Breastfeeding secrets


Some women find breastfeeding easy and encounter few problems, while others battle along, unsure of how to solve their individual problems. We found a few breastfeeding moms to share their solutions

I remember when I had my first child and was in the hospital about to attempt breastfeeding for the first time. I was terrified and the nurse came in, grabbed my breast and squeezed it so hard I slapped her!

Breastfeeding can be a truly daunting experience and no matter what we read in the books, it’s not the same for everyone. Some women love it and embrace it with painless joy, while others battle for all sorts of reasons.

We spoke to 5 women who shared their experiences and told us some of the things the books don’t mention.

“My baby couldn’t latch”

When Clare had Kathryn she just couldn’t get her to latch. “During the first few days we sometimes had to bottlefeed her tiny bits of formula because she wasn’t getting enough colostrum. Eventually a friend told me about a breastfeeding expert who could help me breastfeed,” says Clare.

It’s not always obvious to first-time moms that there are professional lactation consultants whose job it is to help women breastfeed their babies in the early days.

“I didn’t know babies don’t always know how to breastfeed and sometimes need help, as does the mom. Now Kathryn’s a champion breastfeeder and doesn’t just latch, but lunges towards the breast as if it’s her own territory,” Clare says.

It is normal not to produce enough milk in the first few days

Registered midwife Sally Faber, a specialist in ante-and post-natal care, says, “In the early days your breasts may not be producing enough milk to satisfy your baby. Do not be alarmed, this is very normal and with regular stimulation your breasts will begin producing more and more milk.”

While you’re still establishing breastfeeding it’s important to feed your baby as often as she needs. This constant “snacking” will stimulate milk production.

Having some emergency formula will definitely help you out while you're not producing enough breastmilk

However, Sally suggests that it’s a good idea to have a tin of formula and a few bottles on hand because the last thing any new mom wants is a screaming baby who is hungry and isn’t being satisfied by her current intake. “Most of the formulas available closely mimic breastmilk and offer your baby the nourishment she needs.”

Lactation consultants

Sally also says there most certainly are lactation consultants who can come and visit you in hospital or at home. “As much as breastfeeding is a ‘natural’ process, it does not always come naturally to all women and babies so it needs to be learned and practised.”

"Here are a few tips I learned"

“I actually found breastfeeding very easy," says Lebo. "My babies took to it well and I had no real problems. However, I did discover a couple of useful things:

More post-natal support is needed

"There is so much hype around breastfeeding that before having a baby it made me quite apprehensive. I think more support should be given once the baby is born (in and out of hospital) rather than a whole lot of useless theory beforehand when you can’t really relate to it yet."

“I agree wholeheartedly with that statement,” says Sally. “Unfortunately in South Africa the follow-up support is not always as accessible as in other countries.”

There are few hard and fast rules for breastfeeding

“The trend at the moment seems to be in favour of the concept of feeding on demand, but if you are not careful you end up with cracked nipples from feeding too much, especially in the beginning.

I experienced this with my first baby. I kept thinking that he was hungry and not getting enough – especially until my milk came in – so I kept feeding him until I had really painful, cracked nipples. Actually I think my baby was just using me as a dummy! But I quickly learnt and 20 minutes each side was all he got.”

Sally comments, “Try to remember that all mothers and all babies are different, therefore there can be very few hard and fast rules for breastfeeding.”

“I try to advise mothers not to worry too much about routine in the first 6 weeks, especially while you are establishing breastfeeding. It’s more about having some structure to the day, for example, feeding every 2 to 4 hours; not letting a breastfeed take longer than around an hour; stimulating both breasts equally.”

Both breasts should be used

“When the mature milk ‘comes in’ (between day 2 and 5) the breasts may become engorged. This happens because the supply is greater than the demand. Therefore, both breasts need to be emptied equally. Ideally, your baby needs to feed off both breasts for 10 minutes each.”

“As engorgement subsides, it will then be easier to let your baby suck for longer on one breast (between 15 and 20 minutes) and it may be necessary to offer the other breast as a top-up.”

There is nothing wrong with combined feeding

"As a first-time mum I really didn’t want to give my baby a bottle. I don’t know why we’re all scared of that but if they’re hungry then it’s the best thing to do. Sometimes we just haven’t established enough of a feeding routine to be producing enough milk. I took the pressure off myself considerably when I got over the “bottle thing” and started to combine feeding."

Sally comments, “All women are different. There is no known reason but some women just produce more milk than others. The size of your breasts will not dictate the amount of milk that is produced. Certainly, there are ways to help stimulate your milk supply but sometimes that is still not enough. Therefore, if you do not have enough breastmilk to satisfy your baby, it makes sense to top up with formula. This does not make you a bad mother.”

