Although breastfeeding is natural, it isn’t always easy! As a midwife I’ve supported hundreds of women during their breastfeeding journey. These are the top tips that I share with all of my clients - I hope they help you on your journey too!
1. Learn as much as you can before your baby arrives
Although breastfeeding is a natural, biological process, it also involves learning new skills and practice. I recommend learning as much as you can about breastfeeding, different positions, basics of good attachment and normal newborn behaviour before your little one even arrives! Trust me, it is much easier to learn a new skill when you're not sleep deprived with a hungry baby in your arms!
The Australian Breastfeeding Association website is a great resource to begin with. They have many great articles and books, as well as images showing good attachment and different breast-feeding positions.
There are also many courses that you can undertake to prepare for breastfeeding, including hospital based and online courses. I host an online Positive Breastfeeding + Postpartum Course which you can read more about on my website.
2. Have lots of skin to skin with your baby
Placing your baby skin to skin on your chest immediately after birth has many benefits - including helping them to regulate their breathing, maintain their blood glucose levels, and lowering their levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Research has also shown that skin to skin has many benefits for breastfeeding. When your baby is skin to skin on your chest this triggers reflexes that help them to attach to the breast. Most babies when placed skin to skin will do the breast crawl and self-attach to the breast - amazing! I recommend to have immediate skin to skin after your baby is born for at least 1-2 hours, or until the first breastfeed. Skin to skin can also be done after a caesarean birth. Skin to skin is important in those first few weeks with your baby too, so I recommend to have then skin to skin as much as possible (especially when feeding).
3. Breastfeed on demand
Breastfeeding on demand means feeding your baby when they are showing signs of being ready to feel, like turning their head to the side, sucking their hands, or crying. Feeding when your baby shows these cues is best for building your milk supply, reducing the incidence of mastitis or blocked ducts, and allowing your baby to get all the nutrients that they need to grow. Babies normally feed 8-12 times in 24 hours, which is a lot more than most people realise. This is completely normal, so be prepared to be feeding a lot in those first few weeks! Most babies will have some periods of cluster feeding where they want to feed very often, and other periods where they have a longer stretch between breastfeeds. I don’t recommend to follow a set feeding routine unless it has been medically advised. Rather, I suggest to feed your baby anytime they show signs of looking hungry -remember that you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby!
4. Ensure your baby is correctly attached to the breast
Many common breastfeeding issues can be resolved by ensuring that your baby is properly attached to the breast. This not only allows them to get more milk at each feed but is also important in preventing sore or damaged nipples. Take the time to get in a comfortable position, have water and some pillows handy, perhaps prop your feet up on a stool, and relax! Breastfeeding will work best if you are calm. Position your baby so their nose is aligned with your nipple, and wait for them to open their mouth wide. Then hug your baby to your breast. This allows them to take in a large mouthful of breast tissue. Keep your baby hugged in close so they don’t slip off! Try different positions such as the cradle hold, football hold or side lying until you find what works best for you and your baby.
5. Seek help early
Many women experience breastfeeding issues, especially in the first few weeks. Unfortunately, women often will keep persisting while hoping that things will get better. Some issues improve in time, but many common breastfeeding issues such as pain, nipple damage, low milk supply and oversupply can be improved with good professional support. Working with a midwife or lactation consultant can make a big difference to your breastfeeding journey. I recommend you find out what support services are available in your area before your baby is born. This may be a hospital lactation clinic, a private midwife or lactation consultant, or your child and maternal health clinic. Then you are all set with where to go if you need some extra support!
Breastfeeding is an amazing experience for you and your baby, but it isn’t always straightforward or easy. Remember the first few weeks are often the toughest, and there is support available to help you successfully breastfeed. You’ve got this mama!
Article written by PBC Expo Midwife Hannah