Of the many things that make being a new mother challenging, one is certainly the issue of breastfeeding. On the one hand, it’s presumably a completely natural and intuitive process that mothers both human and animal have been engaging in for, well, ever. But on the other hand, it can be fairly complicated, especially when you’re new to it.
So many questions and potential issues arise including getting your baby to latch, nipple pain, breastfeeding logistics and timing, as well as whether or not you should even be breastfeeding in the first place. And sometimes it can be hard to find truly useful concrete factual information amongst all of the contrasting, passionate opinions people tend to have about this topic.
So this article is for any expecting and new mothers who want to understand the topic of breastfeeding inside and out in a straightforward manner: a guide to everything you need to know about breastfeeding.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Though the choice of whether to use formula or breastfeed is completely individual and it is perfectly okay to choose either, it is true that there are many benefits to breastfeeding worth learning about. These include:
Ideal nutrition for your baby. Because it is specifically designed to meet a newborn’s nutritional needs, breastmilk has all of the nutrients a baby needs to thrive in exactly the right proportion and with the right timing. Colostrum, which is the thick yellowish fluid you’ll produce right after delivering your baby, helps kick things off by helping the newborn’s digestive tract develop. From there, your regular breast milk will come in, packed with all of the fat and nutrients your baby needs. This includes important antibodies, like immunoglobin A, that help babies fight off illnesses.
Reduced risk of diseases for baby. Studies show that exclusively breastfeeding your baby for its first six months of life can reduce the risk of a long list of diseases including SIDS, celiac disease, infections, diabetes, IBS, childhood obesity, and childhood leukaemia. Some studies have also suggested that breastfeeding can lead to higher intelligence and fewer behavioural problems.
Lowers your risk of diseases. New mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing conditions like postpartum depression because of the increased oxytocin in their system. Oxytocin also helps encourage bonding, caregiving, and relaxation. Additionally, breastfeeding has been shown to decrease mothers’ risk of various diseases including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Improved bonding. That increased oxytocin isn’t the only thing helping you bond with your newborn baby when breastfeeding. All of that skin-to-skin contact, eye contact, and physical touch and closeness will do wonders for both your baby’s development and your ability to develop a close relationship.
Helping you lose weight. Though getting back your “pre-baby body” can be your last concern when taking care of a newborn, breastfeeding has been known to help new mothers lose their baby weight around three months after delivering. It also helps your uterus return to its previous size.
Save time and money. Unlike formula, breastmilk is free. It can also save you time on worries like mixing formula, warming bottles, and calculating how much to feed your baby.
Basics of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding starts with the latch, which can be a little tricky to get right. But getting your baby in the proper position will make the whole thing much more comfortable for you, so it’s important to get right. Ideally, your baby’s mouth will cover your entire nipple and areola so that he or she can use their tongue, mouth, and lips to massage milk from your milk glands.
Here are the steps you should take to get a good latch.
- Hold your baby in front of your breasts, tummy to tummy with you, with their head straight-on, aligned with the rest of their body.
- Encourage your baby to open their mouth wide by tickling their lips with your nipple. If they’re not responding, you can squeeze a bit of your breast milk onto their lips.
- If your baby turns away from your breast, you can stroke the cheek on the side of theirs that is closest to you to get them to reflexively turn back toward you.
- Once your baby’s mouth is wide open, bring them to your breast, allowing them to take the lead in grasping onto you.
- At this point, you’ll be able to tell if you have a proper latch when your baby’s lips are flared out and chin and nose are touching your breast. You may have to pull down their lower lip to prevent your baby from sucking on its own mouth.
- Make sure your baby is suckling by looking for a strong rhythmic steady pattern of sucking, swallowing, and breathing, with motion visible in the baby’s cheek, jaw, and ear. A proper suckle sounds like swallowing and gulping, and clicking noises can indicate that the latch isn’t correct.
- If the latch is off, you can break the suction and starting the process again. As mentioned above, it can take a few tries to get this right, which is perfectly normal. Just be patient and try again.
