Are you wondering about breastfeeding or bottle feeding? We’ve got some tips on how to do successfully to both.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, babies should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up two years or beyond.

Breasts are so clever! The milk adapts as your baby grows to meet your baby’s changing needs. Breastmilk can change the antibodies it produces to protect your baby from diseases and can even become more watery during hot weather to keep your baby hydrated.

The key to breastfeeding

Key to successful breastfeeding is the establishment of a good milk supply, via the early and regular stimulation of your breasts. Breast stimulation is achieved when a baby feeds or when a mother expresses her milk. To ensure a good supply, the breasts should be effectively stimulated 8-12 times every 24 hours.

While there is plenty of resources available for women and families surrounding breastfeeding and how to problem solve if difficulties are encountered, there is less information surrounding how to prepare for the reality and practicalities of how breastfeeding can be.

Reading about breastfeeding, taking a class during pregnancy run by experienced professionals which focuses on breastfeeding and getting to know how to hand express or harvest colostrum can all be good ways to prepare.

Colostrum harvesting is a skill you can practice from 37 weeks in pregnancy and any colostrum, which is the first breastmilk you produce, can be collected and frozen for after the birth. Ask your midwife for more information on how and when to get started.

If you have any problems breastfeeding, it’s important to ask for help from your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist as soon as possible so issues can be sorted early.

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Common challenges women may face when breastfeeding can include:

Sore or cracked nipples

This usually happens because your baby is not well-positioned or attached at the breast. Any pain or discomfort can quickly worsen, so it’s important to access support from your midwife as soon as you can.

Not enough breast milk

When you first start breastfeeding, you may worry that your baby is not getting enough milk. It is normal for it to take a little while before you feel confident that your baby is getting what they need. Offering your baby both breasts at each feed and alternating which breast you start with will help to stimulate your milk supply.

Your baby’s poo changing from the thicker meconium at birth, to more watery yellow is a good indication that your baby is taking in good quantities of breastmilk too.

Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement is when your breasts get too full of milk. They may feel hard, tight and painful. Engorgement can happen in the early days when you and your baby are still getting used to breastfeeding. It can take a few days for your milk supply to match your baby’s needs. It can also happen later, for example when weaning your baby onto solid food or when returning to work.

Although this can be sore, they should soon feel more comfortable again. However, you can try soaking in a warm bath or running a warm shower over them to provide some relief.

Baby is not latching on properly

Breastfeeding is a skill that you and your baby need to learn together. It may take you both a while to get the hang of it. If you are finding breastfeeding painful or your baby does not seem to be satisfied after feeds, they may not be latching onto the breast properly. Do access support from your midwife to help with this.

Using different positions can also be useful. There are a variety to try such as sitting upright, rugby ball, koala hold and side-lying – which can be helpful in the early days if you have a sore perineum or have had a caesarean section.

Breastfeeding or bottle feeding?

Some parents choose to bottle feed their baby or may try breastfeeding and decide to switch to bottle feeding with their expressed breast milk or formula.

Being responsive to your baby’s feeding cues can help you to understand your baby’s needs and you can also build in the benefits of skin-to-skin to improve closeness and bonding during their bottle feeds. This can also help your baby feel safe and secure whilst feeding.

Parents often ask which formula milk brand is best for their baby. They are very similar in ingredients so one isn’t more nutritious than another and they can be based on cows’ milk or goats’ milk. If you want to switch to soya-based formula, then do have a conversation with your healthcare professional (midwife or health visitor) first before you change.

Tips to help with bottle feeding and bonding:

  • Hold your baby close to your body when feeding, or better still spend some time having skin-to-skin contact
  • Look for feeding cues such as finger sucking and head turning to indicate that they are looking to feed. Crying is usually the last sign that baby wants to feed.
  • When holding your baby close keep them in a semi-upright position, gain eye contact and talk to them to soothe them.
  • Gently touch your baby’s lips or face with the teat of the bottle to encourage them to open their mouth.
  • Your baby will tell you when they want to finish feeding which could be by stopping sucking, pushing the bottle away or spilling milk from their mouth. Remove the bottle gently and don’t try to force baby to take more milk than they want to, if they display this behaviour, it is their way of telling you they have had enough.

However you choose to feed your baby during the early days and weeks, whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, try to limit your visitors to those who can provide you with the practical and emotional support you need as a family. This may seem selfish, but it is important to spend these early times with your baby establishing bonding, breastfeeding and/or bottle-feeding and just getting used to the difference a newborn makes to you as a couple or as a growing family.

Article by Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife, and co-founder of My Expert Midwife.

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