While breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, babies are not born knowing how to breastfeed (although some do get the hang of it sooner than others). Human infants are born with a sucking reflex, but for most mothers and babies, there is a bit of a learning curve. The two of you have to learn the mechanics of breastfeeding together.
The art of breastfeeding in something that you learn by doing, and it gets easier with practice.
One thing is for sure: childbirth and breastfeeding are two experiences that no amount of reading, attending classes, joining Facebook groups, or watching videos can really prepare you for (however you can get a head start on learning about what to expect via our online classes).
You need to remember that your baby hasn’t read those books or taken those classes, and she/he doesn’t have a clue that she/he is supposed to behave like the “average” baby. In reality, there is no such thing as an “average” baby. Since each mum and each baby is unique, each breastfeeding experience will be different.
Here are some basic things you can do from the beginning to help get breastfeeding off to a good start:
Breastfeed Early – Put your baby to the breast as soon as possible after birth, while his/her sucking instincts are at their strongest. Early feedings, before your milk comes in, gives her/him a chance to practice while your nipple is soft and easy to grasp. Even if she/he doesn’t latch on and breastfeed during the first few minutes, she/he still gets a chance to nuzzle, smell and lick the nipple and areola, and that’s good practice for later on. Any sucking at all helps contract your uterus, reduces bleeding, and helps speed up delivery of the placenta.
Breastfeed Often – Room in with your baby, and learn to recognize his feeding cues. We cover feeding cues in our online classes.
Plan to spend most of your time breastfeeding in the early weeks. Try to get a shower and brush your teeth and remember to eat, but don’t take on anything much beyond that.
Be organised – Have a comfortable place to breastfeed your baby. Have cushions/pillows to support your back and arms. Have a bottle of water close by and snacks as needed.
Don’t limit the time your baby spends at the breast – Let him/her breastfeed as long as he/she seems interested. The baby needs to breastfeed long enough to get the high calorie hindmilk that comes later in the feeding, after the milk lets down. Especially in the early days of breastfeeding, it may take several minutes for the let down reflex to ‘kick in’.
Giving formula supplements at this early stage can cause all kinds of problems, including a decrease in your milk supply. Formula takes longer to digest than breast milk, so your baby stays full longer and is less likely to breastfeed as often as he/she needs to stimulate your supply. While many babies tolerate formula well, the younger your infant is when he is exposed to artificial milk, the greater the chance of allergies or digestive problems. The longer you wait to introduce the better, however there is no ‘mummy guilt’ here. You do what is best for you and your baby.
Ensure your baby is attached correctly with his/her chest to your chest, nose to nipple and baby’s body close to yours. Here is a great video to show great attachment.
Some signs that the baby is well attached to the breast are:
- It will not hurt (after the initial attachment discomfort)
- The mouth will be wide open
- The sucking action will be rhythmical. After some quick sucks the baby begins to take longer more rhythmical sucks taking a brief pause. This pattern will continue until the end of the feed.
- When the baby has had enough he/she will let go of the nipple or you will notice that he/she is no longer having any deep rhythmical sucking.
If your baby is not well attached the following signs will be noticeable:
- The attachment will hurt for the whole feed
- The baby’s cheeks may dimple when he/she sucks
- Whilst the baby is sucking he/she may make a clicking noise
- The sucking pattern may be very fast and short
- The baby’s mouth may not be open very wide and when you nipple comes out it will be pinched at the tip
Get as much rest as you possibly can – During the first few days after your baby arrives, both you and your baby are recovering from the stress of giving birth and being born. Babies tend to be sleepy during this time, and while you will be sleepy as well, it is often difficult to get much rest in the hospital. My only tip would be to not rush home until you are comfortable with attaching your baby to the breast by yourself.
Take advantage of having Midwives around all the time and rest when you can.
The most important thing to remember is to “enjoy your baby”.
What tips helped you through the first few weeks of breastfeeding?
Share your tips below.
Written by Midwife Zoe
(This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional. All information is written from the experience and knowledge of the person writing the post).