Like most aspects of pregnancy and birth, what works for one mum won’t necessarily work for all. And breastfeeding is no exception. For some women, feeding just comes naturally, whereas for others it can be an ordeal. While there is no single truth when it comes to knowing what to expect, we have a few tips to help first-time mums understand and enjoy the breastfeeding journey.
Your breasts will change during pregnancy
As pregnancy progresses, hormones will start to generate changes in your breasts. Your breasts will get bigger and the areola will get darker. This is completely natural and indicates that your breasts are preparing to start producing milk for the baby.
Breast milk comes in stages
In the early days after the birth, your breast milk will come in three distinct stages.
The first is the production of colostrum. It is thick and rich and usually has a yellow colour to it. It’s loaded with the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs during the first few days of life. Because it’s so high in nutritional value, your baby won’t require much and you’ll only produce a little at a time and it will only last for a couple of days.
Transitional milk will replace the colostrum at around three to five days. This is a mixture of colostrum and mature milk and will last for about one week to ten days.
At about two weeks after birth, you should start producing mature milk. This is white and thinner than the transitional milk and can sometimes have a bluish tinge. Once your mature milk has come in, your breasts will feel much fuller and heavier as you are producing more milk to cater to your baby’s increased appetite.
The let-down reflex
When your baby is ready to feed, you will experience what is known as the let-down reflex. Each woman feels it differently, and some may not feel it at all. The let-down reflex is a natural physiologic response to your baby’s need to feed. It is usually triggered when the baby begins to suck at the breast. However, it can also be triggered when your baby cries, or it’s close to feeding time. This can lead to leaking, which can be dealt with by using nursing pads in your nursing bra.
Getting the latch
From birth, your baby will be naturally drawn to your breast. However, getting your baby to latch can take some practice. The latch refers to how your baby takes in the nipple and areola to suckle. A proper latch is needed to stimulate the flow of milk and to ensure your nipples don’t get cracked and painful.
Getting your baby to latch can take some trial and error. During the early stages of breastfeeding, it’s important to get comfortable. Find a chair with good back, shoulder and neck support. High-quality breastfeeding friendly clothing will also help to give the baby easy access without constriction or impediment. The more comfortable and relaxed you are, the easier it will be to guide and support your baby.
It’s also important to find a breastfeeding position that is comfortable for you and the baby.
Eat well and stay hydrated
Nursing a newborn 8-12 times a day can take a lot of energy and put a real strain on your body. To compensate, you should be taking in about 500 calories more per day than you normally would, as well as drinking about eight glasses of water a day.
While old wives tales abound, the reality is that you can eat pretty much whatever you want while you’re breastfeeding. Unlike pregnancy, eating foods like sushi, processed meats and soft cheeses pose no risks when breastfeeding. What’s most important is that you maintain a healthy and balanced diet and focus on foods that are naturally high in iron and fibre.
Breastfeeding should not be painful
Breastfeeding is a natural process that shouldn’t cause significant pain or discomfort. However, some problems can occur that end up causing you some pain and preventing easy and comfortable feeding. Issues can include:
● Mastitis: A breast infection that causes flu-like symptoms and red irritation around the breast. It’s usually caused by germs from the baby’s mouth entering a milk duct through cracks in the nipple. Your doctor can usually prescribe a mild antibiotic to clear this up.
● Blocked milk ducts: A blocked duct usually causes a painful red spot on the breast. Continuing to breastfeed will be enough to break through the blockage.
● Sore or cracked nipples: Normal feeding can be tough on the nipples, sometimes leading to soreness or cracking. Lanolin or other natural breastfeeding creams will help to soothe and soften the skin. Improper latching can also lead to excessive soreness and cracking.
Breastfeeding can be an emotional experience with a steep learning curve for first-time mothers. While it’s important to trust your body to do what comes naturally, don’t be afraid to seek help, ask questions and get the support you need.