How does my body prepare for breastfeeding?
Your body has been preparing itself for breastfeeding right from the start of your pregnancy. Tingling nipples and tenderness in very early pregnancy, and your breasts getting bigger, are two signs of this.
The blood supply to your breasts increases during pregnancy, and your milk ducts and milk-producing cells develop more with each pregnancy that you have.
The size of your breasts before pregnancy, and how much they grow during pregnancy, doesn't determine how much milk you'll be able to produce for your baby. If you're small-breasted, you'll still be able to feed your baby all the milk he needs.
Do I need to toughen my nipples before I breastfeed?
No, there's no need to do anything, as hormonal changes that happen in your breasts during pregnancy are preparation enough. You don't need to use creams to soften your skin beforehand, or express colostrum, either. Don't rub or scrub your nipples, as this will only hurt and may make breastfeeding difficult.
Your natural body odour plays a part in your baby bonding with you, and will help to get breastfeeding started. The areolas of your nipples release oil that naturally lubricates your nipples. This oil also smells of amniotic fluid, which is a familiar and attractive smell for your baby, especially just after he's born.
Your baby will soon learn that your breasts smell of you, colostrum and milk. These act as a strong draw to cuddle up with you and feed. So avoid using scented soaps, perfumes and body lotions in the early days of breastfeeding, particularly on or around your breasts.
What else can I do to help things along?
Another key preparation for breastfeeding is your partner being supportive about your decision to feed your baby in this way. You're more likely to start breastfeeding, and do it for longer, if your partner's on board and learns a little about it, too.
Have plenty of skin-to-skin contact with your baby when she's born. Your midwife will encourage this. Skin-to-skin helps babies to get breastfeeding started and increases the length of time that mums breastfeed for. Laid-back breastfeeding (biological nurturing) positions help your baby's primitive reflexes to kick in, helping him to find the breast, latch on and feed.
Even if you have a caesarean birth, you can still hold your baby against your skin soon after the birth, with some help from your midwife. This may be in theatre, or in the recovery room immediately afterwards. Your baby may wriggle to your breast and feed, or she may smell, lick or nuzzle your breast, have a rest, and then try to feed later.
All of this will help you and your baby to get breastfeeding off to a great start.
Practice makes perfect
"Breastfeeding may be the natural way to feed your baby but it is a skill which needs to be learned by both of you. Like most things, you can’t expect to get it right straightaway."
"I wish I’d known that breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally. It took me six weeks to get it right. So don’t be put off if it doesn’t work at first! It can take a few weeks for you and your baby to learn, and it can hurt like hell sometimes. But persevere, because it’s one of best things you can do."
"When it hurt, I knew we were not doing it right, so instead of grinning and bearing it I made sure I got help to improve Ellis’s latch. When my milk came in - and he was almost drowning in the stuff - I knew about using other positions to feed him more comfortably."
"I wish I'd known that if it hurts it doesn't always mean the baby isn't latched on properly. Neither of my babies were having problems latching on but I had extremely painful letdown."
Experiment with breastfeeding
“There are other ways of giving breastmilk successfully if the conventional way isn't working for you, so experiment. Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work. So far, despite being a guzzler, Alexander has had nothing but breastmilk fed to him in a bottle, and he is thriving."
"I found nipple shields really helpful for those times when my nipples were sore and cracked. I could breastfeed fairly comfortably, and it gave my nipples a chance to heal."
Get expert breastfeeding help
"Breastfeeding workshops run by the NCT, your local hospital and other breastfeeding organisations are the best way to find out all you need. What I learned gave me so much confidence in the early weeks after my baby was born. Have the number of a breastfeeding counsellor to hand, and join a support group or baby cafe if there is one near you."
"I had terrible problems breastfeeding my daughter in the beginning. She was tiny and I couldn’t get her to latch on. I developed mastitis and a huge crack in my right nipple, but I was determined to keep trying."
"I took advantage of breastfeeding helplines: NCT and La Leche were really supportive, and I had a breastfeeding counsellor visit me at home a few times. After 12 weeks of trying I had success! I’m so glad I didn’t give up. Get as much advice, help and encouragement as you can. You don’t have to do it alone."
Supply and demand
"Most breastfed babies feed more than formula fed babies. This is because breastmilk is digested quickly and easily so their sleep patterns can be different. So don't expect to live to a timetable."
"Your body produces milk based on how much your baby needs. The more your baby needs, the more they feed, producing more milk."
"Feeds can last from five minutes to an hour or more, as every baby is different. My baby went from taking 40 minutes per feed at birth, to just 10 minutes now he is five-and-a-half months. They become more efficient at feeding as time goes on."
Involve your partner in breastfeeding
"Discuss how you are planning to feed your baby with your partner and make sure he understands how important his emotional and practical support will be to you. From my breastfeeding workshop I knew that in the first few weeks it was likely my baby was going to feed an awful lot, especially in the evenings. My husband brought me snacks, magazines, my phone, whatever I needed!"
"I express a bottle of milk in the evenings so my partner can feed our baby daughter when he gets home from work. He really enjoys these father-daughter bonding sessions. And it gives me a half an hour to enjoy a hot bath or get some jobs done."
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes
"When my huge breasts deflated six weeks after he was born I knew it was my supply settling down, not my milk drying up. It’s around then that when many women resort to formula, thinking their milk has run out."
"Most of us do not have the breasts and the nipples shown on illustrations. We may have big breasts, big nipples, small breasts, small nipples, flat nipples, inverted nipples, round breasts, long breasts, the list goes on. Experiment and try different positions to find what is comfortable for your shape."
"I have flat nipples, and I didn’t know this until a few days after my baby was born when I was having trouble breastfeeding him. My midwife suggested that I try using nipple shields, and my baby latched on to it right away and fed ravenously. Just a week later I didn’t even need to use a nipple shield to get him latched on!"
