Breastfeeding is a skill that every new mum can learn. It takes practice. Some lucky mums find it really easy – others will find it hard – but most mums are somewhere in between
As with any new skill, it’s great to have a teacher while you’re learning. There are basic techniques involved with breastfeeding that you need to be shown. The most crucial thing for you and your baby to get the hang of is good attachment at the breast, sometimes called ‘latching on’.
When you first begin breastfeeding it is vital that you get help from the experts around you in hospital or your local community children’s centre to make sure your baby is attached properly at the breast.
Without a good attachment your baby will not be able to feed effectively, and you will get very sore nipples, as well as other breastfeeding problems. This is one of the main reasons that lead to new mums giving up breastfeeding.
The good news is that as soon as you and your baby have learned to attach properly when breastfeeding, everything becomes easy and comfortable, and you can both really enjoy lots of lovely bonding and feeding time.
Babies breastfeed differently to how they feed from a bottle
The key thing to understand with breastfeeding is that it’s not like bottle feeding. Most of us have grown up around bottle feeding, seen it being done and perhaps even fed our dolls with a bottle when we were little. We therefore understand bottle feeding and feel familiar with it. On the other hand, we’re not necessarily very familiar with breastfeeding. You don’t see it being done in the open very much, therefore we don’t really understand the techniques. We look at our nipples and may wrongly think that that is the only bit that our baby takes into their mouth to feed. It isn’t!
Breastfeeding is breastfeeding, the baby needs a big mouthful of breast, and actually the nipple ends up right at the back of your baby’s mouth.
Find your own soft palate
Your nipple needs to be on your baby’s soft palate (the soft cushion at the back of the mouth). If you take your tongue and move it backwards along the roof of your mouth, right at the very back, you’ll find a soft squishy bit. Now imagine that part of your baby’s mouth – that’s where the nipple goes, and the rest of the baby’s mouth is full of breast.
How to hold your baby to improve attachment
To support your baby so they can get a big mouthful of breast, a few key things need to happen:
- Hold your baby really close
- Make sure that they are free to throw their head back. To allow this freedom, support their neck and shoulders, rather than holding on to their head. (Once they have thrown their head back and have latched on, you can then support their head on the cradle of your arm)
- At the point when your baby throws their head back and opens their mouth really wide, you have to be quite quick. They will come into the breast chin-first, ready to scoop up a really big mouthful of breast – then your nipple will end up on their soft palate
Signs of good attachment
No pain. If your baby is attached well, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. In the early days the initial latch takes a while to get used to as babies suck very hard, but it shouldn’t be an intense toe-curling pain. You might feel discomfort for a few seconds as your nipple moves to your baby’s soft palate but once there it shouldn’t hurt or pinch. So people might say ‘count to 10’, but after 10 seconds it shouldn’t be painful at all.
Other signs of good attachment are:
- When you look down you will see that the baby has a really big mouthful of breast.
- Your baby’s chin will be closely pressed into the breast and their bottom lip will actually be turned out, although from your viewpoint as you’re feeding, you won’t be able to see that.
- As your baby feeds, you will see really nice, big, puffy cheeks, like a little hamster – because their mouth is full of breast.
- A steady, sucking rhythm accompanied by swallowing sounds, and no clicking sounds.
Lots of mums worry about their baby’s nose being pressed against the breast, but as they approach the breast they will actually want to come in chin first, meaning the nose is free. So even if you’ve got quite big breasts you won’t need to hold your breast away from your baby’s nose. You might not be able to see a gap from where you are looking down, but there won’t be a problem. If your baby couldn’t breathe they would just pull themselves away from you. To make sure they have the freedom to move, never hold your baby’s head into your breast.