Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world and feeding your baby happily for many months should be within the reach of most mums. In theory. But while some mums make breastfeeding look easy, it is actually very physically demanding and most mums will experience at least some difficulties along the way, especially in the early days as both mum and baby are finding their feet. Successful breastfeeding usually takes a little perseverance and plenty of support along the way, so here are five tips to help you avoid some of the common frustrations and make the most of this very special time between you and your baby.
1 - Find and keep a comfy position
Finding a nice comfy position is crucial to successful breastfeeding. Even before your baby arrives you can try out your different chairs at home and work out which ones will probably give you and your baby good support, although you might change your mind once she's there. You may be spending several hours a day feeding in the early days, so varying the chair you sit in sometimes is probably wise.
As time goes on and your baby grows and becomes stronger, the chairs that are comfortable for feeding in will probably change: A chair that earlier offered great support may become a little too restrictive, or the sofa that was too roomy when baby needed to be held up to the breast may be the perfect place to feed once she's bigger and able to sit up unaided.
Top tip - Ordinary pillows are useful feeding props, but we heartily recommend a special curved nursing pillow which gives great support for your baby, can allow you a free hand, and can also completely transform the comfort level of any chair for feeding.
2 - Set up your feeding space
Some babies are all done with their milk in ten minutes, but if you have a long feeder then it's well worth planning ahead to set your feeding area up with things you'll need within easy reach: a drink, snacks, reading material, the tv remote, phone or some soothing music. Being well-prepared like this will be particularly important for those early substantial night feeds, when you'll want to settle your baby with minimal disturbance.
In the early days you may be able to catch up on your viewing or reading while your baby drinks and snuggles, but at some stage even the turning of pages may become too much of a distraction for her and then you'll have to be happy just using the time to relax and think or to talk quietly with your baby as she drinks.
Top tip - Condensed fruit sticks and nuts are great for feed-time snacks as they release energy quickly, but they're still a healthy snack and are small and non-messy to eat. Do be careful not to over-do sugary foods though.
3 - Monitor how you affect your baby
As a breastfeeding mum, many things that you do, or don't do, can affect the quality, quantity, digestibility and taste of your milk. To breastfeed successfully it helps to be very tuned in to how your diet and behaviour can affect your milk supply and your baby's digestion. Most mums will be aware that alcohol consumption should be kept in check while breastfeeding, and that you need extra calories and water to make plenty of milk. But you also need to be aware the some foods you eat may affect your baby. It may be as simple as your baby turning her nose up at milk made from strong-tasting foods, but there are some foods that it is better to avoid. For example, wind-inducing foods (such as spicy foods, onions, brocolli, beans etc.) may give your baby wind and worsen colic, and the acidity of citrus juices may trigger reflux. Meanwhile drinking peppermint tea can inhibit lactation, so you're not advised to drink more than one cup per day when breastfeeding.
What you do is almost as important as what you eat: If you're run off your feet trying to do too much or you are anxious and stressed about something then this can affect your milk supply and unsettle your baby at feeding time. In order to look after your baby well you need to look after yourself by getting plenty of rest, eating well and having some time to yourself to unwind if possible. You should also bear in mind that moderate or heavy exercise will dehydrate you and sap the energy that might otherwise go to making more milk, so you may find that your milk supply runs low after exercise. If so, try to time things so you have some recovery time, particularly if you exercise hard or out in the sun, and do drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising.
If you keep an eye out for these links then you'll then be able to adjust your diet and behaviour to avoid any triggers that disrupt your baby's feeding and digestion.
Top tip - Drinking a herbal tea specially formulated for nursing mums can promote lactation as well as benefitting the digestive systems of both you and your baby. Such teas usually include aniseed and fennel and you can benefit from simply drinking fennel tea.
4 - Get out and about and see people
In the early days of breastfeeding you may feel like hiding away at home but it can do you a lot of good, both physically and mentally, to get out and about. Fresh air and a bit of exercise walking in the park can help replenish your energy stores while seeing friends will give you a lift, particularly if they also have babies and you can exchange experiences, advice and support. Meeting with a group of breastfeeding mums is a great way to ease yourself into breastfeeding comfortably in public, which is a skill that can make all the difference to your experience as a breastfeeding mum.
Top tip - If you don't already know breastfeeding mums through friends or your ante-natal group, most areas now have local breastfeeding support groups which you can find through the breastfeeding support organisations La Leche League, The Assocation of Breastfeeding Mothers, The National Childbirth Trust or the government Sure Start programme.
5- Adapt to your baby's changing needs
There's no one magic formula for a successful breastfeed and what your baby wants and needs will change over time as she grows. Whether it's a fluctuating appetite and sleeping pattern due to growth spurts, teething or illness; changing sensitivities to other distractions; adjustments in feeding places and positions for comfort or the occasional need for comfort feeds, there will be plenty of adjustments to be made over time. Breastfeeding will be most successful and rewarding when you're in tune with these changing needs of your baby and avoid becoming frustrated if you find you can't anticipate and plan down to the last detail or always follow the same set routine for feeds times.
Top tip - If your baby no longer has milk during the day, either because you're back at work and don't want to express or because she's on several meals of solids, you can still make sure your baby gets the goodness of breastmilk last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Keeping up some milk flow will be particularly useful if your baby should get sick and struggle to keep anything else down.