The first week of August is ‘International Breastfeeding Week’ and is celebrated all around the world. This year’s theme was ‘Step Up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support’.
Breastfeeding is the ideal first food for babies, but families require a lot of support in order for it to be a smooth and successful relationship.
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months and continuing until two years and beyond. Breast milk and breastfeeding have several proven advantages for both mother and baby. Breast milk is ideal for baby’s gut health since it contains live organisms that help seed the baby’s gut until it fully matures. A healthy gut leads to less risks for chronic diseases and allergies later in life.
The WHO currently recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months, and then for two years beyond that.
Unfortunately, many healthcare workers have very little education when it comes to breastfeeding unless they pursue continuing education of their own accord.
As primary care providers, a lot of misinformation is spread to families if the advice is outdated, however, there are some things you can do as a family to prepare to advocate for yourself and your baby, should breastfeeding be something you want to pursue.
Here are my 10 tips to help you breastfeed your baby successfully from day 1:
Take an antenatal breastfeeding course. The number one predictor of successful breastfeeding may surprise you - it is the nursing parent’s attitude or belief in themselves that they can do it. Taking a course while still pregnant can prepare you for normal newborn behavior which can be a mystery if this is not something you encounter on a regular basis. It also empowers you to know how to care for your baby and be responsive to their needs. If it is possible, include your partner and whomever else will be your postpartum support people; family, friends, etc. They are going to be your team once you get home and they should know how to adequately support your feeding decisions.
Do skin to skin right after birth for one hour uninterrupted. Baby is placed naked on your chest wearing only a diaper, and a blanket can be draped over you for heat. This is called the golden hour and can be practiced regardless of mode of delivery. Any non-emergency procedures such as weight measurements, vaccines, etc. can wait until after the baby has had its first feed and while the baby is on your chest. Skin to skin helps regulate baby’s temperature, blood sugars and aids in their breathing. It also helps to release oxytocin in your body - this is the love hormone and is critical to breastfeeding! You can do skin to skin as much as possible in the first weeks postpartum. Other family members can also assist with this and it is a great way for non-birthing partners to bond with the baby. A baby carrier comes in very handy for this and there are many different styles available, so you can find one that suits your needs.
Latch the baby at the breast within one hour of giving birth. After birth, if the baby is left uninterrupted, they will do something called the ‘breast crawl’. This is when they move towards the mother’s breast using their sense of smell. The glands around your breast secrete an oil that smells like amniotic fluid. Babies will naturally move towards the breast and latch on for their first feed. They are quite awake and alert during this time and after feeding they will fall into a deep sleep as birth was exhausting for them as well. Breastfeeding soon after birth alerts your body that the baby has arrived and that it needs to start making milk. It also releases the correct hormones to get a good milk supply going.
Invest in a birth Doula! A Doula is a support person who is only there for the mother during birth. They are not a medical professional and can help focus on the mother’s emotional and mental needs. Studies have shown that mothers who birth with a Doula are more likely to have the birth they wanted and are more likely to have successful breastfeeding stories (however breastfeeding success looks to them).
Do not pump or supplement in the early days unless there is a medical indication to do so, or you want to combine both breast and bottle feeding from the beginning. However, if you want to exclusively breastfeed it is important not to skip a feed in those early days. During the first few days, the baby’s stomach has a very small capacity. They only need about 5 mls of colostrum (the early milk) on the first day. Supplementing with formula (usually about 30 mls at a time) is too much and can overfill the baby. Then they will not be hungry to feed at the breast and will not latch, and your milk supply will reduce and adjust to this, thinking the baby does not need that feed. If the baby requires extra milk for low blood sugar, expressed or pumped breast milk can be offered, it does not need to be formula. Conversely, if you pump before 6 weeks, you may end up with an oversupply and other painful complications such as mastitis. If you are to be separated from your baby for any reason during this time and wish to continue giving them breast milk, then pumping may be necessary to provide relief.
Practice responsive feeding. Know what cues the baby gives when it is hungry, and respond quickly before the baby becomes too distressed. An upset baby is more difficult to latch and they will need to be calmed down first. This is also a way that skin to skin makes feeding easier as you are very alert to their movements. An infant has a rooting reflex and this is an early feeding cue. It means that they are searching around the breast to latch on and when you stroke their cheek or the side of the mouth they will open their mouth in that direction. Other signs are; eating their fists, or stirring and fidgeting. As soon as you notice feeding cues, respond by offering the baby the breast. This way, your body knows how much milk to make and will make exactly enough for them.
Understand how to determine if the baby is getting enough milk. This is often one of the biggest reasons parents stop breastfeeding - perceived low milk supply. It is difficult to see how much milk the baby is getting so you have to rely on other signs that they are drinking enough. They should have plenty of wet diapers and at least one dirty diaper a day. The dirty diapers should be a mustard yellow color by day three. They should also be content after feeds and you should be able to hear swallowing at the breast. The baby should also be gaining weight after their initial weight loss (which is normal). Weight gain is something that can easily incite fear in new parents, so just remember that each baby is unique and they will all gain weight at different rates. They may not follow a specific chart all the time and that is alright, as long as they are gaining weight and meeting developmental milestones.
Do not introduce solids before six months! This can displace breast milk and the baby’s gut is not developmentally ready for solid foods. There are some signs to look out for if you think your baby may be ready for solids. The biggest milestone to look out for is the baby is sitting up by themselves with minimal assistance. This means they have good core strength and helps to protect against choking.
Have support at home. Babies cluster feed a lot during the first few weeks after birth. This means that they may feed very frequently, sometimes every half an hour. Your body is busy calibrating how much milk to make for this baby during these weeks. It is also the baby’s way of learning to trust and rely on you postpartum - you are still their safe place! Someone has to be available to help you maintain your home situation by cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and caring for other children. A postpartum Doula is a great investment and something many people add to their baby registries these days. It is also a great way for friends to help you if they ask what they can do - dropping off a hot meal is much more helpful than coming over and expecting to be hosted.
Ask for support! If at any time you feel something is off with your breastfeeding journey, seek out a Lactation Consultant. They are the only professionals who solely specialize in breastfeeding and can help you understand and troubleshoot any issues. The gold standard is an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) as they have both hands-on and theoretical knowledge. They had to pass an internationally accredited exam so especially if you are living outside of your home country, look for this credential. Another great place to see support internationally is ‘La Leche League’ (potentially a great place to meet other parents in the area too!) The LLL is a peer to peer support group where leaders are required to have breastfeed their own children for at least a year. Even if you do not find one in your area, many have active Facebook groups you can join as well.
With the right information, your breastfeeding journey can be what you want it to be. Current health systems are not built to be supportive of breastfeeding, unfortunately, which is why it is so important for each family to be empowered and to know how to advocate for themselves!
Having support around you throughout pregnancy and postpartum is so important and can also make a huge difference.
If you would like to learn more about how I can help and support you on this journey, I invite you to book a FREE consultation with me so that together we can ensure you have the best experience possible with your baby from day 1.
Mia is a Registered Dietitian who is passionate about helping her clients live happy and healthy lives by nourishing their bodies with nutritious and delicious food. She helps adults and children to achieve optimal health using food and nutrition through evidence-based research.
Mia’s focus is on all stages of life including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, toddlerhood and diseases of lifestyle.