Your breast milk provides all the goodness and nutrients your baby needs and will give your baby the best start in life. Not only does breast milk carry your antibodies – which will help to give your baby immunity against common illnesses like colds and coughs – but breastfeeding is good for you too.
Establishing breastfeeding can take a while, but the benefits will last you and your baby a lifetime. And remember, only a mother can make breast milk!
Good for baby, good for you
Medical research suggests that the longer you breastfeed, the more benefits it brings you. These include a lower risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and hip fractures in later life. Breastfeeding may also help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
Babies who are breastfed are less likely to be obese in later life, or to develop eczema, asthma or childhood diabetes. It is now recommended that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, in other words, it is not necessary to give your baby any other food or drink.
Practice makes perfect
Although breastfeeding is a completely natural process, it’s still one that both mum and baby have to learn. Breastfeeding gets easier – for you and your baby – with practice. Keep this in mind and stick at it. Both in hospital and at home, ask for support from your midwife and health visitor or public health nurse. They’ll be able to offer practical help to ensure that your baby is properly attached to your breast and feeding well, as well as giving you lots of tips to help you both get the best out of breastfeeding. They will also be able to give you information about breastfeeding support in your area.
In the early days while you’re establishing breastfeeding it’s best not to give any bottles – even of expressed breast milk. This is because breast and bottle fed babies suck differently and introducing a bottle may be confusing for your baby.
When your milk comes in
Your breasts begin to produce a substance called colostrum while you are still pregnant and in the early days of breastfeeding. This is low in fat and high in carbohydrates, protein and antibodies to keep your baby healthy. Yellow to orange in colour, and thick and sticky in texture, it’s extremely easy for your baby to digest, and therefore the perfect first food.
Even a short period of breastfeeding will give your baby benefits. If you breastfeed your baby early on and often, your breasts will start to produce a small volume of milk and will then begin to produce mature milk around the third or fourth day after you’ve given birth. Your milk will increase in volume and will generally begin to appear thinner and whiter (more opaque).
Once your baby comes off your first breast, or is no longer swallowing milk, offer your second breast. She may not always take it, but whether she does or not, always start her next feed with your second breast.
Breast feeding can be used to feed, calm and comfort babies. Feeds can be initiated when babies show feeding cues or when they are distressed.. Breastfeeds can be long or short, breastfed babies cannot be overfed or ‘spoiled’ by too much feeding.
At the beginning of a breastfeed, your baby’s thirst will be quenched. Let her feed for as long as she wants to satisfy her, and so that she gets all the nutrients she needs to grow well. Feeding this way also means that you will avoid blocked ducts and engorgement.
Is my baby getting enough milk?
Especially in the early days of breastfeeding, you’ll find it quite difficult to tell if your baby has had enough milk. You may find that you think you’ve finished feeding, and are just getting ready to settle her, when she wakes up again, ready for another go!
You can be reassured that your baby is likely to be getting enough milk if she:
- attaches well and is being fed on demand
- changes rhythm while sucking, pauses during the feed and starts again without prompting
- comes off the breast of her own accord, looking full, satisfied and sleepy
- and also if feeding is comfortable and painless for you.
You might find it helpful to let your baby feed from one breast first until she comes off looking sleepy and contented. At this point you can sit her up, or place her over your shoulder and gently rub her back to see if she burps. If she’s still looking alert and hungry, offer her more milk. If she’s not, then don’t.