Breastfeeding takes work and practice, and both you and your baby need to learn how to do it,” says registered midwife Sister Elizabeth Beavon. “Yes, it is natural, yes, it is the best thing for you and your baby, but it’s not spontaneous.” If you’re feeling nervous or uncertain, find a support group before the birth, whether it’s a midwife you trust, a lactation consultant or a La Leche League group in your area, which is a support group of experienced breastfeeding moms.
In the meantime, these breastfeeding tips will get you off to a good start.
If you can get a good latch from the start, you’ll avoid common problems like cracked and chafed nipples. “Keep in mind that in the first two to three days after the birth, you produce colostrum. Intravenous fluids can lead to over-hydration, which can make your breasts engorged or swollen − which is like trying to latch onto a bowling ball,” explains La Leche League team leader Amor Herbst. The best way to start well, she advises, is with reverse pressure softening. “It’s a technique where you take your thumb and index finger and try to massage the nipple and areola outwards. This helps soften the area before your baby latches, which will enable her to get as much of the nipple and areola into her mouth as possible.”
“On average, most newborns feed every three hours. This means three hours from the start of one feed to the start of the next feed − day and night,” advises Elizabeth. Although it’s common for new moms to worry about whether their baby is getting enough milk, if your baby is gaining weight appropriately and has six to eight wet nappies a day, that’s a good sign that she’s doing just fine.
Am I doing it right?
“In order to breastfeed successfully, your baby needs to remove milk efficiently and frequently from the breast,” says Amor. “If your baby is latched on well, you’ll hear her swallowing or see her chin moving up and down and know that she is removing milk,” she adds. Two to three (or more) soiled nappies a day during the first month as part of your baby’s overall wet nappy output can reassure you until her next check-up.
A leading cause of latching challenges is improper positioning, says Amor. There are many ways to hold a baby for breastfeeding, but the best position is the one that works for you and your baby. “One of the positions moms find can circumvent this discomfort is laid-back breastfeeding. This gives your baby more control over feeding and allows gravity a chance to help. Get some pillows, lean back against them at a comfortable gradient and put your baby on your chest. Your newborn will lift her head just high enough to hover above your nipple and as her head goes down, she’ll get a deep, nice latch,” says Amor. This is also a great position for some skin-to-skin contact, which tends to spur your baby’s breastfeeding reflexes.
Discomfort is OK, pain is not
Nipple discomfort is to be expected, says Amor, as the nipple tissue needs to elongate and stretch out. Some initial transient pain at the latch is normal. However, if you’re experiencing pain during breastfeeding, don’t suffer in silence – it’s not supposed to hurt. “The actual feeding shouldn’t hurt, your nipple shouldn’t look misshapen or swollen after a feed and it generally should feel comfortable,” she says.
Get help if you need it
Even if your latch looks fine, if it doesn’t feel fine, trust your instincts and ask for help. “There’s no point in waiting it out. There might be an underlying breastfeeding challenge that needs to be addressed,” Amor advises. “Don’t suffer in silence!” Get a qualified lactation consultant in as soon as possible to help you with your breastfeeding challenges. Make sure that the consultant you choose is an international board-certified lactation consultant or IBCLC (La Leche League leaders or your midwife can help to refer you to a lactation consultant).
Experiment a bit
In the first few weeks, you might need to experiment with different holds to find what works best for you and your baby. “The most important thing is to make sure that the latching area is soft enough for your baby to latch. Also remember that your baby’s bottom jaw needs to do all the work, so make sure it isn’t tucked in on his chest and that it can move freely,” recommends Amor.
Despite what you might have heard, your nipples don’t need “toughening up” or exposure to the sun before the birth – this is just an old wives’ tale. Those tiny bumps on the outside of your nipples are the Montgomery glands, and they’re there to secrete oils and moisturise your nipples. “However, if you have a wobbly start and begin to get cracked or bleeding nipples, you do need to address the problem,” advises Amor. A pure lanolin cream or hydrogel dressing will speed up the healing process. A good latch doesn’t cause friction, so adjust your baby’s latch to ensure a smooth process.