Many new parents assume that breastfeeding is instinctive. This might have been true once, when children saw their mothers and aunts and friends of the family feeding their babies regularly and in public. Now, breastfeeding is stigmatized and parents are made to cover up or move to a less visible location. Not only is this a terrible experience for new parents, it also means that many have no idea where to start when it comes to breastfeeding. So, let’s start with some basic baby facts and move on from there.
Things to remember about breastfeeding baby
The breast crawl: On their own, your newborn baby will crawl to the breast and begin to root. This is a completely natural process and is guided by your baby’s sense of smell. Your baby will do this in their own time and there is no need to rush.
Early Skin to Skin: The best way to ensure a smooth transition to breastfeeding is to allow immediate skin to skin contact between you and your baby. This will give your baby the opportunity to calm their nervous system, bond with you and get hungry!
Know your cues: Your baby will give you lots of cues to tell you they are hungry before they start to cry. These could include bringing their hands to their face, making sucking motions with their mouth or moving their tongue.
The magic of colostrum: In the first few days your body makes an ultra-nutritious substance called colostrum. It is more dense than breastmilk so you will produce less of it, this is totally ok! Your milk will naturally come in over the course of the next few days.
Your new baby has a tiny tummy: Newborns have small stomachs, with very little space, they fill up quickly and empty quickly. This means that in the first few days your baby will eat very frequently! Don’t worry, in a few days the feedings will spread out.
No “right” feeding schedule: Feed your baby when they show signs of being hungry, this could be every 30 minutes or every 3 hours. A newborn infant will not cry looking for comfort.
Just like there is no “right” feeding schedule, there is no “right” position in which to feed your baby. The most important this is that you are comfortable and your baby’s latch is good. But, there are some guiding principles that you can use to ensure that both of these things happen.
A Really Good Latch
- Support your baby at the base of their head and shoulders to allow their head to gently tilt back (think the position you would put your head in to chug a drink)
- Wait until your baby has a wide open mouth to try to latch, you can encourage them to do this by running your nipple along their upper lip
- Your nipple should be aimed at the back roof of your baby’s mouth
- Lead your baby to your breast, not the other way around
- The latch should be asymmetric, which means your baby’s nose should be pointing away from your breast and their chin should be in towards your breast and more of your areola should be exposed on the top of your baby’s mouth than underneath it
- There should be no pain
- Allow your baby to come off the breast on their own
- Offer the other side once they come off one breast, or if they are fussy at one breast, you can switch sides as much as needed and don’t need to “finish” at one breast in order to start the other one
Really Good Drinking
It’s important to learn the difference between sucking and drinking. This will come more easily with practice, but in essence you are looking for frequent pauses in their chin as they let their mouths fill with milk. Mouth open. Pause. Mouth close.
Barriers to breastfeeding
Many people struggle with breastfeeding, the two most important things to remember:
- Your most important job is to feed your baby, however that looks
This doesn’t make you a bad parent
Certain perinatal procedures can make initiating breastfeeding more challenging. These procedures include the use of narcotic pain medication, IV fluids administered during labour and general anesthetic.
A poor latch can make breastfeeding painful and this makes it much more difficult. It may just be the mechanics of the latch or there may be an underlying issue such as a tongue tie or a lip tie, these can be diagnosed by your paediatrician or a lactation consultant. Remember that breastfeeding should not be painful.
External factors can also make breastfeeding difficult. Social pressures and feeling that you shouldn’t breastfeed in certain places may make you feel self-conscious. Remember that you are legally allowed to breastfeed anywhere that you are legally allowed to be. Returning to work can also cause stress. It is possible to work with employers to find you a place to pump and store milk while you are at work. In Ontario, employers are legally required to give you these things.
What to do if you’re having trouble breastfeeding
If you are having issues, there are a few things you can do to trouble shoot. The first is to look at your latch, check out the info above, is your baby’s nose far away from your breast and your nipple deep in their mouth? See if you can adjust your latch and if that results in less pain and better drinking. If you are satisfied with your latch, and your still concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough, you can try using breast compressions as outlined below.
Finally, there is lots of help, lactation consultants are amazing at their jobs and there are many practicing in Toronto. If you gave birth at a hospital you may even have access to free breastfeeding clinics. You can also check out the International Breastfeeding Centre website for excellent videos and handouts to help you troubleshoot.
- The biggest piece of advise I can give is not to wait. If you are having trouble, don’t suffer through it alone, there is lots of support.
As mentioned, if you are having trouble getting your baby to drink well and you are satisfied that the latch is good, you may want to try using breast compressions. They can be used to increase the speed of milk flow. During a feeding you can use breast compressions when you notice your baby has stopped drinking and is mostly nibbling.
- Hold your baby with one arm
- With the other hand take hold of your breast, close to your chest wall and away from your baby’s mouth
- Apply pressure and hold
- Keep the pressure until your baby starts sucking/drinking again
- Release the pressure if your baby stops drinking again
- Repeat until your baby doesn’t drink even with the compressions
You may have to experiment with how these work best for you. The International Breastfeeding Centre has a great handout and videos on this too.
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This article is meant to provide information only, it does not substitute for personalized medical care.