If possible, breastfeed your baby within the first hour of them being born. This takes advantage of their natural alertness when they first come into the world. After this hour, babies usually sleep for a large portion of their first 24 hours of life. This first feed helps your baby establish a good latch and helps them to feel like feeding from the breast is as natural as breathing. Your newborn will naturally squirm and root around for a nipple once placed on your chest, this is their signal that they want to feed, so encourage this by feeding straight away. Plenty of skin-to-skin contact in the early days will encourage your baby to use these cues, rather than crying to be fed. If your baby knows that you recognise their subtle hints then they will feel more secure and relaxed.
In the first days, the milk you produce is called colostrum. This is thick, yellowish milk which is rich in proteins, vitamins and antibodies. It also acts as a laxative which helps your baby have their first poop, known as meconium. Eliminating meconium quickly is important for preventing jaundice and getting your baby’s digestive health off to a great start. Colostrum comes in small doses between 2ml and 20ml per day, but it’s very high in nutrients in order to nourish your baby properly while their stomach is so tiny. Check out our blog First Days with a Newborn for more about Newborn Feeding.
The Perfect Latch
Your baby establishing a good latch is important for your breastfeeding journey. An improper latch prevents your baby from suckling the milk they need and your breasts do not receive the signal to produce more milk, thus limiting your supply and giving you an upset baby. Persevering with a bad latch also leads to breast pain, blocked milk ducts and mastitis. Signs that your baby is not latched on correctly include:
- breast pain,
- baby consistently sleeping at your breast,
- baby not satisfied after a feed,
- baby not gaining weight as expected.
During breastfeeding, your baby’s tongue should stick out over their lower gums and a large part of your areola should be in your baby’s mouth. Areolas (the dark part around the nipple) darkens during pregnancy as a visual cue to your baby to guide them to the milk. They know where they’re going, but you need to make sure they’re getting the job done correctly!
While feeding, check the position of their tongue by pulling back their lower lip. If you don’t see their tongue then you should stop feeding and try to get them to latch again. Follow these steps for a successful latch:
- Get yourself and your baby into a comfortable position
- With your free hand, place your thumb above your areola and your index finger below your areola
- Lightly squeeze your breast so that the nipple is smaller and easier for your baby to take into their mouth
- Bring your baby to your breast, rather than leaning into your baby
- Tickle around your baby’s mouth with your nipple, to encourage them to open their mouth wide
- Once their mouth is open (as wide as a yawn) bring your baby onto your nipple and they should take your nipple and areola into their mouth. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t get the entire areola into their mouth, especially if you have large areolas.
- Gently pull down their bottom lip to ensure their tongue is sticking out over the lower gums. This gives great support to your nipple and prevents pain.
- Remember that practice makes perfect. Just because something is instinctual, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Give it time, you’ll both find your rhythm and it’ll be like second nature soon enough.
Know Your Supply
Worrying about insufficient supply is the most common reason mothers give for changing their baby over to formula or for introducing solids or supplements. Breastfed babies will look to be fed more often because breastmilk digests quicker than formula, so your baby wanting to be fed often is not a reflection on your supply. In fact, the more frequently you feed your baby, the more milk you produce as the suckling motion signals hormones to continue producing milk.
Mothers often become especially worried about their supply when their baby is having a growth spurt (whether the mother realises it’s a growth spurt or not). During a growth spurt, your baby will want to feed especially frequent. If you continue to feed on demand then your milk supply will adjust after a couple of days to satisfy your baby. Look out for these growth spurts around 2 weeks old, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months.
To encourage your milk supply to be at its best make sure to eat lots of protein, fruits and vegetables, as well as drinking plenty of water. An extra 300 calories per day supplies plenty of energy for your body to produce as much milk as your baby needs.
If you’re concerned about your milk supply, speak to your GP or a lactation consultant. They may be able to advise you on what could be hindering your milk production. It’s rare that a mother cannot physically produce enough breastmilk for her baby. If this is the case, it’s usually due to an existing illness, so it’s best to see your doctor if you feel as though your milk is not coming in.
Pumping & Storing Breastmilk
You may choose to pump breastmilk if you are returning to work, leaving your baby with a babysitter, or you just don’t want to feed directly from the breast whilst out in public, or at all. Expressing breastmilk gives you the freedom to choose how you want to breastfeed. Modern breast pumps have made expressing breastmilk more comfortable and convenient than ever before.
When pumping, your milk will be more reluctant to flow because you are missing the biological headstart known as “let-down reflex”. This is when your milk starts to flow in response to your baby’s touch, smell or cry. You can encourage milk to flow by massaging the breast and placing a warm cloth on the breast before attaching the pump. However, you will always produce more milk when feeding your baby directly than when pumping. This is why you should never judge your milk supply based on how much milk you can express.
Once your breastmilk is expressed, keep it in a sterilised container. Breastmilk can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours, kept in the fridge for up to 4 days or the freezer for up to 3 months. If you’re planning on freezing your expressed breastmilk, place it into the freezer straight away to prevent loss of nutrients. Label your breastmilk containers with the date and time, so you can keep track of which container is the oldest.
When thawing breastmilk, it’s best to place it in the fridge and allow to thaw for 12 hours. Don’t leave your frozen breastmilk to thaw at room temperature and do not defrost in the microwave or apply any heat source. Once thawed, milk can be kept at room temperature for up to 2 hours or in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Never refreeze breastmilk once thawed.
To heat breastmilk, place the bottle into warm (not hot) water to bring it to body temperature. Never heat breast milk in the microwave or saucepan as the heat can kill the nutrients.
Don’t worry if your milk has separated, this is just fats separating from the water. Just gently swirl the bottle to help them to combine. Avoid shaking breastmilk to protect the important proteins inside.
Once you decide to stop breastfeeding, your supply will gradually decrease and eventually stop after about 10 days. If you have been exclusively breastfeeding for a while and have a well-established supply you may need to gradually stop breastfeeding. Simply reduce the number of times you breastfeed in the day and supplement with your chosen formula. This will signal to your body that you do not need to produce as much milk as you previously did. You may experience pain as your breastmilk builds up, this can be soothed by an extra-supportive bra, ice packs and over-the-counter pain relief.
Breastfeeding is a journey undertaken by you and your baby so should only be influenced by you and your baby. Listen to your body, see your GP, baby nurse or lactation consultant if you’re struggling and disregard anyone’s opinions!