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The complete guide to breastfeeding

A lot of new mums are shocked at how challenging breastfeeding can be. It seems like something that should come naturally, right? A simple thing, after the feat of growing a baby inside you and giving birth. While breastfeeding is natural (and beneficial), it can also take time for you and your baby to get the hang of it. 

It’s important to have good support and education behind you to help you to master this skill – which is exactly why we’ve packed this breastfeeding guide full of useful breastfeeding tips and (importantly) mama pep talks!

Mumli friend, mother of three, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Susie Prout, is quick to point out a glaring issue with how mums learn about breastfeeding: 

“There’s no standard breastfeeding education in pregnancy. So many women have their babies and haven’t learnt how to successfully breastfeed yet.” 

Talk about going in blind!

Researching breastfeeding before you give birth is a great call. But if you’re here reading this, newborn in hand, completely clueless about how to get them on your boob – you’ll find useful and practical info in here too.

 

Breastfeeding is an emotional f*cking rollercoaster

Thought we better just point that out early on. 

It’s why mamas often feel on top of the world when they work out how to breastfeed! It could take days, weeks or months to nail the basics, but when you do you’ll love the convenience of it – No equipment! Nothing you need to pack when you go out! Cheap/free! No heating or cooling required! Inbuilt settling tool for you baby! We could go on! – among other benefits.

While breastfeeding can feel relentless and excruciating at times, there truly are beautiful moments to be had with it. (Not to mention hilarious ones – like when an overly full boob geysers into your child’s shocked face, or when they make an audible ‘pop’ sound coming off at the end of a feed.) 

We want to hold this space for you, mama. It can be hard work. You’re not alone in this experience. And like all aspects of motherhood, you need a good support crew around you to get the job done. Preferably in the form of people who bring you breastfeeding snacks.

So why choose to breastfeed?

Benefits of breastfeeding

There are benefits for both you and your baby if you breastfeed.

For your baby, it:

  • Reduces their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, asthma, Diabetes, some infections, severe lower respiratory disease and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Delivers the perfect balance of vital nutrients they need to develop.
  • Contains antibodies to boost their immune system.

For you, it:

  • Reduces your risk of developing some types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure in the future.
  • Is convenient and free of charge.
  • Can help you lose additional weight you gained during pregnancy (or gives you a great excuse for extra snacking!).

     

Plus, it’s snuggly and intimate and lovely. 

Breastfeeding vs formula feeding

There’s no reason you have to breastfeed if you don’t want to or are finding it too challenging. That said, it’s best to be armed with knowledge when making a decision about how you want to feed your baby. 

Support and education is key! If you run into breastfeeding challenges, it’s always worth getting in touch with a Lactation Consultant or child health nurse before turning to formula. A few simple suggestions might sort you out.

There are very few medical reasons that you shouldn’t breastfeed, but there are other reasons you might make this choice.

  • Some mamas choose mixed feeding, which means they supplement breastmilk with formula feeds. This could be due to a low milk supply that isn’t improving, or because their baby isn’t meeting his or her weight gain targets.

     

  • Some mamas choose to give their baby expressed breastmilk in a bottle. This may be because they have problems with attaching their baby to the breast (and professional help hasn’t, well… helped), or it might be the way to go because they’ve returned to work and another person is caring for their baby.

     

Some mamas choose to exclusively formula feed their babies, perhaps because they’re on certain medications that aren’t suitable for breastfeeding or because it’s a better option for their mental health and wellbeing.

How to start breastfeeding

Newborns are born ready to feed right away. It’s great to give it a shot in the first few hours after birth, whether you’ve delivered via vaginal birth or c-section

Susie says:

“We recommend skin to skin contact as soon as possible after birth. Depending on the birth you’ve had, this may look different. But the goal is always to have your baby with you as soon as possible – ideally for at least an hour. In that time we try to help them have their first breastfeed. If you’ve had a c-section birth, midwives are there to help and support you with this even if you are having trouble moving around in the bed!”

