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We all know that breastfeeding provides babies with the best start in life and is a key contributor to infant health. Breastfeeding is a very natural process BUT it is also a learned skill, one that you cannot acquire until your baby has arrived. There are not so many opportunities in our society today to witness babies’ positioning and feeding behaviour. Health professionals at hospital or in your home will be able to provide you with advice and direction. You can also gain knowledge from a multitude of videos and practical information on the internet.
I struggled with breastfeeding my first child – Jacob – he was a very “fussy” feeder from the get-go and ended up refusing the breast and also the bottle due to his severe gastro-oesphael reflux disease and middle ear issues. After a number of hospital stays, visits with many health care professionals including lactation consultants we finally got the support we needed at our local children’s hospital.
We experimented a lot to get Jacob feeding. In the end our initial feeding regime was to offer Jacob each breast and then finger fed Jacob my expressed breast milk. It was a pretty full on feeding process each and every time.
After a couple of months we progressed to the football hold as I found that it seemed to help Jacob. He was more upright without one ear being “down” or lower than the other. My theory was that the lopsidedness of using the cradle hold caused pressure differential in his middle ears and pain. At times he would pull on and off the breast and shake his head.
We did get there in the end but it was a very long and challenging journey. I really wanted to persist because breast milk would help his reflux as it digests faster when compared with formula. I knew breastfeeding was best for my baby but I was very surprised at the lack of support from family and many health care professionals. Emily my second child took to breast feeding like a duck to water. Emily would have a full feed in 20 minutes compared to the intensive process of trying to feed Jacob initially which would take 2 hours – offer breast, refuse breast, finger feed, pump, clean up repeat!
Here are 10 things that we think you need to know about breastfeeding:
Breast milk is super healthy! We don’t want to pressure you to breastfeed but we want you to understand the benefits. The Department of Health reports that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from:
– digestive illnesses;
– respiratory illnesses;
– middle ear infection;
– type 1 diabetes; and
– childhood leukaemia and lymphoma.
Breastfeeding is also beneficial for the mother as it helps the body to recover faster from childbirth. According to an article by Scientific American, ” the most well-known maternal benefit of breastfeeding is reduced risks for breast and ovarian cancers”. It can also help reduce maternal depression.
Breastfeeding your baby is natural but it can also be really hard in the beginning. Babies have a natural instinct to feed but it takes time to acquire the skill. It can be likened to riding a bike – but once you get it, you never forget! Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable and in the first month of your baby’s life it’s a full-time job. Many experts tell you that it shouldn’t hurt. The actual engorgement of your breasts is uncomfortable and your nipples may feel tender. It may take time for your nipples to become accustomed to the constant round the clock feeding in the early days.
My obstetrician once said “remember nipples are for feeding not for sucking”. So remember to not let your baby just suck, as your nipples will become very tender. The good news is that it gets better and as time passes there should be no pain. If you do feel pain, it could mean there is a problem such as mastitis or baby isn’t attaching correctly for some reason. If you feel pain then you need to get help from a health care professional.
Breastfeeding is convenient and on tap whenever needed. It is also portable with minimal fuss and baby can access milk on demand. No need to duck to the shop for more supplies, no need to pack more stuff in the baby bag and no need to carry formula on airplanes. The only downside is that only you can do it (refer to point 5) so make sure you look after yourself and get help from family and friends for other activities such as settling or bathing.
If you choose to express, then your partner will be able to give your milk to the baby when needed. Bear in mind that there may be other ways that your partner can help and bond with your baby without using the bottle. You may wish to read our blog “Partner’s role in parenting”. I found that being pressured to give the bottle too early caused many problems with Jacob. Remember your baby in-utero had continuous nutrition and never felt hunger. A newborn baby can breastfeed between 8 and 15 times per day – this is why initially for the first month feeding is a full-time job!
You will save lots of money on formula, bottles, sterilisers and related equipment! If you do wish to express there will be an initial outlay for the equipment but over time it will more than pay for itself and allow mum to have time out or return to work with the knowledge that baby is still being fed breast milk.
5. CARE FOR YOURSELF
Do this so that you can care for your baby. You will be a better carer of your baby if you try to look after yourself as much as you can. Prioritise naps and good healthy nutritious meals, over housework and entertaining visitors. If you eat well and sleep when you get the chance, you will offering your baby the best possible start to breastfeeding.
Many mothers often worry that their milk supply is running out. If your baby is gaining weight and feeding often, has wet nappies, then your milk supply shouldn’t be low. You cannot judge your milk supply on the size of the breast, the let down or the frequency of feeds. The only way to check is by monitoring your baby’s weight. I also found that when I initially tried to express in the first few weeks I would get very little – I needed to be relaxed and have Jacob close by. Once my milk was established I had this creamy liquid gold!
When Jacob was in hospital we would weigh him before a feed and then after a feed to determine how much breast milk he was taking in because he was failing to thrive. Most of what he’d take in he’d vomit up after every feed! I would often take my second baby down to the child health nurse to use her scales. It was the only way to reassure myself that things were progressing well or not.
