There’s no doubt that breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure your little one gets all the nutrients he needs to grow and thrive. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, because studies have proven that “if every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for his first six months, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two, about 800 000 child lives would be saved every year”.
But as wonderful as it is, breastfeeding isn’t always easy and often comes with challenges. The good news is, nowadays there’s plenty of support at hand.
We asked the experts for their answers to some of your most pressing baby feeding questions.
How do I know my baby is latching correctly?
Whether you’re a first-time or second-time mom, you be unsure about how to start breastfeeding, says Johannesburg-based doula and childcare expert Magdeleen Möller. It’s important to take note of your baby’s lips when he latches, she says. The bottom lip should be out and right around your areola (the ring of pigmented skin around your nipple). You should also listen for your baby swallowing. Although it’ll take a few days for your milk to come in, once you have a good flow, your baby should get mouthfuls of milk with each suck and swallow well, she says. If you don’t hear your little one swallowing, he might not have latched correctly. Your whole nipple should be in his mouth with every feed.
Remember that breastfeeding is often uncomfortable, but should never be sore, says Magdeleen. If you’re experiencing pain with every feed, see a lactation consultant as soon as possible. “Lactation consultants study intensely for at least a year to qualify,” says Magdeleen. “They know a lot about breastfeeding and should be able to help with even the most difficult cases,” she adds.
How often should I breastfeed in 24 hours?
In the early days, demand feeding is best, says Natalie Peters, senior midwife at Flora Clinic in Johannesburg. Breastfeed as often as your baby requires, as this will help to establish a good milk flow. It’s normal for a baby to want to feed anywhere between eight and 12 times per day, sometimes more in hot summer months, she says. Although it can be tiring for you, breastfeeding is also one of the best ways to help build your child’s immune system, and promote bonding between the two of you.
Should I wake my baby up for feeds at night?
No, says Natalie. Adequate sleep is also important for a baby’s healthy growth and development, so it’s a fine balance between the two. Babies who breastfeed will naturally wake up when they’re ready for the next feed. However, if your newborn may have jaundice, is underweight or premature, or seems to be lethargic and finds waking up for feeds difficult, chat to your clinic nurse or paediatrician. “In cases like these, you should establish a routine of at least three- hourly feeds until you’re satisfied with your baby’s weight gain,” she says.
How long should I feed on each side?
While there are numerous theories about this, the answer is that it varies from baby to baby and mom to mom, says Natalie. Ideally, you can feed up to 20 minutes on a side (10-20 minutes is ideal). You might have also heard that you need to breastfeed longer on each side so that your baby has enough foremilk and hindmilk. While this is a controversial issue with varying opinions, a recent study published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health indicates that there’s no reason to worry about foremilk and hindmilk or to coax a baby to feed longer. As long as your little one is feeding well and you don’t cut the feedings too short, (like five minutes or less per side) your baby will receive about the same amount of milk fat over the course of a day, no matter what the breastfeeding pattern.
Natalie doesn’t recommend feeding for longer than one hour at a time, as she believes that babies have a good sucking reflex and are pretty efficient at drinking. If a feeding session continues for too long, your little one might be using your breasts as a pacifier and this could cause sore nipples.
Can breastfeeding give my baby cramps or reflux?
It’s highly unlikely that your baby will develop reflux from breastfeeding, says Natalie. Reflux is caused by an immature lower oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus) as well as other factors. Your diet, however, may affect your breast milk and contribute to your little one experiencing stomach cramps. The American Academy of Paediatrics says you should try to avoid spicy foods, raw cruciferous vegetables, such as onion and broccoli, caffeine and alcohol.
What will affect my milk supply and how can I boost it?
Stress is the number one reason why many moms have a low milk supply, says Magdeleen.
“It’s important to rest as much as you can in the early days and surround yourself with caring, positive people,” she says. If you’re not sleeping or run off your feet with a busy toddler too, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to help, or if budget allows, consider hiring a night nurse, au pair or nanny.
Certain medications can also affect milk supply, so chat to your gynaecologist if you have any concerns.
Magdeleen’s tips to boost milk supply:
- Feed on demand when your baby shows hunger cues. Don’t be too quick to follow a strict feeding routine.
- Exercise moderately four to six weeks after birth. Moderate exercise helps to boost good-mood endorphins and reduce stress. Yoga, swimming, walking and light strength training are all good options.
- Don’t rush into losing postpartum weight. Your body needs a healthy, varied diet packed with nutrients to produce good-quality breast milk. You should avoid cutting out entire food groups while breastfeeding.
- Continue with supplements. Magdeleen believes that supplementation is important for a good milk supply. Take a good multivitamin as well as omega 3.