A happy and healthy mum mentally and physically is the ultimate goal for all health professionals – and although breastfeeding gives your baby a wonderful start, as a midwife I know that sometimes alternative feeding is the only option. So let me start by encouraging all you amazing mothers out there – the time your baby spends in your arms will establish a wonderful bond between you both. Everyone has a different experience with breastfeeding but here are some of the essentials to set you up.
Breastfeeding isn’t talked about much in the antenatal period and in my experience, most people haven’t given it much thought and expect that it will be easy and just ‘come naturally’. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many new mums. Breastfeeding is a learned skill for both mum and baby and takes time for you both to get good at, so have patience and be kind to yourself!
For the first three to five days of your baby’s life, your baby will be getting colostrum from their breastfeeds. Colostrum is thick and sticky, and often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ due to its golden colour and incredible properties. Colostrum is full of antibodies and immunoglobulins that protect your newborn from bacteria and viruses. It is low in fat, high in carbohydrates and protein, and contains everything your baby needs. Although it mainly comes in small amounts, what it lacks in volume it makes up in concentration.
Get a good latch
By about days three to five after birth, your milk will start to come in. This is when you will notice your milk starting to become whiter and a bit more watery. Often your breasts become very full and tender, and you will notice that your baby will feed a lot during this time to stimulate the breast to bring more milk in. Your breast milk changes all the time as your baby’s needs change and their stomach grows. If your breasts are extremely tender, cut up a cabbage leaf and pop it in your bra, it will bring relief – an old wives’ tale that still applies!
My number one tip for breastfeeding mothers is to get as much help with breastfeeding as you can while you are in hospital for your postnatal stay. You will have at least three days of help with midwives on hand. Take this opportunity to get the technique down, don’t be afraid to ask questions and most importantly, ask for help to make sure your baby has the correct latch.
A correct latch is so important for many reasons but mainly so that your baby can effectively transfer colostrum and then milk from your breast to his tummy. This will ensure that he doesn’t lose too much weight and isn’t hungry. A correct latch also minimises nipple damage. If you have a correct latch, it shouldn’t hurt and therefore shouldn’t cause damage to your nipples. My advice in those first few days is to press the bell for your midwife to check your latch every single time you feed your baby. It is important for you to feel comfortable and confident about breastfeeding before you go home, so make sure you use the experts available 24/7 – it’s what they’re there for.
Breastfeeding should not be painful and should not cause nipple damage. Once you go home, if you are having trouble getting a good latch and you are in pain while breastfeeding, please get help sooner rather than later. The sooner you get on to it, the less the damage there will be. Contact a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League for help and advice.
Everyone should make sure that a midwife or doctor has thoroughly checked your baby’s mouth for tongue and lip ties as these can prevent your baby from getting a good latch and can therefore cause nipple damage. This problem is easily fixed by a health professional.
You are going to be spending a lot of time feeding your baby in those first few months so make sure that you are comfortable. Sit in a comfortable chair that supports your back and arms while you feed, you may need some extra pillows. Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor – if they are not, you may need to put them on a foot stool or a pile of books or magazines.
Wear a comfortable maternity bra that is supportive but doesn’t have an underwire as this can cause mastitis.
Make sure that you eat and drink plenty too! Breastfeeding uses up a lot of calories so make sure you are eating plenty of healthy foods – foods that are high in good fats, carbohydrates and protein, to ensure your milk is the most nutritious it can be for your baby. Have a glass of water beside you and make sure you drink at least a glassful each feed.
Most of all enjoy. This is such a special time for you to bond with your baby. They won’t be this little for long and you will only get to breastfeed for a time, so embrace it. Keep up the good work, mumma!