If your baby is not gaining weight or is actually losing weight then you need to talk to your doctor as it may mean further investigation is required as was the case with Jacob.
6. DAY & NIGHT FEEDS
When you’re a new breastfeeding mum and you are feeling tired, it’s hard to keep track of feeding times, quantities and and trying not to feed your baby off to sleep. When baby is a couple of months old the aim is to get the majority of baby’s feeds during the day. Over time this will help you and your baby sleep for longer periods at night. Too many night feeds can interrupt your sleep and cause baby to feed less during the day. If Mum gets more rest, this in turn will help to increase the milk supply, making more milk available for baby in the day. Day feeds can be all about skin contact and comfort.
Caroline’s Angel’s Baby Sleep Experts recommend that night feeds should be offered with “as little stimuli as possible. Keep the lights low, a little light just enough for you to see what you are doing and be safe”. This photo to below shows how a baby could be fed at night, still wrapped in their Joey Pod Transitional Swaddle Bag and with minimal skin contact and stimulation to help baby get back to sleep more easily.
The first milk that your breasts produce during pregnancy. Your body starts to produce colostrum (aka liquid gold) early in the pregnancy. You won’t know it’s there unless you have some small leaks towards the end of the pregnancy. There is only a small amount of colostrum produced, it is “liquid gold” because it is extremely valuable to your newborn. Colostrum is full of immunoglobulins and antibodies which boost baby’s immune system. Providing protection from bacteria found in the outside world. It also has a laxative effect that pushes the meconium (first stools) to pass.
There may be certain benefits in expressing your colostrum before baby arrives because some babies may require more nutrition in the early postnatal period than they can get directly from the mother. If a mother is aware of this possibility during pregnancy, she may choose to express her colostrum before baby arrives. If baby needs extra nutrition, then they can be given the colostrum rather than anything else and exclusive breastfeeding with all it’s benefits, especially in the early days, can be achieved.
A very important word in breastfeeding. Baby will feed best if he or she is properly attached. The Australian Breastfeeding Association suggests looking for the following signs to see if a baby is well attached:
– Chin is pressed into the breast and nose is clear or only just touching the breast.
-Lower lip flanged (turned out) over the breast. It is normal for the upper lip to rest in a neutral position at the breast. You don’t need to see baby’s lips.
-Tongue is forward over the lower gum (may be difficult to see — don’t pull him away to check or you might detach him).
-Your baby has much of the areola in his mouth, more so on the ‘chin side’.
-There is no pain (although it is common for new mums to feel nipple pain that ceases beyond the initial attachment in the early weeks). You may notice your baby’s whole jaw moving as he feeds and even his ears wiggling. He should not be sucking in air or slipping off the breast. His cheeks should not hollow as he sucks.
Baby Led Attachment
‘Baby-led attachment’ describes the process of a baby seeking out his mother’s breast. It is considered that baby-led attachment offers your baby the most natural introduction to breastfeeding. This video from Raising Children is helpful if you would like to learn more about baby led attachment.
9. HOW LONG SHOULD I FEED MY BABY FOR?
This is a personal decision for each family. Australia’s infant feeding guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants to around six months of age when solid foods are introduced and continued breastfeeding until the age of 12 months and beyond, if both mother and infant wish. Even if breastfeeding has not worked out as planned, you can be reassured that even a few days of breast milk is beneficial for your baby.
The World Health Organisation recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their baby for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Nutritious complementary foods should be given from 6 months, with continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.
You can also refer to a guest blog written by Dietitian and Breastfeeding Counsellor Kristy Manners from Growth Spectrum addressing the questions of when and how to wean your baby.
10. HELP & SUPPORT
If you’ve decided you really want to breastfeed and you’re struggling then please, please, please get professional help. Many breastfeeding issues can be easily addressed with the right support.
Australian Breastfeeding Association
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268). The Breastfeeding Helpline is available 7 days a week. It is staffed by trained, volunteer counsellors who answer calls on a roster system in their own homes. These counsellors know that breastfeeding may not always seem easy. They can provide reassurance and give you knowledge about how breastfeeding works and help in overcoming common hurdles. Telephone Counselling is available free to all callers.
I would strongly advise expectant parents to meet and/or speak to a lactation consultant before their baby arrives. This gives expectant parents the opportunity to ensure that they’re comfortable with the person who’ll be supporting them. Lactation Consultants of Australia & NZ have a tool where you can search for a lactation consultant by your postcode. Certain lactation consultants will come to your home which can be beneficial. Convenience for one but more importantly supporting you in the environment where you feel comfortable and you’ll do most of your feeding.
Family & Friends
Family and friends should provide emotional support by listening and encouraging the new parents. It”s also important to boost the new Mum’s confidence – this is the first time baby and mother have done this!
Let’s not forget that all important practical support – helping with washing, cooking meals, grocery delivery, cleaning the house, looking after siblings. These are some suggestions that may help so the new parents can focus on breastfeeding and getting to know their new baby!