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Breastfeeding: advice on getting started

Here is some helpful advice to keep in mind when you’re starting to breastfeed your baby.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be daunting for new mums. The health benefits are well known, but just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s never challenging. Luckily there’s lots of support available if you run into trouble. Learning a bit more about what to expect can also demystify the process and reassure you. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to breastfeeding.

Start early

The sooner you start breastfeeding your newborn, the easier it will be to establish patterns that stimulate milk production and reduce the chance that your breasts will become “engorged.”

Those very first feeds give your baby the benefits of nutrient-rich colostrum, which helps to protect from infection—even if your baby only takes a small amount. Babies who feed straight away after delivery will usually sleep for a long stretch—but they’ll need more frequent feeds for the next few days afterward. Also don’t be alarmed if the baby is a bit unsettled as milk starts to come in and replace colostrum three or four days after birth. Your breast milk will become thinner and whiter—and you’ll produce lots more of it—but it can take up to about 10 days for breast milk to fully replace the colostrum.

Know when to feed your baby

Ideally it’s best to feed your baby when they’re calm, rather than crying and screaming (which usually means they’ve been hungry for a while). Relaxed babies will attach and feed better which is good for you both. When your baby attaches well they are more likely to be getting enough milk and grow well—and you are less likely to experience sore, cracked nipples or develop mastitis.

Earlier signs of hungry/thirsty baby are:

  • Wiggly
  • Poking tongue out
  • Touching hands to mouth
  • Turning head from side to side

Feed before the tears come

If you are able to tell when your baby is ready for a feed before their tears start flowing, they’ll be better able to attach to your breast and feed well, and you will most likely experience less discomfort and soreness during the process.

How often should I breastfeed?

Different babies have different needs, so the time between feedings can vary widely. Breastfed babies often feed eight to 12 times in 24-hours. Healthy newborns will usually wake on their own for food—though some medical issues or medicines can cause an extra-sleepy baby—talk to your doctor if you’re not sure.

How long should you breastfeed for?

Any amount of breastfeeding you do will benefit your baby, but international and Australian guidelines recommend breastfeeding without adding any other food for the first six months if you can.  This has lots of benefits, including less risk of ear infections and some childhood cancers. After six months, guidelines recommend a combination of breastfeeding and solids for 12-24 months, depending on your personal preference.

What if it hurts?

When your baby is learning to attach you may feel some nipple pain—but if this continues past the early weeks or your nipples have signs of damage or feel sore after a time of comfortable feeding, it could be a sign you have an infection. If you experience pain when you’re breastfeeding get help from your midwife or doctor as soon as you can. Breastfeeding issues are much easier to solve if you get onto them early!

It’s important to be aware that although the benefits of breastfeeding are well known, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to breastfeed. If you are unable to breastfeed and need further advice and support, talk to your doctor or midwife etc.

Want to know more?

Australian Breastfeeding Association has lots of information and resources—and run breastfeeding classes. Find out more here or ring their breastfeeding helpline on 1800 686 268 to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor.

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