Becoming a mother for the first time is one of the most amazing gifts that you can experience in life. Creating life and feeling it move inside you, to then give birth to life and watch its tiny, little, pitter-patter feet see everything afresh, is absolutely beautiful and by far one of the greatest rewards in life.
Breastfeeding is also one such magical experience that adequately nourishes and enriches your child with the exact amount and concentration of nutrients that he/she needs for every stage of their development. Breastmilk is teeming with all the essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes and hormones for your growing infant. It also has fully charged lymphocytes and antibodies from you – the mother – to assist your baby fight off diseases and infections, until their tiny immune systems develop on their own. It is for this reason that breastmilk is sometimes nicknamed “liquid gold”. When you become a mother, you no longer make light of the statement, “Don’t cry over spilt milk!”. You now know better.
In addition, breastfeeding helps the mother’s womb to contract after birth, reduces post-pregnancy bleeding and helps the mother lose pregnancy weight (up to 500 calories a day that you nurse).
Breastfeeding is usually, for the most part, a learning process for you and your baby. Babies are normally born with the natural sucking notion from in the womb – unless they have a condition like a tongue tie. Getting your baby to latch may come easier to some moms than others, but a good latch is very important. If your baby is not properly latched onto your nipple, they may not be getting sufficient milk and your nipple will more than likely become bruised or otherwise damaged in the process. To help avoid this, seek advice from a lactation consultant or nurse while in the hospital, if one has not already offered assistance. A rule of thumb for a good latch is to aim your nipple for the baby’s nose and push your breast into the mouth once open and then direct the nipple to the roof of the baby’s mouth. Their tongue should lap your breast underneath, you should hear a sucking sound and see your baby swallowing. If this is not the case, please seek advice from a lactation consultant or nurse.
Newborns usually feed every 2-3 hours and fill around 6 wet diapers a day. In addition, once your baby is being exclusively breastfed, their dirty diapers should be yellow and seedy. Be prepared for cluster feedingsas well where your baby may feed more often than normal, during growth spurts and other developmental changes. Also be mindful that your baby is not constantly drowsy or lethargic during a feeding, because this may be a sign of jaundice.
When feeding, allow your baby to drink and finish the milk from one breast before switching to the other. You may hear or read conflicting views on this. The first few days after birth, your baby will be drinking colostrum from your breast, which is a sweet sticky substance highly concentrated with essential nutrients that they need in these first pivotal days of life. After colostrum takes its course, mother’s milk will come in. This is what is usually referred to as breastmilk. Breastmilk has two basic layers to it. When the baby first latches on, they receive what’s called foremilkwhich is almost like skimmed milk– it is light and slightly watery. After sucking for a while from the same breast, baby will start to receive hindmilk, which is the ‘real deal’ part of breastmilk almost like full cream. It is more calorie-rich and concentrated in body and nutrients. You will also notice this difference if you express (squeeze or pump) your breastmilk.
Your nipples as a new mom will take some time to get accustomed to the friction caused by the baby’s constant sucking. It will be sore for some time, but the body is an amazing masterpiece than can literally heal itself once you empower yourself with the right knowledge. Breastmilk is actually one of the best ‘ointments’ to apply to your nipple after each feeding, to help moisturize it and relive the soreness until your nipples adjust. Simply squeeze out a little breastmilk onto your finger and gently rub it onto your nipple and let it airdry. If you notice your nipple is becoming severely sore, cracked or even bleeding without any sign of letting up, try using a nipple cream, nipple shield and/or soothing pad, depending on the severity. If the problem persists beyond a few days, consult a lactation consultant or your doctor.
Follow baby’s cues
Allow your baby to ‘tell’ you when they’re hungry, by being aware of the signs they give and feeding them on theirdemand. Baby’s usually have the innate rooting reflex to search for food, so you may notice your baby’s mouth open and close like a fish out of water. A baby may also start sucking on their hand as a sign that they’re hungry. Eventually, you may even be able to distinguish your baby’s cry for milk from any other cry. This will come with time and it may even shock you when you realize it.
Make yourself comfortable
Ensure that you are in a comfortable space and position when breastfeeding for you and your baby. After all, you wouldn’t want to eat your meal in a cotched up or slouched position for a 20 to 30 minutes stretch. Nursing pillows are sometimes useful for this purpose and can help give your arms a break.
Drink plenty water
Although breastfeeding is giving so much to your baby, it really is doing this at the expense of your body. So be sure to try as best as you can to replenish the nutrients lost, especially in light of the fact that your body has just endured childbirth, which brought a whole lot of changes to the body by itself. Try to bear at least these 4 things in mind:
- Ensure that you rehydrate your body at least twice as much as you would before pregnancy.
- Continue to take your pre-natal vitamins for the duration of breastfeeding.
- Increase your calorie intake to replenish the calories lost, but do it in moderation.
- Everything you eat, your baby will eat so stay away from alcohol or any harmful substances which may pass on to your baby. Spicy foods may also upset your baby’s little tummy.
Pump between feedings
If you plan to continue breastfeeding when you return to work or have someone feed your baby while you are out, try to pump or express your breastmilk and store it in the fridge or freezer – depending on when you intend to feed it to your baby. Pumping between feeding will help to maintain your milk supply, reduce the chance of engorgement and mastitis and further help you to lose weight as you continue to breastfeed. One extra tip here, is to consider purchasing milk storage bags that allow you to put the bag directly into the feeding bottle afterwards. The Kindle system has one such example.
Find your mom tribe
The last but certainly one of the greatest tips, is to find your support system through a mom tribe of your own. Depending on your personality, you may want a physical support group or a virtual one (eg. mommy groups on Facebook). Whichever suits your taste, find a group that you feel comfortable sharing your concerns with and from which you can garner valuable advice and tips for the long motherhood journey ahead. You will see the value of this as you get more into the groove of things and you yourself will ultimately be that for someone else, whether you realize it or not.