Breastfeeding basics

Learning to breastfeed? You may be experiencing information overload. Allow us to demystify the process

Breastfeeding baby mums arms

Photo: Istock

Every mum and every baby is unique and there is never a ‘one size fits all’ solution to how you should feed your baby. There’s so much information available on breastfeeding, but much of it seems to contradict the lived experience of mums you might meet, who say ‘I didn’t have any milk’ or ‘I felt uncomfortable in public’. 

It can be really difficult to listen to your instincts when you’re surrounded by the conflicting influences of pressure from medical professionals to try to breastfeed (when your midwife tried to latch your baby on for you) and a wider culture that doesn’t always seem to support it (raised eyebrows in your local coffee shop).

So we asked Lactation Consultant and frenulotomy (tongue-tie) practitioner Katherine Fisher to address some of the most common concerns about breastfeeding. She has tips on everything from how your boobs actually work to the jobs you should delegate to dad (spoiler: nappy changes).

Myth: Is it true that some women just don't make enough milk? Does the size of your breasts make a difference?

Breast size has nothing to do with a woman’s ability to breastfeed. Milk isn’t ‘stored’ in your breasts – they work like a factory, not a warehouse – meaning milk is produced as it’s needed. If you’re lactating, your breasts are never truly empty. There will be milk there. More information on low supply can be found at The GP Infant Feeding Network UK.

 Myth: My baby can't be satisfied with breast milk alone - they are feeding so often. 

This feeling is often down to cluster feeding. In the early days, your baby is trying to establish milk supply by being almost constantly attached to your boobs. It will happen during growth spurts too. The most common time for babies to cluster-feed is early evening when your prolactin levels naturally dip. When you sleep your prolactin level will rise again. Breastfed babies will get the volume they need but they may need to feed at a different frequency and duration compared with what can be the more regular pattern of formula-fed babies.

Myth: Breastfeeding is painful.

While it is normal to feel an initial painful sensation as baby latches on, pain shouldn’t last for the duration of a feed. And if it’s continuing from one feed to the next then you should seek help from a lactation consultant. Common reasons for pain include fungal infections, thrush, mastitis or baby’s tongue tie. When babies are tongue tied, it can feel that the gums are uncushioned by the tongue, almost like a strong biting sensation. If you suspect this, speak to your health visitor about referral for further assessment. For more on tongue tie visit the NHS website.

Breast pump pic

When babies fail to accelerate their weight gain, they may need to be 'topped up' with expressed breast milk or formula.
Photo: Istock

Myth: If babies aren't gaining weight at the right pace, they need to be 'topped up' with formula. 

Babies who fail to accelerate centiles do need a feeding plan to ensure they get enough to accelerate their weight. Some babies do need therapeutic supplementation, ideally with expressed milk. So the first choice should be expressed breast milk when available; if this isn’t possible then you may need to consider formula or feed baby more frequently.

Babies who fail to accelerate centiles do need a feeding plan to ensure they get enough to accelerate their weight. Some babies do need therapeutic supplementation, ideally with expressed milk. So the first choice should be expressed breast milk when available; if this isn’t possible then you may need to consider formula or feed baby more frequently.

If you do need to supplement with a bottle, it’s important to do paced bottle feeding, to mimic the pattern of breastfeeding. I usually suggest letting baby suck for 15 sucks, then bring the teat to the bottom lip for a count of ten seconds before recommencing the feed. Wind baby every 30ml and observe them for signs of needing to stop or slow down. You can find videos of paced feeding methods on YouTube.

Myth: There's no real difference between breast milk and formula.

Every mum must make the right choice for her family and, so long as formula is made correctly and bottles are sterilised, many babies thrive on it. The breastfeeding benefits is that breastfeeding mums make antibodies to protect against bugs in their environment and these are passed on to their babies through breast milk.

The taste of breast milk also changes according to what the mum has eaten, so when they begin weaning on to solid food, breastfed babies are already accustomed to different tastes.

Myth: My partner won't be able to bond with the baby if I breastfeed.

It’s true that breastfeeding is a relationship, and that it’s more than simply feeding the baby (it’s also a cuddle, bonding time, a chance to make eye contact and comfort or sing to baby too) but that doesn’t mean dads can’t do those things. They could go for a walk or give them cuddles, and there are always bathtimes and nappy changes. Another important job is resettling the baby after night feeds, so mum can get some sleep in before the next one!

 

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