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Breastfeeding - the Early Days

Following the birth of your baby you will be given your baby to hold skin to skin for at least 60 minutes. This is a good time to offer the first breastfeedmother and baby as your baby will be awake and alert after birth. We will show you how to recognise the early signs of your baby’s readiness to feed and we will give you any help you require. Skin to skin contact may continue during your transfer to the postnatal ward and it will not be interrupted for routine procedures.

If there is a medical reason why you cannot give your baby skin to skin contact immediately after birth, your partner can hold your baby skin to skin. If you have a caesarean section under general anaesthetic, skin to skin contact can start when you are alert and awake. Babies that require non emergency transfer to the neonatal unit will be given skin to skin contact and an opportunity to breastfeed before transfer. Babies requiring immediate transfer to the neonatal unit can have skin to skin contact as soon as their condition improves.

Baby led feeding means that no restrictions are placed on the frequency or duration of breastfeeds for healthy babies. If there is a medical reason why your baby needs scheduled feeding, this will be discussed with you. Your baby is likely to want to feed at least six to eight times in 24 hours, which includes at least once during the night.

Signs your baby wants to breastfeed

Your baby will usually give you plenty of warning when they want food.

Early signs to watch for are when your baby:

  • sucks its fists;
  • turns its head looking for the breast; or
  • opens its mouth and puts out its tongue.
After these early signs your baby may then start to:

  • make noises; 
  • cry loudly.
When you see these early signs, it is a good time for you to prepare for feeding by going to the bathroom, have a glass of water at hand and make yourself comfortable. Babies cry for lots of reasons not just for feeding. In time you will recognise your own baby’s signals and what they mean. Sometimes to get your baby ready to feed you may have to calm and comfort them first.

Putting your baby to the breast

It is important that you find a comfortable position. If you are sitting down to feed, try to make sure that:

  • your back is well supported;
  • your lap is almost flat;
  • your feet are flat on the ground; and
  • you have extra pillows to support your back and arms or to help raise your baby to the level of your breasts.
Breastfeeding lying down can be very comfortable and handy if you have had a caesarean section and for night feeds. Lie on your side with a pillow supporting your head and back, with another pillow between your legs. Once your baby is feeding well, you will be able to feed them comfortably anywhere without needing pillows.

Your baby’s position

There are various ways that you can hold your baby for breastfeeding. Whichever way you choose, here are a few guidelines to help make sure that your baby is able to feed well:

  • Hold your baby close to you.
  • Baby should be facing the breast, with head, shoulders and body in a straight line.
  • Baby’s nose or top lip should be opposite the nipple.
  • Baby should be able to reach the breast easily.
  • Remember always to move your baby towards the breast rather than your breast to the baby.

Attaching your baby to the breast

It is important to make sure that your baby latches onto the breast correctly, otherwise, baby may not get enough milk during the feed andmother breastfeeding baby your nipples could become sore.

Position your baby with their nose or top lip opposite your nipple. Tease the baby with the nipple in a downward direction. Wait until the baby opens its mouth and move the baby onto your breast so that its lower lip touches the breast as far away as possible from the base of the nipple. This way, your nipple points towards the roof of your baby’s mouth.

When your baby is properly attached to the breast you will notice that: 

  • your baby’s mouth is wide open and they have taken a big mouthful of breast tissue;
  • your baby’s chin is touching the breast;
  • your baby’s bottom lip is curled back;
  • feeding should not hurt you;
  • if you can see any of the areola (the brown skin around the nipple) more should be visible above the baby’s top lip than below its bottom lip; and
  • your baby’s sucking pattern will change from short sucks to long deep sucks with pauses.
Feeding should not be painful. If you feel some tugging when the baby first attaches to the breast, this sensation should fade quickly and then the feeding should be comfortable.

If it is uncomfortable throughout the feed, this can mean that your baby is not attached properly. Remove the baby from the breast by:

  • placing the tip of your little finger into the side of the baby’s mouth so that the suction is broken.
You can then help your baby to reattach correctly. If the pain continues, ask a midwife for help.

Tips for successful breastfeeding

  • You and your baby will have skin to skin contact after birth. This is a great opportunity for your baby’s first breastfeed.
  • ‘Rooming in’ is hospital policy. This means that you keep your baby near you throughout your stay in hospital so that you get to know your baby and their feeding cues.
  • Good positioning and attachment.

Breastfeeding support while in hospital

The midwives will assist you with breastfeeding while you are in hospital. Make sure that a midwife checks that your baby is positioned correctly and is well attached to the breast during your stay in hospital. The lactation midwives are available in the hospital Monday to Friday. The midwives on the wards will contact them if special assistance is required. Breastfeeding support sessions are held on the postnatal wards. Once you are discharged from hospital you may ring the lactation midwives for support by phoning 01 817 1700 or you may attend the breastfeeding support group sessions held weekly.

Patterns of breastfeeding

mother breastfeeding babyBabies feeding patterns vary enormously. For example, some breastfed babies do not want many feeds in the first two days. However, the feeds may then become very frequent, particularly in the first few weeks. This is quite normal: if you just feed your baby whenever they are hungry, you will produce plenty of milk to meet their needs. This is called ‘demand’ feeding. Each time your baby feeds, messages are sent to your brain, which then sends signals to your breasts to produce more milk. 

If your baby does not breastfeed at least six to eight times in 24 hours, you may notice that you do not produce enough milk to meet your baby’s needs. Therefore, whenever your baby is hungry put them to the breast. If your baby has been fed and is still unsettled, check if the nappy needs changing or if your baby just wants a cuddle or to be soothed. If none of these settle your baby then offer them another breastfeed.

More feeding = more signals = more milk

Each time your baby feeds, the milk supply is being built up. While your baby is learning feeds may last quite a long time. Many mothers worry that frequent feeding means that they do not have enough milk to feed their baby. Providing that your baby is properly attached to the breast, this is very unlikely to be the case. Ask the midwife if you are unsure. Once you and your baby are used to breastfeeding, it is usually very easy. The milk is always available at just the right temperature. In fact, there is really no need to think about it at all. Your baby lets you know when it is time for the next feed.

How do mothers know if breastfeeding is going well?

Breastfeeding is going well when your baby:

  • is alert and waking for feeds;
  • has a minimum of six wet nappies and four soiled nappies every day after the first week;
  • is gaining weight after the first week;
  • settles and sleeps between feeds; and
  • your breasts or nipples are not sore.

Looking after yourself

It is important that you rest, eat well and drink for your thirst. Avoid alcohol and limit how much caffeine you take in drinks like coffee, cola and tea.

Breastfeeding is nature’s way of making you take it easy for the first few weeks after the birth. This is good as your body undergoes huge changes in the days following the birth and lots of rest will help you to recover.

Try to have as much help around as you can. If you have other children, arrange relatives and friends to help you with them.

Your partner will have the job of caring for you while you feed your baby. They can spend plenty of time with your baby between feeds while you are resting.

There will be no shortage of nappies to change or cuddles to give your baby. It is a good idea to have the freezer stocked with meals and foodstuff before the baby arrives making it easier for you and your partner.

While you may be excited to introduce your precious new baby to all your family and friends it is actually a good idea to keep visitors to a minimum for the first week or so. Newborn babies do not like being over-handled and can become upset and fretful if passed from one person to another.

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