In the first few days after baby is born, it can seem like your life is consumed by breastfeeding. Those early days breastfeeding can be like an obsession, because you know it is how your baby is going to feed and grow, so the pressure is ON, sometimes even through painful, swollen breasts and cracked nipples. Mercy, who has experience helping mums breastfeed from volunteering at a breastfeeding centre in England and plenty of breastfeeding experience feeding her adorable two Chiddy and Amara , shares her 15 essential tip for a new mum below.
By now, most of us know that breastfeeding is the best first food for baby, if there are no complications or other circumstances. Breast milk contains so many wonderful things: proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and antibodies that protect the infant from infection and build the infant’s immune system. It can also reduce mums chance of contracting breast cancer.
But for all the good we know, there is so much that we don’t know about, it seems. If I had a dollar for every time a woman shared the many things she didn’t know about breastfeeding before she had a baby, I would have bought my dream home by now!
Having all (or a lot of ) the information, can make a big difference in your breastfeeding journey. Here are some important things that I think every woman who is considering breastfeeding should know:
- The start may be challenging.
Women all around the world experience difficulties with breastfeeding in varying degrees. From mild cases of nipple soreness and engorgement when milk comes in to more complicated cases of mastitis, tongue/lip tie and low milk supply. Many of these issues can be easily resolved with the right support. So please don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen easily for you. You are not alone, please get some professional and medical help quickly.
- Colostrum is enough for the first few days.
The breast starts producing the first milk called “Colostrum” during late pregnancy (as early as 16 weeks in some women). This thick milk rich in proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins, is all your baby’s tiny and immature stomach needs in the first few days. It is full of antibodies and acts as a laxative to get rid of meconium (baby’s first stools). Because colostrum can’t be measured in ounces but in teaspoons, I find that a lot of women get confused and think they’re not producing enough milk and begin to supplement with formula immediately. Don’t panic, sister! Though your mature milk may take between 2-5 days to fully come in, your baby is not starving. Just maintain skin-to-skin contact and continue to put baby to the breast frequently.
- Take care of your nipples especially in the early days.
Lots of mothers report nipple soreness. Always squeeze and aim for a deep latch (push your breast right into baby’s mouth), with baby taking in the full areola because a poor latch where baby is only sucking on your nipple will cause damage. Baby should be sucking on the area around the nipple, not just nipple. Try rubbing breast milk all over your nipple before a feed. You can also use lanolin nipple cream. I’m a big fan of coconut oil so that’s what I’ve always used. Really take care of your nipples, mamas! So many women have given up breastfeeding because they couldn’t bear the pain of injured nipples. It might be painful in the beginning as your nipples get used to so much friction, but it does get better.
- Constant nursing in the early days is normal.
If it feels like your baby is constantly nursing, this is normal. Not only is breast milk very easily digested, remember that it is also food, drink and snack. Your breasts are also soothers (unless you decide to replace them with a pacifier, which isn’t recommended in the early days – explained further below). Newborn stomachs are also very small, so when your baby is nursing voraciously, bear this chart in mind:
- It is best to put the pacifier away until your supply is established.
Following on from my last point, it is best not to use a pacifier in the early days. This is so that you’re not replacing the time needed at the breast to stimulate it into producing as much milk as baby needs and establishing a healthy supply. It is also to avoid nipple confusion, which may then lead to difficulty latching correctly to the breast. I know it may seem like baby is attached to your breasts all the time but trust me, this time will pass before you know it.
- On demand feeding will help to build your milk supply.
Feeding baby on demand (feeding whenever baby needs i.e. not scheduling to feed every two hours. Just grab a bottle of water or your favourite drink and put on some Netflix or pick up a book and don’t bother watching the clock. AND let other people take care of housework. Your only “job” in the early days should be to nurse and bond with your baby and to allow yourself heal.
- Breastfeeding may act like a sleeping pill in the early days.
If you find yourself nodding off like a baby while nursing remember that it is due to a hormone called “Oxytocin” being released during let-down (release of milk). It is also the hormone released during sexual arousal/orgasm so go figure! Enjoy it while it lasts.
- Breast milk is enough for the first 6 months.
With a good supply, baby is able to thrive on just breast milk for 6 months. Some people will tell you that you need to supplement but this is just not true. I assure you that breast milk is enough unless there’s an issue with your supply and/or baby’s weight gain.
- You don’t have to supplement with formula.
I had to add this one because of how many times I have encountered it. When many mums face difficulties, their first thought is to whip out the tin of formula. However, there are many things you can try before resorting to formula, like expressing to give extra feeds or donor milk. If you really want baby to have breast milk exclusively, explore all your options and leave formula as a last resort. If you don’t have experts or knowledgeable people around you, the Internet is a very powerful tool. Consider making google your friend!
- Every little breast milk helps.
I strongly believe that some breast milk is better than no breast milk. If you have to mix feed or stop breastfeeding after a short while, rest assured that whatever milk you have been able to give will go a long way. Leave the guilt outside and shut the door!
- Breastfeeding may protect you against pregnancy.
It’s possible that breastfeeding would protect you against pregnancy. It has worked for so many women, myself included. But bear in mind that how you breastfeed matters. There are rules to follow and even then every woman’s body works differently. I will share more about this subject in another post, if you’re intersted.
- Being extra hungry and thirsty is normal.
Breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day and breast milk contains over 80% water. So if you find yourself very hungry and thirsty, don’t be shocked. Eat and drink up! Also even if you can’t maintain a perfect diet, don’t worry. The nutrients in breast milk are drawn largely from the nutrient stores in your body so babies will always get what they need. Obviously, it is best to maintain a generally healthy diet especially for your own wellbeing but don’t stress over the odd MacDonald’s or if you’re like me, a whole packet of custard creams and tea.
- You CAN breastfeed past 6 months.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of 6 months (when you introduce solids) and carrying on breastfeeding till the age of 2 and beyond. Yes you can breastfeed a toddler if it’s still mutually beneficial. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m an extended breastfeeding mama and I’m here to encourage you. Carry on, ladies!
- Breastfeeding remains beneficial for as long as it lasts
Whether it’s for nutrition or comfort, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing something wrong. Someone once told me that there’s nothing left in my breast but water so I should stop breastfeeding my toddler. Research has shown that for as long as you breastfeed, the milk remains beneficial to your child. And to be honest even if my milk was no longer doing anything, I would still carry on because there is more to breastfeeding than milk transfer. My body, my baby, my choice.
- Support is EVERYTHING!
Lastly remember that support is everything. Find a lactation specialist near you. Befriend other breastfeeding mothers. If you’re struggling, seek help immediately. In fact, don’t wait until there’s a problem to seek support. Sometimes, just having someone to rant to about late night feeds and lack of sleep, is all a nursing mother needs to keep her sane. I will add a list of helpful links at the bottom and of course I’m always here to answer any questions or refer you to someone that might be able to help. Happy breastfeeding to all who are nursing.
Thank you so much, Mercy.
Mums, what would you add to the list of things new mamas should know about breastfeeding? Was there something you did that you think made a difference for your early breastfeeding days? Please share in the comments, below.
La Leche League International
La Leche League UK
Unicef Baby Friendly
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
Association of Tongue Tie Practitioners