Breastfeeding basics
There is something I hear from most mothers, and fathers, whenever I work with families as a Lactation Consultant and it is a version of the phrase “I just wish I knew a little more about breastfeeding before we got to this point.” For most new breastfeeding mothers, and supportive partners, the challenges that come with breastfeeding an infant come as a bit of a shock.

Many new mothers could relate to thinking, “I thought there was a lot to know about pregnancy and birth and now I need to work out how to help this uncoordinated infant suckle milk from my breast when my body has changed so much I hardly recognise myself. I am uncomfortable, and I can’t see what I’m doing. My baby is either asleep or starving and I was discharged from hospital even before my milk came in. I don’t even know how to hold my baby at the breast and how do I even know that they have gotten enough milk anyway?!”

Phew!

Now, one of the challenges with breastfeeding, and parenting in general, but let’s stick to the mother baby breastfeeding picture, is that everyone is unique and breastfeeding involves two unique individuals working out how to fit together. So what are some basics that are true for most breastfeeding mums and babies?

Skin to skin- skin to skin is not only helpful right after birth but also throughout the early months. Skin to skin helps to comfort, calm, and reset baby’s emotions. It helps to regulate heart rate, temperature and blood sugar levels of baby to allow them to be more settled at the breast. Skin to skin contact promotes release of hormones that calm mum and baby and support breastmilk supply. In this state of calm mum can more easily observe baby’s feeding cues.

Positioning and how to hold baby- many breastfeeding mothers state they feel confused about positioning, uncoordinated and like they don’t have enough hands to hold baby, help baby suckle and see what they’re doing. The truth is that there are a few important points to remember when holding baby in a way that can support them to access the breast but what they looks like may well look different for each mother/baby pair. Baby should be held snug and secure but in a way that allows them to move and bob their head, moving from side to side, finding the nipple with a wide open gape. Baby should be held chest to chest and positioned so that their head, neck and body are in a straight line so the baby doesn’t have to turn their head to latch to the breast.

And the big question: Is baby getting enough milk? This is a question that many parents struggle with, particularly in the early days. It is impossible to accurately measure the amount of milk a baby is ingesting when breastfeeding. It is possible to measure some important signs. By the age of 5 days old a well hydrated baby should be producing 5-6 heavy wet nappies per 24 hours and their wee should be relatively clear. Whilst there can be variation in what an infant poos look like a well hydrated baby should be having regular, soft, moist poos. Healthy weight gain is also a measurable outcome that is important in those early weeks and months of breastfeeding. A content breastfeeding baby should have periods of being alert when awake, be content at times, then cry for feeds and be able to feed in a settled manner at the breast.

Most breastfeeding mothers need some professional support to get their breastfeeding on track. This is most effectively done in a one on one session with a Lactation Consultant. Every mother and baby is different, and every mother deserves support from a professional who can take them time to get to know them and provide support to them as individuals.

Jessica Kumar
Child and Family Health Nurse

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