What image comes to your mind when you think of a newborn?
I almost always picture a baby suckling on the mother’s breast while the mother smiles in contentment and amazement. Amazement because it’s incredible how a tiny seed grew into a little person, in such perfect proportions; and contentment because she’s able to nourish and grow the baby solely on what her body produces – breast milk.
Benefits of Breast Milk
Breast milk, also called ‘liquid gold’ not only provides the perfect combination of macros (protein, carbohydrates & fat) but also micro minerals, vitamins, and high amounts of antibodies to strengthen the baby’s immune system. Breast-fed babies don’t even need to drink water; milk provides all the necessary hydration.
The most amazing feature of breast milk is its ever-changing composition based on the time of the day, baby’s age, nursing stage (fat and lactose content changes between foremilk and hindmilk), time since last feeding and the mother’s diet. Breast milk is not just food, its potent medicine and a powerful medium of communication between mothers and babies. While breastfeeding, the baby’s saliva goes into the mother’s breast and spurs an immune response. This feedback helps the mother’s body produce exact anti-bodies in response to the baby’s illness. For ex., when the baby has a cough, cold or any other illness, the composition of the breast milk changes, it becomes yellowish and more like the initial colostrum rich in antibodies and protein.
Knowing all this, I thought it would be most natural for a mother to know how to nurse her child. How wrong I was! I struggled for weeks to breastfeed properly and realised that it’s not something I could learn without guidance, tonnes of practice, determination, and patience, both with myself and my child.
Based on my experience with doctors in India and conversations with dozens of moms and moms-to-be in the hospital waiting room while waiting for vaccinations and diagnosis, I’ve made some pointers that can help a new mother or mother-to-be in her breastfeeding journey.
10 Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms
1) Join a breastfeeding support Group
Having an online support group means you’ll always have someone responding and reassuring you at any point of the day or night. I am part of Breastfeeding Support for Indian moms and the group was instrumental in me being able to breastfeed my daughter for over 4 years. They have lactation consultants (breastfeeding specialists trained to teach mothers how to feed the baby) too in the group. Whenever I doubted myself, I asked on the forum and I got tremendous support and the right advice. I also found some mothers whose kids were just weeks older than mine, so whenever they asked a question about feed, sleep patterns, etc, I read the advice. It helped me prepare for the next stage with my child.
2) Notify your gynaecologist that you want to use the ‘golden hour’
The first hour after birth when a mother has uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with her newborn is referred to as the “golden hour.” This period of time is an integral factor in a mother’s breastfeeding journey. It is imperative that you get your gynaecologist on-board with your plan to give your baby skin to skin immediately post-birth. Immediate skin-to-skin contact is the best way for a mother and newborn to bond and initiate milk supply. The cleaning and weighing can wait in most scenarios.
Even in cases where medical emergencies may change a family’s birth plan, it is still possible to take advantage of bonding time in the first few minutes.
3) Insist on keeping the baby with you unless there’s a medical emergency
If the baby is fine, insist on keeping the baby with you. You will need strong attendants (mother/hubby). In the case of a c-sec, they will need to hold the baby to your breast for suckling. Let the baby suckle as much as possible (sometimes 45 mins to 1 hr). This will initiate lactation and baby will have its first milk ‘colostrum’. Colostrum is your baby’s first food, it’s a thick, yellowish liquid rich in protein and antibodies. After the initial 3-4 days, transitional milk comes and after 3-4 weeks body starts producing mature milk. Ask for nurses’ help or get a lactation consultant to help you latch (how the baby fastens onto the breast) the first few times at least.
4) Suckling is important
In case it is medically established (only in that scenario and not because the baby is crying and not sleeping) that baby needs formula, let the baby suckle at the breast for 10-15 mins before giving formula. You can even hand express milk (rhythmically compress breast for milk flow) and feed the baby to avoid formula. Pls watch YouTube videos and ask the lactation consultant to show you the proper way of doing it. Hand expressing milk incorrectly could lead to plugged ducts and unnecessary pain.
5) Feed the baby round the clock
A baby must be fed 10-12 times at least in the initial days. You’ll have to keep an eye for the first poop, count the pees to know your baby is hydrated. It is essential that you keep the baby close to you, do lots of skin-to-skin and understand hunger cues (first sign is movement of the eyeballs under eyelids). This is a good link to get you started.
6) Understand Deep Latch Technique
Establishing a proper, deep latch is vital to having a pain free breastfeeding journey. It’s a lot of work for the baby too and not easy to achieve when the baby is already upset or crying. So first step would be to soothe a crying baby and then attempt a latch. If the nipples are sore or hurt, it almost always means the baby needs to get a deeper latch. A good latch should feel like a strong tug, not a pinch or toe-curling pain. Here’s a really nice video that helped me while I was struggling with breastfeeding. I would say watch it enough number of times with your partner and keep it ready on your phone.
7) Different positions for different babies
Some of the most popular breastfeeding positions are crossover hold, cradle hold, football hold, laid-back position, and side-lying position. There are also some different types of nursing pillows. I would say spend some time on understanding these positions before the baby arrives. Smaller babies are normally fed in the football hold, while some bigger babies prefer laid-back position. You’ll have to find your comfort zone and it may even change as the baby grows. But having adequate information will have you feeling more confident about your breastfeeding skills.
8) Formula feeding
In case the hospital insists on feeding formula, try pumping milk first and feeding that. I would actually recommend that you get an electric or manual breast milk pump in the third trimester itself while you have the time to research and get the one that will fit your needs. Also, do watch videos on how to pump, how to relieve engorgements, positions to make you comfortable, etc.
9) Lip ties, tongue ties & Gape issues
Lip ties, tongue ties & gape issues in infants hinder weight gain and pain-free breastfeeding. They don’t allow a baby to have a proper deep latch leading to chomping at the nipples, frustration, confusion, and every nursing session feeling like the ultimate sacrifice. So many breastfeeding journeys end because there’s not enough awareness. These issues can be easily resolved with a visit to a lactation consultant and an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor who will perform a simple procedure.
10) Milk supply worries
Babies cry because that’s their only form of communication. They cry when they are uncomfortable, cold, hot, wet, and sleepy or 100 other reasons. Hunger is definitely one of them but most new moms are told that the baby is crying because he/she is not satiated. This makes a mother doubt her milk supply and add stress to her life. Hormones, lack of sleep, being fully responsible for a newborn – there’s so much a new mom is dealing with and if you add milk supply worries to that, it can be overwhelming. So be prepared and understand how to measure if your infant is getting enough milk.
Other things to read up on would be Breast Crawl, Kangaroo Mother care (also called KMC or skin-to-skin), infant care, the importance of colostrum, how a woman’s body produces milk, growth spurts, cluster feeds and post-partum blues (it’s real!).
I was able to breastfeed my pre-term daughter (birth weight of 1.45 kgs) for just over 4 years. It wasn’t easy to start with; I pumped exclusively for nearly 2 months before even attempting direct breastfeeding. But my journey taught me so much more about how I can help more mothers. My final advice to achieve successful and pain-free breastfeeding is to be ready with the knowledge, support and ASK FOR HELP EARLY ON!