The beginner’s guide to breastfeeding

The Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding…

Your breast milk is tailored to your own baby’s needs and gives them everything they need for the first 6 months of their lives – which is seriously amazing. You, your baby and your boobs are amazing. It also changes throughout the day, containing more sleep-inducing properties at night to help your baby sleep. The suckling of your baby on your breast creates oxytocin which is the love drug that in turn is responsible for the let-down, or release of your milk (among other incredible things!), so it’s a perfect circle whereby the more your baby suckles, the more milk is made: something you may hear referred to as ‘supply and demand’ or ‘on-demand’ feeding. It’s biologically ‘normal’ and as women have been breastfeeding since the dawn of time, it should be second nature right? Well yes, it is and no, it isn’t.

If you are wondering what to expect from breastfeeding, whether you’re a first-timer or need a refresher’s course, here’s a few pointers.

Expect bigger breasts – engorged, massive milky orbs even; leaking milk – usually over your favourite top and usually when you are out and about and have forgotten to wear breast pads.

Expect a lot of advice thrown at you from strangers, and ‘well-meaning’ family members, most of it unprompted, contradictory and confusing – take all of it with a pinch of salt and trust your own instincts (and step away from internet search engines late at night – they don’t know your baby!)

Expect to get your boobs out a LOT, but to stop caring who sees them after a while – the postman, your uncle, the cat, they will all get an eyeful at some point, but it doesn’t matter as they aren’t boobs anymore, they are mighty milk-making machines. Expect to feel a bit like a dairy cow as you sit pinned to the sofa with a hungry babe perma-guzzling from your breast or/and a whirring plastic breast pump attached to the other boob – you will learn how to take multi-tasking to a whole new level, which is something we should be able to add to our CVs really.

Expect to love and loathe the feel of a hot shower hitting your boobs at the same time – great for helping ease those aching bosoms but not so good when the water spray hits a sore, tender nipple (ouch). Expect to only choose items of clothing and bras based on how easy it is to whip your boobs out at the first sign of your baby licking their lips, and how well the milky dribble or spit up will wash off after a feeding session (satin, velvet and silk are big no-no’s for a while).

Expect an emotional roller coaster – you will feel high on oxytocin and more in love with your baby than ever and like the greatest mother in the world when feeding is going well, followed shortly by feeling like a massive mum failure for not being able to read your baby’s hunger cues before they start crying/or for your baby doing a taboo green poo (which at some point early on they will probably do no matter what you do – it can be for many reasons, not just that they aren’t getting enough breastmilk, so always seek advice and don’t blame yourself. Easier said than done we know!)

The truth is, breastfeeding can be really hard and it may hurt both physically and emotionally in the first few weeks, and that is really important to know before you start. If it doesn’t ‘click’ into place at first, that’s normal. It takes several weeks to get into a groove and to establish your supply, which is why feeding on demand when your baby wants it, and not trying to stick to a schedule or set timings between feeds, is so important. If it hurts and you can’t seem to get it right on your own, that’s ok. There are gels {lanolin cream or paraffin gauges will be your ‘breast’ friends}, cold cabbage leaves (just remember to take them out afterwards or they will start to pong!) and other tricks like dabbing a bit of your own breast milk on your sore nipple after a feed, that can help to ease the physical aspects. And if you feel like giving up in those first few days, or even later on, because it’s all too much, reach out for help. If you can make it past the first 6 weeks, you are more likely to continue breastfeeding up to and even beyond 6 months, which is so beneficial for your baby. Ask for all the help and emotional support you can get from midwives, health visitors, local breastfeeding support groups, the National Breastfeeding Helpline, lactation consultants, friends, family, your partner and of course your Daisy mums network, and stick with it if you can.

