Breastfeeding should be the most natural thing in the world. It provides the ‘best possible food for your baby’ and the healthiest start in life, protecting your baby from a variety of infections and other illnesses. So it’s easy, right? Not necessarily so.
Why’s it so hard?
You’ve just been probably the most traumatic experience of your life, physically and emotionally – the birth. And now you’re expected to acquire a new skill, regardless of the type of birth you’ve just had, or how tired you may feel. If you’ve had a long labour or caesarean then it’s likely to hit you even harder. Welcome to motherhood!
Let’s face it, the hospital is unlikely to be the most calming environment for you to begin learning this new skill but in theory you’re not allowed to leave without your baby first ‘latching’ on first. If you’ve been shown by a mid-wife but are finding it difficult at this stage – don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The first few days
Initially your breast will produce colostrum, a yellowy creamy milk, that won’t change to proper milk to around the third day. In the meantime, as your milk supply comes in, your breasts will become fuller and heavier. They can become swollen, hard and painful – effectively what they call engorgement when your breast becomes over-full. The best thing to do is feed frequently and early to empty them out. Other things to watch out for are hard and painful lumps in your breast. When feeding make sure you take it in turns with each breast to ensure balanced milk flow and massage the lump towards the nipple to prevent a blocked duct or mastitis (see below).
The NHS suggests that if feeding hurts, then your baby’s position is likely to be wrong because any ‘pain in your nipple when your baby first attaches to your breast means your nipple is not at the back of your baby’s mouth’. In practice you’re never going to get this right immediately and be prepared for some time for you to find the best position to suit you and your baby. Often it can be trial and error and whatever position the ‘experts’ say is ‘correct’, if you and baby are comfortable and feeding well, then it’s right!
As your boobs adjust to breast-feeding, there is bound to be a point, where you will get sore nipples, which you’ll find difficult to heal, as you’ll also be managing a hungry baby at the same time! If this does happen, follow this advice: keep them clean and dry, change breast pads frequently, and try a natural nipple balm (it’s best to keep chemicals away from this area, as you will have to wipe the nipples with water before feeding which will cause dryness and exacerbate the problem), wear a cotton bra, a few drops of milk rubbed into the nipple at the end of the feed may help.
Two weeks on
You’ve been feeding every 2-3 hours and your nipples are red raw, cracked and unable to heal. This could develop into mastitis, a red, hot painful patch on the breast with flu-like symptoms and all you can do is follow the same advice as for sore nipples (above). It is treatable with antibiotics but it is really painful to feed through. If you have a blocked duct, you may need to pierce this with a sterilised needle – sounds extreme but it will be less painful once the duct is cleared.
How often and how long do you feed?
As often and as long as they want, which isn’t an easy thing to do. At the beginning it can feel like all the time. If it’s every two hours and it takes an hour to feed – it really feels like every hour. And guaranteed that won’t be at the most convenient time or place either. It does get easier as they get older but you really do just have to go at baby’s pace and remain calm and patient. Eventually, you and your baby will settle into an established and manageable pattern, so do persevere. As a footnote, if it’s hot, they may drink more as they could be thirsty.
Is my baby getting enough?
Many a mum has been caught out by this dilemma. Your breasts produce milk in response to your baby’s needs. The more your baby feeds the more milk is produced. It will be getting enough if you feed on demand. If your baby has frequent wet nappies, is awake and alert some of the time and is growing and generally getting weight – it’s getting enough. But, having said that, one mum described how she fed on demand and her baby still constantly cried and wasn’t happy till he was given a bottle. At the end of the day, you know your baby better than anyone else and the important thing is that you and your baby are contented and happy.
How to do it?
Official advice recommends breastfeeding your baby until he/she is six months old.
- Get comfortable sitting so that your back is straight and your lap is flat. Use a pillow to support your baby.
- Hold your baby, turning your baby’s body towards your tummy. Tuck your baby’s bottom under your elbow. Or support your baby by using a pillow. How your baby behind the neck and shoulders.
- Be patient. Start with your baby’s nose opposite your nipple. Allow your baby’s head to tilt back.
- Move your baby’s mouth gently across your nipple until your baby’s mouth opens really wide.
- Speed. Bring your baby toward your breast quickly. Your baby’s bottom lip and chin should touch your breast first.
- You baby’s chin is in close contact with your breast. Your baby is able to breathe easily. You can feel your baby has a big mouthful of breast.
- Breastfeeding. You many need to support your breast. They will come off when they’ve had enough.