From the beginning of time women have been breastfeeding their infants. So we should have it figured it by now, right? Nope.
Every mother will experience some surprises along the way when they start breastfeeding, especially during the first few weeks. It can take time for both you and bub to get the hang of this tricky task.
Our guide to breastfeeding will help answer some of your questions surrounding infant feeding. Because the more you know about the breastfeeding journey ahead, the more prepared you will be for all the bumps, lumps and leaks along the way.
You need more than just breasts
Yes, breasts help (and the size really doesn’t matter!) but it’s good to have a few other breastfeeding essentials on hand as well. These items can make breastfeeding less painful and stressful and provide you with a system of organisation for expressing and storing milk.
You will also need:
- a breastfeeding pump
- bottles or something to store your excess breast milk, especially during the engorgement stage
- nipple cream, such as Lanolin
- cabbage leaves, to place on your breasts to help with the swelling
- a nipple shield, just in case
There’s more to attachment than just ‘latch and suck’
Bub needs to be taught how to correctly latch to the breast. You need to help him get the correct latch by opening his mouth wide and ensuring he is not just attached to the nipple.
Don’t worry if you have no idea if you’re doing it right. I didn’t have a clue, but a lactation consultant showed me and, after a few days, we got the hang of it.
Some pain is (usually) expected
While not every woman experiences pain, it is quite common when you start breastfeeding. The main culprits include poor attachment and engorgement. The pain should subside as your nipples get used to this sucking motion and as your milk supply eases up. But, if not, speak to a doctor, health care nurse or lactation consultant about how to alleviate the pain.
Breast milk takes a few days to come in
First comes colostrum, then comes breast milk. Colostrum is your pre-milk goodness and while you won’t produce a lot of it, it is what bub needs for the first few days.
Your breast milk won’t come in until around day three and usually after a marathon sucking session from your infant.
The appearance of your breasts may scare the living daylights out of you
When you start breastfeeding, your breasts are going to change. I’m talking HUGE. And covered in blue veins. And rock hard. And bumpy. And swollen. And probably seeping with milk, even when your little one isn’t feeding. This is all part of the engorgement stage.
It’s temporary, thank goodness.
Having your baby constantly fussing or asking for the breast doesn’t mean he’s starving.
And it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or that you need to top up with formula. In some instances you may need to include formula into your bub’s feeding routine (speak to your doctor about when this is the case), but, in most cases, when your baby is fussing, crying or demanding a feed, it’s because he either wants comfort, or wants to cluster feed to help bring more milk in.
Both are perfectly normal.
Bub is meant to lose weight
Your infant is going to lose weight during the first week and this DOES NOT mean it’s because you’re not supplying him with the nutrients he needs. It’s what all newborns do.
Here’s how the process works: They are born. They start breastfeeding. They have a MASSIVE poo. They lose a bit of weight. They feed like crazy bears going into hibernation. And then they start to put the weight back on.
Even if you feel like you’ve figured breastfeeding out, speak to a lactation consultant
They are there to help. And even just having a chat with them can give you the reassurance that, yes, you’ve got this or, yes, you’ve almost got this, but you just need to change your latch slightly.
Breastfeeding is pretty much a full time job (with night shifts)
The Australian Breastfeeding Association explains that newborns will probably require 8-12 feeds in a 24 hour period. This will probably equate to around 8 hours a day.
But, let me be the first to tell you, this isn’t always the case. Some newborns don’t care what the ABA recommend and will want to feed every 30 to 45 minutes. My son was one of them. It will get easier to ease baby into a more standard routine but for the first week or two, let your little one lead the way.
Your breasts aren’t just for making milk.
They are also tools of comfort for your infant. And they are a way to ensure he gets to remain close to you, to feel your beating heart, to touch your warm skin, and to smell that familiar scent that makes him feel safe.
And, most importantly, sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t for you or your baby
You really don’t know until you’re in the newborn trenches. And while most mums plan to breastfeed, it doesn’t always work out. Formula is a perfectly suitable alternative to breast milk and feeding your infant a bottle doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
So don’t stress. Do what’s best for you – this is what’s also best for bub.
Although breastfeeding can be exhausting and frustrating, it is only one small piece of the parenting puzzle. There are so many more paths to cross, choices to make, adventures to have and mistakes to learn from along the way. So embrace your feeding experience, whether breast or bottle, and cherish these days when you don’t have to clean half-eaten baby goo off the floor.