Breastfeeding is a skill that can take time to get the hang of. The early days can be challenging but with the right professional help, support from those around you and some sheer determination, many succeed in their breastfeeding journey.
A common worry from new mums, especially during the beginning, is whether their baby is feeding well and getting enough milk. Weight gain is of course a key pointer in monitoring baby’s health and wellbeing in the early days, and if feeding is difficult this can be worrying. However, if you rely on the support of your midwife/health visitor they can guide you on what steps to take if the baby is not getting enough breastmilk. It does not necessarily mean the end of breastfeeding for you and your baby.
Following the initial days after birth, breastfeeding soon becomes much easier and many find it second nature a few weeks down the line. Once you have mastered it you will probably find it convenient, easy and the most satisfying way to feed your baby. It’s also great for bonding!
Top breastfeeding tips for the early days:
1. Skin to skin contact
In the first few hours especially, but even days or weeks after birth, skin to skin contact is a great way to stimulate milk supply and calm both baby and mother to allow for easier feeding. Sit in a quiet, darkened room, and let your baby lie across your chest and just have a cuddle. When you feel comfortable, try putting baby to the breast and let them do the hard work. They really are amazing and can generally work things out for themselves.
The cleaning can wait! Or at least be done by somebody else at home. Take your time to bond with your baby and relax. Watch a good box set, film, or listen to music as you take the time to stay at home and allow your body to recover and your milk supply to develop.
3. Don’t give up too soon
We totally believe that a fed baby is best regardless of whether this is by bottle or breast. However, if you personally want to breastfeed, know that in many cases it’s totally doable. Take strength from those around you that support you, and don’t take negative criticisms to heart. If family members haven’t breastfed themselves, they may be quick to suggest that breast feeding may not be for you. Remember it’s your baby and your decision, so take the path you want to take, be that bottle or breast. Seek support from those who have been through breastfeeding successfully themselves.
The benefits of breast milk
Although not all of breast milk’s properties are fully understood, its nutritional content is consistent throughout research. Breast milk is made from nutrients in the mother’s bloodstream and body stores. It contains an optimal balance of fat, sugar, water, and protein – all that are needed for a baby’s growth and development. It’s a balanced meal in one!
Covid & breastfeeding
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to new parents but try not to let it get in the way of your decision of whether to breastfeed. Current evidence suggests you cannot catch COVID-19 through breastmilk, in-fact breastmilk is known to help build a baby’s immunity to infection. It is suggested that mothers with coronavirus can still breastfeed however it is recommended they wear a mask while doing so and wash their hands before and after feeding.
An alternative during a time of illness could be to use a breast pump therefore your baby is still receiving all your nutrients but from a safe distance. When using a pump it also means someone else can feed the baby so that you can rest.
With regards to the COVID-19 vaccine, mothers who are breastfeeding and still recommended to get it. You cannot catch the virus from the vaccine and cannot pass it on to your baby through breast milk. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many support classes and groups have had to be cancelled however your midwife or health visitor will have advice and knowledge that they can pass onto you. Scroll to the bottom of this article to view all available support.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
The milk that a mother produces is made specifically for their baby. As well as this breast milk is available 24/7 and is free. For the baby there are many benefits of being breast fed including:
- Fights infections
- Gain vitamins and nutrients
- Reduces likelihood of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and childhood cancers
- Reduces chances of medical conditions like diabetes in later life
For the mother there are benefits too, it helps:
- Your uterus go back down to size
- Bonding with your baby
- Protects your health
- Burn calories
How long should you breastfeed for?
Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial however it is suggested that exclusively breastfeeding your baby for 6 months offers more protection.
Is your baby getting enough milk?
This is a common worry in many new parents. Although there is no way to see how much your baby has drank when breastfeeding there are some positive signs to look for:
- Feeding begins with some rapid sucks following by long, rhythmic sucks and swallows with some occasional pauses
- Baby’s cheeks stay rounded and not hollow. During sucking you should be able to hear and see them swallowing
- Your baby is calm when feeding and comes off the breast by themselves. Baby appears content and calm after feeding
- After feeding your breasts may feel softer
- You feel tired in between feeds
If you feel worried that your baby isn’t drinking enough or not gaining weight, speak to your midwife or health visitor. They can then assist with your breastfeeding or help with a plan to top up temporarily if required. They can also give you tips on how to boost your milk supply.
What food should you avoid when breastfeeding?
Apart from maintaining a healthy diet there is nothing you shouldn’t particularly be eating. However, there are some foods you should be aware of eating too much of:
- Oily Fish. Avoid eating oily fish like mackerel and sardines more than twice a week as they contain high levels of mercury.
- Caffeine. Caffeine can pass through to your baby and make them restless, it is best to have a maximum of 300mg a day.
- Alcohol. Alcohol can pass through to your baby and damage their delicate livers. It is best to avoid alcohol in the first 3 months and then 2 units at a time twice a week is thought to be fine.
How often should you breastfeed?
With newborn babies it may seem like you feeding all the time, this is normal. Let your baby guide you for how often to feed – as you get more efficient it will become less often. There are signs from your baby that you can look out for to see if they are hungry:
- Putting their hands in their mouths
- Licking their lips
- Wriggling around with their mouth open
Where to get help
You can talk to your midwife or health visitor regarding any queries or concerns you may have.
National Breastfeeding Helpline: 0300 100 0212
If you have any questions, the Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend chatbot has lots of helpful information and is available 24/7. The NHS approved application can be accessed on your Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Facebook Messenger. To find out more information about how to set this up click here.