It might seem strange trying to breastfeed when there’s no milk coming out yet, but your breasts will be producing colostrum – a thick, yellow-ey substance that’s packed with essential nutrients for your babe. It’s perfect for their teenie bellies. Your ‘proper’ milk will come in around three or four days after giving birth.

“Never hesitate to ASK FOR HELP!” Susie adds.

You’re not expected to magically know how to breastfeed. Your hospital will have midwives and lactation consultants on hand to help you if you need it. There’s only so much you can learn by reading, after all. Having someone next to you to show you is priceless.

 

Breastfeeding Tips

Perfect your breastfeeding latch

Your newborn may latch onto your breast easily (baby-led attachment), or you may need to actively guide them into position (mother-led attachment). There’s no ‘best way’ to do it – just whatever works best for you and your baby. If you’re running the show, don’t be afraid to feign confidence here. Your baby doesn’t know that you have no idea what you’re doing.

Here’s what you’re looking for with a good latch:

  • Your baby should open their mouth big and wide before they latch.

  • Their lips should be turned outwards (like ‘duck lips’) when they’re on correctly.

  • You should be able to hear a swallowing or gulping sound when the milk starts to flow (or letdown).

  • It’s not meant to ‘hurt’ per se, but there will be a period of a few weeks where your nipples are sometimes sore and tender as they get used to breastfeeding. (Normal: A dull pulling feeling when your baby is feeding. Not normal: Sharp or pinching pain, or a misshapen nipple post-feed.)

  • Your baby’s chest should be towards your chest when they’re feeding so they don’t have to turn their neck towards your nipple. 

  • Their nose should have breathing space too, and not be buried in your breast.

Getting a good latch going is most of the effort in the early days of breastfeeding. If you run into latch problems, a Lactation Consultant may be able to help you identify what’s going on and try some new things.

 

Try different breastfeeding positions

Testing out different ways to hold your breastfeeding newborn can help improve your technique. You can actually breastfeed your baby any way that feels natural and comfortable (provided their nose isn’t blocked off, and that they’re in a safe, comfortable position for them), but if you’re looking for tried and tested breastfeeding positions, here are a few faves:

  • Laid-back position – Sit back in a reclined chair with your baby’s belly against your own. Rest their head against your breast and allow them to find their way to your nipple. Some babies do this really well – others need help to position themselves. Make sure they’re supported, and if they nod off while feeding, follow the SIDS safe sleeping guidelines and ensure their airways are clear and their face is uncovered. 

  • Cradle hold – This is the classic nursing position you see in all the stock images and pregnancy brochures. Sit comfortably on a chair and hold your baby horizontally in both arms. You can allow them to find the nipple themselves, or support your boob in one hand and guide them with the other hand supporting the back of their neck and shoulders to find a good latch. Don’t push their head to the breast. They’re not gonna like that, and will instinctively push away!

  • Side-lying position – Like it sounds, this involves lying on your side. Get comfy on a bed and position your baby in front of you, their head level with your breast. You can guide their head to the nipple or let them find it. Usually babies will master this position from about 6 weeks or so. This can be a great position for tired mamas who need a rest. But don’t surrender to sleep – the SIDS safe sleeping guidelines warn against falling asleep with your baby next to you. 

  • Football hold – This is another position excellent for c-section recovery as it keeps your baby off your stomach. Sit upright or lean back and get comfy, and rest your baby on a pillow so their mouth is level with your nipple and their legs are underneath one armpit. Hold them under the neck and shoulders and bring them up holding them against your body like a quarterback sprinting down the field. But maybe gentler.

Get comfy

You may have a go-to feeding position, but some useful breastfeeding tools can also help you get comfortable:

  • Breastfeeding pillow – This is a U-shaped pillow you can fit around your stomach and lay your baby on top of. It can free up a hand for snacking or other productive activities during a feed. (PSA: Susie mentions, “The risk with a breastfeeding pillow is that your baby might not be close enough to your breast. If you do feel more comfortable with a breastfeeding pillow just make sure that baby is still lying correctly on you.”)

