Breastfeeding has always been about more than just providing nutrition for your baby. Mothers choose to breastfeed because of the comfort it can provide and the close bond it can help you form with your baby. But just like any learned human skills; such as a child learning to walk or talk, it can take a bit of practice, quite a lot of patience and some support to help you negotiate any initial challenges. In this blog, I've answered some of your most common questions on Breastfeeding Basics to help you navigate this stage of Motherhood.
Senior Midwife and Lactation Consultant, Clare Charman, has answered your questions on breastfeeding, so if you're pregnant, or a new mama, read on for everything you need to know about the basics of breastfeeding!
Q: When will my milk come in?
Answer: From 20 weeks of pregnancy your body starts to produce Colostrum, a nutrient rich milk which although small in volume, is high in protein, friendly bacteria; to protect your baby’s gut and antibodies which support your baby’s immune system. This milk usually isn’t visible until closer to your baby’s birth and some mothers may see a trace of it on the inside of their bra.
Once baby is born and the placenta is delivered a hormonal change triggers milk production.
This can take anywhere from 3-7 days for you to notice your milk ‘coming in’ and it can then take up to two weeks for you to have a full supply.
Mothers who have diabetes, thyroid issues or have lost a lot of blood during birth may find their milk is a little delayed in coming in.
Q: How often should I feed my baby?
Answer: Breastfeeding is a relationship between both mother and child, so it is important to recognise the needs of both when it comes to feeding.
Babies feed for hunger, comfort and entertainment. Breastmilk contains a laxative which helps them open their bowels, and hormones which help them to fall asleep.
You may never truly know why a baby wants to feed but recognising that a content and happy baby is just as important as a fed one and following their cues is essential.
As breastmilk is easy to digest, and newborn babies have tiny stomach’s, it is not unusual for babies to feed frequently.
Although usual recommendation is to feed a baby a minimum of 8 times in 24hrs, on average a breastfed baby will look to feed 12 times in 24hrs. These will be spread over the day/night with babies following their own pattern, and feeding from minutes to much longer. Just like us, following a good meal it is not unusual for babies to return to the breast for seconds or sometimes dessert!
Mothers may find comfort in feeding baby when their breast feel full but also because it can be a lovely close time to sit still and be with baby.
Q: How long should the baby breastfeed on each side?
Answer: Breasts are sisters not twins. This perfectly describes how similar yet different a mother may find her breasts are, not only in how each may be visibly different in appearance but also in how much milk they can store.
To encourage a good milk supply and to feed baby well, most mothers are encouraged to use both breasts for each feed. Starting on the fullest breast and once it starts to feel soft, or baby starts fussing and showing they want more milk, offering the second.
Some babies are fast and efficient feeders and can finish a feed within 5 minutes. Whereas other babies take their time- something which can sometimes be observed when feeding twins. As long as babies are able to latch well and are comfortable with the pace of their feed then all variations are normal.
Q: How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?
Answer: Regardless of feeding method, almost all parents will question at time if their baby is getting enough milk. This is even more common with mothers who breastfeed as you cannot specifically measure this volume.
Follow baby’s cues (lip smacking, tongue sucking or licking, head bobbing, fists in mouth) if they don’t show these signs and it’s been a few hours or your breasts are getting full, feel free to offer a feed to them.
Watch baby’s behaviour. A baby who goes on the breast with a good latch and actively feeds; you may even hear swallowing, who then becomes calm and sleepy as the feed goes by is usually a very good indication that their little tummy is being filled.
Make sure baby has a good latch and offer both breasts. You may be able to feel the breasts getting softer as the feed goes by. The latch should feel comfortable, although you may feel a strong pulling sensation at the beginning of the latch. If baby makes clicking/kissing noises or keeps falling off the breast this is a sign they may need to be re positioned. If you experience any breast/nipple pain or your nipples look squashed after a feed this is also a sign that they weren’t perfectly positioned.
What goes in must come out!
As your breastmilk volume increases over the first few days so should the amount of wet nappies. From the first week we would expect to see at least 6 wet nappies within a 24hr window.
A minimum of 2 poos a day within the first 6 weeks is expected, but be prepared for a lot more.
