There’s an ideal image of breastfeeding that many of us hold in our heads. A serene mother, with amazing hair and skin, settles comfortably among a pile of pillows. She’s gazing lovingly down at her baby as it suckles contentedly. This is what it’s supposed to be like. She doesn’t need any practical breastfeeding tips.
The reality for most of us is somewhat different. We certainly don’t look like we’ve just stepped out of the beauty salon. The baby is screaming in hunger, we can’t get her to latch on, and we suspect we’re sitting on the television remote. To top it all off, there’s somebody ringing the doorbell.
We can’t promise you a completely stress-free breastfeeding experience, but we can give you a few practical tips to help make it easier. We’re cheering you on from our corner.
1Be one step ahead
It’s a good idea to feed your baby as soon as they start showing signs of hunger, rather than wait until they start crying. Small babies quickly get very upset, which can make it more difficult to get them latched on and settled.
Your baby might indicate she’s hungry by turning or raising her head frequently, opening and closing her mouth, sticking out her tongue, and trying to suck on anything that is close to her. Offer your breast as soon as you notice any of these signs.
Your baby knows how long he wants to feed for, and how often. Don’t try and set a schedule too soon. Denying your baby milk when he’s hungry will upset him, so don’t make him wait because you feel he should go longer between feeds. Similarly, if he’s sleeping peacefully, don’t wake him because it’s three hours since the last feed – let him sleep it out and feed him on waking.
If your baby feeds for 45 minutes one time and ten the next, don’t panic. Be guided by him at this stage. Babies’ appetites will vary just like ours do. As long as he’s got plenty of wet nappies and is gaining weight, there’s no problem.
If you’re physically uncomfortable while you’re feeding, you won’t enjoy the experience. You’ll want to get it over with and squirming around won’t help your baby feed. She’ll pick up on your impatience, too. You could even find yourself with long-term neck or shoulder pain.
You’ll be spending a lot of time feeding over the coming weeks, so take time to find a position you can settle into. Many mothers like to lie on their side with their baby facing towards them, while others prefer to lie back with their baby supported in their arms. Make sure you’ve got plenty of pillows or cushions to get it just right.
4Help your baby
It’s important for your baby to find a comfortable position for feeding as well. Each baby is different, but generally her mouth should be level with your nipple, and she shouldn’t have to strain to turn her head much, if at all. Her head should be slightly tilted back, with her chin pressed against your breast to leave her nose clear. Try to make sure she latches on to the whole areola, not just your nipple.
Don’t force a position – your baby will find the one that works for her. Just help her, and make sure she can breathe easily while feeding.
5Skincare is important
Many women find their nipples and the skin on their breasts suffer while they’re breastfeeding, as this area of the body is very delicate. It might become dry, chapped and cracked, sore and irritated. Look after yourself by doing the following:
- Don’t over-cleanse your breasts. Wash them once or twice a day under a gentle shower, using a mild soap. Pat them dry gently afterwards.
- Use a soft cloth after feeds to pat your breasts dry and clean up drops of milk. Use breast pads to absorb any leaking between feeds.
- Try to spend some time with your breasts out to the air – it will help them heal and ease irritation.
- Use a moisturising balm on your breasts and nipples between feeds and after showering to help heal and protect. Choose one that is safe to use while breastfeeding.
It’s important to take in enough fluids when you’re breastfeeding. After all, you’re still eating and drinking for two, and your body will struggle if it’s dehydrated. Water is the best way of making sure this doesn’t happen. A good rule is to drink a glass each time you breastfeed your baby. Keep it next to you and sip regularly.
If you get stressed before or during feeds, your baby will pick up on it. If you’re tense, they’re less likely to latch on properly and get the milk they need. Always try and breastfeed in a relaxing environment. If the previous feed was difficult, try not to carry worry over to the next one. Approach each feed with the mindset that it will go well. Taking deep breaths or using visualisation techniques can help.
And don’t worry that you’ll run out of milk. Breasts are amazing things – the more you need, the more they make. Look at your baby’s behaviour for signs that you’re feeding successfully. He should be eager to suck and will swallow regularly while feeding, slowing as he gets fuller. Afterwards, he will be drowsy and relaxed.
8Ask for help
If you’re struggling to breastfeed, ask for support. Your midwife or health visitor will have resources to help you, from offering practical suggestions to putting you in touch with other local breastfeeding mothers. Your hospital might also have a lactation consultant who can help if you need them. The most important thing is that you don’t suffer in silence – that’s no good for you or your baby.