We all know breastfeeding is very natural, but we also know plenty of women who had problems in the early days. Many breastfeeding journeys end much earlier than intended due to lack of support for breastfeeding women and their babies. As a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor, I believe in supporting every mother who wishes to breastfeed so that she can achieve her own breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be. With a little knowledge and the right support most breastfeeding problems can be overcome. There is a breastfeeding solution to nearly every breastfeeding problem. With that in mind I have put together some of the key points I feel every woman who wishes to breastfeed should know:
- Attend an antenatal breastfeeding workshop.
Learning some key skills and information in advance of your baby being born will stack the odds in your favour. In an antenatal breastfeeding workshop, you will learn a variety of breastfeeding positions, how to achieve a good latch, normal newborn behavior and how to recognise if your baby is getting enough milk. In addition, you will learn about some issues that may arise in the early days and how to troubleshoot them.
- Supply and demand.
Feeding your baby stimulates your body to produce milk. The more your baby feeds the more milk you make. In the early weeks your body is leaning how much milk your baby needs. It takes approximately 6 weeks for your supply to regulate. In this time, it is important not to interfere with the body’s natural process of supply and demand, where possible. Skipping a feed, top-up bottles, using a soother that may mask the signs of hunger may seem beneficial in certain scenarios, but they may inadvertently cause reduced supply. The percentage of women who cannot produce enough milk for their baby is thought to be somewhere in the region of 2%. Most other cases of suspected reduced supply can most likely be overcome with the right support and information.
- Latch and position.
A deep latch is essential for efficient, comfortable feeding. You can help your baby to achieve a deep latch by holding him with his tummy in close to your tummy. Line up his nose with your nipple. This usually encourages babies to reach their head back and open their mouth wide. Guide his mouth onto the breast so that as much of the areola, the dark area around the nipple, is in his mouth as possible. Let his bottom arm rest down under your arm rather than lying between his tummy and yours. Minor adjustments to latch and/or trying out different feeding positions is often all that is needed to alleviate pain.
- Frequent Feeding.
A newborn baby’s stomach can hold approximately 5mls in the first couple of days and breastmilk is very easily digested. This means your baby will feed regularly to refill her tiny tummy. Frequent feeding is perfectly normal even though it can be very intense in the early weeks. There is no “normal” amount of time between feeds. The best advice is to watch your baby, not the clock. If your baby is showing signs of hunger, feed her. Do not worry about the time since the last feed. Your milk is everything to your baby. It is food, drink and comfort.
Many breastfeeding mothers feel nervous not knowing how much milk their baby is drinking. The trick is to watch the nappies. If it’s coming out, then it must have gone in. Wet and dirty nappies are a great indication that your baby is drinking milk. Expect to see 1 wet and 1 dirty nappy on day one. Once mature milk comes in, usually on around day 3, expect to see 5 or 6 wet and 2-4 dirty nappies each day. Good nappy output in conjunction with weight gain will reassure you.
- Offer both breasts at every feed.
There is no need to monitor how long your baby feeds at each breast. A better approach is to feed your baby on one side for as long as he wants. Your breasts are never completely empty as they are always making milk, but you should notice that it feels lighter and less full than before feeding. Offer the other side and again, let your baby feed for as long as he likes. It will probably vary from one feed to the next how much he drinks. Just like your meals are not all the same size. Start the next feed on that second side. This will help to encourage an even supply, even though it is important to note that a bigger supply on one side is not unusual.
- Know where your local support group is.
There are a lot of breastfeeding support groups around the country. Many are run by highly trained volunteers who donate their time to running weekly or monthly groups where women can have their breastfeeding questions answered, get practical support, meet other breastfeeding mothers and enjoy a hot cup of tea and a biscuit. Look for your local Cuidiu, La Leche League or Friends of Breastfeeding group. Go along during your pregnancy and get to know the women who run the groups. It will make it easier to go along on a day when you have a question or concern.
- International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are the expert medical professionals specialising in breastfeeding. They have extensive breastfeeding specific training and have experience in supporting breastfeeding mothers and babies through a myriad of problems, from common issues to more complex rare problems. Ask for the hospital lactation consultant while you are in hospital. There are also many IBCLCs working in private practice around the country who will come to your home and dedicate quite a bit of time to you and your baby. Find one here https://www.alcireland.ie/find-a-consultant/. Some health insurance policies offer a partial or full rebate on the cost of a consultation.
- Create your own support network.
The people close to you will be your biggest supporters. Make sure you pass on some of the knowledge you learn about breastfeeding. Let them know how important breastfeeding is to you. Speak to them about how you depend on their support and you hope they will help you find a breastfeeding solution to any breastfeeding problem that may arise.
- Reliable resources.
Find information from truly knowledgeable sources. There is plenty of information available on breastfeeding, not all of it accurate or well-informed. When you are looking for information there are a few things to consider about the source.
- What training do they have?
- Do they have any biases that may influence the information provided?
- Are they in any way linked to a formula company? If so, the advice is unlikely to be truly breastfeeding friendly, no matter what they claim.
- How up to-date is the information? Research is providing us with new information about breastfeeding all the time. It is worth considering if you are reading still current.
Anything written by Jack Newman and Kellymom.com will be very reliable. They are both highly regarded IBCLCs.