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How to get off to a good start with Breastfeeding your baby

Updated on September 17, 2013

What can I do to get our journey off to a good start?

The first hour or two after birth is the golden time for mother and baby bonding. Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, which plays a big part in maintaining labour contractions, causing the milk 'let-down' reflex in the breasts and in bonding. It is often called the love hormone, and sometimes called the shy hormone, as it's production can easily be lowered when the mother feels inhibited by strangers, or too much light and noise and activity.

It follows from this that comfortable, warm, secure and private surroundings are the best environment for the beginning of this profound relationship. If the mother has had a natural, drug-free labour in similar conditions, then the first hour after can simply be a continuation of this private, sensitive time, and both mother and babe will be alert and responsive to each other, without the hindrance of medication.

This ideal situation generally has to be planned carefully, because our current attitude to birth and the medical protocols which surround it, do not always take this into consideration. If the birth of your baby did not resemble this ideal situation, please don't feel guilty or bad, you will have done the very best you possibly could, and many, many women are similarly affected by our culture's general lack of understand of the needs of a labouring mother.

If you're in hospital, maybe in the operating theatre, or having an instrumental birth, you may feel that these ideal conditions could not be further from what you're experiencing, however, there are ways to create a feeling of security and privacy, even in these conditions. Skin to skin contact, as soon as possible after birth, is something that benefits baby and mother, and can be done, even after a caesarean birth. As soon as possible, ask staff to dim the lights and to try and keep things as quiet and respectful as possible. Just a polite, humble reminder of the sacredness of the relationship that is developing can help them to remember the importance of this for the health and well being of the mother and baby.

What to read to get prepared

Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding: From the Nation's Leading Midwife
Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding: From the Nation's Leading Midwife

Lots of real life stories to help you to understand the best conditions for you and your baby to enjoy a wonderful breastfeeding relationship


How will my partner bond with the baby if I'm the only one feeding her?

Mother and baby bonding can be a delicate process and is helped if the mum feels safe, secure, warm, fed, watered and private. At first, in the early days, the best way for partners to contribute and bond is to ensure that the mum's needs are met, so that she and her baby are free to succumb to the natural instinctive hormone-led process of falling in love. A bit later on, when she is tired, or needing a break, partners will get their chance to spend close time and skin to skin with baby.

It can be hard to be in the supporting role all the time, especially when the process for the mum is such a physical one, and the reality is a bit removed from the partner who has to accept a supporting role. The immense contribution and service and difference a partner who understands this can make, is not to be underestimated.

Quick guide for dads/partners;

  1. Help her get comfy, shoulders and arms supported
  2. Bring her the baby if she is feeling very sore
  3. Bring her a LARGE glass of water or her favourite drink, its thirsty work!
  4. Make sure she eats well
  5. Bring her phone, remote control, book or whatever, she will be sitting there a while
  6. Hormones, moods, tears, its a rollercoaster. Be kind to her, and yourself.
  7. Pat yourselves on the back. You just made and are feeding A WHOLE NEW HUMAN!

Do I have to prepare my nipples for feeding?

No! Nature takes care of everything, and there's no need to oil, scrub or do anything to soften them up or toughen them up or whatever else your mother-in-law suggests!

Having said that, it is a good thing to massage your breasts now and then, especially as they spend a lot of time cooped up in a bra. It can help the lymph fluid drain effectively and remove any build up of fluids. Its good to be familiar with how they feel, so that you can notice any blocked ducts or inflamed sites when you begin feeding.

Colostrum and learning to express by hand

During the last months of pregnancy, colostrum begins to be secreted, and you may find that your breasts leak some of this in advance of the birth. If you feel your areola (dark area around the actual nipple) and work backwards gently, you will feel a change in the breast tissue around a centimetre or so in. This is where to squeeze, and you may find that some colostrum can be expressed. The breast will make more colostrum to replace this. Colostrum is the fluid that will feed your baby during the very first day or two, before the milk comes in to the breasts on about the third day.

Your new baby's stomach is really tiny, about the size of a little marble, with a capacity of just five mils. Full term healthy babies are born with a good store of food and fluids, and really don't need water, or supplements of milk during the first days.

If baby is found to have a low blood sugar, skin to skin with his mother can not only regulate his breathing and heartbeat, but also his blood sugar, even without any actual feeding occuring!

Colostrum is the most amazing substance, containing immune cells, antibodies, growth factors and antimicrobial factors. There are proteins and vitamins, and it is perfectly designed for the newborn gut, which is still 'open' to all molecules and therefore vulnerable to anything synthetic which might cause an allergic reaction.

The later stages of pregnancy are a great time to learn the art of hand expression, ready for when you start feeding. The only time this might be contraindicated is if you have had a premature labour before, or if labour has started prematurely during the current pregnancy but stopped. Stimulating the breasts helps labour to progress, and whilst it alone won't start labour, its best to be careful if this has been an issue before.

Expressing by hand once baby is born and milk is in

There are some great electric breast pumps out there to buy or hire, but its useful to learn to express by hand, as its free and always available. Hand expressing your milk may be more time consuming than using a pump at first, but remember you are quickly going to become more proficient at this. Its worth persevering if just for the convenience of being able to relieve the pressure if your breasts get engorged when baby drops a feed, or if you need to go out and leave a feed for someone else to give.

Start by choosing a container, (a clean cup will do) and heating a flannel or folded towel with warm water. Place the hot towel on your breasts for a few minutes (obviously this should be as warm as is comfortable for you) to open the ducts and soften the breasts a bit. You can massage your breasts if you like, to help move the milk towards the nipple. Sometimes just thinking about your baby, or hearing him cry, can help with stimulating a let-down reflex whilst expressing. Of course, you can express from one breast whilst feeding from the other, just persevere to find the position that is comfortable for you.

As the video shows, you need to compress the breast a little way back from the areola, pressing inwards towards the chest wall. Keep doing this, but change the position of your hands around the breast when those ducts are empty and you need to move to others to squeeze them empty.

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What position should I feed in? Can I do this after a Caesarean Section/instrumental birth/episiotomy?

The discomfort and tenderness of healing from these wounds may mean that you need to choose certain positions that will be comfortable for you, and maybe use pillows to protect your scars. The laid back nursing position or biological nursing, as its called, is a good position to try as you can do it laying quite flat if you want, or semi recumbent, however is most comfortable for you.

The laid back breastfeeding position is perfect from birth, as you have your arms free whilst gravity ensures that baby is on your chest, with all his body against your skin, taking advantage of the skin-to-skin. Because this position is so natural, it activates all your instincts and baby's instincts, and you will find that a newborn can actually crawl up your belly, find and attach himself to the nipple unaided if given the time! This is called the breast-crawl. Of course this is severely compromised after birth if you and baby are feeling the effects of any medications given during labour, and is one of the big advantages of going through the challenge of labour using comfort measures that have no side effects.

You can lay on your side and feed if that is comfortable, try experimenting with positions and ways of supporting your body. There is no one 'right' position, in fact, choosing to hold baby in a different way each feed will help you to find your favourite whilst ensuring that ducts in all areas of the breast are drained.

What to read to prepare for breastfeeding, or if you need some answers

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Written by La Leche League women all of whom have breastfed and know the challenges and the pleasures. This book covers before birth, straight after and breastfeeding a toddler. Everything you need to know written in such a friendly way with lots of real-life stories. Buy this when you're pregnant, or for a pregnant lady you know, it is a gift that will keep on giving.


The Breast Crawl. Instincts and birth reflexes at work

Did you know human babies could do this, just like other mammalian babies? Were you given the time and space to try this with your baby right after birth?

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