Ideally, when you first start to breast-feed, it is best to have a trained person to watch and provide skilled help and support. A midwife or breast-feeding counsellor can do this. Getting the first few feeds right can make a huge difference to getting established successfully and can prevent problems such as sore nipples, breast pain and poor milk supply.
The very first milk produced is called colostrum. It is a yellow, sticky substance sometimes referred to as liquid gold. It is rich in antibodies and high in proteins, vitamins and minerals, in a very concentrated form. A newborn baby has a tiny stomach that can hold about a teaspoonful of milk. So, even though there is only a small amount of colostrum, it is enough for the baby in the early days, until the milk supply comes in. Even one feed of colostrum is valuable for both baby and mother’s health.
Some women try breast-feeding and give up after a few feeds because of problems. Problems may well have been prevented by advice on things such as the correct positioning of the baby. Try to stay relaxed, as you will find things easier if you are calm.
Breast-feeding can be time-consuming and does require quite a lot of commitment. A newborn baby will need feeding probably every 2-3 hours, day and night. As the baby gets older, feeds will be quicker. Remember, your breasts produce more milk the more your baby feeds – they will never be empty.
Babies do, generally, get into a routine of feeding. However, it is better not to stick rigidly to a feeding timetable. It is advised to feed on demand. Demand feeding means the baby dictates feeding and you feed when your baby seems hungry. This will take into account periods of growth when feeds may need to be more often, and other factors, such as when it is hot and your baby is thirsty.
Your baby receives a more watery foremilk at the start of a breast-feed. This is thirst quenching. As a breast-feed continues, the later milk (or hind-milk) is richer in fats. The hind-milk fills your baby up. The hind-milk contains more energy and nutrition needed for your baby to grow and thrive. It is therefore important that the baby finishes on one breast before being offered the second (otherwise your baby would only drink two lots of foremilk).
How to breast-feed
This information is intended as a guide only. Ask a midwife, breast-feeding counsellor or friend/relative whom you trust (and who has successfully breast-fed) to show you. Books, magazines and internet resources have good photographs, video and pictures/diagrams to demonstrate positioning and technique.
There are lots of different positions for breast-feeding. Key points are:
- Are your baby’s head and body in a straight line? This is important so your baby can swallow easily.
- Are you holding your baby close to you? Support the baby’s neck, shoulders and back. The baby should be able to tilt their head back and shouldn’t have to stretch to feed.
- Make sure you are comfortable. Breast-feeding can take some time. Sometimes it helps to use a pillow or cushion for support. Your arms or back may end up aching if you are hunched up for a long period of time.
Latching on is the term for getting your baby attached to your breast for feeding. This is the most important thing to get right when starting to breast-feed. Again, pictures and diagrams make this easier to understand. Some general points are:
- Hold your baby with their nose opposite your nipple. Your baby needs to get a very big mouthful of breast from underneath the nipple. Placing your baby ‘nipple to nose’ will allow your baby to reach up and attach well to the breast.
- Let your baby tip their head back, so the top lip brushes against your nipple.
- Wait for your baby to open their mouth wide. As this happens their chin will touch your breast first. Their tongue will be down.
- Quickly bring your baby in to the breast so that a large mouthful of breast can be taken into their mouth.
- There should be more of the darker areola visible above the baby’s top lip, than below the bottom lip.
- In the let-down reflex, milk is produced from the breast and ejected. This is caused by the chemical (hormone) oxytocin released in the brain. Just the thought of breast-feeding, or of your baby, or hearing your baby cry, can stimulate milk to be produced. You may see the milk as you are preparing yourself to breast-feed – and this is why breast pads inside your bra are needed, to catch this milk.
Things you can look for, as signs that your baby is feeding well and latched on properly:
- The baby has a large mouthful of breast.
- The baby’s chin is firmly touching the breast.
- It doesn’t hurt – although the initial sucks are strong.
- The baby’s cheeks are rounded throughout sucking.
- There is rhythmic sucking and swallowing, with occasional pauses. There will be cycles of short sucks and also long, deep drawing sucks.
- The baby finishes feeding and comes off the breast on their own.
If it feels uncomfortable when your baby is latched on, the position may not be quite correct. Use your little finger to break the seal between the baby’s mouth and your breast by gently inserting it at the corner of your baby’s mouth. Then try again with latching on. This is important to prevent sore, cracked nipples.