  • Breastfeeding bra or crop top – This will be an extra stretchy bra with clips or ‘secret windows’ you can pull down to expose a boob when needed.

  • Breastfeeding clothes – They make some clever clothing these days for pregnant and nursing mums! Think zips, buttons or flaps that open up so you can breastfeed. (Oversized t-shirts work just as well too.)

Brace your nips

Some women find that it takes a while for the nipples to adjust to breastfeeding. If your baby’s latch is correct though, it should only be short-lived discomfort. Don’t assume that nipple pain is normal. If you’re in agony, something’s probably not right. Reach out to your lactation consultant for support ASAP – they can help you make some tweaks to your technique so you end up enjoying feeding your baby, not dreading it. (This is possible!)

You could try applying cooling discs, a soothing nipple balm or cream, or rubbing in breast milk to help with dry, cracked nipples. Breastfeeding WILL get less painful as time goes on. Promise.

What to expect with breastfeeding over time

As you continue your breastfeeding journey, it will get easier and easier. One day you’ll probably just whip a boob out, your baby will feed while you scroll on Instagram (or Mumli), and it’ll be no big deal. 

As you keep it up, some questions will probably arise. Like, ‘Am I producing enough milk for my baby?’, ‘When can I have a dang wine?’, ‘Am I likely to be breastfeeding a 19-year-old?’

Here’s what you can expect.

 

Managing milk supply

Susie Prout notes, “One of the main reasons that breastfeeding mums end their breastfeeding relationship before they’re ready is a perceived lack of breast milk.”

But she explains that how much milk you think you’re making probably isn’t how much your baby is actually getting. Don’t rely solely on the “myths surrounding signs of low milk supply”, such as how full your breasts feel, not being able to pump good amounts in a breast pump, or how often and for how long your baby feeds.

Here’s her advice for managing milk supply (and relieving anxiety about it):

  • Use your baby’s weight (with support from your midwife, child health nurse or doctor) to determine if they’re getting enough milk – NOT the state of your boobs. 

  • If they’re peeing and pooping plenty, that can also be reassuring. But “the weight is the gold standard”.

  • Don’t fall into the “top up trap” – this is when you feel like your baby isn’t getting enough breast milk, so you offer formula as well. This will cause them to feed less from the breast and reduce your milk supply. (It’s fine to supplement with formula if you want to, though!)

  • If you have any concerns about milk supply, see your doctor or lactation consultant for a review, quicksmart. They may arm you with medication or techniques to increase your milk supply. Susie says, “It’s so important to act quickly when you have concerns about your milk supply. If you really do have a dropping supply it’s much easier to help increase it when it has only slightly dropped. Waiting and giving formula before you see someone about it will make it harder to increase your supply.”

Pumping

If you’re planning to nurse your baby, you’ll probably rendezvous with a breastfeeding pump at some point. This might be because you:

  • Decide to exclusively pump and feed your baby using bottles.

  • Need to pump when you’re apart from your baby (i.e. on holiday, at work) to keep your milk supply up.

  • Pump after feeds to increase your supply. 

  • Pump and give a bottle a few times a week, maybe because your partner wants to get in on the action. (And so they should.)

Pumping is a great way to give your baby the benefits of breastfeeding while giving yourself a break. And it allows you to store up breast milk in your fridge or freezer so you can have a few drinks and still provide safe milk (not margarita milk).

 

Weaning

Just like deciding how you feed your baby is your choice, deciding when to wean them is up to you. Susie says, “Some mums let their babies decide when it’s time for them to wean, other mums choose to wean their babies when the mum decides.”

The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, and then introducing solids and continuing to breastfeed until your baby turns two or beyond. But in Western cultures, there can be a strange pressure to stop breastfeeding after the baby turns one. 

