Many pregnant women are bombarded with information about breastfeeding, so much so that they can end up feeling anxious, worried and doubtful that they will be able to breastfeed their baby. Here are a few basic tips to help new mothers as they and their babies learn to breastfeed.
- Going along to a breastfeeding support group before the birth can be a great help. It gives women a chance to talk to breastfeeding mothers about how they overcame any problems. If difficulties do arise after the birth the new mothers already have some knowledge and know they have someone they can call. Women do not always get enough time with healthcare professionals and if not redressed small initial problems can get worse and a new mother starts to doubt her ability to breastfeed. It’s at this time that mother-to-mother help from a breastfeeding supporter can make all the difference.
- Breastfeeding is a learning curve, mother and baby need to get to know each other and what is normal for them. Many women worry they are doing something wrong because their baby does not behave in the way they expected. Rules and regulations have no place in learning to breastfeed and can inhibit a mother from doing what feels right. What works for one mother and baby may not be right for another, and can even vary from feed to feed. A good suggestion is to check your baby’s lower jaw has plenty of room to move, his chin can sink into your breast and his head is tipped back a bit so he can open his mouth wide. Milk is mostly in the ducts in your breast so the baby needs a good big mouthful of breast beyond the nipple; this makes it comfortable. Some women like to support their breast when nursing, but try to keep the “lower jaw fingers” out baby’s way. Aim the nipple towards the back of the roof of baby’s mouth.
- If a baby has not been too disturbed by birth interventions s/he may find the best position by her/himself. This will vary according to the baby’s own mouth shape and the mother’s breast, nipple and areola shape and size. It helps to breastfeed as soon as possible but sleepy babies may need some encouragement. If you become concerned he is not latching on ask about expressing your milk until he gets the hang of it to stimulate your supply. Give via a spoon, cup or syringe, but still offer the breast.
- Babies have very small stomachs. A one day old baby’s stomach capacity is about 5-7 ml or about the size of a small marble and it does not stretch to hold much more. Colostrum, the milk produced in the first few days after birth, is just the right amount for a baby’s first feedings. It contains especially high concentrations of antibodies to help a baby’s immune system mature after birth. By day 3 a baby’s stomach is about 22-27 ml or the size of a shooter marble. Small frequent feedings ensure that your baby takes in all the milk he needs and help to make the transition from being drip-fed nonstop via the umbilical cord, to gradually have more separated, bigger feeds. Small frequent feeds also help to prevent engorgement as your breasts swell and enlarge when your milk comes in. Engorgement decreases as a woman’s body adjusts but gentle massage or applying moist warmth will help if the baby is struggling to latch on.
- The more you feed the more milk you produce. Breastmilk is a drink too. Even if your breasts feel empty there’s always some milk there and frequent feeding increases milk production. Babies nurse for comfort as well as food. Night feeds are important as they help to establish and maintain your supply and avoid engorgement. Wet and dirty nappies are a good indicator of how much milk your baby is taking, and weight gain should always be measured from the lowest weight. Once at home it takes time for you and your baby to get to know each other. Breastmilk is not just about getting food into a baby, it is part of the mothering package. The early days of breastfeeding can be intensive and challenging but as babies and mothers learn and grow together breastfeeding usually becomes a very enjoyable and important part of mothering for both.
For more detailed support go to www.laleche.org.uk
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