What a new mom needs to know about breastfeeding
Claire Fitzpatrick is a clinical midwife specialist in lactation at the Midland Portlaoise Regional Hospital where she also teaches weekly prenatal classes on breastfeeding preparation.
Here she offers some of her tips and advice for new moms.
- One way to prepare for breastfeeding is to attend a prenatal workshop so you know what to expect and what is normal. If you know what’s normal, you can get help when it’s not.
- The two main reasons breastfeeding doesn’t work is that women think they don’t have enough breast milk or are in pain. There are very few women who don’t produce enough milk, and we know it’s not normal to be in pain.
- After birth, keep your baby close to you. Uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact is so physiologically important for both baby and mother, and will help with that first breastfeed in the first 90 minutes of life.
- Babies want to be with their mothers during their transition to the outside world. They will not be happy in a cradle. New moms are often afraid of picking up bad habits, but you can’t.
- Keeping them close means breastfeeding is more likely to be okay. People might say, “I’ll take the baby,” but keep them close. Watch your baby and let everyone take care of you. People should worship the mother rather than the baby.
- Babies often spend the first 24 hours calm, but feed most of the second night. This is when a mother’s prolactin level peaks – this is the hormone that helps produce milk. If mom doesn’t understand this, she thinks she doesn’t have enough milk, so she is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing.
- It helps to know how much your newborn can suck – after the first 24 hours, about 10 to 12 feedings per day, decreasing to about 8 to 10 times over the weeks. Babies behave very differently than when they are formula-fed.
- The normal duration of a breastfeed is between 15 and 40 minutes. Let your baby suckle for as long as he wants on one side, before offering the other.
- Learn to recognize the first signs of hunger: turn your head, open your mouth, move your hands towards your mouth, and start to take root. When your baby stretches, blushes and bites his hand, he is really saying “come on, I’m hungry”. And if your baby is crying, it’s a very advanced stage of hunger. You will want to calm your baby first and then feed him.
- Positioning and attachment are essential for successful breastfeeding. Hold your baby in front of you with his nose facing your nipple so that he has to look up to latch on. Wait with a wide open mouth and bring your baby towards you, rather than coming down towards your baby.
- A deep lock is the most important. The baby should feed from the areola, not the nipple. It may be tender for the first few seconds of a feed, but this should subside. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. This is often a sign of a shallow lock, which can lead to blocked ducts, mastitis, and poor weight gain.
- During a flow, there shouldn’t be any pops or pops. Their cheeks should look plump, not sucked. They should not stretch. After a feed, a woman’s nipple should look round and soft, just as it did before a feed; not tight, like the top of a lipstick.
- If you’ve had a few shallow sockets and have bruising or cracks on your nipples, it may be painful until it heals. Keep them moist with lanolin cream or compresses. Use your own antibacterial breast milk on the area. There are different dressings made with honey or silver that lactation consultants will recommend. Some women buy small silver cups. I don’t have any research to support their use, but women find them to be good. Do not use breast pads with plastic on the back.
- Engorgement is normal around the fifth day, as your second milk arrives – the first milk is colostrum. It will install after 24/48 hours. You can use a warm compress before a feed, such as a warm washcloth or bag, and a light massage. Let the baby feed as often and as much as he wants, then use a cold compress or cabbage leaves from the refrigerator – the greener the better. A protein in cabbage suppresses your milk supply, so don’t use it too often; three times a day for 20 minutes is enough to relieve engorgement. This is when a baby determines how much milk he wants his mother to produce, so expressing to reduce engorgement will actually be a signal to produce more milk than your baby needs.
- Wet and dirty diapers tell us that a baby has enough to eat; about three to four dirty and five to six wet per day after the first week. The fact that your baby is active and wakes up looking for food is a good sign that he has enough, that he has energy.
- Avoid underwired bras. You don’t want anything that will constrict any area of the breast, as this can cause a blocked duct. If you are carrying your baby in a sling, which is really good, be careful that this does not cause constriction and pay attention to your seat belt on long trips in the car.
- Even though it is natural, breastfeeding takes time to learn. Babies also need to learn. It takes persistence in these early days. You’ve probably never had so much interrupted sleep or fatigue. But, it is worth it, and it becomes so easy and convenient. When I had my first baby, I was a nurse and midwife and had just graduated as a lactation consultant. But I was also just a new mom. I hurt myself. It took me a long time to learn and I had mastitis. But, looking at my sisters, I knew I would be okay; and I continued to breastfeed her for a year and a half.
- Remember, if this starts to hurt you, get help. That’s what lactation consultants like me are here for. We see postpartum women on the ward, but many women don’t realize they can contact us when they are at home. Groups of volunteers such as The Lick and Cuidiú are also great for support and advice, and there are great resources, tips and infographics on breastfeeding from HSE’s MyChild on www2.hse.ie/babies-and-toddlers/.
- National Breastfeeding Week is an HSE-led event, celebrated annually from October 1-7. This year’s theme is Feeding the Future: Supporting Breastfeeding During a Pandemic and Beyond. For more information and helpful breastfeeding tips and advice, visit monenfant.fr.