When you’re new to breastfeeding, the sessions might feel quite long, but it’s important that your baby can take their time. Most sessions will last between 20 to 30 minutes on average. You should keep your baby on one breast until it drains fully, as your hindmilk is rich in fat and calories. Only after one breast is drained should you offer the second. You can follow your baby’s lead in being able to tell when to finish up, either as they let go completely or slow down the suck-swallow rhythm. A lot of the time, your baby will fall asleep after feeding.
Generally speaking, a newborn should feed eight to twelve times per 24 hour day, which breaks down to you nursing about every three to four hours including the night. At the very beginning, your baby may not have their appetite yet, so you might have to initiate feedings for the first few days. After that, you can follow your baby’s lead, feeding them when they show signs of being hungry, such as:
- Nuzzling your breasts
- Sucking on their hands, lips, or tongue
- Opening their mouth
- Making lip-smacking sounds
- Crying in a low-pitched wail
Don’t forget that every baby is individual and all of these are just general guidelines. You’ll get to know your own baby over time, learning his or her unique needs and patterns.
You can tell your baby is getting enough milk when they seem happy and content after feedings instead of crying or fussing, have enough bowel movements (three or four a day), and steadily gain weight, which your paediatrician will track.
There are a few different ways you can hold your baby while breastfeeding. You can try out each one until you find the one that you and your newborn prefer.
Cradle hold: Your baby’s head rests in the bend of your elbow on the side you’re breastfeeding on, with that same side’s hand supporting the baby’s body. Use your opposite hand to hold your breast and point your nipple toward your baby.
Crossover hold: Like the cradle hold, but you hold your baby’s head with the hand opposite to the breast you’re nursing from.
Football hold: On the side you’re nursing from, tuck your baby’s legs under your arm. Use your other hand to cup your breast.
Side-lying position: Lie on your side with a pillow under your head. Place your baby facing you, with their head in line with your nipple.
Laid-back position: Lean back on a couch or bed with pillows supporting you. Place your baby lying on your chest, belly to belly, with their cheek on your breast.
While the above are all breastfeeding basics, there are also a lot of little tips and tricks that you pick up on with experience. Here are a few that mothers have learned and shared.
- Fenugreek, fennel, and anise are natural galactagogues that can help increase your breastmilk supply
- Creating a nursing area in your home can help you feel comfortable and prepared for all of your breastfeeding sessions. Stock up on comfy seating, pillows, water, cloths, and maybe a book for entertainment.
- Going to a lactation group can help you connect with other mothers and learn a wealth of information you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- Olive oil and coconut oil can be great for hydrating your nipples
- Trust your instincts. Even a brand-new mother has intuition about what is right.
Common Breastfeeding Problems
Like so many other realms of motherhood, breastfeeding is liable to lead to all sorts of different types of problems, which are mostly rather easy to troubleshoot. Here are a few issues you may come across.
Mastitis: Mastitis is an infection that involves inflammation of the breast tissue, which can happen when the breast doesn’t drain sufficiently. Bacteria from your skin or baby’s mouth can get in through your nipple or milk duct, leaving you with a sore breast and flu-like symptoms such as fever and fatigue. If you have these symptoms, you’ll want to immediately call your healthcare provider, who will diagnose you and probably prescribe oral antibiotics. While there’s not too much you can do to prevent this, taking care of your immune system by getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet can help protect you from infection in general.
Cracked nipples: Unfortunately, nipple pain from sore and cracked nipples is a pretty common part of breastfeeding. However, it can be made worse by improper latching or positioning, so double-check that your baby is latching onto both your nipple and areola. To ease nipple pain, you can use a variety of products like lanolin oil, cool nipple pads, and various creams.
Thrush: Thrush, also called candida or a yeast infection, can occur in your baby’s mouth or in your breasts. Symptoms include pink, burning, and crusty nipples as well as sharp, shooting pain in the breast upon latching. Treatment is fairly straightforward, involving antifungal medication creams. Though this is also sometimes unavoidable, washing your hands and consuming probiotics can help.
Clogged ducts: When milk gets obstructed in a milk duct, you can get a painful red lump on your nipple. Massages, warm showers, and warm compresses can relieve pain, but the only solution to make it go away is to keep breastfeeding. The milk flow will eventually unclog the duct.
