Once you become a mother, it often seems like everyone has an opinion on the best way to feed your baby… It starts during pregnancy and continues once you’ve delivered the baby: breastmilk vs formula, breastfeeding vs bottle feeding breastmilk, breastfeeding for a few weeks vs extended breastfeeding.
But here’s the thing… This is YOUR baby and YOUR body and YOU oversee the decisions on how to feed your baby.
One thing is for sure, mums considering whether to breastfeed want the knowledge – the good, the bad and the… potentially complicated, so that they can make the right decisions for them. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of many health professionals, including myself, many of the most important messages about breastfeeding simply don’t get through.
With that in mind, I think it’s time to set the record straight on breastfeeding. Here are some things mothers tell me they wish they had known before they started their breastfeeding journey:
1) The latch. How important is it really?
A proper latch and positioning is THE most important component for long term breastfeeding success. We call it BREASTfeeding not NIPPLEfeeding, because your baby needs to have as much of your breast in their mouth as possible to ensure that they are getting enough milk and that you are comfortable and not experiencing pain.
2) Think economics, supply and demand!
A big concern for new mums, and particularly first-time mothers is knowing that they are making enough milk for their baby. Happily, this one’s pretty simple. The number one way to make more milk is to tell your body to make it by taking it – or in other words, get pumping! Often mothers think they need to give their breasts time to ‘fill up’ before they can feed the baby or pump.
But this is inaccurate!
You signal to your body to make more milk when you feed your baby at the breast, pump or hand express. If you supplement with formula and want to tell your body to make that milk for next time, you need to pump to ‘put the order in’ for the next day. The more you feed and/or express, the more milk you’ll make.
3) There are options…positions…mix it up!
Just as every mother is different, every baby is different and there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to breastfeeding positions. You have options. Find a position that works best for you and baby. You will be spending lots of time breastfeeding, so it is important to be COMFORTABLE.
Here are some options to try:
- cross cradle
- laid back
- rugby hold and
- side laying.
4) Is it true that baby eats every two to three hours in the first weeks of life? Really?
There is no single correct answer to this question. Every baby’s weight is different and each has different caloric requirements unique to their body. Your baby is born with a very small tummy and takes small quantities at each feed, so frequent feeds should be expected.
Try to read your baby’s cues. If you are exclusively breastfeeding and they are consistently crying after feeding at the breast, seek professional or medical attention to make sure they are getting sufficient milk.
5) Have your A-team ready before you go into labour.
This is the piece of advice that my clients agree helped them the most with getting breastfeeding off to a successful start. Whilst you are pregnant, you prepare by getting the nursery ready and make sure you have all the baby gear ready for when you bring your little bundle(s) home; why not make sure you are prepared for breastfeeding by identifying early on who you will enlist to support you in those tough early days of lots of breastfeeding and little sleep?
Make sure your midwife or health visitor knows your plans and goals for feeding the baby once she is born. Talk with breastfeeding supportive friends who have been through it before. Discuss your breastfeeding goals with your partner. Identify local breastfeeding resources like drop in clinics, peer support groups and lactation consultants.
6) Your baby is a new dance partner.
Just like a new dance partner, sometimes you will step on her toes, sometimes she will step on your toes. It takes TIME to learn your baby’s unique behaviour. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t understand your baby’s cues from early on. Over time, you will figure it out and get to know your new dance partner.
7) Breastfeeding is about nourishing your baby…but it is also about nurturing your baby.
Your baby comes to the breast for many reasons, one being food. But it isn’t always about food. Sometimes your baby wants to be at the breast for comfort because he is hot/cold, tired, sick, overstimulated or wants extra cuddles with mum. That’s all ok. Savour these moments, they won’t and don’t last forever.
8) Human milk- what exactly is in it?
Can you believe we still don’t have all the answers to everything that is in human milk? We do know this- that it is made up of cells (macrophages, T cells, stem cells and lymphocytes), macronutrients, micronutrients, thousands of distinct bioactive molecules, hormones and microorganisms.
It is a dynamic, bioactive fluid that changes in composition as your baby grows and ages. It can vary between feeds and between mothers. Human milk has anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory agents, growth factors and prebiotics.
9) If you’re stuck or concerned, ask for help; the sooner the better.
I see many clients who have waited to ask for help, thinking they could figure it out on their own or that the difficult challenges they are experiencing are normal. And whilst sometimes it works out to wait, often it doesn’t.
If you are experiencing pain, sore/cracked/bleeding nipples, if your baby is breastfeeding and you are not hearing audible swallows of milk, if baby is not waking to feed every 2-3 hours, or if your baby isn’t having 3-4 wet or dirty nappies in 24 hours by day 4, seek help.
Asking for help early is a good thing! It will ensure that your breastfeeding journey gets off to a good start.
10) The beginning is challenging…. but it gets much easier.
Your baby won’t be nursing around the clock forever. There is a turning point when your baby goes longer stretches between feeds, your milk supply has stabilised and breastfeeding becomes second nature. It no doubt requires effort in those first few weeks. Many mums find that if the expectations are set that the early days are tough but won’t last forever, they feel better prepared to handle the challenges.
Heidi Nowalanay is a fully qualified Lactation Consultant, registered with the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and has over 500 hours of clinical experience. She is part of the Committee of Lactation Consultants of Great Britain and a member of the LCGB communications, media and strategy groups.
Through her in-person and online consultations Heidi works with you in the comfort of your own home (where possible) giving you the knowledge and the tools to overcome feeding problems, resolve your worries, and the confidence to enjoy a happy and balanced breastfeeding journey together.