Breastmilk is the food designed by nature for your baby. For their first 6 months babies require nothing other than milk to eat or drink. Breastfeeding is free and available 24/7, and your milk is packed full of the essential nutrients your baby needs to get a head start on a healthy future.
Most women can breastfeed without too many problems. Breastfeeding is not without its challenges, so always seek as much support and guidance as you need when you are starting out. Studies show that 9 out of 10 women start out breastfeeding their babies. Unfortunately, despite best efforts sometimes breastfeeding does not work out, and you can read our guide here for “When breastfeeding does not work out”.
Over the past several months you have watched and felt your breasts change and grow, as your body prepares to nourish your baby. You may have been looking forward to this for your whole life, or you may still be trying to come to terms with the whole process! However you approach Breastfeeding, having patience and determination and asking for help as much as you need it will help pave the way for a rich and wonderful experience for both you and your baby.
What are the Benefits?
Breastmilk is natures food for your baby. Breastmilk is a Superfood - containing over 400 essential nutrients, minerals, hormones, and disease fighting compounds. The World Health Organisation recommends that babies be fed breastmilk exclusively for their first 6 months. They also state that women are fine to carry on breastfeeding until the end of your baby’s first year and even beyond if you wish.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ’s in later childhood, and according to the AAP breastfeeding is thought to play a role in preventing SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Breastfeeding will help you ‘bond’, the closeness of breastfeeding, the quiet and special time you share can be invaluable to your emotional attachment with your baby. Eye contact and skin-on-skin contact will make your baby feel loved and secure (and skin on skin contact is known to stimulate your milk flow, so its win/win!)
Aside from the nutritional benefits for your baby, breastfeeding has benefits for you too. The physical bonding between mother and baby during breastfeeding can help you develop a close and special relationship.
Breastfeeding benefits mothers as well – many women say it helps them lose their excess baby weight, and studies suggest that women who breastfeed can lower their risk of getting breast cancer before menopause. It can also help protect you against bone weakening (and associated diseases such as osteoporosis) as well as ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding produces and releases Oxytocin in women – a hormone which helps your uterus return to its original size and has been linked to reductions in uterine bleeding after birth.
When to Start Breastfeeding?
Almost every baby has a strong urge to suckle as soon as they are born. If you are both well enough you can both start breastfeeding right away, indeed most birthing professionals will encourage you to attempt to breastfeed within the first hour of birth, helping to establish the bond and connection and to make your newly born baby feel safe and secure.
How does your Breastmilk develop after Birth?
During the first few days your breasts will be producing colostrum, a source of milk commonly called “first/fore milk” which your breasts produce for up to 8 days before your “hind milk” comes through. Newborn babies have a very immature digestive system, and while colostrum is a highly concentrated source of nutrients it is delivered in lower volumes then hind milk. Your baby’s stomach is only around the size of a marble so they will only need small amounts over the first few days to fill them up. By the time your body begins to prepare to release your hindmilk, your baby’s stomach is already expanded and able to cope with the extra volume.
Colostrum has a mild laxative effect, which encourages your baby to pass their first bowel motion – called Meconium. This clears excess bilirubin, dead red blood cells which are produced in high volumes during birth, which plays a role in reducing the chance of jaundice.
Why is Colostrum so beneficial?
Colostrum is known to contain major components which make up the immune system, including immune cells, many antibodies, essential peptides, and growth factors. The antimicrobial factors stimulate development of the gut and help protect your baby against viruses, bacteria and disease. Colostrum is rich in proteins and vitamins but tends to contain lower amounts of carbohydrates, lipids and potassium than hind milk.
How to Put your Baby to your Breast, and get to the Milk
Your baby will instinctually find their way to your breast. Many women simply hold their babies to their chests and notice their newborn attaching or trying to attach on their own. This is referred to as ‘baby led attachment’.
While some babies will attach themselves, others may need some guidance from you. Holding your baby close to your skin with their chin against your breast and your nipple opposite your baby’s mouth may encourage your baby to latch on. Gentling touching your nipple to your baby’s lips may help them open their mouth, and always ensure as much as your areola (the darkened area around your nipple) is in your baby’s mouth. Your colostrum and milk will flow more freely if you are relaxed and comfortable. You may experience initial tenderness but experiencing pain is not normal and you may need guidance if feeding hurts.
Before your baby latches on, you can try gently massaging your breasts and rolling your nipples between your thumb and forefinger to stimulate milk flow. Breath slowly and deeply with skin on skin contact if possible, and be calm and comfortable so that your baby can relax and feed peacefully.
How to know if your Baby is getting enough Milk
This is common concern for many breastfeeding women. Even though it may seem tricky, it’s not as difficult as you may think to tell if your baby is receiving enough milk from you. If they are breastfeeding regularly (between 8-12 times over 24 hours), has had plenty of pale, wet nappies (around 6-8 cloth or at least 5 disposable) over 24 hours, has 2 or more soft bowel movements a day and is gaining weight and seems generally alert and happy.
How often should you Breastfeed and How to Increase your Supply?
The more your baby feeds, the more milk you will produce. When babies breastfeed, the sucking motion stimulates nerves which releases hormones into the blood, namely Prolactin and Oxytocin. Prolactin activates milk-making tissues, and Oxytocin causes the breast to let down the milk.
One of the most common concerns new breastfeeding mothers have, is whether they are producing enough milk. Its also one of the most common reasons mothers give for weaning their baby. There are some ways to help you work out if your supply is actually low, and some suggestions to help you produce more milk.