New mothers find it very hard to judge if their baby is getting enough milk and feel under pressure, sometimes self imposed and at other times by family (who perhaps breastfed their babies many years ago when breastfeeding was out of vogue) to supplement their baby’s feed with formula. We thought it would be useful to give you a simple guide to breastfeeding. Do use this as a springboard to learn more. Your local baby clinic will be able to give excellent help alongside parent support groups. If you persevere and get it right at the beginning you will have a wonderful experience like no other, alongside making life heaps easier for yourself. You will take pleasure in reading all the amazing studies about the long-term benefits of breastfeeding.
Lets start at the beginning! It’s an entirely natural instinct to want to follow that which is familiar, however here is a situation where three good meals a day is not the benchmark, the pattern is little and often in the early stages followed by more and frequently later.
Lets get a myth out of the way. It’s rare to find a mother who is not producing sufficient milk – yes it can happen on occasion, but working closely with your support team locally at your Dr’s surgery it can be quickly ascertained if you are one of that tiny group and that for example, a medical issue is affecting your milk supply.
What’s the mechanics of how breast milk ‘arrives’ ready to be delivered to your eager little customer. The milk, to use the common term, ‘comes in’ anywhere between two to five days after birth. Before that you produce something called colostrum. It may not look too appetizing but rest assured its perfect for your baby’s digestive system at this very early stage and positively yummy for the youngster. Its yellow and rather sticky and a fluid.
Your breasts will, 48 to 72 hours after birth begin to feel distinctly different, this is the clue that the colostrum is decreasing and breast milk is going to replace it. If you do not feel this change do mention this to your Dr’s surgery and they will be able to give advice. The first step is colostrum, the second a mixture with breast milk and finally only breast milk.
During this transitional period the baby’s stools will look dark in colour and be quite loose. When the transition to breast milk takes place the stool will be more like foaming mustard. It put me off of Colman’s for years! Keep an eye on the baby’s urine to check it is not too dark in colour it should like rather colourless. If it is strong or dark looking your baby may need more fluid.
Some babies take to latching on to your nipple with ease and others need support and patience and equally so will you. Some mothers take to it like a duck to water but many in the first stages of learning this marvelous technique need help and support and good advice to make sure their nipples do not get sore or engorged, and that baby is latching on properly to maximize the milk it will receive. Painful or sore nipples are not uncommon and a new mother should definitely not feel they have failed if these blips occur. It’s worth early perseverance and long-term massively easier than bottle-feeding. Soreness or if the baby doesn’t ‘latch-on’ properly can cause discomfort sometimes really quite painful discomfort so good nipple care is important and if your nipples become cracked do seek advice. It’s really common in the early stage and can be dealt with. I like to think of it like getting used to a new pair of shoes – you need to work your way through the blisters and suddenly with care and plasters it comes good and the shoes don’t rub anymore! Treat this issue in precisely the same way – heed the warning, deal with the discomfort and all will work out.
Breast-feeding should involve both breasts for equal periods of time and dependent on the time of day anything between 5 and 15 minutes per breast in the early stages. Make sure you feed from both breasts. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water – drinking plenty of fizzy drinks is simply not the same thing. The rule of thumb is every time you feel thirsty drink a glass of water. That means don’t wait and think I’ll do it when I get a chance just react as soon as you can to your body speaking to you. If one glass doesn’t quench your thirst have another.
When feeding your baby It’s incredibly helpful if you can really relax and enjoy this special experience rather than clockwatching. The more relaxed a mother’s body is the easier the experience. Babies pick up tension in the mother’s body and manner. Forget about the washing up the shopping still by the front door and just go with the flow…literally! If you are out and about find a place where you will feel comfortable and able to feed your baby. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if you may use a fitting room. There is a debate about where one should feed a baby in public – you are the only one who can answer this question and discover what works for you bearing in mind that being relaxed helps enormously.
What is breast milk like? Well it’s light, much lighter than formula. I heard it wonderfully described recently as nature’s super food. It’s packed with all sorts of good stuff for babies. There are many excellent booklets available explaining about the nutritional value of breast-milk do read them its well worth it. Recent studies have also looked at how what you eat affects the milk in both flavour and quality. Flavour change is subtle apparently and if it does happen dependent on what you have eaten, the change does not linger for long. Some mothers ask if certain foods should be avoided – many that were off your list during pregnancy are back on again, however if your eating habits were dodgy before then a return to that is not useful. You need to be strong and healthy – you’re going to be busy, so a good diet for you benefits you and your baby.
Don’t be distressed if your breastfed baby appears less settled and more demanding of feed than the formula fed baby. This light milk is more easily digested and therefore baby feels hungrier more quickly. You should reasonably expect to feed anything up to 12 times a day, basically every hour to two hours with a slight alteration in pattern at night when baby may sleep for up to four hours. This does settle into a pattern with longer gaps as baby matures.
To understand the mechanics of the production of breast milk will help you cope with and embrace your babies feeding pattern. The more your baby suckles on your breast and takes milk the more milk you produce. The sucking sends a message to your brain which sends a message to your body – more milk required please! And yes some of the best milk comes in the middle of the night after you have been lying down and resting your body for (too few admittedly!!) hours. Once you get that and embrace it you will not feel ‘oh no not again’ when baby cries for milk. I used to think of it a bit like a take-out pizza delivery service. The phones ringing again for another order of something delicious and the customer wants it now and isn’t too keen to wait! You will feel reassured that all is well by having your baby weighed regularly at the baby clinic. Your surgery will guide you about when to come in. As baby grows your milk production will need to increase to fulfill your babies feeding requirements. So when you suddenly go from feeling you’ve got it nailed to a sudden feeding frenzy on what might seem like a constant basis, all that is happening is that your baby is increasing your milk supply – this may go on for a few days. Think of it as hills and plateaus. Plateaus when there is enough milk and a hike up a hill for a few days to increase supply and then a plateau again.
Now you understand why supplementing with formula will not increase your milk supply and basically is the beginning of the end of breastfeeding.
When all your newfound skills come together you will be the one laughing and not having to struggle with bottled formulae you are the ultimately yummy mummy now and a mobile milk truck to boot, and you should feel incredibly pleased with yourself about it!
On a serious note do be a watchdog. Be an observer of signs. If your baby seems very lethargic and quiet. If you don’t seem to need to change nappies or the urine is very concentrated. If the soft spot on top of babies head seems to have sunken in or if you think there are signs of fever or listlessness or simply your babies cry seems weak or different do share this with your Dr’s surgery. My view is better to ask than not and ask as soon as you have these concerns. There is no benefit in wait and see, let a professional give you their view and recommendations.
Most of all we’d like to tell you that you are about to embark on a wonderful adventure. Breast-feeding is a really terrific and highly rewarding experience – enjoy!
Director, Riverside Nannies and Riverside Training Company.