What I wish I knew about breast feeding
I still remember the first time I held my first born in my arms. “Gosh he’s beautiful”, I thought to myself. At that moment my entire world changed as I knew it. It wasn’t just the day my baby was born, it was the day I was reborn as a mother. My mind flashed forward to the milestones to come. But I was yet to learn the biggest challenge that was immediately in front of me which was mastering the art of breast feeding.
Breast feeding is a surreal experience for a first time mom. It establishes a deep connection between mom and baby and the bond it brings about is second to none. Everyone tells you that it will instinctively kick in once you have your baby but as it turns out, it isn’t as simple as that.
My own experience of breast feeding two children was a roller-coaster ride I wasn’t quite prepared for. How long was I supposed to feed? Has my body even begun to produce milk? Was the baby latched on right? Was he getting enough milk? So many questions. But most of us chose not to ask these because society dictates that your instinct should be your teacher But more often than not, new mothers need help to figure out how to master their new skills. You’re getting used to your new role as much as your baby is getting used to the world outside the womb. It’s a learning curve for both the mother and baby and with the right support, your motherly instincts will gradually take over and you’ll be a pro at it in no time.
Here are a few pointers I wish I knew before I took on the role of a breast feeding mama.
The first milk is called colostrum. It’s a sticky yellow substance produced following the birth of your infant. Colostrum contains antibodies to protect the new-born against disease. New-borns have very immature and small digestive systems, and colostrum delivers its nutrients in a very concentrated low-volume form. It has a mild laxative effect, encouraging the passing of the baby's first stool. As amazing as this new milk is, you won’t find your breast engorged with a big supply of it like you may have been led to believe. Rest assured that your body produces just enough for your newborn. It’s normal to feel like your baby isn’t getting enough milk in the first few days but it’s important to know that your first milk is protecting and nourishing your infant while preparing it for the new world he will now calls home. A new mother is constantly badgered about whether she thinks she has enough milk for her baby. This tends to feed unnecessary doubt and add to the list of worries she is already trying to tackle.Keep believing in your body’s ability to nurture your baby. You’ve got this!
Establishing correct latch
I recall the first time my first born latched on to me as it was just yesterday.. It was like he knew exactly what to do. What a champ. Me on the other hand was completely clueless as to what I was doing or what was to follow. This is why the support of a midwife or nurse is extremely important during these first few hours of breast feeding because you need to establish the correct latch. This is the single most important factor about breast feeding because the wrong latch means baby will not be getting enough milk or that he ends up swallowing more air than milk, resulting in complications such as gas or colic. The wrong latch could give you cracked nipples that would be too sore to feed with. Establishing the correct latch during the first few days is paramount to a successful breastfeeding relationship between you and your bub. If you feel like you need help with baby’s latch don’t hesitate to consult your midwife or visit the lactation management centre.
Position, position, position
Second only to correct latch, is the position in which you breast feed. New mothers spend the greater portion of their first few months feeding her new born which means that you need to find a position which is both safe and comfortable for you and your baby. If you feed in a seated position, you will be inclined to slouch which gives you a temporary relief from your sore back. And if you’re a c section mama, you will tend to slouch on the hopes of lessening the pressure on your surgical site. Find a comfortable chair with proper back support, sit with your back straight and knees slightly apart, hold your new born close to you and bring his head up to your breast instead of slouching down to meet him. You can use a feeding pillow or a firm pillow to keep baby on so your arms won’t need to support the entire weight of the baby for the duration of the feed. This may take a while to master but like everything else, practice makes perfect.
Another favourite is the sleep feeding position. I for one was never a big fan of this position with my first born. But with my second baby this was the only position I could feed in due to a fast milk flow. The sleeping position regulates your flow so your baby won’t choke on the milk that would otherwise flow faster than he can manage to swallow. Another reason why this is a favourite among mothers is that it allows you to completely relax while you feed. Lying down on your side releases the pressure from your pelvis, arms and back. Be advised that this gets a tad dangerous if you have a tendency to fall asleep while feeding so make sure there’s someone to nudge you awake should you fall asleep. ( Been there done that.)
