When my daughter was born, skin-to-skin contact felt instinctive. After months of internal kicks and squirms, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the wriggle of her limbs. I was enchanted by her beautiful, unfamiliar face. Holding her against my chest meant I could gaze at her while bonding. She was born just after 1am in a hospital, and I was far too exhilarated to sleep - so in those precious mornings hours we had the space and privacy to work out breastfeeding between us. She knew exactly what to do.
Since those precious early days my knowledge of breastfeeding has broadened after many years of research for my upcoming book The Natural Baby (co-authored with Samantha Quinn) and for the free resources available through my new organisation Natural Mumma (offering gentle guidance and support for pregnancy, birth and beyond). As well as the nutritional and developmental benefits, breastfeeding is such a wonderful way to bond with your baby. It can be distressing for a woman if she struggles to feed, so here are a few of my favourite tips to help you on your way:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you have any worries or concerns, then there is plenty of help available. Have a chat with your health visitor or midwife, enquire at your doctors, do an internet search to see what is available in your area. Many women benefit from local breastfeeding support groups. La Leche League have a breastfeeding helpline, with patient and experienced breastfeeding counsellors available. There may be postnatal classes at your local hospital. Many doulas also offer breastfeeding and postnatal support. Have a chat with other mums. Breastfeeding can feel exhausting to start with, it takes a lot of time and patience. Give yourself a good couple of weeks to really get to grips with it. Surrounding yourself with people who understand and can offer advice, can be invaluable. These people could help you find the perfect position for latching on, or just reassure you that breastfeeding can be very demanding.
Watch your posture
As pregnancy hormones loosen your ligaments, it can take some time before your core muscles are strong again. You need to take extra care to protect your back during this time. Night feeds, exhaustion and long feeding sessions can cause even the most posturally-aware mum to slouch. I learnt the hard way that breastfeeding can really take its toll on your back. I’d advise a good breastfeeding pillow, which will help you achieve the perfect latching on position as well as taking the strain off your back and supporting your baby. During night feeds lie down with your baby parallel beside you for a more relaxed and supported feed.
Take care of yourself
As milk is made up of around 90% water, nursing mothers should drink 3 litres (12 cups) of water each day. Try to get into the habit of having a drink with each feed. Remember that many fruit and vegetables are packed with water too, as well as providing you with essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is essential throughout our lives, but as breastfeeding relies on our body’s stores it is more important than ever that you pay attention to what you eat. Breastfeeding causes us to use up around 500 more calories than usual, so be sure to eat regularly. Include plenty of iron-rich snacks such as dried fruit and seeds. As well as staying hydrated and well nourished, give yourself the time and permission to just focus on establishing a feeding pattern. Sustaining a little life is a wonderful way to spend your time, savour these precious moments.
Mark the side
Sometimes you can feel which breast is more full of milk, other times it can be a bit hit and miss. It’s important to alternate breasts regularly as this can help avoid potential problems such as mastitis. A really simple way to keep track is to mark the side by swapping a bracelet from wrist to wrist. During night feeds you can keep track depending on which end of the cot your lay their head.
Create a nursing basket
New babies can feed up to around 12 times a day, often for 20-30 minutes each time. It’s really worth having everything to hand ready for your feed. I strongly recommend putting together a nursing basket or two (perhaps one for the bedroom and one for the living room). They would also make a lovely, thoughtful gift for a newly nursing mum. Here is a suggested list taken from The Natural Baby:
- A bottle of water (staying hydrated is essential)
- Some dried fruit or an energy bar
- A manicure set? Filing your nails and applying hand lotion will help to pamper you
- A good book and some magazines
- A notebook, paper and pen (in case anything you need to remember pops into your head – or you feel creative!)
- Your iPod or music device
- A comfy blanket in case your little one gets cold
- A spare pair of baby socks
- A burp cloth
- Nipple cream or oil (organic natural oils such as coconut and olive oil are very nourishing and contain no chemicals so are safe for your child. Calendula oil is very effective and safe too).
READ The Natural Baby: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth and beyond by Holly Daffurn and Samantha Quinn of the award-winning baby skincare range Mumma Love Organics. The book is packed with personal insights, nutritional advice and recipes, natural remedies, guidance for an active birth, attachment parenting practices and so much more.