Feeding your baby can take 7 – 40 minutes, every 3 hours. Most newborns want to feed 10 – 15 times a day after the first 3 – 4 days of life and then settle down to 6 – 8 times a day by the end of the first week. Your baby will lose 5-10% of her birth weight in the first 3 days, but will start to regain weight after that.
For the first few days after birth, your breasts will secrete watery, yellow fluid known as colostrum. This precedes the onset of breast milk. Colostrum contains antibodies and has all the proteins, vitamins and minerals your newborn needs. It also acts as a gentle laxative, helping to clear out the sticky, brown-black meconium from your baby’s intestines.
You’ve probably heard people say that breast milk “comes in on the third day”. This means that the production of mature milk will start any time between the second and fifth day and it is quite normal for your breasts to increase in size when this happens.
When do you start breastfeeding?
A nurse will help you to get used to breastfeeding, giving you advice on latching, the different positions and how long to breastfeed on each breast. This can be a very stressful experience for new mothers as breastfeeding is not as easy as it looks.
Your newborn’s sucking reflex (urge) is the strongest in the first hours directly after birth. Breastfeeding as soon as possible is important – whether you had a C-section or vaginal delivery. The benefits are:
- It promotes bonding.
- It provides stimulation to bring the milk in sooner.
- It releases the hormone oxytocin to help the uterus contract.
- It provides the baby with the immunological advantages of colostrum.
If you can’t breastfeed in the first few hours, this doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
Some women never get the handle of breastfeeding or might decide that they won’t be breastfeeding and go onto formula directly after the birth. It is your choice.
Know the facts and make the best decision you can to ensure your good health and a healthy, happy baby.
If you’re not breastfeeding, you should know that:
- Your body will not know that you’re not planning to breastfeed.
- Your milk will still come in on day two or three.
- Your breasts will swell and may be painful and possibly engorged.
- Avoid stimulating your breasts in any way, like pumping or standing under a running shower for relief – this will just cause further engorgement.
It’s important to understand that you and your baby should be comfortable and relaxed. There is no one position that is better than another and a different position can be adopted with each feed as you and your baby experiment and get to know one another.
Tips on latching baby to the breast
To properly latch on a baby, a mother should:
- Support the breast with her hand by positioning her thumb on top, and her other four fingers on the bottom.
- The fingers should be kept far back enough so that it leaves enough of the nipple and areola (the darker skin around the nipple) for the baby to latch onto.
- The mother may need to support her breast for the entire feeding.
- Gently slide the nipple from the middle of the baby’s bottom lip, down to the chin.
- This will encourage the baby to open his or her mouth. The baby’s mouth should be opened wide with the tongue down. Then, quickly bring the baby to the breast, chin-first.
- The baby should be brought to the breast rather than vice versa.
- Make sure the baby has taken in as much of the areola as possible, with more areola showing at the top lip than at the bottom lip.
- The baby should not be latched on solely to the nipple. Instead, the baby must latch on to the areola as well in order to stimulate milk production.
- Latching on solely to the nipple only also causes pain to the mother.
- Make sure the baby’s nose is nearly touching the breast and not pressed against it. The baby’s lips should be turned out (flanged), not tucked in or under.
- If the positioning of the baby’s lips is unclear, gently press on the lower chin to pull the lower lip out.
- The baby’s tongue should be cupped under the breast.
- Then, listen for sounds of swallowing and look for movement along the baby’s lower jaw. There may also be visible movement at the junction of the baby’s temples and ears.
Signs of a hungry baby
If you’re breastfeeding it can be hard to tell if your baby is getting enough milk as it can’t be measured in millimeters.
Possible signs that your baby isn’t getting enough milk, and might still be hungry, include:
- Your baby doesn’t begin to regain his birth weight after the first few days.
- Your breasts don’t feel softer after feeds.
- Your baby is wetting fewer than six to eight nappies in a 24-hour period after the five days following birth.
- Your baby doesn’t have a bowel movement at least once a day or is having small, dark stools five days or more after birth.
- Your baby becomes more yellow, instead of less yellow, after the first week.