“My milk makes my baby sick”

Rita’s baby, Hannah, had colic, which none of her other children had had. “I really didn’t know what to do. I kept thinking it was the food I was eating that she was getting through my breastmilk but I didn’t know what I should and shouldn’t be eating. I don’t even know if it really was the cause of her colic; the information I found was really conflicting,” says Rita.

Sally comments, “If there was a known cause and cure for colic, there would be some millionaires out there! The information is conflicting but I do believe that it has something to do with a baby’s immature digestive system and that it will gradually get easier as the digestive system matures.”

Rita says she found that expressing worked well. “I was not a great ‘cow’ but I really persevered with it and always kept a supply in the freezer so that my husband could do the 10pm feed and I could sleep. We had no trouble between the bottle and the breast combination as we stuck to a really good routine of feeding and sleeping,” she says.

“Expressing is a great way of increasing your milk supply and it also gives mom a break so someone else can do a feed while she gets some much needed sleep,” says Sally, “Generally, babies do not seem to have a problem alternating between the nipple and the teat.”

“I don’t like feeding in public”

Tracy says, “I didn’t realise that breastfeeding would be so time-consuming and also leave you with a sense of feeling trapped (I didn’t cope too well with breastfeeding in public).”

“But it finally ‘clicked’ with my last born, Jack. Maybe because I was a lot more relaxed and as a result so was he. It certainly was easier to breastfeed Jack than the other two – although they would often want my attention while I fed Jack. They’d try to climb on my lap and I’d feel like screaming, ‘Please give me some space and room to breathe!’”

Sally comments, “Prolactin is the breastfeeding hormone that can be inhibited when you are tired or stressed. Therefore it is important to try to get as much rest as possible – I know that it is easier said than done. Babies will pick up on your anxiety and become fretful if you’re stressed. Dealing with other children, especially if they are toddlers, can be stressful so it’s necessary to lay down some boundaries. For example, sit on the floor when you’re feeding or give them activities to do at your feet so that they don’t get in the way.

“Always try to feed somewhere where you feel relaxed and comfortable. If you are self-conscious of feeding in front of other people, try to keep visitors to a minimum and try not to visit public places when it is feeding time. If you do need to feed in public, try to be somewhere ‘baby friendly’.”

Go to page 2 for tips on breastfeeding


“Things I know now”

Annette learned a few things through breastfeeding her children that no books ever told her:

  • "When the let-down reflex happens during a feed, I would get this abnormal thirst and feel like I was going to evaporate! Keeping a glass of water handy became part of my whole routine."
  • "After breastfeeding, oxytocin is released and it produces and overwhelming feeling of love for your baby."
  • Sally comments,"Breastfeeding hormones made me far more tired and scatty than when I was pregnant."

    Sally explains: "In the early days, the breastfeeding woman’s hormones are a bit up and down. The pregnancy hormone is decreasing and the breastfeeding hormones are increasing so a new mother can feel incredibly vulnerable. This, together with a lack of sleep, can definitely make one feel ‘on edge’. I wouldn’t say it was only the breastfeeding hormones, more likely a few elements of having a new baby that make a mother more tired.”

  • "Breastfeeding limits your wardrobe as you can’t wear dresses or shirts without buttons."
  • "If you’re away from your baby, other babies’ cries or just thinking about your own baby can cause a let-down reflex and make your milk leak, so invest in good breast pads."
  • "Most sinus medications, including homeopathic remedies, can dry up your milk supply. So can a nasty bout of gastro."
  • "If you’re battling to produce milk, champagne works wonders." Sally comments, “Unfortunately nothing we eat or drink can ‘make’ milk. Prolactin is the hormone that ‘makes’ milk and this hormone works best when the mother is relaxed. Alcohol helps to relax us and that is why a new mother may feel her breasts ‘fill up’ when she has a glass of champagne! Other ways to help increase the milk supply could be expressing after a feed, getting more rest and using homeopathic remedies.”

“Be prepared”

Lara was totally unprepared when, on the day she left the hospital, she suddenly realised her breasts were rock hard with milk and her baby was unable to latch and feed.

Lara says she remembered hearing someone suggest that the “third day is spent at home relaxing with baby and feeding often”, but it was advice she rememberd too late. A few traumatic hours ensued of listenening to her newborn baby screaming while she tried every trick in the book to soften her breasts so he could latch.

“My advice to any new mom would be to have a breastpump at the ready so that any time your breasts are too full for your baby to latch, you can express a little milk to soften them first,” says Lara.

“What made breastfeeding tough in the first few weeks was that every time one of my children latched it was really painful for about a minute. Once my nipples got used to the pressure, the pain seemed to go. I never got cracked nipples, but latching was quite painful.”

Sally says no preparation is required for nipples prior to breastfeeding. “The best way to ensure that one does not get cracked nipples is to make sure your baby is latching correctly. Your nipples may be sensitive in the beginning but breastfeeding should not be painful.”

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