Breastfeeding: The new mom’s guide

mom sitting with baby while breastfeeding

Congratulations! Your new baby is finally here. After months of waiting and planning the birth is behind you and you have officially launched into motherhood and you can start that long awaited breastfeeding journey you have been dreaming of.

Very often, successful breastfeeding is in the mind

The very first step to breastfeeding success is to make up your mind that this is what you want. We expect breastfeeding to just come naturally. And for some it does. But the truth is that most new mothers will experience some difficulties in the early days.

Of course there is also another side to this coin. Many new moms start off petrified of breastfeeding because of negative things they have heard from others. These fears sometimes lead to them doubting their ability to breastfeed their babies.

Knowledge is power. In this blog we aim to offer you the information that you need to ensure that you set yourself up for success.

And then you need to make up your mind that you can do this and you will push through the early challenges. Because mostly they will pass and you will move on to the rewarding and fulfilling part of breastfeeding.

Read more: 5 Things Every Breastfeeding Mom Needs to Hear 

The golden hour of breastfeeding (which should really be known as the golden first few days)

Immediately after birth baby should be placed skin-to-skin on mom’s chest. This is a time when baby is alert after the birth, and where baby’s reflexes and responses are in the ideal place to get latching right.

At this point it is important to mention the role of birth in breastfeeding,  especially in the early days. If you are still pregnant, this information may help you to choose your birth option and set a birth plan. If you have already given birth, you may have had some interventions that can influence breastfeeding. 

This knowledge should not make you feel guilty or anxious that you are now going to fail. Instead it can give you some understanding in what is happening, and it can help you to have more patience in dealing with challenges.

If you are not able to immediately start skin-to-skin contact (for example if baby is in NICU), don’t feel despondent. But do so as soon as possible, and continue skin-to-skin as often as you can in the first few weeks at home.

Getting that latch right

Getting baby properly latched on to the breast forms the basis of it all. It will enable baby to get out enough milk, which in turn will give your body the message of how much milk to make. An incorrect latch will lead to nipple pain and milk supply problems. There are many tips and tricks to help your baby latch.

Despite doing everything right, some babies may still struggle and a baby refusing to latch remains a common reason why moms stop breastfeeding. Please do not lose hope! There are ways of dealing with a baby that refuses to latch that can mostly prevent it from causing longer term difficulties.

You may well need professional help to address a true latching problem. Don’t hesitate to contact a lactation consultant if this is the case.

Establishing your milk supply

Not having enough milk is the main reason why new moms stop breastfeeding. The truth is that very few moms will truly not have enough milk. Understanding how milk supply works will take a lot of worry and concern of your shoulders.

Very often the problem lies in not understanding what is normal for a healthy breastfeeding baby. It is important to understand how long and how often breastfeeding babies drink.

Generally, if your baby latches well and empties the breasts properly, and if you feed on demand you should be able to produce enough milk. There are of course some medical conditions that can influence your breasts capacity for producing enough milk.

If there are true concerns around your milk production there are luckily things that you can do to give it a boost.

Sore nipples while breastfeeding

The books will say that breastfeeding should not hurt. This is true; if breastfeeding is painful it mostly means that baby is not latching correctly. But even if everything is going well you may experience some discomfort initially. It is something new to get used to. Try these tips for sore nipples.

  • Firstly, you need to figure out any latching difficulties. Read more on the links we offered above. Alternatively, do see a lactation consultant.
  • You can squeeze out and rub a bit of colostrum onto your nipples after feedings. Alternatively you can use a 100% Lanolin ointment. Avoid nipple ointments with other types of synthetic ingredients in it.
  • Try to get a few minutes of sunshine on your nipples every day.
  • Be careful not to contract a bacterial or fungal infections on cracked nipples. Wash your hands before touching your breasts. Change breast pads frequently You can also rinse your nipples with a mild salt water solution after feeds.

Of course there are also other causes for nipple pain, so if these tips on their own don’t do the trick, do read our article on nipple pain for more extensive advice.

