Breastfeeding might be harder than you’d bargained for, but a little planning can often prevent difficulties and get you and your baby on track. Here are five tips to keep in mind.
1. Breastfeed early and often.
Breastfeeding as soon after birth as your baby is ready to seems to help get the whole process off to a good start. Even after an unexpected complication, such as a Caesarean birth, you can ask to be helped to breastfeed as soon as possible. Sometimes the baby may not be ready to nurse immediately and may need some time to recover from the birth. If you can keep the baby with you – preferably skin-to-skin – you will be ready to respond when he does move towards the nipple or begin to root. Frequent nursing in the early days helps mother and baby get comfortable with breastfeeding (practice makes perfect!) and helps establish mom's milk supply.
2. If your baby is unable to nurse, pump to maintain your milk supply.
Sometimes a baby is too premature, or too ill, to be put to the breast early on. For some premature babies, it may be weeks before they develop the physical strength and sucking reflexes that make nursing possible. When that is the case, it is most helpful if you can pump to develop a good milk supply. In most cases, your baby will be given the milk you pump. Even if that is not possible, continuing to pump on a regular basis (every three to four hours) will mean that when your baby does begin to breastfeed, you will have plenty of milk.
3. Learn to get a good latch.
Heather McBriarty, a nurse with the Saint John Breastfeeding Alliance, describes good breastfeeding technique this way: "Sit with pillows supporting you, your arm and the baby. Make sure your baby's face, chest and hips are all facing directly towards you. Cup your breast with your free hand, fingers below and thumb above, and tickle the baby's lips with your nipple. He should open his mouth really wide. Then pull him straight in to your breast, getting as much of the areola in his mouth as possible.”
4. Avoid pacifiers and bottles in the early days.
"Nipple confusion can be a problem if newborns are offered pacifiers or bottles in the first few weeks," says McBriarty. "Babies must learn a complex tongue movement to squeeze milk from the breast. Bottles require a different mouth action, and have a faster flow of milk. While you and baby are learning, avoid using bottles or pacifiers if you can."
5. Catch problems early and don't hesitate to ask for help.
How does a brand-new mother know if things are going well? "By day three or four, your baby should be nursing at least eight to ten times in 24 hours and breastfeeding should be comfortable,” says lactation consultant Leslie Ayre-Jaschke. In the first few days, look for a steady increase in wet diapers. By the latter part of the first week, when your milk has "come in," your baby should have six to eight very wet diapers (four to six if you are using disposables) and at least two or three bowel movements in 24 hours. The baby's bowel movements should gradually change from tarry and black on the first day to yellow and loose by day four or five.
DID YOU KNOW? Despite popular belief, breastfeeding alone doesn’t offer reliable protection against another pregnancy. To be safe, you should also use condoms or a progestin-only pill like Micronor (this pill needs to be taken at the same time every day to be effective).
TIP Sore nipples are a common complaint for new moms. Beth McMullen, a Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacist in Willowdale, Ont., suggests a topical cream like Lansinogh to give you some relief. Simply apply after each feeding – there’s no need to wash it off. (Talk to your Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacist for information on what’s best for you.)