Louisa is the founder of lulubaby antenatal classes and has two energetic boys – Arthur and Toby. She is a baby feeding expert, leading lulubaby feeding sessions and providing one on one breastfeeding support for mother and baby. www.lulubaby.co.uk
Understandably breastfeeding can be a touchy subject but the long and short of it is that breastfeeding can be plain sailing for some and nothing short of a nightmare for others, with plenty falling somewhere in the middle. A complaint that I frequently hear from many mothers – and indeed research backs this up – is that they were not fully prepared for the reality of breastfeeding and the difficulties they may encounter. This article will be a candid account of how to get breastfeeding off to a good start. Like many things, if you get it right at the beginning, it will make things easier for you in the long run.
For some mothers, it will be straightforward: Your baby will let you know when they are hungry, they will latch well, they will feed until they are full and then they will fall into a deep sleep for a reasonable period of time before waking again and feeding and so on… For others, however, the reality may be a little different. So it is worth bearing the following in mind: during those first few days, it is important to feed your baby frequently, i.e. stimulating your breasts in order to establish a good milk supply for your little one.
Many of you may already be aware that breastfeeding works on a supply and demand mechanism. It all sounds so simple doesn’t it? You feed your baby when they demand a feed and then your supply follows suit. I don’t like the word “demand” because most babies will exhibit a whole range of feeding “cues” before finally crying as an SOS. Baby’s feeding cues. By the way, picking up their feeding cues earlier can often mean a more pleasant feeding experience for you both, so the key is for your baby to stimulate your breasts plenty over the first few days to enable your body to establish a full milk supply. This is most achievable when:
1) Your baby has a good latch (the technical term for their attachment to your breast with their mouth) and essentially a good latch means your baby has a large mouthful of your breast, as opposed to just your nipple.
2) Your baby does not keep falling fast asleep at the breast (which is, I might add, typical newborn behaviour but some babies, such as jaundiced ones, can be extremely sleepy); changing their nappy mid feed and other “tricks” can encourage your little one to stay awake and feed for that bit longer.
3) Your baby does not “fuss” at the breast, pulling away, arms flailing, head bobbing: “fighting” (they are not; these are just their natural reflexes which are actually trying to help them find your breast, paradoxically). You may like to try a laid-back breastfeeding position (which works with a baby’s reflexes) if you are finding that your baby seems to be struggling at the breast. Laid-back breastfeeding.
4) You are not supplementing with any formula (yes I know, there, I’ve said it… but the truth is, if you supplement with formula, then naturally your baby is not telling your body to produce more milk and, well… you can work it out). Having said that, please don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-formula, and there are some instances where it is absolutely essential and a downright life saver for both mother and babe but, I am just saying that if you wish to establish a good supply of breast milk, then supplementing with formula can be unhelpful.
So, it’s probably worth dwelling a bit on the latch here, as that is pretty darn important. An effective latch means your baby is draining your breast well, whilst telling your body exactly how much milk you need to be making. You can tell your baby has an effective latch when:
1) His/her lips are flanged (curled open)
2) His/her cheeks are rounded
3) His/her chin should be pushing into your breast
4) some if not a lot of your areola (the bit around your nipple) is in his/her mouth
5) You can hear swallowing
6) It is not painful for you
A sub-optimal latch causes not only problems with milk supply, but can also cause sore nipples (not just sore, we are talking cracked and bleeding in some cases), engorgement (boobs like balloons, but hard and tender), blocked ducts (hard painful lumps) and mastitis (a nasty inflammation which can become infected) for you, and wind and discomfort for them. Yikes, that’s quite a list I know, but the thing is, they are all frequently the result of a less than perfect latch.
So, if you are experiencing discomfort, it is really worth taking time to try and make the latch as effective as possible. I know, I know, it is so tempting, once they are finally on just to let them be and to put up with a bit of pain… for at least they are on aren’t they, and they must be getting something?
The thing is, if your latch isn’t great, then something has to suffer and usually it is your nipple. Put your finger in the roof of your mouth; At the front, hard palate, at the back, soft palate. When your baby has a poor latch and is nipple sucking, your nipple is being rubbed against their hard palate. No wonder it hurts. So, the trick is to do whatever you can to try and get your nipple as far towards the back and roof of their mouth as possible.
It is a bit like dancing with a partner; sometimes you and your baby will “get it” straight away, but other times, it takes a bit of practice before you are both there. So, focus on that latch, it will be worth persevering, and you will give yourself the best chance of avoiding a whole minefield of potential problems. Tips on latching and positions
Ok, so you have mastered the latch, but how on earth can you tell how much your baby is getting? Herein may be one of the biggest frustrations for you. In a world where we like transparency, it can be difficult not knowing exactly how much your baby is drinking, especially when they seem to nod off every five minutes. They may seem to be sucking, but how much are they taking in? (By the way, babies can nurse whilst in a light state of sleep, but obviously if they are out for the count then they aren’t going to be getting much).
In terms of assessing how much your baby is getting, all you need to remember is “what goes in, must come out.” If your baby is producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies (there are guidelines for specific ages of babies, so I won’t go into that now), but by and large, the best indicator (alongside the obvious weight gain) of how much milk your baby is taking in, is revealed in their nappy bin. Baby’s stools
For those of you who have not had the easiest start to breastfeeding (maybe a traumatic birth) please don’t despair. There are lots of things that can be done to increase your supply and ensure that your baby thrives; Tips on increasing your supply many of you may not be aware of how much help is out there. If you are struggling, then please think about getting some support (see below). Sometimes, all it may take is a small adjustment, a change in position or just the comfort of knowing that your baby’s feeding patterns are completely normal to make all the difference to you.
Mobile: 07710 380564
NCT BREASTFEEDING HELPLINE 0300 330 0771
LA LECHE LEAGUE 0845 120 2918
NATIONAL BREASTFEEDING HELPLINE 0300 100 0212
ASSOCIATION OF BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS
THE BREASTFEEDING NETWORK