As your due date approaches, the prospect of meeting your unborn baby can be both exhilarating and terrifying.
You know you’re about to meet the love of your life, but you also know you’re facing a whole new world of responsibility – and that can be daunting.
Especially when it comes to the prospect of feeding, one of the most talked about new parenting responsibilities, and one of the most important – after all it’s a vital necessity.
For some new mums feeding their baby is problem free, most with face one or more challenges, but rest assured, they can all be overcome – one way or another.
So arm yourself with knowledge but keep a healthy perspective, because regardless of any difficulties you encounter, your baby will receive the nourishment he needs.
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Aside from being made up of nutrients specifically required to support healthy functioning of a new baby’s immature gut and immune system – it’s also convenient!
Your first breastfeed, soon after your baby is born is one of the most magical moments you will experience as a new mother.
Immediately after the birth, it’s important to have plenty of skin-to-skin time with your baby placed tummy-down against you.
“Your baby knows how to breastfeed – our job is to set up the situation in which the baby’s hardwired reflexes can take over,” says Dr Pamela Douglas, author of The Discontented Little Baby Book
“Eventually, those tiny brand-new limbs will begin to crawl, he or she bobs that little head against you and gradually finds the way to the breast; your loving hands support and follow and maybe help just a tiny bit occasionally, if that feels right. “
“Although your milk doesn’t come in for a few days, the drops of colostrum the baby extracts during early suckling become a golden paint that lines and protects the gut,” says Dr Douglas.
The flow of colostrum is very slow, which allows your baby to learn how to nurse and also how to coordinate sucking, breathing, and swallowing.
After a few days, your milk will come in – you’ll know because your breasts will start to feel less soft and more firm as your milk changes from colostrum to milk that looks kind of like skim milk.
Your milk will be transitional for the first 10 to 14 days, after which it’s considered to be mature milk.
Babies need very frequent feeding in the first fortnight – up to 12 times a day – so that the prolactin receptors in the breasts are properly switched on, ensuring your capacity to build good supply in the weeks and months ahead.
“At the first sign of grizzling or upset behaviour in your newborn, lean back, bring the baby to the centre of your chest, and allow the baby to bounce his head down to find the breast.”
Generally speaking, it can take six or more weeks for a breastfeeding relationship to settle down and become easy and like any new skill, it might feel very awkward at first.
But according to Dr Douglas, it shouldn’t hurt.
“It is important to seek help promptly if the suckling hurts and you can’t sort it out, we definitely need to avoid nipple damage and pain.
“But as you and the baby become practised, breastfeeding is most often deeply enjoyable.
“The best part comes when you can finally calm your baby down anywhere, anytime, with a casual snuggle and breastfeed.”
“Creating many opportunities for skin-to-skin contact in the early days helps ensure that the neurological pathways for comfortable, successful breastfeeding are laid down,” says Dr Douglas.
Offer the breast in response to your baby’s cues and let comfort be your guide.
“Lie back a little, experiment, watch and wait, perhaps offer some gentle assistance as the baby gets into a position that allows a ‘chin plant’ with ‘nipple-to-nose’, take your time, try the ‘snuggle and slide’ of the baby’s bottom to experiment with positioning, and never force or hurry the baby – these are the keys.”
As a general rule, let the baby finish at the one breast before offering the other.
Although breastfeeding is a natural action, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In fact, it can be extremely difficult, particularly in the early days.
If you experience problems such as breast or nipple pain, it’s important to seek help as early as possible, to prevent problems from worsening.
Ask as many questions as possible while you’re in hospital and if issues arise after you leave, visit a lactation consultant or your GP immediately.
Research suggests that parents use formula for three main reasons: because the baby isn’t gaining weight adequately, because of breast and nipple pain, or because they are worried that the baby is unsettled due to hunger.
“It can often be very difficult for families to find the information or help that they need for these problems, in a timely and affordable way,” says Dr Douglas.
“Sometimes, the problems are simply insurmountable.”
“If you can’t breastfeed, formula is, of course, the next best option”.
“Once you decide to use formula, it’s best to mimic as many of the benefits of the ‘breastfeeding package’ as possible.
This is done with a technique known as ‘paced bottle-feeding’ which includes:
“In short, it is protective to make feed-times as pleasurable and relaxed as you can, giving the baby time to register satiety.”
Any standard cow’s milk formula can be used for healthy term babies.
There is a variety of special formulas available, such as anti-reflux and soy, however these are not required by most babies, and should be used only when medically advised.
Although formula has been linked to an increased risk of some health issues, such as obesity, Dr Douglas says it’s likely that these issues relate to the method of formula-feeding, rather than to the formula itself.
Paced bottle-feeding is the best protection
“In the first 16 weeks, I recommend formula feeding in response to the baby’s cues – offering the baby the bottle when he or she seems upset and hungry, and using the techniques of paced bottle-feeding to keep within the recommended daily volumes.