Breastfeeding 101: Crash Course

If there’s one thing that surprises most new mothers, it’s how hard breastfeeding can be. For something that’s supposed to be as natural as breathing, it can trip you up with how hard it actually is. 

When should I start breastfeeding?

As soon as your baby is born! Ideally, and in the best circumstances, your baby should be born and placed on your chest. From there, they should be able to wiggle around to find a breast and begin to nurse. From then on, a breastfed baby will feed at least every couple of hours, sometimes more frequently.

What happens when my milk comes in?

For the first day or so, your body produces tiny amounts of a substance called colostrum. It’s thick, sticky, and quite yellow, and it’s full of antibodies and nutrients. After that — at about 3-5 days postpartum — the milk thins out a little to become transitional milk. 

Transitional milk looks a little like milk mixed with orange juice, and it’s what fills up — often engorging — your breasts at around the time when you leave the hospital. At about 10-14 days postpartum, your mature milk comes in which is what will feed your baby for the rest of the time you breastfeed.

Why do they say that breast is best?

In every generation, there are swings and roundabouts. As we learn more, we change recommendations, and so it has gone with breastfeeding. Around about the time of the invention of baby formula, it was marketed as the perfect food for babies. And while it is a very good substitute, it’s simply not the same thing. 

Breastmilk changes its nutrient base, antibodies, prebiotics, enzymes, live cells, growth factors, hormones, vitamins, minerals, long-chain fatty acids, and even more that scientists have yet to identify. 

Is it meant to hurt?

No, it’s not. There will be some tenderness, and even initial soreness in the first few days and weeks. After all, you go from never having had anything on your nipples to having a small, industrial-strength hoover nursing every couple of hours. Serious pain — some liken it to having razor blades pulled through your skin — is a sign of a bad latch. 

A bad latch is when your baby isn’t pulling enough of your breast tissue into their mouth and ends up hanging off the nipple. Not only is that excruciating, but it’s also an inefficient method of removing breastmilk resulting in an increase in blocked ducts which can lead to mastitis. A baby with a bad or shallow latch often also isn’t extracting enough milk, leading to feeding more frequently, which just worsens the problem.

Ouch! Is there anything I can do?

Luckily, yes! We’ve spoken before about breastfeeding hygiene, which you should take a look at before you start breastfeeding. But if you are experiencing pain during feedings, it is best to consult an experienced lactation consultant. Ideally, your baby should have their chin pulled down and their lips flanged out, pulling all the breast tissue of your areola into their mouth.

There are some other things you can do to relieve your sore nipples:

  • After baby has finished feeding, squeeze a little extra breastmilk out and rub it over your nipples. Then let them air dry.
  • It’s quite important to let your nipples dry between feedings.
  • You can rinse with a saline solution to cleanse your breasts after feeding, to help hydrate the skin and promote healing. Then pat them dry gently with a soft cloth.
  • Apply a lanolin-based breastfeeding ointment to help with moist wound healing. 
  • Have your nipples lasered which helps to stimulate and speed healing.

Pain during breastfeeding is one of the leading causes of stopping breastfeeding before the recommended 6-months recommended by the World Health Organisation. 

It’s a learned skill

Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it is also a learned skill between mother and baby. Ideally, we’d live in a village where there would be many experienced mothers and midwives around to help us when our babies are born. If your modern life doesn’t look like that, then it’s like a lot of modern women. 

We hope this crash course in breastfeeding helps guide you onto a smooth and satisfying breastfeeding journey. Once it is established, it is often the part of motherhood that most mothers love the most, so it’s well worth persevering.

That being said, it’s not worth your jeopardising mental or physical health, or compromising your baby’s ability to thrive. If breastfeeding isn’t working out for whatever reason, you should feel absolutely fine switching to formula.