The Breastfeeding Basics
If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am very open-minded when it comes to feeding your baby, whether you choose breast, bottle or combination feeding, as long as your baby is well fed and healthy, that is what matters.
If you’re pregnant and looking to breastfeed or, perhaps, are in the first few months of breastfeeding and looking for some more advice and reassurance then this is the blog post for you and I hope that you find the advice that follows helpful. Of the clients I work with, around 90% choose to breastfeed from the beginning of their baby’s life with around 10% having tried it and – for a multitude of reasons – move on to bottle feeding.
One of the biggest advantages of breastfeeding is the properties of milk itself. It contains vitamins, antioxidants and everything that your baby needs to grow and develop. When we think about their tummies and their guts, it allows their microbiome to develop in a healthy and beneficial way. Even if you choose to bottle feed, allowing baby to receive colostrum – or ‘Liquid Gold’ as it is called – in the initial few days can really help their little tummies to have the best start.
How breastfeeding works
There are 2 main hormones responsible for the breastfeeding relationship: one is oxytocin, our love hormone which relaxes the muscles to allow baby to receive our milk, and prolactin, the hormone that produces the breastmilk. Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis so when baby feeds they’re activating cells in the breast that are controlled by hormones that then let down milk into baby. Therefore baby needs to be at the breast for milk to be created and produced.
In the first few weeks, you can find it very normal for a baby to feed on and off so that they can put on weight and grow. One thing that isn’t often mentioned, however, is that babies need to be fed often in the beginning and shouldn’t be left for a long time without milk. I would always suggest waking and feeding every 3 hours in the first few days, to enable your supply to regulate and to ensure that baby is never hungry. The more they’re at the breast, the more the hormones are produced and breastfeeding can become established until you have your milk in.
I wouldn’t leave baby to ‘go through the night’ without a feed until they’ve at least regained their birthweight. If they have and they can sleep for longer stretches at night time, then you’re really lucky! Because not many do! The reality is most babies will feed every 1-2 hours, but no longer than every 4 hours.
I encourage my clients to use what I call ‘active feeding’, which basically means you observe and watch your baby during their feed to ensure they take a long feed. If they appear sleepy at any point, take them off the breast, wind them and then offer them some more milk. With my boys, I’d much rather they took one long feed and then had a couple of hours break so I knew that they were full, rather than feed them constantly every ten minutes or so. If you are concerned that you have any milk supply or even latch issues, I’d really recommend that you take the time to get them looked into because there are some excellent ways to solve breastfeeding issues and I believe that no mother should feel she can’t breastfeed, if she wants to.
Can I get my baby into a routine if I breastfeed?
In a nutshell: yes! I have had two babies who breastfed and fell naturally into healthy and manageable routines. What a routine does not mean is that, if a baby is hungry, you don’t feed them! You still need to be responsive to your baby but you can absolutely breastfeed in a pattern, if you want to.
Struggling with sleep and feeding: going hand in hand
Perhaps baby can’t settle because they’re still hungry and I know that a lot of Mums I work with do worry about how much milk baby is taking from the breast. Again, do look at the latch, look at how much / often you can see baby swallowing, go back to Dr Jack Newman and look at his videos – he has great tips on breast compressions and how baby should be attached at the nipple if you are unsure. It’s always worth checking how baby is feeding if they’re newborn and struggling with sleep – often, you’ll find it is because they are hungry.
Supporting oxytocin production
If you’re stressed, your oxytocin levels will decrease. Just as in birth, it’s the same with breastfeeding. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your oxytocin levels won’t be optimum. If you’ve got breastfeeding issues then it can be stressful, so I really can’t stress (!) enough how important it is to be relaxed whilst feeding baby. Mindfulness in breastfeeding is really helpful – if you need to, use your deep breathing exercises and allow yourself some long, deep breaths to enable your body to relax. Looking at your baby, breathe them all in and use skin-to-skin to increase your oxytocin. Anything that you can do to boost your love hormones can make a huge difference to your milk supply.
As ever, I must stress that if you are worried about your baby’s feeding, their weight gain or you are struggling with their sleep, please, please reach out for support. Don’t suffer in silence and allow yourself to seek support. You can find out all about my 1-1s here.