Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby and even providing your baby with breastmilk for a short period of time has many benefits. Besides being a natural, healthy choice, it's cheaper than formula and will save you money in the long run.
In the first few days after your baby’s birth, your breasts produce colostrum which is a rich creamy substance containing vital ingredients for your baby, including cells that help build your baby’s immune system and research shows that babies who are breastfed for at least the first six months of life are more immune to common childhood illnesses.
Learning to get your baby breastfeeding successfully in the early weeks can come with its challenges. You may feel discouraged if you are having trouble breastfeeding or find yourself struggling with sore and cracked nipples. This is normal for first time moms, so don't worry! There are many things that you can do to make breastfeeding easier.
I've compiled some of my favorite breastfeeding advice for making your journey easier for you. Please keep in mind that every woman's body responds differently to nursing, and sometimes there are issues that require medical attention. If you experience any concerns while breastfeeding, please contact your midwife or doctor right away as this article is not a replacement for medical breastfeeding support in New Zealand.
- Breastfeed your baby as often as possible.
The more often you feed your baby, the more milk you will produce and your nipples will adjust. Let them feed for as long as they want on one side and make sure they are getting a good amount of hind milk which contains a lot more fat content than the milk that comes out at the start of each feed. Use a breast pump to express milk when you're away from your baby or if you can't feed your baby for any reason. This will help to keep your milk production up and you can freeze it to feed your baby in the future.
- Make sure your baby is actively feeding.
Breastfeeding is a special time for both you and your baby. You will enjoy the release of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ which will help you feel connected with your baby and also encourage your milk to flow. Your baby is in their happy place, close to you and filling his/her belly with yummy warm milk and it is tempting for them to continue pacifying at the breast, but this can often hurt your nipples, especially in the early days. Once you notice that they have finished swallowing the milk and actively feeding, take them off the breast. If your baby has fallen asleep before they have had a good feed, you might need to wake him/her up by stroking their cheeks. It is also ideal to take your baby off your breast before they fall asleep so as to not establish strong feed to sleep habits which might make it difficult for them to fall asleep without you feeding them in the long term. You can pop a clean finger against your nipple to slide it out of their mouth.
- Use a nipple shield if you have sore nipples
Nipple shields can help to get your baby breastfeeding successfully without causing any extra pain in the beginning few weeks too. Using nipple creams after feeds can also help to keep your nipples supple. Be kind to yourself, it may take some time before you get the hang of breastfeeding If you're having trouble breastfeeding, don't worry. It takes practice and patience to get started.
- Ask your partner to give you regular shoulder massages.
Holding your baby while Breastfeeding and looking down at them can cause a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders. Ask your partner to give you regular shoulder massages to relieve the tension, this can either be while you are feeding or in-between times.
- Invest in a breastfeeding pillow
Using a thick pillow under your baby to prop him/her up while you are feeding can help to take the weight off your arms and shoulders. You can use a special breastfeeding pillow, or a long, thick cushion will do too.
- Wear clothes that will make it easy and comfortable for you.
Investing in a nursing bra is really valuable to get you through the breastfeeding phase. If you are selecting one while you are pregnant, be sure to go a few sizes up to account for when your milk comes in and avoid underwire bras. Any kind of consistent pressure on your breasts can cause blocked milk ducts. Also, make it easy for yourself by wearing clothes that are easy to breastfeed in, like button-down tops and dresses with loose necklines that can be pulled down for nursing. Don’t feel like you need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe - you’ve likely already got breastfeeding appropriate clothes already.
- Get sleep and eat regular meals and stay well hydrated to keep up your milk supply.
It can be easy in the early weeks when your baby needs so much from you, to completely forget about your own needs, but it is important that you look after yourself, (particularly your basic needs like eating, keeping hydrated and sleeping) so that you have the energy required to look after yourself. When your body is constantly producing breast milk you need lots of water to produce such high levels of milk, but also to keep up your own hydration needs to stop you getting dehydrated. Keep a bottle of water beside your bed and another one in your baby's room at night so you can sip on it during and after night feeds. Extra tip: Add a pinch of Celtic Sea Salt to your water a few times each day. It is loaded with minerals and also helps your body to absorb nutrients from your food, while working as an electrolyte to help with hydration. It can be helpful to prepare meals ahead of time while you are pregnant and keep them in the freezer to pull out and heat up during the early weeks. The key is to eat nutritious meals often. If you find you don’t have enough milk, give this Lactation Cookie Recipe a go.
- Get help from a lactation consultant or breastfeeding coach if you need it.
Breastfeeding can be a big learning curve. If you are experiencing pain, if your baby isn’t putting on weight or if you intuitively feel something isn’t right, listen to your mama bear intuition and get further breastfeeding advice and support from a lactation consultant as soon as possible.
Still got questions? That's totally normal, breastfeeding and learning what works best for both you and your baby is a journey.
Below you'll find extra answers to the two most asked questions about breastfeeding...