Weight gain is something most parents are reassured to see. In the first week babies can loose anything up to 8% of birth weight before a midwife would be concerned. 96% of babies have returned to their birth weight by day 14, from there they would be expected to gain weight following the centile lines (in the back of your baby’s red book).
Q: How do I hold my baby when breastfeeding?
Answer: It is important you consider the needs of both yourself and baby when deciding how to hold your baby during a feed.
You need to be able to sit/lay for periods of unknown duration so finding somewhere comfortable is essential. If you have had a cesarean or any perineal trauma you may find benefit in using pillows to cushion any tender ares.
Your baby needs to be close to you, held comfortably with their body supported but head free to lean back. They should feel the nipple towards their nose which encourages them to tilt their head back and latch with the nipple directed towards the back/roof of their mouth. A good latch will protect the nipple and support the baby to stay on the breast and transfer milk efficiently. Their nose should be free to support breathing during the feed.
Q: What can I do if my nipples get sore?
Answer: Sore nipples have unfortunately become a challenge that many breastfeeding mothers negotiate.
Although there are many products on the market which advertise or insinuate that they can help heal/prevent sore nipples, this is unfortunately far from the truth.
The root cause of soreness, usually babies latch needs to be addressed.
Anecdotally many mothers find the silver cups which place over the nipples to provide comfort, similarly a nipple balm which may prevent the skin from drying out (or a few drops of expressed breastmilk).
If your nipples are sore there is a chance that bacteria may enter any open wounds so having clean underwear/changing breast pads often is important.
Q: What should I do if my baby won't latch on?
Answer: Keeping baby close and providing skin-to-skin contact is very beneficial when it comes to babies who are struggling to latch. Not only will you be quicker to recognise any feeding cues, but being close to the breast the baby will feel less overstimulated by the transfer from cot to mother.
Their feeding cues are all on instinct and babies who are overstimulated may become confused and stop showing feeding cues/latching reflexes.
Following babies cues also supports baby led feeding which is associated with better latching and better milk transfer.
Expressed breastmilk can be used to drop into baby’s mouth/around lips to encourage feeding.
Q: Do I have to breastfeed my baby?
Answer: Breastfeeding is a personal choice, and while it has numerous benefits, it's important to choose what works best for you. If you are finding breastfeeding challenging, accessing a baby cafe or using a helpline such as Le Leche League or National Breastfeeding Helpline can provide great peer support. Professional support can be found via your Midwife/Health visitor or lactation consultant.
If you find that breastfeeding isn’t for you there are other options you can consider if you want to continue to give your baby breastmilk such as expressing. Ultimately, what matters most is that your baby is getting the nutrition they need to thrive with the close loving connection from their parents.
Q: What should I eat when breastfeeding?
Answer: Maintaining a balanced diet while breastfeeding is important, as this will impact your overall health. However it is not essential to eat perfectly every day, research shows that it is only after a prolonged period of malnutrition that the breastmilk changes in quality.
Most women are advised to take a vitamin D supplement and if you are vegetarian/vegan vitamin B12. Otherwise a balanced diet provides your body with all the nutrition it needs.
Mothers who exclusively breastfeed will also require around 500ml additional water each day.
It is important to recognise that limiting caffeine and alcohol is recommended and speaking to your Doctor/Pharmacist about any medication you are taking.
Q: Is it okay to give my baby bottles or dummy?
Answer: I encourage parents to make decisions which are right for them and their families. For parents to make a fully informed decision, it is important they understand the implications which may result from the introduction of bottles or dummies to exclusively breastfed babies.
The main impacts being on the baby feeding from a bottle with a different flow rate and with a different latch compared to a breast and the negative impacts on a mothers breastmilk supply.
It is encouraged to wait until breastfeeding is well established before introducing either of these and seek support from a professional to establish how any unwanted
Q: How long should I breastfeed my baby?
Answer: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby's life. And continuing to give breastmilk until the child is 2 years old. Until this point their immune system is still developing and the child receives benefit from the immune properties in breastmilk. However, the ultimate duration of breastfeeding is a personal decision, and you should do what feels best for you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is a unique and rewarding experience for both mother and baby. Remember, every breastfeeding journey is different, and it's important to seek guidance and support when needed. Trust your instincts and enjoy this special time of nurturing and bonding with your little one.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. For The Creators has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.