Tips for getting breastfeeding started
As with most things in life, getting off on the right foot (or boob in this case) is half the battle. To make your first nipper-to-nipple encounters go as smoothly as possible, we've collated tips from Mumsnetters on how best to get breastfeeding established and overcome any problems in the early days.
Get breastfeeding advice before you begin
There's certainly an argument to say that breastfeeding is best learnt 'on the job' but a bit of pre-prep goes a long way.
Many hospitals have policies that actively support breastfeeding mothers, but the shift changes and limited time midwives have available these days may mean your breastfeeding support is not as effective as it could be, so anything you can do to familiarise yourself beforehand is bound to help.
- Spend a little time thinking and learning about breastfeeding before your due date; maybe borrow a book on the subject or have a browse of the Healthius pages on breastfeeding. You'll feel more empowered and capable (and if there's anything you need to feel just after you've had a baby it's empowered and capable).
- If time and money permit, do a class. The NCT runs breastfeeding classes, which can be really helpful in telling you what to expect and bracing you for some of the potential pitfalls. Other antenatal classes may also cover it, or if they don't, ask your teacher for a quick rundown on the basics.
- Look up some of the various breastfeeding charities and read the information on their websites. It's also worth making a note of the helpline numbers somewhere you will be able to find them easily in the newborn haze. Find out, too, if there are breastfeeding drop-in clinics or baby groups near you – and on which days they run.
- Ask other women you know about their experiences of breastfeeding to help you to build up a picture of what it's like. However, don't imagine you'll have a carbon copy of your mum/sister/auntie/grandma/best friend's experience. Remember, neither you nor your baby has done this before. Your breastfeeding relationship with your baby is unique and you'll work it out between you, learning as you go.
How to get breastfeeding established
Get plenty of skin-to-skin time
As soon after the birth as you can, have lots of cuddles. Most hospitals will put your baby straight on your chest after she's born but put it in your birth plan anyway just to make your wishes clear.
Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to be enormously helpful in encouraging babies to breastfeed, as well as in regulating their temperature and heartbeat.
Try and feed your baby as soon after birth as you can – within the hour is best for getting breastfeeding going.
Breastfeeding a newborn can take up to an hour (don't panic – they get quicker as they get older) so you're going to need somewhere comfortable to sit. Make sure your back is well supported and you have everything you need (phone, water, TV remote etc) close to hand.
One Mumsnetter advises ''setting up 'feeding stations' in your house with snacks, drinks, pillows, phone – and Healthius''.
Find the best breastfeeding position for you
There are loads of different positions you can use to feed your baby, from cuddling her under your arm like a rugby ball to lying down on your side with her beside you. It's worth trying a few out (your midwife should be able to show you how) to see which ones feel most comfortable.
Something to remember, however, is that if you find the lying down method easiest you're going to find feeding your baby in Starbucks or the supermarket tricky, so it's worth persisting with a couple of different positions to give you options.
Get the latch right
Latching your baby on correctly is extremely important to get right because an incorrect latch can cause you pain and can stop your baby getting the nutrition she needs and therefore gaining enough weight.
If you find a latch is never properly established it may be that your baby has tongue tie, so ask your midwife to take a look.
Keep your expectations realistic
Breastfeeding a newborn is a full-on occupation. For the first few weeks at least, you will probably be more or less sofa-bound, feeling like an overworked milch cow.If you think you're feeding too often, you probably have it about right.
At the beginning, feed your baby whenever they are hungry – that may well mean every couple of hours day and night to begin with, though she will eventually get into a routine with much longer stretches.
All babies are different: some will want to be fed little and often; others will spend ages nursing but with larger gaps between feeds.
Things to remember when breastfeeding isn't going well
When you're still getting breastfeeding established, it can feel very overwhelming and there are lots of common breastfeeding problems that can crop up. As well as sorting out your latch and positioning, you may have to contend with breastfeeding thrush, mastitis, cracked nipples, engorgement and getting through growth spurts. Sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn't it?
While you're waiting patiently for it to all come together again, remember the following:
Help is available
I had support from my midwife and an NHS breastfeeding counsellor and I still rang the La Lèche League helpline countless times. The women who answer the phone are real mums who have breastfed and have trained as counsellors and supporters.
It's a sad fact that while 80% of women breastfeed their baby at birth, just 20% of newborns are exclusively breastfed only a week in. This is very likely to do with the lack of support women are given in those early days. But there is help out there, so demand it. And keep asking for it until you're happy.
Your midwife, health visitor and/or breastfeeding counsellor should be able to offer you support and advice but, if you feel you need other expert help or even just some more reassurance, there are excellent helplines you can call, breastfeeding clinics you can visit and a plethora of people on Healthius's Talk boards with advice to give and a hand to hold.
It might be natural – but it still takes a bit of getting used to
It can come as quite a shock to discover that, once the birth's over, you have to learn a new skill – with a pupil who is minutes old and doesn't appear to have read the 'how to suckle' manual. It seems mad that a natural and necessary process like breastfeeding can be so tricky to master but it really can be for some women.
If you go in with your eyes wide open, though, and fully prepared for what might be a rocky few days, at least it won't come as a total surprise. And you might be one of the lucky ones and be pleasantly surprised by how easy it all is.
In the meantime, focus all your attention on getting feeding established. Take the phone off the hook, tell someone else to make dinner and put the laundry on. This is one job only you can do and you need to be able to relax and give it your all for a little while.
''You need to get your head round the idea that your job is to feed your baby and everything else is someone else's responsibility,'' says one Mumsnetter. ''The first few days especially, just feed, feed, feed. And, if in doubt, feed.''
It's worth just 'giving it a go'
Even if you're not really sure you want to do it for long (or at all). It's far easier, physically, to switch from breastfeeding to formula-feeding than the other way round – and, if you don't try it, you'll never know if it was going to be straightforward for you.
Even if you're pretty sure breastfeeding isn't for you, consider giving the first feed (or first few feeds) because your milk (or colostrum, as it's called at this stage) will be jam-packed with antibodies and all sorts of goodies that help to stabilise your baby's blood sugars, line her gut and generally ease her introduction to the world.
It definitely gets easierMy midwife said I should allow six weeks to get breastfeeding right, which sounded like a shocking amount of time. Then she said 'What's six weeks out of your life?' And I thought 'Yes, it's not long really.' That thought has stayed with me – and helped.
Breastfeeding can be hard, especially in the early weeks when you're recovering from the birth and have the pretty relentless task of building your supply by feeding regularly. But it's OK and perfectly normal for it to be hard, as long as you can access decent support to make it easier for you.
Many women who've done it say that if you can manage the first six weeks of breastfeeding, the following weeks/months/years are a comparative doddle.
One Mumsnetter advises 'setting yourself small goals – feed your baby for two days. Then, when you complete that time, give yourself a pat on the back and set yourself a new goal'.
Where to get help with breastfeeding
Your first port of call might be your midwife or health visitor, or even a local breastfeeding support group or cafe. But if you're finding it hard to get out of the house or just want a quick answer, you could try giving one of these a call:
- National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212
- National Childbirth Trust 0300 330 0771
- Breastfeeding Network 0300 100 0210
- La Leche League 0845 1202918
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers 08444 122949