Why should I consider breast-feeding?

Can women with small breasts breast-feed?

Yes. The size of the breast is determined by the amount of fatty tissue in it. This is separate from the number of milk-producing glands. Most breasts have approximately the same number of milk-producing glands, regardless of their size.

Is breast-feeding difficult?

It shouldn't be, but of course there are many things that can occur that may dishearten a breast feeding mother. For example, women with other small children may find the experience extremely tiring. Women may find it uncomfortable to feed their babies in certain public places or even in front of certain members of their own families. Everyone is different and some women will feel more confident than others. It is a good idea to talk to other women for advice and encouragement. Breast feeding support groups can be a great source of advice and your public health nurse or practice nurse can put you in touch with the relevant local contact.

There are three things that you can do to make breast-feeding a success:

  • Start breast-feeding as soon as possible, preferably immediately after the birth. You don't have to do this for long; however, the earlier a baby suckles, the more it seems to help with feeding later on. Avail of the advice and support that is available in the maternity hospital and from the health professionals you will come in contact with in the first days after the birth.
  • Feed your baby as often as they want to be fed. Even if your baby is a big feeder, you will not run out of milk. Your breasts work on a supply and demand system. The more milk your baby takes, the more milk your breasts will make. Also let them take as much as they want. The baby will stop feeding when they have had enough milk, so don't worry that they are not getting enough.
  • If you are worried that your baby is still hungry, breast-feed more frequently. It is not a good idea to top up the feed with bottle-feed (formula). If the baby takes the bottle-feed, he/she will take less from you. This will result in your breasts producing less milk than ever, which will make feeding times more difficult.

When breast-feeding, should I try to stick to a timing routine?

Not necessarily. Maybe when your baby is a little older, you may develop a timing routine. However, as mentioned above, one of the tips for successful breast-feeding is to feed your baby whenever they want, for as long as they want (demand feeding).

Newborns are usually fed at least once every three hours — but as anyone who has breast fed will tell you, babies don’t stick to any particular rules! Breast-fed babies usually need to be fed more frequently because breast milk is more quickly digested; therefore your baby may want food sooner. It can take two-to-three months before they settle into a four-hourly feeding routine.

Bottle-feed contains more calories than breast milk so may delay feelings of hunger for longer. This is another reason why a breast-fed baby may need to be fed more frequently.

Apart from the fact that you should feed your baby whenever they want to be fed, there is nothing to be gained from making your baby wait for food, especially if they are crying or distressed. In fact there may come a point when the baby is so distressed, he/she refuses to suckle.

My whole day seems to revolve around feeding. When will this stop?

In the beginning, breast-feeding can seem to take up a huge part of the day. As time passes, your baby's digestive system matures. This means they will take more milk at each feed and the time between feeds will become longer.

Breast-feeding hurts my nipples. Why is this?

Breast-feeding should not hurt your nipples, so more than likely the baby is in the wrong position and not latching on to the breast properly.

Babies instinctively know how to suck; however you may have to help them find the nipple and latch on properly.

  • You should be sitting comfortably, as if you have to move around to get comfortable, this may disturb the feed.
  • Clothes that open easily in the front are recommended.
  • Hold your baby so that he/she is lying on their side facing you. The baby's head should be slightly higher than the rest of the body. They should have a hand free to touch the breast.
  • Bring your baby's head close to the breast. Their chin should be touching the lower part of your breast.
  • If your baby's mouth is closed, touch their upper lip or their cheek with your nipple. This will cause them to open their mouth.
  • Once your baby's mouth is wide open, guide your breast into it. Make sure they take the whole areolar area into the mouth (The areola is the brownish or pinkish ring of tissue surrounding the nipple). If the baby is sucking the nipple only, he/she won't get any milk and the nipple will get sore. This is particularly important. If the baby starts to feed like this, stop the feed by inserting a finger in their mouth (this breaks the suction). Never try to pull the baby off the breast without breaking the suction as it is both difficult and makes the nipple very sore.
  • If for whatever reason the baby turns away, stroke the baby's cheek that is nearest to the breast with a finger or the nipple. The baby will more than likely turn their head toward the breast and open their mouth. You should not try to turn the baby's head with your hand. This tends to confuse the baby.
  • Once the baby is suckling, you should be able to see the muscles in their temple moving (The temple is the area of the head in front of and above each ear). If instead your baby's cheeks are moving in and out, this means he/she has latched onto the wrong position. Therefore you must start again and manoeuvre them into the right position. Babies will learn this very quickly.
  • Babies have snub noses, which ensure they can breathe while feeding so don't worry if they seem 'buried' in your breast.

How long should a feed last?

There is no set time for a feed. You should just continue feeding until the baby doesn't want anymore. Ideally, feeding should be relaxed and not rushed. You will know the baby has finished because they will let the nipple go, turn away and lose interest.

You should let your baby feed steadily at one breast for at least 10 or 15 minutes before changing over to the other breast.

The first milk the baby tastes is called foremilk. It is a sweet fluid and it is this sweetness which encourages the baby to suck. This sucking stimulates the second part of the feed called the hindmilk, a creamier fluid containing more calories and nutrients.

Hindmilk is the main part of the feed and is needed to satisfy the baby's hunger. If you move your baby onto the other breast too soon, they will get two doses of foremilk and not enough hindmilk, leaving them still hungry.

If you are sure the baby has had enough but they simply do not want to stop sucking, do not pull your nipple away, as this will hurt it. Wait until the baby takes a breath or move your finger between your breast and the baby's lips. This will break the suction, allowing you to release the breast.

My baby always falls asleep when I am feeding her. What should I do?

This is completely normal. If your baby falls asleep while feeding, even if she has just begun the feed, let her sleep. She will wake and feed again when she is hungry.

If your baby sleeps a lot, which is often the case with premature babies, you may have to wake them every three hours and offer a feed.

How will I know if my baby is not getting enough milk?

As you can't actually see how much milk your baby is taking, it is natural to be concerned whether they are getting enough, especially if they are not gaining weight at a steady rate.

A useful indicator which may help you to judge if your baby is getting enough milk or not is that they should have at least six wet nappies every 24 hours. If you notice that your baby hasn't had a wet nappy for more than six hours or is passing dark green motions, they may not be getting enough milk.

A listless baby is also a sign of dehydration.

If you are worried that you baby is not getting enough milk or if you have any queries about breast-feeding, talk to your public health nurse, practice nurse or doctor.

I have heard that you cannot get pregnant while breast-feeding. Is this true?

This is absolutely NOT true. You can get pregnant while breast-feeding. Even if you have not started your periods again, you should use contraception.

It is important to note that the combined contraceptive pill reduces your milk supply, so shouldn't be used when breast-feeding. The progesterone-only pill is safe, as it doesn’t come out in the breast milk.

It is best to consult your doctor about contraception during the breast-feeding period.

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