Breast engorgement

Around 3-4 days after birth your milk will ‘come in’, and you may well find yourself with full, hard breasts. This initial fullness is normal and will last 1-2 days. Try these tips:

  • Feed baby on the fullest side first
  • Allow baby to empty one breast, rather than feeding a little bit from both breasts with every feed.
  • You can put some heat onto your breasts before feedings to increase milk flow. You can also gently massage breasts during feeding.
  • Put cold compresses (like a bag with frozen veggies) on your breast between feedings to reduce inflammation.
  • It is not a good idea to constantly express milk as this can overstimulate your breasts. However, a once-off expressing session to empty the breast thoroughly and to enable lymph drainage can do wonders.

If you have the following signs you should contact a lactation consultant or see a doctor:

  • If your breasts are so full and hard that baby is unable to latch
  • If your breasts do not feel softer at all after a feed
  • If you experience flu symptoms like body aches and fever (often the first symptoms of mastitis)
  • If you have a red area on the breast, or a lump that doesn’t soften.

The first 40 days of breastfeeding

The first 6 weeks (but 40 days just sound so much better!) with a baby is arguably amongst the most challenging. By the end of this period you will have gained a much greater understanding of your baby’s personality, his/her problems, and how he/she wants you to deal with said problems. Click here to read more on a break-down of what to expect in the first 40 days of motherhood.

Looking after your body

Most new moms will tell you that they never knew a baby was so much work. And yes, of course it is rewarding, but many new moms are simply exhausted. You will be able to handle this phase so much better if you look after your body. Try these tips:

  • Right on top of this list comes taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally. This is a time with lots of change happening, and mixed with all the hormones and lack of sleep, postnatal depression is one of the most common post-pregnancy problems moms experience. Read more on postnatal depression and how to deal with it.
  • Give attention to your diet – you are what you eat, and all that. It is very easy to become so busy with baby that you just grab a sandwich or sometimes not eat at all. Be sure that you provide your body with the nourishment it needs.
  • Be sure to get some exercise. If you were fit and active before the birth, you are probably keen to get going again. Patience is key; read more on recovery and getting your fitness back after the birth.

If you were not really fit, why not get started with something simple like a daily walk around the block? You and your baby will benefit.

  • You can keep taking your pregnancy supplements for a few months after the birth. Alterantivly you can try a shake meant for breastfeeding moms to help you have more energy and get the nutrients you need.

Can your diet cause colic when breastfeeding?

There are many misconceptions around breastfeeding moms’ diets. The good news is that research has been unable to link any single food to cramps and colic in babies. Very occasionally a baby may have a sensitivity to something specific in mom’s diet, like cow’s milk. But you certainly do not need to start with a diet that excludes everything. Eat like you did in your pregnancy, as this is the environment in which your baby grew. If something seems to trigger cramps in baby, you can cut it out to see if it makes a difference. Remember that there are many factors causing winds and cramps apart from just what you eat.

Involving your partner

Many fathers feel a bit powerless when it comes to breastfeeding difficulties. This could not be less true. The support and assistance from a partner may well be the make of break factor on a new mom’s breastfeeding journey. Although you may not be able to do the actual feeding, you can provide assistance in many others ways. Read more on dad’s role in breastfeeding.

Expressing breast milk and going back to work

Expressing is a topic we are passionate about, as so many moms’ breastfeeding journeys completely depend on it. On this website we have loads of excellent tips and tricks to help mothers with expressing breastmilk.

There are many reasons why moms express. Whether you simply need to leave baby with someone for an hour or two occasionally, or whether you are full-time expressing for a premature baby, you will benefit from a good breast pump and good advice. You can read more on how to choose a breast pump, and on general tips on successfully expressing breast milk.

Do also visit www.allthingsbreastfeeding.co.za to find a Breast Pump Demo Centre in your area. All Things Breastfeeding’s Demo Centres are all run by certified lactation consultants who can offer expert advice on choosing a breast pump, finding a flange size that fits and on general expressing success. If there is not a demo centre close by they can assist with a virtual consultation as well.

How long should you carry on?

This is a personal decision. But if one looks at the enzymes in babies’ tummies and at their immune system, they are meant to get breast milk till the age of 2 years. Although this may initially look impossible, focus on getting through the first few difficult days. You may not think so right now, but eventually breasteeding becomes the easiest part of being a mom. And you may surprise yourself and persevere longer than you think!

In the end, remember that you are doing an awesome job, one for which there are no written specifications and protocols. So be open minded and focus on enjoying the journey!

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Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.