Breastmilk provides baby with nutrients, vitamins, antibodies and much more that nothing else can give to your baby. You also pass on immunities to many illnesses and diseases through breastfeeding.
That’s not to say your child will be immune, but your child will be at less risk of catching certain illnesses.
Breastfeeding also provides mother with many benefits.
Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from cervical cancer.
It’s also easier and a lot more convenient than formula. No preparing and sterilising, no baby crying waiting for a bottle to cool. Food is always ready on tap.
Breastfeeding is also a lot safer than formula as there’s no chance of inadequate feeding, or baby being overfed, as it passes through baby’s system so easily, whereas formula just lays there.
The breastfeeding process should ideally be initiated by baby as soon after birth as possible. Although for anyone who has struggled, it’s also possible to breastfeed after weeks and weeks of artificially feeding.
This should be initiated by baby being placed onto mother’s chest straight after birth, and encouraged to ‘crawl’ to the breast themselves and latch.
Breastfed babies should be fed on demand, as and when they need it. This is very important as your supply works on a supply and demand basis.
It’s important to build up your supply to your baby’s needs, as missing feeds can mean baby not being satisfied. There’s a saying ‘watch your baby, not the clock’.
The ‘milk’ you produce during pregnancy and after birth is colostrum, which is the most important part of your milk, and can even save the lives of babies born prematurely. It is high in calories, and full of nutrients and antibodies which babies need to begin to thrive.
Your milk comes in within 3-5 days of birth.
Breastfeeding can be hard and tiring and does take its toll on the body, especially in the first few weeks, which is why it’s important to eat well and keep well hydrated. Just as the placenta does during pregnancy, baby takes all the nutrients from foods you eat through your breastmilk.
It isn’t entirely necessary to express, although many wish to so their partners can get involved in feeding. It’s not advised to express until around 6 weeks, when your supply begins to become established.
Expressing too early can cause the supply to lack or even fail, and can even lead to blocked milk ducts, which can lead to mastitis.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue caused by inflammation and blockage of milk ducts. It can be painful, but is easy to treat.
Mastitis if left untreated can cause serious illness and in rare cases, removal of the breast is necessary.
It’s treated by a course of strong antibiotics, and it’s important to feed through it as not feeding can make it worse.
Symptoms of mastitis are:
- Breast pain when feeding or touching of a certain area
- Sore nipples
- Breast feeling hot and inflamed
- Flu like symptoms
- Although its worth remembering that blocked milk ducts are common and can easily be treated by placing a warm flannel on the breast and massaging any lumps out, and expressing by hand.
If you feel at any time that your supply is lacking, the best way to increase your supply is to have lots of skin to skin contact with baby, and to keep well hydrated with plenty of water.
There are also ways to increase your supply, by taking fenugreek supplements or drinking milkmaid tea. There are recipes which also help a great deal; lactation cookies, muffins and oatmeal.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it’s painful then its highly likely baby isn’t latched correctly. If you experience pain, unlatch baby and latch again until it’s perfect.
It’s important you are shown by a professional how to latch baby correctly.
A perfect latch-
Hold baby length ways across your body, so baby’s tummy is against yours and their head is in the nook of your arm.
With your other hand, hold baby’s head with their nose pointed towards your nipple.
Gently brush their nose against your nipple until baby opens their mouth.
Quickly bring baby’s head to the breast, ensuring baby gets a good mouthful of breast.
You should just about be able to see the areola, if any at all.
Baby’s bottom lip should be curled inwards, and their ears will wiggle when they swallow.
If you’re unable to get a perfect latch then I’d advise to have baby checked for tongue tie, which is easily treated.
I would advise anyone wishing to breastfeed to go along to a support group where you will meet professionals in breastfeeding as well as fellow breastfeeding mothers, whose support and advice will prove invaluable once you have your baby.