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Each year, the World Health Organization observes 1-7 August as World Breastfeeding Week—an annual reminder that breastfeeding can give kids the best possible start in life.

In 2020, the WHO's theme for World Breastfeeding Week centred on skilled breastfeeding counselling for new moms and families.

The reason: contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding doesn't just happen. You and your baby need to work towards optimising it. And there are some technical aspects like the child's position and giving support that can help to ensure proper latching and adequate feeding, and minimise discomfort for the mom.

Learning to breastfeed can take time, practice and patience. True, breastfeeding provides various health as well as emotional benefits to both the mother and the child. However, this is not the whole picture. Oftentimes during this conversation, we forget that mothers need support to not just start, but also to sustain breastfeeding. Read on for more of that conversation:

  1. How to start breastfeeding
  2. How to feed your baby
  3. Breastfeeding positions
  4. How much breast milk should baby have
  5. Some things to remember
Doctors for How to breastfeed

If you and your baby are both okay after delivery, you should ask your doctor or nurse to let you have skin-to-skin contact with the baby. In addition to benefits like keeping the baby warm and forming a bond, it can make it easier for some babies to breastfeed within 30-120 minutes of being born.

To encourage your baby to take the breast, you can stroke his or her upper lip with your nipple. Once the baby opens his or her mouth, hold your breast up so he or she can take most of the areola (dark part around the nipple) in his or her mouth.

You should ask a family member or nurse for support, especially if this is your first baby. Some moms find feeding pillows very useful to give the baby and/or their feeding arm more support.

There are innumerable benefits of breastfeeding. Some of them are :

  • Transfer of antibodies: Breast milk imparts antibodies to the baby which help in protecting the baby against virus and bacteria. Colostrum (the first milk) particularly contains a large amount of immunoglobulin A. IgA further forms a protective layer in the baby’s digestive system, nose and throat.
  • Baby's brain development: Research shows compelling evidence that breastfeeding has significant impacts on brain development in later stages. This difference may be due to the physical intimacy, touch and eye contact associated with breastfeeding.
  • Increased levels of oxytocin: Oxytocin is an important hormone, both during pregnancy and post-pregnancy. Its levels increase significantly during breastfeeding, which helps in contracting the uterus and reducing bleeding.
  • Reduced risk of postpartum depression: Shortly after childbirth, 80% of mothers experience the baby blues. These pass on their own. However, between two weeks and a few years after delivery, postpartum depression can set in in some women (and men). Postpartum depression is a very real and physiological phenomenon. Studies show that breastfeeding causes hormonal changes that may reduce the risk of postpartum depression in some moms.

Breastfeeding tips for moms

  • Find a comfortable position: This will help both the mother and the baby to get used to breastfeeding. It may also help the baby to latch on to the areola better. You can breastfeed your baby in many different positions. When breastfeeding is new to you, you may want to try some of the common breastfeeding positions (for example, the football hold or the koala hold which can be useful if your baby has a cold or congestion). However, everyone is unique—what works for others, may not work for you. Pay attention to the baby’s suckling. It is important to make sure that the position is comfortable for the mother too. There shouldn’t be persistent soreness or pain in the nipple.
  • Eat right: It’s important to remember that whatever you are consuming as a mother will affect your milk also. Eating a nutritious diet is always recommended, whether breastfeeding or not. Focus on making healthy choices to help fuel your milk production. Opt for protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils and seafood low in mercury. Choose a variety of whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep yourself hydrated: Your body is working hard to make baby’s milk, that’s why it may seem like you’re thirsty all the time. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stave off dehydration. However, there’s no point in forcing fluids down your throat; drinking to satisfy thirst is sufficient for most mothers. Unless you are severely dehydrated, drinking extra fluids is not beneficial, may cause discomfort, and does not increase milk supply. 

What to do when you are facing problems

If you’re facing problems in breastfeeding, understand that that is extremely normal and seek the support you need. Skilled counselling services can ensure that mothers and families receive this support, along with the information, the advice, and the reassurance they need to nourish their babies optimally.

If you have persistent soreness in the nipples, do not ignore it. Lanolin cream applied after each nursing session can help.

Mastitis, an inflammation caused by an infection that gets into the breast, causes flu-like symptoms and redness and irritation around the breast. It often happens when germs from baby’s mouth enter a milk duct through cracks in the nipple.

Some women may also experience breast engorgement when their breasts become too full. You can avoid this by pumping or nursing the baby at regular intervals. Applying a hot compress before expressing may help some women.