What to Eat When Breastfeeding
Unfortunately, watching what you eat and drink for the sake of your baby doesn’t end after 40 weeks of pregnancy. If you breastfeed, your diet will continue to directly impact your baby, so there are a few dietary recommendations you should follow for optimal health.
You’ll need to consume about 500 additional calories a day - but that’s not an excuse to load up on junk food. As you can probably guess, a varied diet of nutritious foods including a proper proportion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins is important to meet all of you and your baby’s needs. You’ll also want to stay hydrated with at least 3.5 liters of fluid a day.
It’s best to avoid excessive caffeine, high-mercury fish, high-fat dairy and meat, and too many processed foods. However, you can finally indulge in raw fish, unpasteurized soft cheeses, cold cuts, and pink meat again after abstaining throughout your pregnancy. You can even have alcohol every so often, though moderation is key. Limit yourself to a few drinks a week and try to drink right after nursing, giving your body four hours to metabolize the alcohol so it doesn’t make its way into your breastmilk.
You’ll also need to be extra careful about getting enough calcium, vitamin D, iron, and folic acid into your diet, which are nutrients that your baby particularly needs.
Pumping Breast Milk
One important part of breastfeeding that many people forget to prepare for is pumping, which has many benefits including giving you a break from breastfeeding, maintaining your milk supply, relieving breast engorgement, and allowing you to create a back-up stash of breastmilk for when you might need it. Check out the Lola&Lykke Smart Electric Breast Pump, a modern smart pump that allows you to pump on your own terms.
While some babies go back and forth from breastfeeding to bottle feeding from the very beginning, many mothers prefer to establish a breastfeeding routine before starting to use the bottle. You’ll usually find that by six weeks in, your routine will be well-established and you’ll have enough time between feedings to use electric breast pumps. If you’re on maternity leave and going back to work, it’s a good idea to create a stash of breast milk storage by starting to pump a few weeks ahead of time.
You can pump whenever it’s convenient for you, though morning is a great time as that is when your breasts are at their fullest. If you use a single electric breast pump, you can even pump once breast while your baby nurses on the other. And a portable electric breast pump will allow you to pump whenever you’d like. Many mothers bring these to work with them so they can pump throughout the day.
When you pump, try to relax and get comfortable. Encourage letdown by massaging, leaning over, or using a warm compress. Like with your baby, focus on getting a good seal on your nipple and areola with the pump flange. 20 to 30 minutes on the pump is usually enough time to feel well-drained.
Once you pump, you’ll have to find a place to store your milk. You can use plastic bags and bottles, though it may be more convenient to choose an electric pump that allows you to pump directly into a milk bag. You’ll want to freeze your milk in batches of up to 150ml for easy thawing. Label each bag with the date so you don’t keep it for more than six months.
Common Pumping Problems
Like with breastfeeding, pumping milk has its own common problems that you may encounter. Some of these include:
Not getting enough breastmilk. If a pumping session is yielding less breastmilk than you expected, possible causes include pumping too infrequently or too soon after a previous session, pumping for too short of time, being insufficiently hydrated, and using the wrong pump. These can be addressed by drinking more water and playing around with how often you’re pumping, when, and with what.
Having trouble with letdown. Babies are great at getting milk out of breasts, but pumps don’t necessarily have that charming baby quality that triggers your oxytocin and causes letdown. As a result, sometimes it can be tricky to get your breastmilk to flow when you want to pump. As a solution, try to relax, get comfortable, and feel close to your baby, whether that involves smelling a piece of your baby’s clothing, imagining your baby with you, or listening to a recording of your baby.
Pain from pumping. Breastfeeding can be painful and so can pumping. If your pumping sessions are leading to soreness, make sure you’re using the correct flange size, check that the suction setting isn’t on too high, and use the same nipple creams and care products that you do to deal with cracked nipples from breastfeeding.
As with all things related to motherhood, breastfeeding and pumping have a learning curve. It may seem intimidating at first, but don’t let it daunt you. Take your time, trust your intuition and - of course - ask for help if you need it. You’ll figure it out - we’re sure of it.