Essential Lists & Tips

Breastfeeding 101: The Know-How

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BF Jin Ai

Breastfeeding correctly is as crucial as breastfeeding frequently and understanding your baby’s behaviour and nursing pattern (see Part I). Breastfeeding exclusively in the early months is also important to establish your milk supply and if you don’t plan on giving your baby formula milk.

Breastfeed Correctly
The golden breastfeeding rule is simple but often underestimated: From Day 1, make sure your baby is positioned properly and has a good latch every single time he nurses. You’re capable of producing sufficient milk, but effectively transferring it to your baby is another matter. Get this right, so your baby will actually get milk from your breast and you’ll know how to know he’s getting it. On good latching, study these essential resources, diagrams and videos.

Basically, your baby latches on correctly when your nipple and much of your areola are in his mouth. Allow him to “finish” one side before offering the other. Watch his chin to ensure he’s actually drinking, not just sucking. He’s finished when he just sucks and no longer drinks (quick sucks, without pause). Breast compression is an important technique to use (especially in the early days) if your baby only sucks without drinking and falls asleep quickly. Compression will encourage him to continue drinking and get your milk properly. When he’s finally finished and fallen asleep, allow him to let go of the nipple himself, otherwise unlatch him gently using a clean finger.

If you feel pain during breastfeeding and your baby isn’t gaining weight well, or your baby is continually on your breast for hours without wanting to unlatch for what seems like the whole day, you probably aren’t positioning or latching him on properly. Correct his latch and use breast compression, otherwise he won’t get enough milk. You’ll also develop sore nipples and other breastfeeding problems. Contact your lactation consultant if you feel unsure.

Breastfeeding is easier when you and your baby are relaxed. If he’s been crying for some time before you nurse, he may refuse to feed properly. Look for early signs of hunger before he starts crying (a change in breathing, stretching, licking lips, opening and closing mouth, sucking on hands, fingers or clothing, rooting for your breast). Respond immediately.

It helps to use a good breastfeeding pillow (like the Bumble Bee pillow) that positions your baby at breast level, but don’t rely on it to do the positioning for you. Position and latch your baby correctly first, then use the pillow as support. Avoid pillows that are too low or thin as they can’t support your arms at a suitable height.

Breastfeed Effectively
Knowing how to tell if your baby is growing well on your milk alone will assure you that you’re breastfeeding effectively. A 5-7% weight loss during the first three to four days after birth is normal. Your baby has enough milk if your breast feels softer and he seems reasonably content after a feed, he has at least one wet diaper (Day 1), increases to five to six times a day (after Day 7) and his urine is clear, dilute and mild smelling.

He should pass bowel movements that are becoming lighter in colour (by Day 3), and pass bright yellow watery stools at least two to three times daily by Day 7. He should also put on at least 20g of body weight each day, regain birth weight after two weeks and be alert and active.

Breastfeed Exclusively
Be confident that your body is adequately designed to produce sufficient milk for your baby. The percentage of women who can’t produce enough milk (no matter what they do) is very small; such cases are extremely rare.

Pumping doesn’t accurately show how much you’re producing, or can produce, or how much breast milk your baby is getting – so don’t pump “just to check” your milk supply. Often, mothers get discouraged looking at the amount they pumped. This can affect their confidence to breastfeed exclusively, create stress and may hinder their milk letdown reflex.

Giving your baby water, glucose or formula milk will reduce your milk supply. Supplements satisfy your baby’s appetite. He’ll not suckle enough at your breast, whereas breast stimulation is needed to increase milk supply.

If your doctor tells you to supplement without observing you breastfeeding, visit a lactation consultant first to check your breastfeeding technique. Most supplements can be avoided by correcting a poor latch and using breast compression so your baby more effectively transfers the milk you already have.

Some doctors advise giving formula to newborns who are feared to be at risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). Consider Dr Jack Newman’s views on this trend and alternative options instead of formula before you decide.

Avoid Bottles and Pacifiers
Using a bottle often causes your baby to reject your breast because drinking from a bottle is a lot easier work for him compared to suckling directly. If supplementation is medically indicated, use a lactation aid, cup or spoon.

Just because your baby takes both breast and bottle doesn’t mean that the bottle won’t having a negative impact in the long run. Also, just because he accepts a bottle after breastfeeding doesn’t automatically mean he’s still hungry. Babies often take more liquid from a bottle even if they’re full.

In the early days, giving your baby a pacifier results in you losing the breast stimulation you need to ensure your milk supply is well established (usually by the time your baby is six to eight weeks old). After this period, using a pacifier is less like to cause problems if you never substitute it for breastfeeding or use it to schedule your baby’s feeds. If you plan to breastfeed exclusively for a longer period, it’s unwise to give your baby one. Studies indicate that babies who take a pacifier tend to wean earlier than those who don’t.

Note: I am not affiliated to Bumble Bee and/or its suppliers.

References: The International Breastfeeding Centre, La Leche League and Kellymom.

Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as mom to four kids (one baking) at Mama Hear Me Roar.

Image Credit: Science Daily