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The Early Days of Breastfeeding and Establishing Milk Supply: How to get started

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

The first days and weeks after your new baby is born, are a crucial period for learning to breastfeed and establishing an adequate breast milk supply for your baby.

Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby and provides the perfect food for your babies needs. Although breastfeeding is natural, it is also a skill for both mother and baby to learn together and you may experience some challenges and need additional support from your midwives and a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

Before your baby is born

The antenatal period (pregnancy) is the ideal time to prepare and learn about breastfeeding. Many hospitals provide free birthing and breastfeeding classes to their families. You may also find private breastfeeding classes available in your local area. Some families prefer to seek an individual session with a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for personalised, tailored advice.

Before your baby is born, it can be helpful to learn:

· Positions for breastfeeding

· How to recognise when your baby is hungry (feeding cues)

· How to manage common breastfeeding concerns

· Where to find help in your community

The first breastfeed

The first breastfeed usually takes place shortly after birth, within the first two hours. Healthy, full-term babies are born ready and able to breastfeed. Most hospital's will encourage you to begin skin to skin contact after birth regardless of how your baby is born (Vaginal or Caesarean). When your baby is placed skin to skin against your chest, this helps to trigger their in-built feeding behaviours. If left undisturbed against your chest, your baby will usually begin to search for and move towards your breast. This is known as the breast crawl.

Sometimes, for medical reasons, mothers and babies are not able to feed immediately after birth. That is ok! Breastfeeding can be established when both are well and ready to try.

If your baby does not latch or feed in the first two hours after birth, you can try hand expressing some colostrum to give to your baby.

The first week

Your breasts can change a lot in the first week, as does your baby's feeding habits. Your breasts may feel soft in the first days after birth and you may be able to use your hand to express small volumes of thick, nutrient rich yellow colostrum. For most women, 3 - 5 days after birth, you may notice a change in your breasts. Your breasts may feel heavier, fuller or warmer to touch. This signals the beginning of the transition of breastmilk from colostrum to milky white mature milk.

In the first 24 hours or so after birth, many babies are sleepy and not interested in breastfeeding. In this period, well babies only need small amounts of colostrum. For many babies, they become more wakeful by the second night and start to feed frequently. On average, breastfed babies feed 8 - 12 times per day but it can be more!

Common Breastfeeding Concerns and challenges

It is common to experience any of these concerns in the first week after your baby is born. Many are able to be prevented, improved or fixed with early intervention:

* Difficulty positioning baby to feed well

* Breast Pain

* Cracked or bleeding nipples

* Low milk supply

* Sleepy baby

* Baby unable to latch to the breast

* Low weight gain

Where to find help

Sometimes, you need help or reassurance along the way. This is normal! There is a community of health professionals who can help you work through any problems you might be having. Who can help you?

* Your Midwife or Obstetrician

* The hospital's Home Maternity Service

* Your local Community Child Health Nurse

* The Australian Breastfeeding Association

* Me! Beth, Nurse Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I am available days, nights and weekends providing in home or virtual advice.

Breastfeeding is natural but it's not always easy!

Breastfeeding is natural, healthy and beneficial for both mother and baby. It is NOT always easy. For most families, breastfeeding is a new skill that both the mother (parent) and baby are learning shortly after birth. Many need help to master this skill, to work through any worries or problems which occur and to build confidence. Learning to breastfeed begins in the antenatal period, when you first learn that you're expecting a baby. Engaging with health professionals and building knowledge as soon as possible will set you up for success. When you are having difficulties, it is important to get help quickly, before it worsens. Most difficulties can be managed and resolved with a breastfeeding or lactation consultation with a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

If you are looking for help to plan your breastfeeding journey, to discuss a previous breastfeeding difficulty before the birth of your next baby or to manage a current feeding problem or concern, you can book a consult with me today.

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