If you have made the decision to breastfeed, you may be feeling a bit nervous about it all and worry about whether you will be able to do it correctly. Or, you may wonder how to do it and where you can get further information.
Firstly, remember that your body is designed to breastfeed. It is a natural act and you can do it. Once you have given birth, your body will start to produce milk for your baby and you can start as soon as you want. In fact, the earlier breastfeeding is started, the easier it is to produce milk and to get the baby to feed.
If you are planning to breastfeed, it is therefore important that you let the hospital staff know of your plans beforehand, so that you can start straight away. Breast milk production works via a feedback loop, so if you don’t breastfeed, your body will eventually stop producing milk. Also, suckling is an instinctive reflex and babies can breastfeed soon after they are born.
In the early days after your baby is born, your body starts to produce a type of milk known as colostrum. This milk is excellent for the immune system and babies benefit from colostrum even if you do not go on to breastfeed after this.
How to breastfeed
Sit in a comfortable chair or couch, ensuring that your lap is flat. Place your baby’s whole body in front of you and then place your nipple on their top lip. The baby will then open their mouth and start feeding. If they do not automatically start to suckle, keep brushing your nipple against their mouth. Their instinct to feed will eventually kick in. Make sure that there is no clothing, sheets or blankets touching the baby’s mouth, as the baby will then be drawn towards that instead of your nipple.
Also, ensure that the baby’s mouth is around the areola and not just around the nipple. If your breasts are large, you may need to hold your breasts so that they don’t block your baby’s nose.
Finally, make sure that you are relaxed when breastfeeding and that you are not sitting in a way that puts pressure on your back or joints. Relaxing also helps the milk to flow.
How often should I nurse my baby?
This varies from baby to baby, but your baby will feed up to twelve times a day at first, gradually reducing the amount to about six feedings per day by the age of six months.
What if I have problems?
Like anything in life, breastfeeding requires practice. It takes time to learn how to breastfeed your baby and to work though any issues. If this is your first baby, it will be a learning curve, but with support, you should be able to continue breastfeeding.
So, if you find that the baby won’t latch onto the nipple or that you are having problems with milk supply, you should contact your doctor or public health nurse for individual advice. You could also contact the La Leche League. This is an organisation dedicated to helping women breastfeed their babies. It runs groups throughout the world and has over forty in Ireland alone.
All group leaders are volunteers with extensive experience in breastfeeding their own babies. They have also been fully trained and keep up to date with all the latest research.
Diet and breastfeeding
In general, you’ll want to maintain a healthy diet when you are breastfeeding. You’ll also need to ensure that you eat enough, as breastfeeding burns a significant amount of calories per day.
You do need to be careful with your caffeine and alcohol intakes however, as both are passed onto your baby via your breast milk.
It’s not always possible to nurse your baby every time they need a feed. So you can pump/express your milk in between feeds and then give it to your baby later. This also means that you can leave your baby with a caregiver at times. It also allows you to feed your baby with breast milk when you return to work.