Comfortable and happy breastfeeding is mainly down to two things: your baby’s latch, and your comfort. Concentrate on getting the latch right and finding a comfortable position for both of you to sustain for long periods of time through the day and night and you will be winning. Cushions are your friends; those half-moon pregnancy sleeping pillows can be re-purposed into a handy nursing pillow and holding your baby in your arms for extended periods of time, when you are probably also sleep-deprived, can be exhausting, so don’t forget pillows to support your arms too. Whatever helps you to be comfortable in turns helps you produce more milk for your baby and it is so important to stay hydrated as dehydration can diminish your milk supply, so always keep water to hand (and using a straw can really help you to still be able to drink when your arms are otherwise engaged holding your baby), and keep your energy up with frequent snacks (and yes, we do mean cake and biscuits, as well as fruit and nuts of course for balance!).

It’s important to remember that you and your baby are learning this together so don’t get too cross or upset if it takes a while to master – its new to you both, so give each other time and reassurance and you’ll get there. Asking your partner, friends and family to give you extra support and encouragement and to bring you drinks and snacks, lend you a box set or 10 etc.. is a hugely important motivator.

There will probably be ups & let-downs, sore nipples, full engorged breasts, leaky boobs, cluster feedings, long nights spent waking and worrying if you have enough milk or if you should wake your sleeping baby for a feed. There will be long feeding sessions where you feel like your baby will never detach from your breast (they will, they are probably just having a long feed to send signals to increase your milk supply because babies and boobs are clever like that), and really short feeds where they may just be thirsty or need the comfort of your nipple in their mouth. Anywhere from 5 mins – 2 hours a boob are all completely ‘normal’ feeding times in the first few weeks as you both establish a routine and build up your milk supply to your baby’s own specific needs.

Getting your baby’s latch right is the first step to breastfeeding well, and this isn’t always as easy as just bringing them to your boob and hoping they will do the rest. You will probably be told about or read up on what to look out for to make sure the latch is right: baby’s nose next to your nipple, wide open mouth, head back and able to move freely, rounded cheeks, swallowing, good sucking rhythm, ‘ka’ sounds meaning that baby is taking in and swallowing milk etc .. but how do you really know if it’s right? Simply speaking, if the latch is right, your baby will be satisfied after a feed, they will have plenty of wet and dirty nappies filled with canary yellow poo (that’s the holy grail, as yellow poo = your baby is getting a good supply of milk), they will be gaining weight well and most importantly be happy and healthy. The best way to check that all of this is happening is to ask an expert. Get your midwife or health visitor to check your latch regularly, as you can start off well and then a baby can just forget how to breast feed, so never feel like you are wasting their time by getting things checked, that’s what they are there for so use them!

It also shouldn’t be too painful if your baby is latching well, of course there can be other factors, such as long feeding sessions that can make your nipples feel rather tender, but if you have consistently sore, cracked or bleeding nipples, or a burning sensation in your breasts, then don’t suffer in silence. All of these are common problems that can often be put right with a simple adjustment to your feeding position, checking that latch, looking after yourself better or ruling out tongue tie which can make it hard for your baby to feed efficiently. There are so many places to turn to for help and advice (other than search engines!) so always ask.

Breastfeeding is different for every mum and baby team and what worked well for one duo, might not for you and yours. Trust in your own rhythm and routine and try not to get hung up on what other mums or baby ‘experts’/books say is the ideal breastfeeding pattern, or try to avoid counting every feed and duration and worrying about the correct intervals between feeds – newsflash: there are no correct intervals, normal amounts of feeding or lengths of feeds! Each baby is different, and so is each feed. Remember that sometimes you only want a gulp of water and a biscuit (well, maybe two), and other times you want the all-you-can-eat buffet, your baby is just the same.

The frequency and amount of time your baby needs to feed are up to your baby, and if you feed on demand and learn to pick up on your baby’s feeding cues (rooting, bringing hands to mouth, lip smacking etc..) and respond to them before they get too hungry and start crying, which can make latching trickier, rather than trying to follow a time pattern, you will be both be better off. Find what works for you and your baby, and remember that breastfeeding is the ultimate in teamwork and an ever-evolving skill. You’ve got this mamas!

Daisy x

(Blog contributed by one of our Daisy Teachers – Ceri Elms)