a top that is easily undone, removed or adjusted. Also keep a muslin cloth nearby, they're great for winding babies, but also handy for leaky breasts. Again try to have some water with you. Some women choose to cover up with a nursing cover, or cape, during feeding, and others are comfortable au natural. You will find out over time which style suits you, and you may find some locations and occasions suit one more than the other. Do not let anyone pressure you into covering up or hiding away.