although breastfeeding seems like a “natural” thing, a lot of it surprisingly doesn’t come naturally to a mother who’s new to breastfeeding. it’s a skill that needs to be learnt — kinda like driving — and there’s a lot of theory to understand if you intend to breastfeed.
i’m no lactation consultant, but here are some pieces of information which i now know are useful for a new mum who wants to exclusively breastfeed in the first few months.
by the way, struggling to breastfeed a newborn is completely normal, even among women in a pro-breastfeeding culture, so don’t be discouraged!
forming a support network
- finding sisters who have breastfed, are breastfeeding, or are going to breastfeed is super important. as a first timer there will be many, many questions and many, many unfamiliar situations. having people to discuss these issues with will teach a lot and keep you sane. there are breastfeeding facebook groups out there, but i think best is to find people you know in real life whom you are comfortable texting.
establishing milk supply in the first three weeks
- breastmilk supply is essentially about demand and supply. your breasts are containers, and the more you empty them, the more your body will refill them. some of us have bigger “containers” than others, and these differences come to play when comparing pumping output, but as long as you continue to latch or pump, insyaAllah your body will provide enough milk for the baby. by the way, our capacities have nothing to do with breast size, because it’s about the number of milk ducts we have, not the amount of fatty tissue.
- the first 3 weeks after delivery is the most important period for our bodies to establish our milk supply. if we keep emptying our breasts, our bodies will know to keep producing milk. so keep latching, and try not to offer formula milk yet, otherwise your body won’t be receiving an accurate signal of how much milk your baby needs. it’s a vicious cycle: the more you supplement, the less you nurse. the less you nurse, the less you produce.
- our parents lived through a pro-formula milk era where advertising was aggressive and rampant. it’s not uncommon to hear them ask or declare that our “susu tak cukup” (milk not enough) or pass comments like “kesian dia, asik gantung sebab dia minum tak puas” (poor thing, baby has to keep latching cos he/she’s not satisfied at the boob). such comments are not only inaccurate but also hurtful. ignore them and stick to your guns. this is where having your husband’s support is crucial!
- my nurse told me that newborns aren’t born hungry because they’ve still got some nutrition from the last few days of being in our wombs. if your colostrum has not kicked in, latch anyway so that baby can help stimulate production. don’t despair! in any case, babies want the comfort of being close to their mothers’ bodies. it is normal for milk to kick in only a few days later. colostrum is super beneficial for babies, so don’t worry about when milk will come in. trust your body to do its thing. our job is to keep latching.
- there’s going to be a lot of leaking in the first month! buy a Haakaa pump, a cap or stopper for the pump (they’re sold separately), and milk storage bags, and collect leaking milk from The Other Boob. this milk will come in handy for bottle training.
establishing a good latch in the first two weeks
- it takes time and guidance for babies to establish a good latch (watch video here; plenty of diagrams elsewhere). in the first two weeks, your nipples may feel sore, and that’s normal. however, cracked and bleeding nipples are NOT normal. if your baby seems to have a good latch but you’re still hurting, see a lactation consultant immediately. if it turns out that your baby has tongue or lip ties which prevent him/her from latching well, you can get them corrected asap so that you don’t have to suffer any longer. these problems are unlikely to go away on their own…
- if baby is unable to latch well, there’s also the option of exclusively pumping. however it’s more work and requires passion and a truckload of perseverance. personally i would set aside money to consult an expert (lactation consultant) to try salvage direct latching.
- breastfeeding positions — at NUH, i was taught to use cross-cradle which i found very useful because i would support Watermelon’s head and place my thumb and finger on her ears, and then guide her to the breast. when she got stronger and more pro, cradle worked fine. i didn’t try football hold, but i imagine it’s also a position that allows you to closely guide baby’s head to your boob.
- as long as your baby pees and poops regularly, you’re doing great momma. here is a good chart summarising how often you should feed, baby’s tummy size, how many wet diapers to expect, etc.
Credits: Perth District Health Unit
- apparently it is common for doctors to advise mothers NOT to offer breastmilk when a baby has jaundice. they could not be more mistaken. you can read Dr Jack Newman’s explanation here, but in short, KEEP BREASTFEEDING. in his words, “Do not stop breastfeeding for “breastmilk” jaundice. “Breastmilk jaundice” does not need to be treated. It is normal!”
breast vs bottle
- drinking from a milk bottle and drinking from the breast requires two different skills from babies. the flow from a milk bottle is faster and requires less effort. so if you introduce a bottle too early, the baby may prefer the milk bottle and start to get frustrated at your “slower” breast.
- if you intend to return to work, you should introduce the bottle shortly after the baby has learnt how to latch well. during my prenatal classes, we were advised to introduce around 3 weeks. i introduced it at around 7 weeks and luckily for me it went okay. if you introduce too late, the baby may reject the bottle, which will lead to other going-back-to-work problems.
my favourite resources
Ina May has a book on breastfeeding (affiliate link). she’s well known for her book on gentle birthing. it’s a super detailed read, but she writes with a gentle and loving “voice”, something that i really welcomed.
Stanford University produced a super helpful video on hand expression.
Nancy Mohrbacher is a well-known IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who has plenty of good breastfeeding articles on her website.
I also like Breastfeeding USA’s compilation of evidence-based research articles. A lot of the content overlaps with Nancy Mohrbacher’s, but I like how they categorise the articles.
okay this is all i can think of, for now. feel free to add! might be an information overload, but that’s motherhood for newbies right? 😀