The breast is an amazingly effiNinemonths.com.au | Breast Feeding | Baby, Breast, Milk, May, Baby’scient organ. Your body has been preparing for lactation since shortly after conception
The breast is an amazingly efficient organ. Your body has been preparing for lactation since shortly after conception and some women can express breastmilk from the midpoint of pregnancy.
Milk is made from water, protein and milk sugar (lactose) in your blood. It is produced in the clusters of milk glands called alveoli and moves to the nipple through ducts. When your baby first suckles, the stimulation sends messages to your brain and the pituitary gland at the base of your brain releases two hormones called prolactin and oxytocin.
Prolactin stimulates the alveoli to produce milk and oxytocin stimulates the alveoli to contract and squeeze the milk out into the milk ducts. This is known as the “let-down reflex”. Babies use their tongues and jaws to squeeze the milk out by compressing the breast tissue.
The first milk, called colostrum, is often clear or slightly white- blue in colour. It is thin in consistency and packed full of antibodies to naturally immunise your baby. Your true milk will appear after a couple of days. Although human milk is rich in protein and fats, it is thinner than cow’s milk and resembles skimmed milk rather than wholemilk. It tastes very sweet.
Breast milk comes out of several holes within the nipple, not just the one and it is common for one breast to produce much more milk than the other.
All breasts function the same way. Small nipples are as capable of feeding as large ones and it doesn’t matter whether you have small, compact breasts or large voluptuous ones. The milk is produced in deeply buried glands, not in the surrounding fatty tissue.
The best way to prepare breasts for breastfeeding is to stimulate the nipples with sexual foreplay and sucking. Sex also releases oxytocin that helps in the production and release of milk.
Breastfeeding is not always straightforward. In many cases the baby will instinctively latch on to the breast without delay, though many first-time mothers find the first few days and even weeks worrying, strange, uncomfortable and excruciatingly painful. First experiences for most women fall somewhere in-between.
Don’t give up before you and your baby have had a chance to get passed the initial stage. Nature designed mothers to have milk-producing breasts, and babies are born with two reflexes common to all mammals, sucking and rooting. Rooting is your baby’s instinctual search for the nipple displayed by rolling or swaying head movements with an open mouth. Even if you are able to manage a couple of weeks of breastfeeding, it will be greatly beneficial to your baby’s long-term wellbeing.
It is likely your first attempts will be with a midwife present. Don’t be shy to ask questions and to seek any direction you may need.
The key to successful breastfeeding begins with positioning so make sure you are comfortable and can sit without having to get up for at least 30-45 minutes. You may choose to start by sitting in a chair or in bed using pillows to raise your baby to a height where its body and head are in line with your breast. Many mothers find lying on their sides easy. Ideally, position yourself so that you can hold your baby with one arm and have the other free. You may choose to have your baby firmly wrapped so that its head is supported and its hands can’t get in the way. Or you may prefer your baby unwrapped and close with its chest to your chest.
Position your baby on your forearm, its head in the crook of your arm. Support her bottom with your other hand. Pull your baby in close to you, belly to belly, its ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line.
Place your baby on a pillow, tucked close to your side. Rest your arm on a pillow, to bring your baby’s mouth up to your breast. Support your baby’s head with your hand. This positioning is useful for women who have had caesareans.
Lie on the side you will be feeding from. Place your head on a pillow and draw your baby in close to you, using your arm to support its bottom. Use your other hand to bring the breast up to your baby’s mouth. This is also useful for mothers who have had caesarean delivery or if you want to rest while feeding.
Ask your midwife or health visitor to show you different positions and variations.
- It’s best not to wash your breasts before feeding. Babies are attracted to the natural scent of your breast.
- To make it easier, free the whole breast area of loose clothing and blankets.
- Place your baby so that the cheek is next to your breast, facing the breast, with its nose opposite the nipple.
- It’s a baby-to-breast action rather than a breast-to-baby action.
- Support your breast from underneath but do not distort the curve of your breast. Your thumb and forefingers should be parallel to your baby’s mouth.
- Place the index and middle finger of the other hand on either side of your areola (the dark ring surrounding your nipple) and gently squeeze to press this area forward.
- With your nipple, touch your baby’s upper lip or stroke the side of your baby’s cheek nearest to your breast to encourage your baby to turn its head and open its mouth.
- Your baby needs to suck on breast tissue, not chew on the end of the nipple. The nipple and as much of the areola should be deep in its mouth to the back of the throat. The jaws press on the areola to pump the milk.
- If the areola is showing more than just a little carefully release the suction by slipping a finger gently into the corners of its mouth and pressing on your breast until you baby lets go. Wait until its mouth is wide open again and try putting the whole of the areola inside.
- Your baby should suck hard and rhythmically, defining the difference between sucking and feeding. Babies like to suck, but it is important they are swallowing. Gently stroking your baby’s throat can encourage swallowing.
- When finished with one breast, place your little finger in your baby’s mouth and again push down gently on the lower jaw to break the suction. This avoids painful pulling on your nipple.
- Offer the second breast that your baby may or may not want.
Try not to get discouraged if this all seems difficult. It may take some time for both of you to get used to it. Some babies are natural suckers. Others need encouragement. Breastfed babies do not suck continuously through a feeding. They tend to enjoy bursts of sucking, then stop for a while before starting again. This is normal.Your baby will let you know when it is ready to feed.
Your baby may stir in its sleep, the eyelids may flutter open and shut, or it may suck in its fingers. If any of these messages are unnoticed, your baby will probably cry.
A midwife or visiting health practitioner should see both you and your baby, two to four days after the birth. All babies should be seen again at one week and one month.
It’s a good idea to record your first attempts to breastfeed detailing the following:
time of day you begin feeding
- duration on each breast
- position of baby on breast
- number of wet and soiled nappies