How to breastfeed properly
It's billed as the most natural thing in the world, but the art of breastfeeding doesn't always come naturally to all mums. We share our top tips on to how to breastfeed your baby successfully.
Absolutely everyone, from the World Heath Organisation to the UK’s government and your very own midwife, will tell you a mother’s milk offers a baby the perfect nutritional start in life. What they won’t necessarily let slip is how tricky, stressful and downright frustrating that start can be – for both you and baby.
Unfortunately, of the 81% of mums who start nursing their newborns, only 23% are still exclusively breastfeeding at six weeks, a number that dwindles to just 1% by six months. So why the drastic drop-out rate? According to a new survey by nursing brand Medela, it’s all down to a serious lack of support. Its results found that two thirds of new mums said they wished they’d received more breastfeeding tips while pregnant.
Breastfeeding is an art, not a science, but many new mums get the idea that they simply aren’t doing it ‘right’. Here we share our top tips to ensure breastfeeding is success for mumma and baby.
Look out for hunger cues
You’ll soon pick up on your baby’s hunger cues. Look for signs such as sucking their fists or opening their mouth and rooting (searching around) for your breast.
Get a gauge on how long your baby needs to feed
There really is no hard and fast rule here. Some people say ten to 20 minutes per breast as a guide, but you will get to know your baby’s needs. Bear in mind that they will change, too, and some days your baby will be more hungry than others.
It’s important to understand that your milk changes throughout a feed: it’s more watery and thirst-quenching to start, then becomes creamier and more filling at the end. It’s important that your baby feeds enough at this end stage to stay fuller for longer and gain weight.
Work on a supply-and-demand basis
You may have seen reports about women not producing enough milk to breastfeed their babies, but scientific data suggests that only one per cent of women actually fall into this category. The best way to boost your supply is to breastfeed as often as possible – working on a supply-and-demand basis, the more your baby takes, the more you will produce.
This is why midwives advise feeding eight to 12 times every 24 hours for the first month or so, to establish a plentiful supply. Babies must breastfeed often because they digest your milk quickly and easily (taking as little as 60 minutes) and small, regular amounts are perfect for their tiny stomachs.
Know when your baby has had enough
A baby who’s properly attached and, as a result, feeding well, will come off the breast when they’ve had enough. Babies often push the nipple away and can even look a little woozy and sleepy. If your baby still looks alert after one breast, then offer them the other side; if this isn’t necessary, just remember to start feeding them from that side first the next time.
You’ll know your baby is getting enough milk if their skin colour is good and the skin tone firm, if they are active and alert, they are growing in head circumference, length, and filling out. You can check their weight against the standardised growth charts.
Getting your hold technique right
We’re constantly bombarded by beautiful images of mothers nursing their babies in the classic cradle hold. But there are many other effective breastfeeding holds, and there’s no such thing as one correct position. So if something’s not working, switch it – try our pick of these tried and trusted techniques.
- Side-lying hold: Lay on your bed with your baby lying parallel beside you, tummy-to-tummy.
- Rugby ball: Place a pillow beside you at 90 degrees to your body; lay your baby on the pillow, holding them underarm with their legs extended out behind you.
- Koala hold: Support your baby in an upright position by sitting them straddled across one knee, facing your breast.
- Laid back: Sit semi-reclined with your baby lying across your stomach (this is also known as biological nurturing).
- Opposite arm cradle hold: Instead of the classic same-side-arm-as-breast hold, put your baby across your lap, using the opposite arm to breast to support them.
Getting your latching-on technique right
Even experienced mamas have to learn how to feed each individual baby. It can come as a shock, especially to first-time mums, that a newborn doesn’t instinctively know what to do.
Remember that you’re both learning, and experienced midwives are keen to stress that it takes between six and eight weeks for mothers and their babies to get the hang of a properly established nursing technique. Respected lactation consultant and midwife Lynda Leach has these top tips:
- Make sure you’re sitting comfortably and both you and your baby’s clothes are arranged so there are no restrictions.
- Your baby’s whole body should be turned towards you, supported behind their shoulders – not head – so they can tilt it back slightly.
- Have your baby at the same level as your breast, using a pillow or rolled-up towel if necessary.
- Babies breastfeed, they don’t nipple feed. It is essential to offer your baby the breast, not just the nipple.
- Position your baby just short of the nipple, aiming to offer areola and breast tissue rather than the nipple itself
- Try placing a finger or thumb above your nipple, parallel with baby’s lips. This means you can tilt the nipple up and offer your baby more breast below it.
- Ensure your baby is ‘seeking’ your nipple, with their chin and mouth forward and their head tilted back.
- Encourage a wide gape by stroking their lower lip with breast tissue, not your nipple. Repeat until you get a wide gape.
- Once your baby responds with the widest open mouth, quickly hug them onto your breast, positioning their bottom lip a good 3-4cms below the nipple. Ideally you should see plenty of areola above their nursing mouth.
- If the latch is not right, break the seal by inserting your finger into the side of your baby’s mouth. Never pull your nipple out as this can cause injury. Then re-position and try again.
TIP Always try to soothe your baby before latching on. A crying baby will find it harder to get their tongue in the correct position, meaning frustration for them and an increased risk of sore nipples for you.
*Not every woman can breastfeed, and not every woman wants to breastfeed. At Gurgle we respect the feeding choices mothers make every day for themselves and for their babies. Breast is only ever best if it’s also best for your family.
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