Is she getting enough? How long should it take? Can I get pregnant? Read these nursing facts below and you’ll discover the answers to your niggling questions
This article appeared in the October-November 2009 issue of Mother & Baby magazine.Click here to subscribe.
1. Latching on should feel comfortable
Women attach their babies to the breast in different ways. The important thing is it should feel comfortable.
To attach your baby, find a comfortable position. Hold baby so she is facing your breast. Brush your nipple over your baby’s lips. Wait until she has a wide gape, then allow her to take the breast and nipple. She should have a good amount of breast as well as the nipple in her mouth. If she’s just sucking the nipple it will be painful and she won’t be able to drain the breast.
When your baby is properly attached, her lips should be flanged out but all you will see is the curve of your breast against her cheek. When your baby comes off the breast, your nipple should look normal, not creased or squashed.
If breastfeeding is painful after the first 10 seconds or so, you need to gently take your baby off by putting your (clean) little finger in the corner of baby’s mouth and breaking the suction, and try again. If it is hurting you, then she’s not on properly, and it’s best to take her off and try again, rather than risk damaging your nipples.
2. Signs she’s getting enough milk
Good skin tone, colour and weight gain are all indicators of a thriving baby. Your baby’s output is your biggest clue as to how much milk your baby is getting. If it’s coming out, it had to have gone in!
However, this pattern changes over time. In the first week your baby will have one wet nappy per day of life one wet nappy on the first day, two on the second &3151 until day five when she will be having five or more heavy, wet disposables per day, or six to eight wet cloth nappies.
In the first week baby’s poo changes from black, sticky meconium, to green/black to mustardy/yellowy stools. In the early weeks it is normal for a baby to have several per day, even something at every nappy change. This is a good sign your baby is getting plenty of milk. After 12 weeks, however, you may find your baby goes several days or even a week without a poo this is normal too!
Most breastfed babies feed between eight and 12 times in 24 hours. Many mothers will find that their baby has a cluster of feeds at one time of the day (or night young babies tend to run on a 24-hour clock, and don’t differentiate between day and night).
It is common for babies to lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight in the first days after birth. They will usually be back to their birth weight at around two weeks. Then, for the first 12 weeks your baby will put on around 150g or more per week. After that, weight gains may plateau a bit. It’s important to look at the whole picture rather than just weight gain.
If she is lethargic, sleepy, not gaining weight and not having regular bowel motions she may not be getting enough milk. However, in most cases this can be easily rectified by ensuring your baby is feeding frequently and is attached properly at the breast.
3. There’s no time limit on breastfeeding
It is hard to define the length of a feed. For a baby, breastfeeding is food, comfort and closeness to mum. At the beginning of a feed you will notice your baby feeds vigorously as your milk 'lets down'. The 'let down; or 'milk ejection' reflex is a brain response to your baby suckling, which causes the alveoli or milk-producing cells to contract and squeeze out milk into the ducts.
Some mums feel a tingly sensation, some find it a bit painful, while others feel nothing but find their other breast leaks or notice a change in their baby's sucking pattern from quick sucks to a longer, rhythmic 'suck/swallow' pattern.
Towards the end of the feed your baby may drift off to sleep and have long breaks between short bursts of sucking. Ideally, she will release the nipple herself. After a short break a burp, a nappy change and a chance to wake up a little you might offer her the other side.
In the early days, one breast may be enough but offer the other anyway. Over time, she'll start wanting the other side as well. If your baby feeds from one side only, you may find your breast becomes uncomfortably full. Relieve this by expressing a little milk by hand until your breast is comfortable.
The composition of breastmilk also changes over the course of a feed. The milk at the beginning is high in water and lactose vital for brain development. Towards the end the milk is relatively higher in fat. But there is no defined point where the composition changes it's gradual. For this reason it is best not to time or limit feeds. However, some babies are 'all day suckers', especially in the early days. Mums can gently take baby off the breast after 20 minutes and offer the other breast. Long feeds can have the overall effect of spacing out feeds, so baby gets fewer over 24 hours.
In the early days, many mums find the whole feeding process takes a long time and wonder if they’ll ever leave the couch. But as baby and you get more proficient, feeds become quicker. Some older babies can empty a breast in 10 minutes flat.
Remember that comfort is also a valid reason for breastfeeding. As your baby feeds, she releases the Cholecystokinin (CCK) hormone, which makes her sleepy. Interestingly, mums also secrete this hormone, making them sleepy, too.
Try not to compare your baby's feeding habits with others. Every child is unique and has her own personality. More details: The Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline 1800 686 2 686.
4. Breastfeeding can be a reliable contraceptive
If your baby is under six months, having no food or drink other than breastmilk, is feeding frequently (including during the night) and your period hasn’t returned, then breastfeeding is as effective as the combined Pill. However, once any one of these factors change you introduce other food into her diet or your period returns you’ll need to seek other contraception options.
For most mothers, fertility returns between six and 24 months.
Many mothers wonder if they need to wean in order to get pregnant again. Usually this is not necessary by the time you begin to think about trying for your next baby your fertility is returning. Some women do find that they need to cut down breastfeeding, especially night feeding, to get pregnant again.