Breastfeeding your baby is one of the most natural processes in the world, but not every woman finds it easy straight away. In fact, there are plenty of mothers who find breastfeeding very difficult, emotional, and sore. It can also be a lonely experience if your friends and family members all used formula, and many women in Western cultures lack the support system that can be found for breastfeeding women elsewhere in the world.
Breastfeeding takes a lot of practice to get right, but once you and your baby have mastered the art, there are plenty of health benefits for the both of you, including a lower risk of developing diseases such as cancer and diabetes. It is also a wonderful way of nurturing and bonding with your baby. See our article, Benefits of Breastfeeding, for more information.
Preparing For Breastfeeding – Before and After Labour
If you have decided that you want to breastfeed your baby, then your midwife may be able to offer you additional support, such as a “Preparation For Breastfeeding Class”. Here you will be able to talk to professionals and other Mums about any concerns you might have, and learn more about the process of breastfeeding.
You don’t need to do anything to your body to prepare for breastfeeding, your pregnancy and post-labour hormones will do all the work for you. Instead, just focus on keeping yourself healthy during and after your pregnancy with a balanced diet.
Once your baby is born, your midwife will encourage you to have what is known as “skin to skin” contact with your baby, where your baby is placed directly onto your chest. This serves a number purposes. Your body will provide plenty of warmth for your new baby, your baby will be reassured by the sound of your heartbeat and smell, and your body will release “feel good” hormones that will assist you with the bonding process, which is a fundamental part of successful breastfeeding.
You can use skin-to-skin contact in the days and weeks that follow your baby’s birth in order to continue that bonding process and to calm your baby when he or she is distressed.
How Often Should I Breastfeed?
Your mother or grandmother may have been told to use a strict routine when it comes to feeding their babies, but today that advice is considered out of date and could actually be harmful to your baby and the breastfeeding relationship. Instead, you should aim to feed on demand. Your baby will give you plenty of cues to let you know that he or she is hungry by “rooting”.
Your baby will turn his head with his mouth open, seeking the breast. He will probably try and suck his hands and his arms may start to flail. If the breast is unavailable he will start to cry. Responding to these cues quickly will reduce the chance of your baby becoming too distressed to feed.
My Baby Wants To Nurse All The Time, Is This Normal?
You generally can expect to feed your baby up to twelve or more times a day during the first few days. You might find that in the first day or so after labour your baby takes fewer feeds due to being sleepy, whilst at other times your baby may seem like he or she needs to feed constantly due to a growth spurt. Your baby may also “cluster feed”, where he or she will feed on and off for several hours during the first few weeks of breastfeeding.
During these times you may wonder if you are producing enough milk to satisfy your baby’s hunger, but rest assured that it is just your baby’s way of establishing your milk supply. For more information see our article on Breastfeeding: Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?
Breastfeeding – The Basics
During the first couple of weeks following your baby’s birth, you may find yourself overwhelmed with visitors who are excited to see the latest addition to your family. Whilst you might be pleased with the opportunity for a rest as someone else takes turn in holding your baby, it’s important to be able to feel comfortable when breastfeeding, even if that means taking your baby to another room, or politely asking guests to leave, particularly if you or your baby are distracted by their presence.
Make sure you are sitting somewhere comfortably. You could be there for around three quarters of an hour or more. Nursing pillows or V-shaped pillows, such as this one from Kiddicare, provides excellent support for both you and your baby. Some slings, such as the BabaSling also include a breastfeeding position for extra support when you are out and about. Your baby can start to feel heavy in your arms after a while, so it’s a good idea to have something to help your support their weight.
Find a position that works for you. Some women prefer the classic cradling position; others prefer to be lying down with their baby resting on their chest or by their side. You can also try the “rugby ball” position, where your baby’s body lies along one of your arms at your side with their legs / feet by your elbow and their head supported by your hand by the breast.
If you like to read or watch TV during feeding, then have your book, remote, or tablet computer available close by. Breastfeeding uses up lots of calories, so you could also have some snacks and a drink within reaching distance.
Bring your baby’s head around so that his or her nose is directly facing your nipple. You could brush your baby’s nose and lips with your nipple to encourage them to latch on. Your baby will tilt their head back slightly and open their mouth very wide in order to take a mouthful of nipple.
If the baby is latched well, then you shouldn’t be able to see any areola (the dark circle around your nipple) poking out of her bottom lip, although you may see some poking out of the top lip. Your baby’s nose shouldn’t be squashed against your breast so that he or she is able to breathe freely and you will hear quiet swallowing sounds once they begin to feed.
Once your baby is latched on, you may feel an initial soreness for the first few seconds as your baby rapidly sucks on your nipple to draw down the milk, and this is normal. However, once your baby starts taking longer sucks, it should feel quite comfortable for you and not be painful. If you are experiencing pain then you can use your little finger to insert between your baby’s mouth and your nipple to break the latch and try again. Sometimes it can take a few tries at getting it right, which can be frustrating with a hungry baby, but it’s important that you feel just as comfortable as your baby during the process.
If you have any problems with latching, then seek advice from your midwife or health visitor. They may be able to refer you onto a specialist breast-feeding advisor such as those that work for children’s centres or the National Childbirth Trust. You can also speak in confidence to a trained advisor with personal experience of breastfeeding by contacting the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.
What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Breastfeed
Your baby may refuse to feed or appear unsettled or distressed during feeds. You may also be concerned that your baby is showing signs that he or she is not getting enough milk and there could be a number of reasons for this. See our article, Breastfeeding: Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?, for more information.
Your baby might not be latching on to your breast correctly and, therefore, not able to get enough milk. As a result, your baby may give up and go to sleep instead, or cry out of hunger. This could be down to the position your baby is in, or it could be as a result of tongue-tie, which is a common condition that some experts estimate affect up to 10% of babies in the UK.
This is where the piece of skin that attaches the tongue to the base of the mouth is shorter and tighter than it should be, resulting in the child having a restricted tongue movement which can hamper breastfeeding. It is very easy to remedy, with a simple and quick procedure using a local anaesthetic and a quick snip to the piece of skin. If you suspect tongue-tie or other problems with your latch, speak to your health visitor or GP.
Your baby may have problems with feeding if they are feeling unwell, for example with a sore throat. If your baby won’t take your breast then pump some milk instead to feed your baby with a spoon or a bottle until they are ready to try again. It’s important to express milk even if your baby is refusing to feed in order to prevent your breasts becoming engorged and sore, possibly leading to mastitis, which is an infection of the breast tissue that requires treatment with anti-biotics.
If your baby does seem unwell and is refusing to feed, then seek help from your GP or health visitor.
How to Relieve Sore Nipples from Breastfeeding
You may experience a little pain in the nipple area in the first few days of breastfeeding, but this shouldn’t continue. If it does, then you need to determine the cause. In most cases, it will be because there is a problem with your baby’s latch onto your breast. If you can rectify this problem, then the soreness will eventually go away.
Sometimes, the nipple can develop thrush, which can also be passed to your baby’s mouth, and your nipples will feel sore. You may notice white patches in your baby’s mouth and on your nipple, or your nipple may appear cracked and very red. You and your baby will both need treatment for thrush from your GP, even if only one of you is showing symptoms, to ensure that the condition is not continually passed from one to the other.
Mastitis can also cause sore breasts, and develops when breast ducts become blocked, usually because of missed feeds or poor latch. You may also have flu like symptoms. You should seek treatment from your GP if you suspect that you might have Mastitis.
Some women find that expressing a small amount of breastmilk and applying it to the nipple can help with soreness. Others highly recommend using a lanolin cream such as Lansinoh, which is safe to use during breastfeeding.