Breastfeeding should be the most natural and easy thing to do, but many new mums have found that this isn’t always the case! It can be tricky to get started, for a variety of reasons, but many breastfeeding problems can be overcome with the right support and perseverance.
Early days difficulties include baby not latching onto the breast at all, or struggling to do so, baby being very sleepy, or being separated from mum. Baby may be keen to feed and spends a long time on the breast, but it’s painful for mum. Some babies latch on but then immediately fall asleep.
The benefits of skin-to-skin
Spend as much time as possible in skin to skin contact with your baby-undress and get into bed-you deserve the rest anyway! Being close to mum is the very best place to reduce stress, feel secure and comforted and to produce lots of the love hormone oxytocin, which is needed for breastfeeding. Focus on getting to know your baby, start to recognize their cues and be patient-expect it to take a good couple of weeks to start to feel that you are getting to grips with breastfeeding.
Other things can wait-such as tidying up, replying to every call, laundry. Privacy is important too-say no to constant visitors-it’s not easy to get the oxytocin flowing with the in-laws next to you on the sofa!
If you are struggling then your midwife is the first port of call for any difficulties, but most maternity units will have an infant feeding specialist or lactation consultant around who can offer further support, so do ask if this is available.
When to start expressing
If your baby is not feeding adequately at first then it may be a good idea to start expressing your milk, to stimulate your supply and help baby along. Any milk you express may be given to your baby until he manages to go on the breast but its important to avoid introducing a bottle at this stage so ask the midwives what the best alternative is for now. Hand expressing is often easier than using a breast pump in the first days before your milk comes in.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. If it is then this is usually because baby hasn’t quite got it right and needs help to get onto the breast properly so that feeding is comfortable and efficient. The position baby is held in is important too so a session with a midwife or lactation consultant can make all the difference here.
Other reasons for painful feeding are tongue tie or thrush of the breast or nipple. Don’t wait for the pain to go away-nipples do not toughen up! If it’s painful there is a problem and most of the time it can be fixed.
Do I have enough milk?
A common worry among new mothers is whether they have enough milk for their baby. In fact, it’s one of the most likely reasons why women to give up breastfeeding altogether. Responsive feeding is a great way to build a supply to match your baby’s needs. Prolactin is the milk making hormone, and to produce more of it you just need to feed your baby-maybe a little more frequently than you are doing now. Offering the breast for other reasons than nutrition, such as for comfort, connection, bonding or relaxation enables you to top up your prolactin levels at the same time.
This is not what I expected!
Breastfeeding your new baby can be the most wonderful, fulfilling experience if it’s going well. However, it can be devastating if things don’t go to plan. Each mother and baby is unique, and will have different hurdles to overcome as they get started. Even if your baby feeds easily and is thriving, some mums can suffer from lack of confidence and trust in themselves. It’s so important to have someone around who can give individualised advice and support-whether that’s a family member, friend or professional.
Prepare yourself for the reality
Getting your head around the realities of early days breastfeeding by talking to other new mums, as well as being informed about how breastfeeding works before baby arrives is hugely helpful and will help you feel more confident as well as having realistic expectations about those early days.
Try to relax and expect it to take time-new motherhood can take some getting used to but ultimately it’s the most rewarding and fulfilling role –so much so that some of us do it more than once!
Vicki Scott, Midwife and Philips Avent feeding and wellbeing expert