After my previous articles on the benefits of breastfeeding for mother, baby, and bonding, I thought I ought to follow up with some tips for mothers who have never breastfed a baby before on how to get off to a good start.
Despite all my research and reading about breastfeeding and knowing how beneficial it was prior to the birth of Gavin, I still found myself struggling to breastfeed him and wanting to give up during the early days. For me, breastfeeding did not come easily. Even with all my determination and eagerness to pursue a nursing relationship with my son, I found my spirit flagging many times during those early days of breastfeeding.
Here are 16 tips which I found to be really useful during those early days:
1. During your pregnancy, read as much as you can on the subject. A good book to read is one by La Leche League called “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding“, but basically anything that you can find that offers tips and tricks for breastfeeding will be helpful.
2. Attend those prenatal sessions that talk about breastfeeding and demonstrate how it is done. Although this isn’t the same as getting one on one advice on how to breastfeed, it prepares you for the process.
3. Let your doctor know that you intend to breastfeed your baby so that you will be given an opportunity to nurse your baby before he is taken for all those checks they perform right after birth.
4. Make sure you breastfeed your baby once before leaving the delivery room. I’ve read that a baby’s root reflex is strongest at birth and you want to capture this moment before it begins to flag.
5. Get support – I cannot stress how important this is – from the lactation consultant, the nurses, friends and family members who have breastfed before and can advise you on how to go about it. What you need to learn is how to position the baby, how to help baby get a proper latch onto the breast and what is a proper latch. Although this is described quite well in books, it is not the same as having someone experienced in the art of breastfeeding show you how it is done.
N.B. A lot of resources all tell you that if the baby is latched on correctly, breastfeeding will not hurt and that if it hurts, then the baby is not latched on properly. What they fail to tell you is that breastfeeding during the early days does hurt even if you have a proper latch. This is because your nipples aren’t used to having a baby’s tongue rubbing against it every two hours, twenty-four hours a day. All that friction is bound to hurt! However, once your nipples adjust, breastfeeding with a baby latched on properly does NOT hurt. Any pain that you might feel then is usually an indication that something is wrong – e.g. cracked nipple, blocked ducts, etc.
6. Sensitive nipples usually last for a couple of weeks, maybe more. Applying a breastfeeding ointment like Bepanthen after every feed can help to soothe your sore nipples.
7. Make sure you learn how to breastfeed lying down. In the early days, the lack of sleep from a crying baby is going to make you extremely tired and you will need all the shut-eye you can get. If you can learn to breastfeed lying down, you can rest at the same time.
8. Learning how to breastfeed can take time for both you and your baby. Be patient and practice, practice, practice. Some mothers and babies are naturals and fall easily into the nursing relationship, while for others, it can be quite a nightmare. For me, the biggest challenge, aside from enduring the nipple sensitivity of the early days, was helping Gavin learn to cope with my partially inverted right nipple.
9. Make sure you only allow your baby to feed when you have a proper latch. Sometimes, when you’re nursing during the early days, because it hurts anyway, it can be tempting to let the baby suckle on the tip of your nipple – don’t! It encourages a bad habit that will be difficult to break late. It also means you’ll have to endure the pain of sensitive nipples for longer because it is an inefficient method of nursing.
10. Nurse frequently during the first few days because the more often you nurse, the more quickly your matured milk will come in and the more milk you will produce. A good guideline to follow is to breastfeed for 10-15 minutes per breast at least 8 – 10 times a day. If for, any reason, you are not able to nurse your baby, you can help encourage your breasts to produce more milk by applying a breast pump to it. One recommendation is to use an electric pump on the lowest setting for as long as you would otherwise nurse your baby.
11. Try to breastfeed your baby before he starts to cry for food because a crying baby finds it harder to latch on. Plus, if he’s really hungry, he’ll get frustrated if he has difficulties latching on.
12. During the early days, your baby may tend to sleep through feeds (especially if your baby is jaundiced because jaundice tends to make baby lethargic) so it is important to wake your baby for a feed if it has been four hours since the last nursing session.
13. It will take time for your body to adjust its milk production to the needs of the baby. In the initial days it will be insufficient and you will find your baby needs to nursing very often to help build up the milk supply. After a while, there will be over-compensation and you may find your breasts producing more milk than your baby requires. If your breasts are engorged, you may have to express a little before nursing your baby because it is difficult for your baby to get a proper latch on an engorged breast. However, avoid expressing milk unnecessarily because this sends the message to your body that you need to continue producing more milk and will not help to resolve the engorgement problem.
14. During the early days while your milk production is still developing, a well-intentioned but misguided relative might suggest offering formula to your baby “until you have sufficient milk”. Don’t listen! Milk is produced on demand, therefore, to make more, you need to nurse your baby more. The suckling action of your baby tells your body to make more milk. When you offer your baby formula, he suckles less and that tells your body that more milk isn’t required. Instead of your milk supply building up, it dwindles!
15. Some babies cry a lot during the early days and it is often assumed that it is because they don’t have enough milk. An extremely bossy relative or confinement lady may attempt to override your desire to breastfeed and start offering formula to your baby. To avoid this clash of wills, don’t buy any milk bottles and destroy any tins of formula until after you have established your milk production. Believe me, it’s tough enough establishing a nursing relationship without having to fight another battle with such ignorant individuals.
16. This last piece of advice was given to me by a friend – take it one day at a time. Whenever you feel like giving up, just tell yourself, “I’ll do it for one more day.” At the time she told me, I was still pregnant and I didn’t understand what she meant. But during those early days of breastfeeding, those words were the only thing keeping me going through all the discomfort and the struggle to help Gavin cope with a partially inverted nipple because I really wanted to quit. Thankfully, I didn’t and I eventually arrived at a day when it all started to get easier.
It is important to remember that the breastfeeding experience is different for every mother and child. For some it is easier, for others it might be harder. Regardless, if you are determined to breastfeed your baby, you can. Surround yourself with the right support and be sure to get rid of all the negativity around you.