Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby. It’s convenient and free, and provides your baby with all of the nutrients they need in the early stages of life. Some mums find it difficult to breastfeed. However, usually with the right support, it can become an enjoyable experience and a great way to bond with your baby.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding provides a range of benefits to both you and your baby including:
- It satisfies your baby’s hunger and thirst in one go
- Protects your baby while their immune system is still developing
- Breast milk contains antibodies that can help your baby fight infection
- Breastfed infants are less likely to become overweight
- It’s a great way to soothe a crying baby
- It releases the hormone oxytocin which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size
- It lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and also osteoporosis among many other health benefits
What does breastfeeding involve?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants start breastfeeding within one hour of life. Holding your baby close to your chest will often result in them finding your nipple and feeding without any help. If this doesn’t happen, your Midwife or a Lactation Consultant can help guide you and your baby into the correct position.
Once your baby starts suckling, the first milk they receive will be colostrum. This white or yellow sticky fluid, also known as liquid gold, contains vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (antibodies) that help protect your baby from bacteria and viruses. After a few days, your body will start producing transitional breast milk (the second stage of breast milk), and finally, mature breast milk (the final stage of breast milk).
New mums are often concerned that they are not producing enough milk. But if your baby is gaining weight and wetting six to eight nappies a day, they are most likely getting enough to eat. The best way to ensure that your milk supplies stay high is to take care of yourself. Nourishing your body, staying hydrated and resting as much as possible will help you produce a sufficient amount of milk for your baby.
Expressing and storing breast milk
As convenient as breastfeeding is, there may be times when you are unable to feed your baby. This can occur for a number of reasons such as illness, short-term separation, or if you are planning on returning to work. Expressing will ensure that you have plenty of breast milk on hand when you need it and that your baby’s needs are always met.
When it comes to expressing, there are two main methods you can use – hand expressing or a manual/electric breast pump.
Hand expressing – is often used in the short-term or for occasional expressing. It can be difficult to master and is usually slower than a breast pump. On a positive note, it is quiet, free and always available.
Breast Pumps – whether you choose a manual pump or an electric pump will be based on personal preference. Electric breast pumps are usually the quickest way to extract breast milk, but they can be costly. With breast pumps you get what you pay for so make sure you do plenty of research before you make your purchase.
Here are some examples of popular breast pumps:
Milk Storage – when it comes to storing breast milk, there are certain guidelines you need to be aware of:
- Freshly expressed breast milk can be stored in a closed container at room temperature (26ºC or lower) for 6–8 hours.
- Breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- You can store breast milk in a deep freeze (–20°C) for up to 6-12 months.
- Never warm or thaw frozen breast milk in a microwave. It will destroy some of its immune-boosting qualities.
What are the challenges of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a great way to nourish your baby, but can also be challenging for new mums. Here are some to the issues that may occur:
- Sore nipples – this can be common in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Holding an ice pack against sore nipples or using a good nipple cream can help ease discomfort. Keeping your nipples dry and letting them air dry between feeds also helps. Correct positioning and attachment is really important in preventing trauma to the nipples.
- Breast engorgement – this occurs when the milk, blood and other fluid in your breast becomes congested, making your breasts feel painful and swollen. Alternate hot and cold packs to relieve mild symptoms. Feeding your baby regularly is important to minimise engorgement. Make sure you attach your baby correctly as this will help ensure that your breasts are being emptied each time. Using a warm cloth and giving your breasts a gentle massage can help with your let down. Releasing some of your milk with a hand or breast pump may also help.
- Breast infection (mastitis) – this happens when the milk ducts become blocked and/or bacteria enters your breast, usually via a cracked nipple. If you experience sore breasts, hard painful lumps in your breasts, flu-like symptoms, fever, and fatigue, call your doctor. Antibiotics may be required to clear up a breast infection.
Where do I go for help?
Breastfeeding may be natural, but it is also a learning process. The more information you can gather before the birth of your baby, the better off you will be. Reading breastfeeding books and attending breastfeeding education classes can provide you with the knowledge and confidence you need to successfully breastfeed your baby.