You might have found it easier at hospital, surrounded by experienced staff who helped you with positioning and latch-on. Now that baby is home though, things begin to look very different. You begin to question if you are doing the right thing by this innocent creature who relies solely on you for sustenance. You have decided to breastfeed your baby, so there is no doubt that you are giving your child the best possible start to life. It’s just a matter of getting over the initial humps that are inevitable at the early stages of breastfeeding.
The day you bring your baby home will be one of the hardest. He is now in a new environment that is strange, you are exhausted from your hospital stay and the happy hormone rush that you experienced in the aftermath of the birth is wearing thin. Understanding these aspects will help you to get things in perspective.
Let’s go through some quick breastfeeding tips to get you started.
Be receptive to baby’s hunger cues – it is very hard to feed a frantic baby. A baby has in-built mechanisms to communicate his needs. Crying is just one of them. There are however, other cues. Babies come with a ‘rooting’ reflex. This is a classic sign that the baby is hungry. This is usually exhibited far before baby begins to cry. You have probably observed how baby turns his head to a side with an open mouth – when she does this she is searching for the breast. To see what this looks like at a quiet time of the day touch baby’s cheek and she will exhibit this reflex. Take note of it and keep a watch out for it so that you can begin getting ready for the feed before baby gets very hungry and frantic.
As time goes by you will begin to notice other cues, perhaps a distinctive sound or even a look. The trick here is to keep baby close and observe her constantly. In time you will soon begin to ‘just know’ when the baby needs a feed. As I understand it maternal instinct is an acquired skill based on close observation of the child. In relation to breastfeeding you would have heard the adage “don’t watch the clock – watch the baby“.
Undress baby down to his nappy before before the feed. Skin-to-skin contact helps trigger natural hormonal responses required for successful feeding. In the early days in particular, it is a good idea to spend time holding baby skin-to-skin, this will help with the bonding process, increase milk supply and make for a happy baby and a relaxed mum.
Position and hold the baby comfortably. If you are not comfortable, baby will sense your discomfort and will become restless. There are different kinds of positions and holds that you can experiment with. In the classical hold the baby lies across your stomach and you use your arm for support. If you are large breasted or after a cesarean the football hold, where baby is under your arm, on your side is more suited. Some mothers may use a combination of the two and use a nursing pillow for added support and comfort. Whichever hold you use, your arms and shoulders should be comfortable and baby must lie as close to your body as possible with no spaces in between. This secure and snug feeling will help the feeding process along.
When positioning the baby make sure his head, neck and spine are in alignment. Support the baby’s head, by resting the back of his neck in your hand. Use your thumb and index finger to support baby’s head (under his ears). Never push on the back of baby’s head when bringing baby to the breast as this tends to distress baby. Also ensure that baby’s feet does not touch a hard surface, as he will push off with his feet and this will disrupt the feeding process.
Pain in breastfeeding is not normal. If you have toe curling pain please don’t feel you need to grin and bear it. Seek help to redress this situation. A lactation consultant or your local breastfeeding association will be able to set you up with a volunteer member or professional who will be able to help you to deal with these early issues.
Breastfeeding really is a confidence game. Breastfeeding confidence comes with having a good support network and getting assistance especially in these early days. Ignore the nay sayers. Accept help from friends and family and give yourself time and permission to spend these all important first days with your baby. Afterall, as the saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.
Trust your instincts. For most new mothers this initial phase is a challenge. Like those before you be rest assured that you too can do it. Above all remember to be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself if some feeds do not go as well as you hoped. Persevere regardless, keeping the above in mind. Things will only get better with time. Remember that in the end you will find that it’s all worth it.