Preparing To Breastfeed

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Whilst most women read extensively about pregnancy and childbirth, it is not uncommon to find young mums clueless about breastfeeding. Thus, if you want to spare yourself the additional stress in what is generally already a time of great apprehension and anxiety, it is advisable to find out as much as you can about breastfeeding prior to the arrival of junior. This will hopefully enable you to plan ahead and help you feel better equipped when the situation presents itself.
The following are just some issues that you may wish to consider which will help point you in the right direction.

1. Discuss breastfeeding with your doctor

It is advisable to choose a doctor who is supportive of breastfeeding and discuss with him the different options of pain relief during childbirth as these may affect how soon you can commence breastfeeding.  It is said that baby's suckling reflex is strongest in the first thirty minutes after delivery therefore it is advisable to put the baby to the breast as soon as possible, some even advocate doing so on the delivery table, where possible.

2. Breastfeeding exclusively

This is a decision that you have to come to fairly soon after the arrival of your baby. If you plan to breastfeed exclusively, it is of utmost importance for you to make that known, at the earliest opportune time, to the nurses who will be taking care of your baby while he is in the hospital nursery.

If you inform the nurse that you intend to breastfeed exclusively, it would mean that the nurses will not attempt to introduce infant formula to your baby when your baby is hungry. It also basically means that when baby is hungry, the nurse will bring baby to you whatever the time may be. So you will have to be prepared to be woken up in in the dead of the night or early hours of the morning to feed junior. Newborn babies generally feed on the average of 3 to 4 hour intervals, and at times even 1 to 2 hourly when they are going through a growth spurt. This routine can be exhausting, especially since you have just been through hours of labour, and new mums who are not mentally prepared for this, may find themselves so overwhelmed that they give up even before the first week is over.

Being mentally prepared helps you to make sure that you take active steps to ensure that you keep exhaustion at bay for example, trying to take naps while junior is asleep so that you will be well rested to tend to him when he wakes and wants to feed.

While this may sound like a tall order, there are huge benefits to breastfeeding exclusively. There is absolutely no need to give infant formula or any other fluids (even water) as long as you are feeding on demand (this means feeding as often and for as long as you and your baby are comfortable) and the baby is healthy. In fact, it is advised that babies be exclusively breastfed for at least the first 6 months. As a general rule, women who breastfeed exclusively are more likely to have more success with breastfeeding and as a consequence of which, tend to continue breastfeeding for a longer time. This is because the supply of breast milk is best established if the baby is not given anything else other than breast milk. Here's why, the supply of breast milk correlates directly with demand. If baby is exclusively breastfed, he is brought to the breast every time he is hungry and every time the baby suckles at the breast and empties it, it signals the need for the breast to make more milk. If instead the baby is given a bottle of infant formula, the baby would nurse less often and less vigorously at the breast thus causing the supply of breast milk to decrease quickly over time. One formula feed a day is all it takes for your body to produce less milk.  It is therefore important if you are serious about breastfeeding exclusively to be very absolute about it even though it may seem tempting to offer  a few sips of formula or water especially when he appears hungry even after you have just fed him. It might help you to know that if the very act of suckling (even after baby has fully emptied your breast) helps to stimulate the production of milk. Breastfeeding exclusively will encourage your milk to come in quicker and decrease your chances of severe engorgement.

Another problem with introducing the bottle to the baby too early is that the baby might develop nipple confusion. Feeding from the bottle is a lot easier for the baby as opposed to nursing from the breast which involves the use of cheek, tongue and jaw muscles. A baby who is used to the fast and continuous flow of milk from the bottle may eventually reject the breast as he will not be used to waiting for the let down and be too impatient to wait.

If you do have to feed your baby something else other than breast milk due to medical concerns (for example if your doctor advises you to temporarily stop breastfeeding in a case of severe jaundice in baby or if you are ill/ are on antibiotics not safe for breastfeeding) it is strongly encouraged that you at least stimulate supply by expressing your milk every two to three hours. This will make it easier for you to meet your baby's needs when you resume breastfeeding again. It is not uncommon for new mothers to give up breastfeeding totally when they feel that they are unable to meet the demands of their growing baby. The extra stores of milk which you pump out can be stored away in the freezer for your baby's use later unless you are on antibiotics which are unsafe for breastfeeding in which case the milk should be discarded.

3. Breast Pumps

It is advisable to survey the different types of breast pumps available on the market and probably a good idea to purchase one before baby arrives. Planning ahead allows you the luxury of time to find out more about the features of the different pumps and perhaps to even save you some money if you happen to chance upon it at a sale.

While it is probably best and most convenient to nurse baby directly, it is prudent to have a breast pump on hand so that you have access to one when you need it.

Even if your preference is to nurse baby directly, you may sometimes need the pump when you are not able to do so.

Breast pumps are useful in the following circumstances:

A. Engorgement

When you have an abundant supply of milk, you may sometimes experience engorgement which can leave your breasts feeling uncomfortable or even painful. This usually happens when baby is not drinking as much (either due to illness or when baby moves on to solids thereby needing less breast milk) and your breasts need time to adjust to the reduced demand. Having a breast pump on hand will enable you to pump out excess milk more comfortably and more efficiently than expressing by hand. Failure to pump out excess milk can lead to blocked ducts which may in turn progress to mastitis.

B. Blocked ducts

It is not uncommon for you to develop blocked ducts in the course of breastfeeding. This sometimes happens when you or your baby are used to adopting a particular position when nursing.

C. Storing Breast milk

Expressing breast milk for later use during the time when you will be away from baby (for example, when you return to work or when you are away from baby due to illness) is always a good idea. Excess stores are useful when baby is going through a growth spurt or when he is starting on solids and you may need some breast milk to mix it in with the cereal.

D. Baby Having Difficulty Nursing Directly

Premature babies or those born with certain defects (eg cleft lip or palate) may find it difficult to latch on properly. In such cases, doctors may advise that breast milk be expressed into the bottle so that the baby can enjoy the benefits of breast milk.  

A quick walk through the baby section in any good department store will give you a brief idea as to the number of breast pumps out there in the market. You may also want to read the reviews of the different pumps to get an idea of which pumps other mums find useful. Most pumps allow you to pump directly into a feeding bottle from which baby can be fed by simply attaching a teat. Some pumps also allow you to express into bags which make for easier storage in the freezer.

Type of Breast Pumps:
(i) Manual pumps

The great advantage of a manual pump is that you can use it wherever you want as opposed to having to look for an electric socket in the case of an electric pump. Manual pumps are generally cheaper and some mums find that it is easier to control the intensity of a manual pump thereby causing less soreness and/or pain.

(ii)Electric pumps

The benefit of an electric pump is that it is easier on your hands. This is especially helpful if you need to pump regularly. Most electric pumps also enable you to pump both breasts at a time thereby saving you time. However, you need to be selective when choosing an electric pump to ensure that the motor is soft enough for you to pump discreetly especially if you intend to use it when you return to work. It is also preferable that you choose one which allows you to select the intensity of the pump so that it will be more comfortable for you. Always start from the lowest intensity and slowly adjust upwards.

4. Nursing wear

Nursing wear is easily available in most maternity shops and even online.  It would be useful if you purchased a few basic nursing blouses as these will help you breastfeed discreetly especially if you need to do so in public (for example in the cab on the way back from the hospital).  Nursing wear is fairly affordable and you can get a basic tee for less than fifty dollars.

It is also important for breastfeeding mothers to eat and drink well.  Find out more at this link: Eating Right While Breastfeeding

Further Reading

The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.