When pregnant, a lot of women spend their time preparing for their birth, setting up the nursery and reading up on newborns routines. Sometimes the thought of breastfeeding can be overlooked, or, seems like such a natural thing that it will just happen! It turns out (speaking from experience) that's not always the case. Breastfeeding can be a tricky, somewhat awkward skill to develop that requires a lot of input from the moment you meet your tiny human. Luckily, qualified Lactation Consultant and Registered Nurse Jo Cowan rounded up her top 3 tips for breastfeeding!
1. Learn about the golden hour
Breastfeeding in the right environment is an instinctive act for both baby and mother. Learn what creates the golden hour and don’t worry about trying to learn a ‘technique’ beforehand.
The golden hour is the 1st hour after birth when baby is in the most instinctive state to attach and achieve optimal latch on their own. Video example
Factors that promote this include:
- Baby being put skin to skin on chest after birth (no washing) and being allowed to crawl to breast and self-latch (will normally do this within first hour after birth)
- Avoid helping baby to attach. They will get the most effective latch when allowed to use their sense of smell and tactile sensation to instinctively find the nipple (instinctive gentle guidance by mother is ok).
- Keeping room calm – minimise light, noise, and any non-essential procedures.
- Avoiding/minimising drugs during the birth will improve baby’s level of alertness.
Should circumstances following the birth mean golden hour cannot occur, don’t worry. This environment can be recreated during the weeks following the birth while you learn breastfeeding together.
2. Understanding normal infant feeding behaviour
Understanding normal infant feeding behaviour is key to responding effectively and establishing breastfeeding:
- Ideally baby will have a good initial feed during golden hour followed by a recovery sleep. After this they are likely to feed frequently to stimulate milk to come in (every 1-3 hours).
- Should initial feeds not be successful hand expressing should commence and any colostrum retrieved should be given to baby (midwives would assist with this)
- Colostrum is the first milk – it’s only a very small amount so some babies may appear hungry. The more you feed the sooner your milk will come in.
- Maintaining lots of skin to skin contact and feeding on earliest feed cues (waking and moving limbs) will ensure baby settles gently into life and is breastfeeding in the most relaxed and instinctive state.
- Milk normally comes in around Day 3. It comes in as an oversupply that will take a few weeks to regulate down to supply level baby needs. Note: you may feel emotional when milk comes in due to the hormonal changes (often referred to as the Day 3 blues).
- When milk comes in you will see a change in the sucking pattern and should hear swallows. In the first 2 months babies need at least 8 feeds/24 hours -many feed far more often than this (8 -12 feeds in 24 hours is the average).
- Signs of good attachment include – chin planted against breast, jaw movement under ear, lower lip flanged out, audible swallow, tugging sensation that is not painful. After feed nipple should not be ridged or flattened.
- Breastfeeding is individual – every mum & baby have their own unique way that they fit together. Follow your instinct and your baby’s lead. Whatever position you hold you baby in, aim to have baby facing you with as much full body contact as possible (a more reclined position will promote this).
- If baby becomes upset when attempting to attach, return him to cuddling on your chest between your breasts – this will help him calm, reorientate himself and begin following the sequence of sensory cues that will lead him to move towards the nipple.
- Baby’s will look to suckle at the breast for food, comfort or to help them settle. These are all valid reasons to nurse! If in doubt put baby to breast, you can not overfeed a breastfed baby and you cannot over cuddle/spoil any baby.
- New parents are wired to be able to read their baby, and breastfeeding mother’s are completely hormonally in-tune with their baby. Do not underestimate your intuition – it will be correct! Always respond to your baby as you instinctively want to.
3. Know where to get skilled support when needed
Breastfeeding is a learnt skill that can be difficult for many in the early days. Challenges can be encountered for a variety of reasons and timely access to skilled support is the key to overcoming issues and setting yourself up for a positive breastfeeding journey.
- During your hospital stay midwives can assist you, and some hospitals offer Lactation clinics during stay and sometimes after discharge.
- The Australian breastfeeding association has a help line with trained, volunteer counsellors who can answer your questions any time of the day or night (1800 686 268). They will direct you to more skilled support if required.
- Lactation consultants (IBCLC) have the most breastfeeding knowledge and skills to help improve latch, determine causes of issues, and develop a plan in partnership with the family. Find the list of IBCLC’s in your area.