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Post Childbirth: Breastfeeding

Mum Breastfeeding Baby

Do I Really Need To Breastfeed?
It’s generally recommended that you should breastfeed your little one exclusively for at least 6 months (after which time you should generally start introducing other recommended foods to complement your breast milk).

Breast milk is incomparable in terms of its health benefits for your baby and her natural defences and development. It protects baby from infections and is designed perfectly for her needs. These days most British women choose to breastfeed. For example breast-fed babies:

  • Are less likely to become obese in later life. They therefore have less chance of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes when they get older.
  • Have less propensity to diarrhoea, vomiting, ear and chest infections and are less likely to have to visit hospital as a result
  • Experience less constipation
  • Are less likely to develop eczema

Breastfeeding also helps to build and strengthen that powerful mother-infant bond and many mums say that once they got past the initial discomfort, it became incredibly rewarding. Furthermore, breastfeeding has health benefits for mothers too, such as lowering your risk of ovarian and breast cancer and using up as much as 500 calories per day!

Breastfeeding exclusively can delay your periods returning. Any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby and the longer you can do it, the greater the benefits. Infant formula just can’t compare.

Your breasts will be soft after birth, because they only hold a small amount of colostrum (the rich early milk packed with antibodies to help guard your little one against infection). A few days after the birth you will start to produce milk, at which time your breasts are likely to feel swollen, tender and even hot.

In the beginning your nipples are likely to feel quite sensitive and you may experience discomfort during the first 10 to 20 seconds of feeding. After about the fifth day this should ease off but if it doesn’t you might need a bit of assistance with latching your little one to your breast. Have a chat with your midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor or try calling the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0210.

When And How To Feed:
Baby feeding with mum

In your baby’s first weeks of life, she is programmed to wake frequently to feed. As a newborn she may even spend as much time awake as she does asleep. After the first few days most newborns will feed between 6 and 8 times daily but these intervals won’t be especially regular.

The more she feeds, the more milk you’ll produce. But you need to make sure she is latched on well in order to ensure she’s consuming the more nutritious and fatty hindmilk as well as the foremilk, which quenches thirst more.

Your baby will experience growth spurts at various points over the coming months. These will make her hungrier so it’s important to feed her as and when she needs it because your milk supply needs to grow in line with her burgeoning appetite. Although keep in mind that sometimes she may also just want a small feed – quite like the way adults sometimes opt for a snack rather than a full meal. Your baby is the best judge and regulator of her appetite.

Some new mums worry that they’re not producing enough milk if their baby feeds very regularly after the first few weeks, but remember that your baby’s tummy is only tiny and right now she can only handle small amounts of food at a time. Furthermore, breastmilk is easily digested and processed so if she’s still feeding every two hours at around 5 weeks, don’t worry, this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s not enough of your milk. Having said that, it might be worth checking she’s latching on properly and therefore feeding effectively. It’s also very important that she finishes one breast before going on to the next because this means that she’s more likely to be consuming the more nutritious hindmilk.

Babies tend to have longer intervals between feeds when they become better at suckling and also more stimulated by their surroundings, so also have a look at our tips on interacting with your growing baby.

How Do I Know When My Baby Is Finished Feeding?
You won’t know all the time – to a certain extent it’s trial and error. The main thing is to let your baby be the judge. The amount of time he spends on your breast isn’t always an indication of how much milk he’s actually taken and even if it was, adults have no way of knowing exactly how much nourishment a baby needs at any given time.

Let your little one feed for as long as he seems to want to on one side first. If he stops feeding and pulls away looking sleepy, take this as an opportunity for a natural feeding break.

Place him looking over your shoulder or sit him up, perhaps rubbing his back. He may burp, but it doesn’t matter if not. If he still appears sleepy you might want to change his nappy as a way of waking him up a bit. Then offer the second side. If he doesn’t take it then remember to start with this unused breast the next time.

Related Video Resource: Video Series – Breastfeeding Advice From Midwife Catriona Muir