Whether you are an expectant mum or you already have your new little bundle of joy in your arms – congratulations!
The first few days and weeks of motherhood, while exciting, can be difficult, however you choose to feed your baby, but if you have opted for breastfeeding, there can be some extra challenges thrown your way. Believe us when we say that a) it is totally normal and b) it will pass. Once you have got past those initial days and weeks where you and your baby are getting to grips with things, you will be doing it without batting an eyelid.
The one thing to bear in mind when you are breastfeeding is that there is a lot of misinformation floating around the internet and from people who are well-meaning but misinformed. Things like ‘your baby fussing means you don’t have a good enough supply’ and ‘you are not allowed to eat cheese’. It is important to make sure that you have correct, fact based information, which you can get from a trained lactation consultant or breastfeeding advisor.
Here, we share some tips that will help you to get off to the best possible start with your breastfeeding journey.
While your own diet does not necessarily impact the quality of your milk – milk is made from your blood, not the contents of your stomach – it is important to try and follow a safe and healthy breastfeeding diet. This is more for your benefit than for your babies. If you are not eating well or are not hydrated enough, you will feel tired and lethargic, which can then affect the care you can give to your baby as well as impacting on your own physical and mental wellbeing.
You can, contrary to popular belief, drink small amounts of caffeine and alcohol while breastfeeding. It can pass through to the bloodstream in very small amounts but would take a lot of alcohol to have that effect. If you are safe to hold your baby or would be able to drive a car legally, you are safe to feed without the need for pumping or dumping. However it is absolutely crucial that you do not bed share with your baby after drinking any alcohol, as this can increase the risk of SIDS. You can drink caffeine – it is advised to drink no more than 200mg a day as it can make babies a little fussy, although some babies can tolerate more, others can tolerate less. Apart from that, unless your baby has allergies and you have been advised to refrain from eating particular foods by a doctor, there is nothing that you can’t eat when breastfeeding.
Do not mistake normal newborn behaviour for lack of supply
The tummy of a newborn baby is so tiny, so they feed little and often. Breastfed babies will often feed more often as the milk is easier to digest than formula, so they are hungrier quicker. On top of that, there is the phenomenon of cluster feeding – something every breastfeeding mum can attest to. This usually kicks in when the baby is a week or so old and can last until they are six weeks or so, and can come back during periods of extreme growth and development. It can be difficult during this time – it feels like the baby is on the breast feeding non-stop, particularly on an evening. They can also appear unsettled and fussy too, crying, latching and unlatching and ‘batting’ at the breast. It is at this point that many breastfeeding women decide to stop and move to formula, even if they wanted to breastfeed, as they mistakenly think it is a sign that they are not satisfying their baby. This is not true. If your baby is gaining weight and has plenty of wet and dirty nappies, you are almost definitely producing enough milk.
Cluster feeding is your baby literally ‘putting their order in’ for your milk supply. Their bodies are aware that they are about to have a growth spurt, and therefore need more milk. They then tell your body – by latching on and off, pawing, crying and so on – that you need to produce more and your body almost always responds. They are regulating your milk supply for you.
Recognise the signs of mastitis
Anyone with breast tissue, whether they are male, female or breastfeeding can get mastitis, but for obvious reasons, it is more common in breastfeeding women and it can be incredibly painful, and if left untreated, can lead to further issues such as sepsis. However this is rare, and mastitis is usually easy to diagnose and treat.
Mastitis is an infection in the breast, usually caused by a blocked milk duct. You can have a blocked duct and not have it lead to mastitis. It is quite easy to recognise a blocked duct:
- Sudden hard lump in one area of the breast, often with swelling around it
- Pain around the lump, especially when feeding
- Discomfort that subsides during / after feeding from the affected breast
- Painful letdown
- Slower milk output
To ease a blocked or clogged duct, keep feeding from the affected side. Sure, it can be painful, but try to feed through it as much as possible. If you can;t feed, express frequently. Use a gentle source of heat – a flannel soaked in hot water for example – over the breast before feeding or hold the shower head over the breast and direct warm water over it.
Ensure while feeding that the latch is correct and use gravity to your advantage. If you can, ‘dangle’ feed – place baby on the bed and carefully feed from an all four position by ‘dangling’ your breast in their mouth. Obviously, take care not to fall on the baby!
You can also take some painkillers – check the label or speak to a pharmacist or medical professional to make sure they are safe to take when breastfeeding first.
If a blocked duct is left untreated, these can lead to mastitis, which usually leaves you feeling generally unwell:
- High temperature
- Aches and pains across body
If you begin to experience symptoms of mastitis, seek medical treatment. It can usually be treated quickly and effectively with a course of antibiotics. You can also use all of the methods to help ease a blocked duct.
Breastfeeding in public
Many mums are nervous about breastfeeding while out and about for fear of judgement and stares, and this is a perfectly valid way to feel. We have all read the news stories and seen the comments. However, it is important to remember that most people have zero problem with mums feeding their babies, and most won’t notice anyway. You are protected by the law in the UK – you can breastfeed your baby anywhere, so do not feel pressured to leave a restaurant, shop or cafe or anywhere if you do not want to. Some mums feel more comfortable with a cover – a specialist breastfeeding cover or a light blanket or muslin cloth thrown over your shoulder can do the trick. Other mums prefer just to feed by pulling the top of their clothes up or down. However you and your baby feel comfortable is the most important thing to take into consideration, not anyone else’s opinions.
Once you get past those early days, it will become much more natural and easier. Sure,there may be challenges on and off through your feeding journey, but before you know it, you will be breastfeeding like a pro. Good luck!