It is absolutely the most natural thing in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest. Some mothers and babies find it very easy to nurse, but others struggle. There are many reasons for this; the main one being that nursing isn’t considered to be normal in our culture. It is encouraged, but mothers are wrongly expected to ‘cover up’ and be discreet. Therefore, women grow up not seeing it on a regular basis. When their own babies are born, they often don’t have the faintest idea what to do.
In this article, I am going to provide a few tips to make sure that you and your baby get the very best start with breastfeeding.
Ask for Help
Immediately after you have your baby, make it very clear to the midwife or doctor that you want to breastfeed. They will be able to show you how to properly latch your baby on. However, a lot of healthcare professionals aren’t properly trained in breastfeeding support and may offer you the wrong kind of help. They may simply try to latch your baby on for you, but this isn’t productive or helpful. They need to talk you through it and help you do it for yourself. It is also advisable to read about breastfeeding before your baby is born. La Leche League, a non profit support organisation, has a vast amount of literature available on the subject, all up-to-date and helpful.
Let Nature Take its Course
One of the most amazing things you will ever witness is the readiness of a brand new baby to seek the breast and latch on to feed. Babies, when delivered straight onto the mothers tummy and left to their own devices, will literally crawl up to the breast, find it and latch on correctly without much, if any, assistance. However, this doesn’t always work so well if mother and baby have to be separated for any reason after birth or if the birth is medicated with drugs such as pethidine which can make the baby sleepy at birth. Make sure your medical staff knows that you do not want to be separated from your child at all unless it is completely necessary.
Prepare a Support Network
This is probably one of the most valuable and important things you can do to ensure a successful start to breastfeeding. You will find that the entire world wants to blame breastfeeding for pretty much everything — baby not sleeping? Put him on the bottle! Baby crying a lot? Put him on the bottle! However, breastfeeding is not responsible for difficult parts of parenthood. It can make the difficult parts easier, actually. Make sure your partner and family are aware that breastfeeding is important to you and that you want to succeed in it. You may find that well-meaning family members will encourage you to stop if you are having difficulties; all you need to say to them is “thank you, I really appreciate your concern, but breastfeeding is important to me and I am going to keep persevering. I’d really appreciate your support.” It is worth seeking out local breastfeeding support groups before you have your baby; most of these groups will be more than welcoming to pregnant ladies and will be very happy to provide you with any information you might need. It is beyond useful to get to know some mothers who are breastfeeding too.
Be Wary of Mainstream Baby Care Advice
This might be the one provided by baby magazines and books written by certain ‘baby sleep experts’. A lot of the information available readily to the general public is based on formula fed infants even if it says otherwise. For example, a lot of these sources will recommend getting your baby into a feeding routine from very early on; however this is not helpful when breastfeeding. Feeding on demand is the key to ensuring your milk supply increases with your child’s needs.
Trust Your Body
It knows what to do. Honestly. Just 0.01% of women are physically unable to breastfeed, but a lot more than that choose to stop because they believe they are unable to adequately nourish their children. We are living in a world obsessed with weights and measures and centiles, and sometimes it is easy to forget that women have been nursing their infants for hundreds of thousands of years. The weight charts provided as standard for your baby will invariably be based on the average gain of a formula fed infant, who usually will gain steadily as standard. The weight gain of a breastfeeding infant should be measured over a period of weeks or even months, not a few days.
If you feel things aren’t working out, there’s no need to rush to stop before you have spoken to your lactation consultant, health visitor or midwife. If you are, for example, having trouble latching your baby on during the night, your baby isn’t going to starve to death in the few hours until morning when you can call someone to help. Remember that La Leche League have a 24 hour breastfeeding helpline that you can call any time of the day or night for support and information.
Relax and Enjoy
You may feel under pressure to return to all of your normal activities soon after the birth, but remember this — your baby is tiny for such a short time. Babies like to feed a lot in the early days, often more than the 2-4 hourly feeds you may expect. You may find your baby wants to be latched on for most of the day, especially during periodic growth spurts. This is normal, healthy, and doesn’t mean you aren’t producing enough milk for your baby. Nursing an infant is tiring, it is supposed to be, and you need to get enough rest in order for your milk to be of a high quality. So don’t feel guilty for spending hours sat on the settee; instead, enjoy this precious time with your new baby. Trust me, before long they will be running around, far too busy for cuddles with their mummies.
This Too Shall Pass
This is a mantra repeated by a million mothers and fathers all over the world, at various stages of their children’s lives. Sometimes you will encounter difficulties, but it is so important to remember that this time will soon pass (soon to be replaced with another issue; such is the joy of parenthood!). Remember that you are giving your baby the absolute best start in life, take each day at a time, and give yourself a break. You’re doing a great job, I promise.