Updated: Oct 2, 2022
To the expectant mama who wants to breastfeed, these are just a few things I wish I had known beforehand. I never anticipated that breastfeeding would be easy, but I had no idea what to expect beyond the visions of mothers bathed in light, serenely nursing their newborns depicted in the media. This insider information is adapted from my book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition,’ and I hope that it helps your nursing journey off to a strong and healthy start:
1. Little and Often
It may take up to six days for your milk to ‘come in,’ especially if you have a c-section. Despite popular belief, your colostrum (the thick, liquid gold that your breasts produce from around month 4 of pregnancy) is almost certainly enough for your baby until it does. Your newborn’s stomach is the size of a marble on day one earth side and only as big as a walnut by day three. They
do not need gallons of breast milk to fill them up, but because their stomach is so tiny, they do need to be fed frequently (at least every two hours, around the clock initially) (1).
2. Avoiding Nipple Confusion
In the event that there is a medical reason why your baby needs to be supplemented with formula or donor milk temporarily, request that it is given via a spoon or syringe to avoid nipple confusion. The term ‘nipple confusion’ is misleading. It’s not so much that babies may be confused by the early introduction of a bottle but that they prefer the path of least resistance! Nursing from the breast requires some work on your babe’s part, whilst bottle feeding does not. If you want to bottle feed, you should do just that, but if you want to breastfeed, it is recommended that you do not introduce a bottle until breastfeeding is well established at around six weeks old (2).
3. The Golden Hour
That first hour after giving birth is known as the ‘golden hour’ because it can have a significant impact upon your milk production in the forthcoming months (3). For this reason, as much uninterrupted skin-to-skin between mother and babe as possible is recommended as the gold standard in the first few hours and even during the days and weeks after birth. This direct contact with your baby will help establish your milk supply as well as supporting the bonding process.
4. Just In Case…
If you cannot breastfeed straight after birth, hand express or use a hospital grade pump to kick start your production until your baby is able to latch onto you. Express at least every two hours, ensuring that your babe is fed at least every four hours (1). Your breasts produce milk on a supply and demand basis, therefore the more often milk is removed from your breasts, the more they will receive the signal to produce more milk. This can seem odd if you have not spent much time around nursing mothers. If your close family and friends have little experience of lactation too, then they may be surprised or concerned at how frequently your baby is nursing in comparison to formula fed babies, who need to be fed less often. Rest assured that provided your little one’s latch is good, your body will adapt to their growing needs.
5. Doctors Don’t Always Know Best
Doctors, nurses & even midwives receive little lactation education as part of their training, therefore their advice and recommendations are often based solely upon their own limited personal experiences. If you had toothache, you would go to see a dentist, not a GP. Similarly, if you are having breastfeeding challenges, the best professional to seek advice from is an IBCLC (an international board certified lactation consultant). It is my personal experience and that of many of my followers, that medical professionals can give advice which actually damages the breastfeeding relationship instead of protecting and prolonging it. I share these experiences not to belittle medical professionals, but to empower you, dear mama to breastfeed on your own terms, for as long as you choose.
6. Keep Calm and Keep Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding (when your baby nurses for hours at a time, day & night) is a completely natural & normal part of breastfeeding. Is it easy or convenient? Not by modern standards, but it does not mean that you should be worried about your supply. In fact the only times you may need to be concerned about not producing enough milk are if your babe is not producing enough wet nappies in a day or if they are not gaining weight at the expected rate.
7. Help! Too Tired to Function?
You may well search anywhere and everywhere for answers to sleep deprivation in the early days, particularly if you are surrounded by friends and family who have little or no experience of breastfeeding. Old wives tales about how your baby needs cereal in a bottle to help them sleep have zero scientific founding. Furthermore, adding any kind of solids to a baby’s bottle is a choking hazard (4). The reality is that sleep is developmental, just like walking and talking. Feeding your child solids prematurely will not help them sleep better. In fact, it could even disrupt their sleep even more if their digestive system is not ready for it (no matter what your grandma says).
8. Sleep Easy
It is common to feel incredibly sleepy when you nurse your baby - particularly in the early days. Rather than fighting this feeling (if you feel
it) - go with it! Your body releases sleep-inducing hormones into your system and your baby’s for good reason. You need the rest just as much as they do (if not more!) and you really should be allowed to fall asleep nursing your little one if that is what you want to do. From
a biological and physiological perspective, mothers are meant to keep their infants close - at all times - day and night. If we were not then our milk supply would not fluctuate so responsively to our babies’ ever-changing needs. There is an absence of mainstream safe cosleeping/breastsleeping advice in some societies, but that does not mean that it does not exist. Cosleeping and specifically, breastsleeping not only saved my sanity, but it has protected my supply for almost three years as I write this article. The Lullaby Trust website shares the most up to date safe cosleeping research and practices and is well worth a visit.
9. It’s All About That Latch
You may have heard stories about how painful breastfeeding can be. Let’s be clear: when your child has a good latch and is effectively removing milk from your breasts, breastfeeding is not painful. If it there, there is an issue that needs to be resolved. This could be something as simple as improving your little one’s latch through positioning, or it could be an indication that your little one has a lip or tongue tie. Whatever the issue, an IBCLC will be able to help you and you should seek help sooner rather than later if you experience any pain whilst breastfeeding. Not doing so could leave you with cracked, bleeding nipples, cutting your nursing journey short. Many lactation consultants offer online consultations now too, so even if there is not one at your local hospital or health center, you can get support. If in doubt - seek help.
10. Your Body, Your Baby, Your Choice
You do not need permission from anyone in the world to either stop breastfeeding or to continue it. Unless of course there are medical reasons why you cannot continue, if you want to and if you are able to, breastfeeding continues to be beneficial to mothers and their children for as long as they wish to continue. As a mama who was heartbroken to read that 8 out of 10 mothers in the UK & 6 out of 10 mothers in the US stop breastfeeding before they want to, I am determined that only my son or I will decide when we will stop breastfeeding. I recommend not making the decision to stop on a bad day, simply because stopping prematurely seems to be so common and often comes with regret. However, if you do want to stop nursing your little one, at any point, you should do just that and no-one has the right to tell you otherwise. They are your breasts, this is your child and only you know the unique limitations of your unique circumstances. Adapted from my debut book: ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition’ available here, now www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book