Dealing with sore, cracked or bleeding nipples
Red alert, this will make you want to pass out. And yes this is one of the undesirable outcomes of a wrong latch. But it’s completely natural to happen even after you’ve established a proper latch. Your nipples are still getting used to all the heavy duty work. It’s one of the most sensitive areas on your body and it’s only natural that some damage will be done within the first few weeks. Fear not, we have the solution. Nipple shields were my knight in shining armour when I was suffering with cracked nipples. You may also apply a nipple cream or just leave some good old breast milk in contact with your nipples for some time and see its magical healing properties work overtime to heal your cracked skin. If it’s too painful to bear, pump from the sore side and feed from the other. But whatever you do, , don’t give up breast feeding on the count of sore nipples. This too shall pass and I promise you that the rewards are far greater. So hang in there mama
Increasing your milk supply
Breast milk (in most cases) is produced on a supply and demand base. Your body knows how much your baby needs and it will try it’s best to produce that amount. As your baby grows, you will be able to gage whether he’s getting enough milk but before you throw in the towel and call it quits, consider these options. Stick to a healthy, balanced diet. Food means everything when you’re a feeding mother. A few traditional favourites include Jack fruit, bitter gourd and shark. Speaking through personal experience, these did help a lot but the one food that single handedly saved my breast feeding relationship with my second baby was oatmeal. I consider it the holy grail of lactation. Whenever I was running low on milk I’d run downstairs and make myself a bowl of oats. Throw in some dried fruit and some Pumpkin seeds and you’ve got yourself a yummy treat.. Oatmeal cookies are a tasty option when you’re on the go.
Another sure way to increase your milk supply is to pump. By pumping, you’re signaling your body to produce more and more, resulting in more milk supply. Pumping is also a great way for daddy to bond with baby while mama catches some much needed rest or a trip to the spa which is just what the doctor ordered. (refer ‘supplies and goodies ‘for tips on how to pick a pump that fits your criteria) As much as you need to eat right, you need to let your body recover from birthing a tiny human. Don’t take that lightly. You’ve just been a part of a miracle. In case you need a reminder, your body needs rest. I know you feel like a superhuman right now but here’s a reality check, you’re still human. And your body can’t produce as much milk as you desire if you keep pushing yourself to the limit. Speaking through personal experience, I’ve noticed a significant increase in my milk supply after a much needed 40 winks. This is where that famously laughed at saying comes in. “sleep when baby sleeps “ Every new mother knows that this is next to impossible but every mother I know including myself, have learned the truth of it sooner or later. You’d be surprised at what a difference it can make to your overall health even if it’s a mere 15 minute power nap. So go on. Get napping.
Supplies and goodies
We’ve already covered the importance of nipple shields but what more could you possibly need? Ah.. but don’t underestimate those leaky breasts. A minute past baby’s feeding time it’s like someone turned on the sprinklers. So stock up on plenty of breast pads. My personal favourites are the disposable kind. They’re hygienic and easy to use. Peel em, slap em on and you’re good to go.
Feeding bras with proper support are your next must have item. Need I say more? If I could credit the success of my breast feeding journey to anything (besides a good diet) it would be owning a good breast pump . You may choose from an array of choices ranging from hand pumps to electric pumps to double breast pumps. Needless to say the popular ones are a bit on the pricey side. But don’t sacrifice comfort and efficiency to save a few bucks. Because when it comes to pumps, you need to buy one that gives you maximum results while keeping you as comfortable as possible. Double electric breast pumps are great for busy moms on the go. It will express the milk twice as fast and you cut your pumping time in half. If you’re looking to pump just to release the pressure or to increase supply, a manual hand pump would do the job just fine. But make sure you pick one that caters to your needs.
Last but not least, burping the baby. This is equally important regardless of whether you breast feed or formula feed the baby. But a breast fed baby is more prone to swallowing pods of air compared to a bottle fed baby because of factors such as improper latching. Babies also find it soothing to be at the mother's breast, listening to hear heartbeat. This is their single most favourite place to fall asleep. They’d find any excuse to be near you. Even if it means suckling on your breast even after it’s been emptied. These results in swallowing of air and you need to burp your baby at least twice before you place him back in the crib. When in doubt, always place baby to his side. That way you can be sure he’s be safe in case he spits up in his sleep.
In conclusion , breast feeding is an experience that differs from mother to mother. And while it’s widely desired, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea and it might not be in the cards for everyone so remember to always be kid to your fellow mamas, to judge less and support more. Because when it comes to motherhood, every journey is beautiful, unique and full of challenges. While you do what’s best for you and your baby, when the opportunity presents itself, always build another mama up. That’s a beautiful thing.
Happy feeding, mamas.