Winding really works
"If baby is fussing at the breast try winding gently for up to three minutes. First, I thought breastfeeding babies didn't need winding, and then I expected winding to work in about 10 seconds. Once I realised what the problem was, things were far smoother."
Make the most of the sit-down time. You deserve it! ...Put your feet up and relax. I enjoyed 14 months of breastfeeding bliss!
What should I eat when I'm breastfeeding?
You don't need to eat any special or different foods while you're breastfeeding. However, you should try to follow a healthy, balanced diet, which includes:
- Starchy foods, such as bread and rice. Choose wholegrain varieties, for added fibre.
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- Some protein, such as lean meat, eggs and pulses. Have at least two portions of fish a week, including oily varieties, such as salmon.
- Some low-fat dairy food, such as a yoghurt or a glass of milk
What shouldn't I eat when breastfeeding?
You can eat virtually anything you like while breastfeeding, in moderation.
However, traces of food and drink can sometimes get into breastmilk, and this may affect your baby. Some babies are affected by a protein in cow's milk, which causes symptoms such as:
- itchy skin and a rash
- swollen eyes, face or lips
- wheeziness or coughing
- vomiting or reflux
- a poor appetite
- changes to her poo
- not growing well
If you think that dairy is affecting your baby, talk to your health visitor about removing it from your diet for a week or so, to see if it makes a difference. Though if your baby has been diagnosed with a cow's milk allergy, your dietitian will advise you about how to remove it from your diet completely. You may also need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements.
There isn't much evidence to suggest that certain foods you eat while you are breastfeeding cause your baby to have colic. Colic could be due a number of things, such as your baby not being latched on well, or gulping milk too enthusiastically and taking in too much air.
Some mums worry about eating peanuts while breastfeeding, but there's no real evidence that this makes your baby more likely to develop a peanut allergy. So as long as you're not allergic to peanuts, you can eat them as part of a balanced diet.
Do I need to drink more water when I'm breastfeeding?
You only need to drink enough to satisfy your thirst while you're breastfeeding. Drinking lots of water, or being thirsty, won't affect your milk supply. Your body is very good at regulating its reserves to keep your milk supply going.
However, bear in mind that during breastfeeding your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel thirsty. So keep a drink nearby when you're breastfeeding
If you're worried about whether you're getting enough to drink, check the colour of your wee. If it's pale-coloured, you're getting plenty to drink. If it's dark yellow, or smells strongly, or if you feel lethargic or faint, you may be dehydrated, in which case you should drink more water.
Do I need extra calories when I am breastfeeding?
You don't need to have extra calories as a new mum, because your body is so efficient at producing milk. Be guided by your appetite, and eat when you're hungry. Your body may have laid down fat stores during pregnancy, and breastfeeding can help to use up these fat stores.
The amount you need to eat depends on your pre-pregnancy weight, and how much weight you gained during pregnancy, as well as how active you are.
Having said that, breastfeeding usually gives you a big appetite. So if you don't feel like eating, it could be a sign that you need extra emotional support. Women who have postnatal depression sometimes lose their appetite. If you're finding it a struggle to eat, talk to your doctor or health visitor.
Can I lose weight while I'm breastfeeding?
Yes. You may have put on a bit of weight while you were pregnant, so losing some of this weight while you're breastfeeding is fine. Losing about 500g (1lb) to 1kg (2lb) a week shouldn't affect the amount or the quality of milk you make.
However, if you have a newborn, you'll need plenty of energy. Trying to lose weight too soon after giving birth may delay your recovery and make you feel even more tired. So try to wait until you've had your postnatal check before you lose weight.
Eating healthily and doing some gentle exercise will help you to get in shape. This is better than very strict low-calorie diets when you are breastfeeding. You can increase how much you exercise six weeks to eight weeks after giving birth, if you feel up to it.
Can I drink tea and coffee if I'm breastfeeding?
Avoid having lots of caffeinated drinks when you're breastfeeding. We don't have a UK guideline for a safe amount of caffeine for breastfeeding mums. In the US, women who are breastfeeding are recommended to have no more than about 200mg of caffeine a day. That's about two mugs of tea, or two mugs of instant coffee, or one mug of filter coffee, a day.
More than this amount of caffeine is unlikely to harm your baby. However, if your baby seems very unsettled or restless, or finds it difficult to sleep, try cutting back on caffeine, or not having any at all. This may make a difference to your baby.
Do I need to take any supplements if I'm breastfeeding?
You should take a daily supplement for breastfeeding mums that contains 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D. Breastfed babies get vitamin D from breastmilk, so you need to have enough vitamin D in your diet. If you took a supplement containing vitamin D when you were pregnant, you can carry on taking it while you're breastfeeding.
If you took a vitamin D supplement throughout pregnancy, and continue to take it while you're breastfeeding, your baby will receive enough vitamin D in his first few months. However, if you didn't take a vitamin D supplement in pregnancy, and are breastfeeding, your baby may need to have daily vitamin D drops from when he's a month old.
Vitamin D is made by our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight. It's important because it helps bones and teeth to grow healthily. In the UK, it can be hard to make enough vitamin D all year round, especially if you don't spend much time outside, or have dark skin.
If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for free healthy start vitamins, which contain vitamins A, C and D. Find out more at your doctor's surgery or health visitor's clinic.
Can I have herbal remedies if I'm breastfeeding?
You can drink most herbal teas when you are breastfeeding. Herbal teas bought from supermarkets, which use ingredients you might cook with, such as fennel, camomile and peppermint, are safe to drink in moderation.
Herbal medicines, however, are a different matter. You shouldn't take them while you are breastfeeding, because we don't know enough about how they affect breastmilk.
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