Breastfeeding has a number of benefits. Breast milk is rich in nutrients and has antibodies that are tailored specifically to the needs of your baby. Research suggests that breast milk may lower the risk of Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and it’s also believed that babies who are breastfed are less likely to have allergies, asthma, and diabetes. It can also help with your baby’s weight gain. The long lasting benefits of breastfeeding can be seen well into adulthood.
With the countless benefits that breastfeeding offers, it can be quite disheartening to find yourself struggling to feed your baby. From the moment your baby is born, there are a few things you can do to improve the chances of breastfeeding success.
When do I start breastfeeding?
Unless there are any problems, you shouldn’t be separated from your baby for at least an hour after they’re born. During this time your midwife will help you have skin to skin contact with your baby, which should encourage breastfeeding. Your midwife will help you breastfeed; this will include teaching you how to position your baby so that they can attach effectively, as well as how to express milk.
Holding your baby after birth will help to promote feelings of closeness. During this time, the hormone oxytocin is produced, which promotes lactation. Oxytocin triggers the let-down reflex and can foster bonding, both of which can help make breastfeeding easier.
Breastfeeding is a skill that both you and your baby are learning to do for the first time, and for some it may be harder to get a hang of. But it’s important to remember that, like anything new, breastfeeding will take time and patience.
What do I do if I’m having problems latching?
It may take a while for your baby to learn how to latch on to your breast and feed properly. It’s a myth that babies are born knowing how to latch properly; it takes time and trial and error. Latching on is the way your baby takes your nipple into their mouth to feed and is the most important part of breastfeeding. Without a proper latch your baby won’t get the milk they need, nor will your breasts be stimulated to produce more milk, thereby creating a cycle of poor milk supply and demand.
Some babies have little to no problems attaching, but for most, it takes more time. Here are some tips to help ease into the process:
- Ensure your baby is always tummy to tummy with you. You may need pillows to elevate your baby to nipple height
- Help guide your baby into place, by bringing them toward the breast instead of leaning in towards them, which may cause you back and neck pain
- You can tell that your baby is latched on and suckling when there’s a suck-swallow-breathe pattern
- If you don’t get a good latch, try again. Put your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth and pull your breast out
- If you’re having trouble getting your baby to latch on, a nipple shield can be an effective tool to give them something larger to aim for at first. Always work with a lactation consultant when using a nipple shield though, as they should ideally be a temporary solution
When your baby is “latched on”, the right way, both lips should pout out and cover nearly all of your areola. Your baby’s jaw should begin to move back and forth. Your baby may make low-pitched swallowing noises instead of smacking noises.
How often should I feed my baby?
In the days after birth, feed your baby as often as they want to be fed. Learn how to tell when they’re hungry. Crying can be a sign of hunger, but it may be too late. Babies who are crying or are upset have a harder time latching on. Watch out for early signs of hunger. Your baby may:
- Make sucking motions
- Turn toward the breast if they are being held
- Put their hands in their mouth
- Become excited or alert
Newborns need to be breastfed every 2 to 3 hours (8 to 12 times over the course of 24 hours), and each session can take a while. You’ll know that feeding is over and your baby is feeling full when your baby has completely drained at least one breast. For newborns, this can take between 20 and 45 minutes at each feeding.
This may decrease over time or increase during a growth spurt. Growth spurts occur at about 2 weeks and 6 weeks of age and again at the 3 month and 6 month points. Your baby’s birth weight is likely to have doubled by the age of 6 months.
If your baby feeds until they’re satisfied, they should let go on their own once they’re done. It’s important to not limit the time you let your baby nurse as it may keep your milk ducts from completely emptying. This can decrease your milk flow and make it harder for your baby to latch on. It can also cause swelling and pain for you.
Why am I not producing enough milk when pumping?
Once your breast milk production begins, your breasts start to make milk through a process of ‘supply and demand’. Each time milk is removed, either by your baby feeding or by expressing, your breasts make more. This is something to consider if you’re thinking about switching to formula feeding or combining the two.
To increase milk production and overall milk supply, the key is to remove more milk from the breast and to do this frequently, so that less milk accumulates in the breast between feedings. You can do this by expressing milk and storing it.
How do I tell if I’m not producing enough breast milk?
If you’re producing a sufficient amount of milk for your baby, your baby should be relaxed during feeds, they come off your breast on their own, their mouth is moist after feeding, and your baby sleeps without fuss on a full stomach.
If you suspect your baby isn’t getting enough milk, see a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist. They’ll assess whether you have low milk supply and may observe a breastfeed to see if your baby is latched on well and taking in enough milk. They may suggest adjusting your breastfeeding positions or your baby’s latch so they can feed more efficiently. You can also use devices such as an electric breast pump to increase your breast milk supply.
I'm struggling to breastfeed, is that ok?
Breastfeeding is a great way for your baby to get many of the essential nutrients they need for healthy growth. However, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone; if you’re struggling to breastfeed then that’s ok. Breastfeeding takes practice, especially for new parents. Once you get the hang of it, breastfeeding is a great bonding experience between you and your baby.