Counselling can empower women to overcome challenges and prevent feeding and care practices that may interfere with optimal breastfeeding, such as the provision of unnecessary liquids, foods, and breastmilk substitutes to infants and young children.

If you are still unable to breastfeed, then feeding your baby with formula is completely fine. It will provide your baby with all the nutrients he or she needs.

You can try out different holds, to see which one is best for you and your baby. You can also mix them up to give your arms and wrists a rest. Start by trying out these holds:

  • Cradle hold: There are two ways to do this:
    • Cradle the baby in your lap and right arm. Now, supporting the baby's legs with your left arm give him or her your right breast. To give the baby your left breast, switch sides.
    • Cradle the baby in your right arm and use your left hand to support the baby's head. Give the baby your right breast. Switch sides once the right breast is completely empty. You can also burp the baby in-between changing breasts.
  • Rugby hold: Lay the baby down on a pillow next to you in such a way that you can hold him or her under your arm, like an American football. Give the baby the breast closest to him or her. Switch sides.
  • Koala hold: Sit the baby down straddled across your right knee. Support the baby's back with your right hand. Use the left hand to help the baby latch on to your right breast. Switch sides.
  • Side-lying position: Lay down on your right side with the baby lying next to you. You can make a pillow for yourself by bending your right arm under your head. Turn the baby's head towards your breast with your left hand to feed.
  • Laid-back hold: Sit back in a comfy chair, on lot of cushions. Place the baby on your tummy in such a way that his or her mouth can reach your breasts. Use one hand to keep the baby in place and the other hand to offer the baby your nipple. Switch breasts when one breast is completely empty.

Although you may feel tired or sleepy during feeding, make sure you and your baby don't fall asleep in the same bed or couch—always burp the baby and put him or her in a baby cot to avoid sudden infant death syndrome.

Read more: How to increase breastmilk naturally

It's natural for new moms to worry about how much their baby is feeding and whether their breast milk is enough for the baby. Experts say most moms can get enough breast milk to satisfy their baby's hunger. Where this is not possible medically, the doctor can suggest the appropriate dosage of formula milk depending on the child's age and whether he or she is getting any breast milk.

That said, breastfed babies take eight to 12 feeds from the second day after birth. Typically, the frequency of feeds decreases as the duration increases. It is important to feed the baby on demand. To do this, you should learn to recognise the signs of hunger like:

  • Baby licks his or her lips
  • Baby turns towards the breasts
  • Baby cries
  • Baby is awake, more active and alert

Breastfeeding has many health benefits, but it also requires a lot of patience and hard work from you. It might be useful to remember a few things during the different stages of your baby's development:

  • In the early days: It is normal for new moms to experience some discomfort while breastfeeding for the first few days. Breastfeeding trigger uterine contractions that are a sign that your uterus has started shrinking back to normal size—this is good news, as it can reduce postpartum bleeding.
  • It is a good idea to maintain a log of the number of feedings and wet diapers in the early days of breastfeeding, as it could help your doctor ascertain if your baby's feeding enough. 
  • After a few months. You should expect some soreness and even bleeding in your nipples as your baby starts teething (babies usually start teething between four and seven months of age).
  • Breastfeeding should not be painful apart from the early uterine contractions and nipple pain when your baby is teething. If it hurts, check if the baby is latching properly or try different positions.
  • Remember to empty out one breast fully before offering the other one to the baby. Burp the baby in-between changing breasts. If the baby is not feeding enough, talk to your doctor or a lactation specialist on proper latching, positioning and support for the baby.
  • Make sure you eat a balanced diet, rest and exercise during breastfeeding. If your baby gets gassy or the baby's poop changes colour or consistency, talk to your doctor about what you could change in your diet.
  • It is a common myth that you can't breastfeed when you are sick—depending on your condition, talk to your doctor about whether you can breastfeed your baby and the best way to do it. For example, if you have something highly contagious, then it might be best to express milk using a breast pump and have someone else bottlefeed it to your baby.

In addition to providing nutrients, fluids and antibodies to the child, breastfeeding has been linked to lower risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in moms. WHO and paediatricians recommend that new mothers breastfeed their babies for the first year of life, giving them nothing but breast milk in the first six months of life and then slowly introducing other age-appropriate foods and water from the seventh month.

Dr. Nida Mirza

Dr. Nida Mirza

Pediatrics
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Vivek Kumar Athwani

Dr. Vivek Kumar Athwani

Pediatrics
7 Years of Experience

Dr. Hemant Yadav

Dr. Hemant Yadav

Pediatrics
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Rajesh Gangrade

Dr. Rajesh Gangrade

Pediatrics
20 Years of Experience

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