Worried that you have too little milk?
Many new moms worry that their milk will be too weak or that they won’t be able to produce enough milk.
The good news is that breast milk cannot be “too weak” – it is naturally perfectly balanced. But there is a possibility that you may not produce enough milk. This is not a physical problem (except in very rare circumstances) as your body has the ability to make enough milk, but is often due to external influences.
Some tips to ensure that you produce enough milk include:
- Drink plenty of fluid, even while feeding – the more fluid, the more milk. Try avoiding drinks with caffeine or high citrus levels as these can affect the baby.
- A lack of rest could also affect milk production – so if your baby is asleep, you need to sleep.
- Feed frequently and let your baby drink as long as he needs to.
- Make sure your baby is latched onto the breast properly. This is one of the main causes of low milk supply and of sore and cracked nipples. Your baby needs to have a large portion of the breast in her mouth and her jaw actions need to be strong.
- A good way to “understand” how latching and milk flow should feel is to try express with a breast pump as this imitates the sucking action.
Worried that you have too much milk?
If your breasts feel full and tender and aren’t relieved when your baby starts feeding, you may have too much milk in your ducts, which needs to be relieved to avoid engorgement or mastitis.
The simplest way to relieve or avoid the problem is to:
- Let your baby empty the one breast completely before offering the second breast.
- Feed frequently and on demand as this stimulates the flow of milk.
- Don’t “skip” a feed in the hope that production will slow down. This will result in engorgement.
- Express a little after he has finished feeding, but only to a level of comfort.
- Massage your breast while under a hot shower and allow some milk to flow out. You must not pull on or near the nipples, but rather rub downwards from your armpit to your nipple.
- Always wear a supportive bra – even when you are sleeping
More on engorgement
Engorgement can appear directly after your milk “comes in” or any time in the weeks to come if you are breastfeeding at the moment.
Signs of engorgement include:
- Breast skin that is shiny looking
- Swelling of the breasts
- Breasts that feel heavy
- Breasts that are tender (and even painful)
Follow these steps to treat engorgement:
- Express enough breast milk prior to a feed to soften the areola and enable your baby to attach properly.
- Once your baby is latched onto the first breast, allow your other breast to flow with the ‘let-down’ reflex.
- Always make sure that the first breast is well drained before you attach your baby to the other breast.
- If you have extreme engorgement, heat will not relieve discomfort but may actually further aggravate the situation. If this is the case, try using a liquid ice-pack or cool water as you express milk.
- Engorgement should be treated immediately. If left untreated, it can lead to a blocked duct or a breast infection called “mastitis”.
- Important: Consult your doctor before taking any medication as medication can affect your baby.
Is breast milk all my baby needs?
Yes, breast milk equals the perfectly balanced meal. It contains the following:
- Breast milk has a very high fat content. This isn’t bad for your baby in the way a high-fat diet might be bad for you. The fat is important for the healthy growth (weight gain) of your baby.
- An enzyme in breast milk called “lipase” helps to break down the fat into smaller molecules which your baby can digest easily.
- Your newborn needs more protein now than he/she will ever need again.
- Breast milk contains “lactalbumin”, a simple, highly nutritious protein. Lactalbumin is found in the milk of many mammals.
- The carbohydrates found in breast milk are mainly lactose (milk sugar). Some babies are lactose intolerant.
- Your breast milk contains all the vitamins your baby needs.
- But if your baby isn’t getting enough sunlight (and this doesn’t mean sun exposure every day or a suntan), you might have to give him/her a vitamin D supplement. Speak to the clinic sister or your doctor before giving your baby any supplements.
- Newborns also don’t make their own vitamin K until a few days after birth. For this reason, your baby might get a vitamin K injection directly after birth.
- A healthy baby is born with a very good reserve of iron. Iron levels in breast milk are quite low, but the combination of vitamin C and lactose in your breast milk will help your baby to make the most of the iron that is available.
- Breast milk consists of 87% water. Therefore, you don’t have to give your baby additional water.
- The antibodies are the most amazing of all the ingredients. These are natural antibiotics to protect your baby and build his/her immune system.