It’s okay to stop breastfeeding if you want to. And it’s okay to keep going beyond 12 months and well into toddlerhood if you want to. 

(Disclaimer: Breastfeeding a 19-year-old will be weird for everyone involved, though.)

Looking after yourself while you’re breastfeeding

Your body burns through 300–500 calories per day when producing breast milk. That’s one helluva workout! You need to prioritise rest and nourishment for yourself at this time.

 

Nourish yourself

The best foods to eat while breastfeeding include those rich in iron, DHA and choline. These are most commonly found in animal products, so if you’re vegan or vegetarian your doctor may prescribe breastfeeding supplements to top your body up on the nutrients it needs.

While you’re basically free to eat whatever the hell you want (Soft cheese! Sushi! Deli meats!), a lot of what you put into your body is transferred into your breast milk. You’re not expected to eat perfectly (you’re only human), but here are some suggested foods to AVOID while breastfeeding:

  • Caffeine (a few cups a day should be fine – but don’t go overboard!) – Susie says, “Some babies tend to be very sensitive to caffeine while other babies just don’t seem to care. The younger the baby the more sensitive they often are.”

  • Alcohol – Studies have shown that it passes through to breastmilk in very small quantities. It’s important to be aware that whenever you drink there will always be some transfer. We don’t quite know how it affects babies, it’s best to follow safe drinking guidelines

  • High-mercury fish – Again, mercury from fish like King Mackerel, Marlin, Shark, Swordfish or Tuna passes into breast milk and isn’t great for babies’ development. Check out the FDA’s advice on the best fish to eat while pregnant or breastfeeding.

 

Stay hydrated

While breastfeeding, you need another litre of water at least on top of what you already drink. Your baby will drink about 750mls of breastmilk per day, which you’re making from your water intake! So get ready to guzzle.

Invest in a good water bottle (a huge one) and keep it within arm’s reach during feeds. It’s the perfect time to be hydrating yourself.

 

Rest

Breastfeeding quite literally ‘takes it out of you’. Particularly while you’re recovering from giving birth, you need to take it easy and rest as much as possible. The demands of 8-12 feeds per day (and throughout the night) are tiring. 

Take naps, and ask for support so you can get some much-needed me-time too.

 

Worship your boobs

There actually is a temple in Japan where people go to worship boobs. But you don’t need to trek there to look after yours. 

Susie’s top tips for breast care while breastfeeding are:

  1. Invest in a good breastfeeding bra with no underwire, making sure it’s not too tight.
  2. Monitor them for signs of blocked ducts or mastitis
  3. Use nipple balm if your nips experience damage.

In regards to points 2 and 3, see a GP or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant if you’re nipples aren’t healing or you’re worried about mastitis.

And remember – your boobs may change, but they’re just incredible. They might feel full and hard at times, and leaky at others. One might be bigger than the other, leaving you feeling lopsided. Your nipples may look darker and longer and weird AF. It’s all part of the process. 

Those ladies deserve your care and attention (and a compliment every once and a while).

When you feel like giving up

The thing with breastfeeding is that one day you can be ready to pack it all in, and the next feel like you’re smashing it. It’s not a linear process. It has peaks and troughs, and only you know when you and your baby are ready to end the journey.  

Speaking of which, your baby is learning the ropes just as much as you are. And sometimes there are things going on that are entirely out of your control. If you’re worried, see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. They may be able to identify latch issues, tongue ties, or even just arm you with the confidence you need. (Someone in your corner!) 

You can find incredible lactation support and resources online on The Australian Breastfeeding Association website. They even have a live chat and phone support hotline for breastfeeding mums! 

And if you do decide that breastfeeding is too much for you, that’s okay! You’re amazing for giving it a try, and your baby will love you no matter what. You’re a great mum.

Talking to other mums who’ve done the breastfeeding hard yards can be super inspiring too. If you’re in need of some connection, download Mumli today.

This epic article was written by

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