‘Breastfeeding is not natural like breathing, breastfeeding is natural like walking.’ Source: Unknown
Whilst we are pregnant, we put so much of our energy into finding out everything there is to know about labour and preparing for birth, that we have a tenancy to overlook learning about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is something that has to be learned. In most cases baby will be more adapted to taking to breastfeeding than their mum. With the advent of popular baby books, well-meaning but wrongful advice from Aunty Edna and societal pressures, many women have a skewed perception of what normal baby behaviour is. This in turn can affect so many breastfeeding journeys. Being armed with the correct knowledge and information will make your breastfeeding journey much more successful.
My names Tara, I am a passionate breastfeeder, currently feeding my 2-year-old toddler called Cleo. After being unable to breastfeed my first child due to what I believe was lack of knowledge and support around the subject, I decided I wanted to help more women be successful on their breastfeeding journeys. I’m a trained peer supporter and I am currently training as a breastfeeding counsellor. I hope to empower breastfeeding mamas and give them the confidence and knowledge they need to reach their breastfeeding goals.
Below I have outlined some simple information that I hope will help you on your way with your breastfeeding journey.
The basics of breastmilk production
Understanding a bit about how breastmilk production works will help you get breastfeeding off to a great start.
All being well baby will start to feed immediately after birth. The milk you are producing at this point is called colostrum, AKA. Liquid Gold. Colostrum production is hormonally driven. Once you give birth and baby starts suckling, your hormones will kick in and start to produce colostrum. Feeding baby within an hour of birth will help to ‘switch on’ milk producing cells, signalling to your body that breastfeeding is now part of you.
After the first few days once your progesterone has dropped and other milk producing hormones are on the rise your milk will come in. This is when your breasts will feel large and heavy and probably look like you’ve had a boob job…hurrah!
For the next month or so your breasts will feel fuller and firmer, you will feel like you have a lot of milk and be prone to leaking. For the following few months your body will be responsive to how much milk is being removed from your breast, whether that’s by baby feeding directly from you or you are expressing. Breastmilk production will start to work on a supply and demand process, the more milk is removed the more milk is subsequently made for the next feed. Therefore, as time goes on your body gets in line with your baby’s needs and you will start to produce the right amount of milk for your baby.
Positioning and attachment
Making sure that baby is positioned and latched correctly will ensure that baby is being as effective as they can at getting milk from the breast. There is no ‘correct’ position to breastfeed baby in, the most important thing is to do what feels natural to you and baby. Below are a few key points to help you find the optimum position for yourself and baby.
- Mama you need to be sitting comfortably. If you are tense you are going to find it hard to sustain the breastfeeding for an amount of time. Relax your shoulders and adopt a bit of slouchy laid-back position.
- Keep baby’s head is in line with their body. Remember they need to swallow, and this will be hard for them if they are all twisted.
- Support your baby. If baby doesn’t feel supported they will flail their arms and legs about. Support their back shoulders and neck.
- Let baby do some work too. Bring your baby to the breast but let them take control of when they are going to latch on. If you shove your breast in their mouth without giving them chance to latch on you risk poor attachment, which will hurt.
- Nose to nipple - Not mouth to nipple. By placing baby with their nose in line with your nipple, you will encourage them to open their mouth wide to get a good amount of your areola.
- Don’t hold the back of baby’s head. Baby needs to be able to tip their head back so that your nipple is on the soft palate at the back of their mouth.
Skin to skin
Generally, after most births it is the norm to place babies on their mother’s bare chest for skin to skin, as it helps bonding and a whole host of other things. The advantages of skin to skin contact with your baby is not just a one-time only event, it can have many advantages for mother and baby after from birth and beyond.
Calming and relaxing for both mother and baby, skin to skin helps to baby regulate their body temperature, breathing and heart rate. Having got used to womb life, they are now in the big wide world where everything is loud, bright, and overstimulating. Their safe place now your bare chest.
As well as being a safe haven for baby and their happy place, your bare chest against their skin helps to encourage oxytocin release, the love hormone. Oxytocin is a key player in breastfeeding and helping your milk come in. So lots of skin to skin cuddles will not only make your baby feel safe, but it will also encourage them to latch on to the breast.
Often when cluster feeding starts, mums can worry that something is going wrong with breastfeeding. The key here is to accept it and get through it. That is not to say however that it is not a tough time and it can be very tiring and frustrating.
Cluster feeding can also be referred to as ‘baby having a fussy time.’ It is generally when baby feeds in short bursts over a long period of time, and in between feeding baby is very fussy. Cluster feeding helps to establish milk supply and is essentially baby putting in their order for milk. Remember before when I talked about ‘supply and demand’, well think of this as the ‘demand’ part. If baby is healthy in all other areas (which I will talk about next) then really there is no cause for concern. However, that is not to say that this will be easy for you mama.
During periods of cluster feeding please just throw away the clock, no nursing schedule will help at this point and it is best to just go with the flow of your baby. Take some time to get comfy and chill with your baby, feeding on demand. Resist the urge to give baby a bottle during this period too as that will mess with your body’s natural milk supply. Some mamas find that baby wearing can help when they need to get things done around the house but also keep baby close.
The right amount of milk
Many breastfeeding mamas worry about how much milk their baby is getting. This is because they are unable to see how much they are taking unless they express. There are a few things you can look at to check that your baby is getting enough milk.
Are they gaining weight? Baby will typically lose weight in the first few weeks of life. However, by 2 weeks old they should have regained their birth weight and then steadily put on weight after that.
Are they doing pee pee enough? Up until day 6 the number of wet nappies should correspond with how many days old baby is. (For example, a 1-day old baby should have at least 1 wet nappy per day. A 3-day old baby should have at least 3 wet nappies per day). From day 6 onwards babies should be producing at least 6 wet heavy nappies in a 24-hour period.
Is baby pooping the correct colour? When baby is born their poop will be a black tar like colour, over the coming days this will gradually change to brown, green then from day 5 onwards be a yellow mustardy colour. A healthy baby will typically produce at least 3 yellow poops per 24-hour period.
Is your baby alert? During their awake times baby is otherwise healthy and alert to their surroundings and keeping up with developmental milestones.
Is baby happy at your breast? Once latched onto the breast baby should be calm and relaxed whilst breastfeeding.
You should be answering YES to all of these questions. If you answered no to any then it could be a sign there is something wrong with their milk intake, and I would encourage you to find some breastfeeding support.
Where to find support
Knowing where to go for support is essential. There are many places that provide free support either online, on the phone or in person.
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
The ABM is run by trained breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters. They offer online groups, provide training and have a wealth of information leaflets on their website.
La Leche League GB
Trained breastfeeding counsellors, who have all breastfed their own babies work as volunteers to provide support calls, face to face groups, webchat and email support.
National Breastfeeding Helpline
0300 100 0212
Support for breastfeeding mothers and their families, every day of the year 9.30am – 9.30pm.
Good luck with your breastfeeding journey, it’s the best gift you can give to your child and the benefits will last a lifetime. If you are currently breastfeeding or are pregnant and plan to do so in the future, please take a look at my clothing range, designed by me to empower breastfeeding mamas during their journey.