Everything you need to know about the three key steps to getting breastfeeding right

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Look for a bra that provides convenient, easy access to the breast. (Unsplash/ Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz)
Look for a bra that provides convenient, easy access to the breast. (Unsplash/ Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz)

Breastmilk is free. Every mother can do it.

So why is it that only 25 per cent of South African mothers are still breastfeeding after their babies reach six months old?

It may be the most natural thing in the world, but breastfeeding does not always come naturally.

Here are the top tips to help you breastfeed successfully.

Keys to success

So, you’re keen to try breastfeeding: how can you make sure that it all goes as smoothly as possible?

There are three key steps to getting breastfeeding right: 

  • Getting off to a good start
  • A good grip (latching well)
  • An ideal position.

The magic hour

As long as there are no medical complications, your baby is ready to feed immediately after birth, and most babies will almost always latch onto your breast within the first hour of life.

The best start is to place your baby skin-to-skin on your chest between your breasts (tummy to mommy) as soon as he is born.

Many practitioners call this the magic hour, not only for bonding but also for that very first feed. If your baby does not latch straight away, don’t panic. There’s no rush, especially with a full-term, healthy baby.

Having your newborn skin-to-skin for as long as possible straight after birth sets the foundation for successful breastfeeding in the future.

Get a grip – a good grip

One of the fundamentals of successful breastfeeding is getting your baby to latch correctly. An incorrect latch can mean a lot of nipple pain and an irritable, hungry baby: never a good combination.

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Some babies get the hang of it straight away, and others need a little bit of help. An effective latch is a deep latch, where your baby’s mouth opens wide enough to get a large amount of the areola – the darker circle of skin around the nipple – in.

Help your baby to latch well by holding him close to your body with his tummy facing yours: tummy to tummy, and his nose level with your nipple.

Then, support your breast, holding it well back from the areola, while gently tickling his upper lip with your nipple until his mouth opens up wide like he is yawning.

When he does, pull him in chin first, quick and close, so that he takes in as much of your breast as possible.

You will know that your baby has a good grip if he does not need to turn his head while he is feeding.

His chin touches your breast, his lips are flared almost like fish-shaped lips, you see no or only a little areola sticking out from his lips, his ear wiggles slightly, and his jaw moves as he takes long, deep sucks.

You will also feel a deep tug that should not be painful, and you can hear him swallowing with soft “ca-ca”-like sounds.

Once your baby has latched well, he will suck rapidly until the milk starts to flow – the letdown – then he will settle into a rhythm of sucking, swallowing and breathing as his suck becomes slower, deeper and stronger.

Also read: How to get better at burping your baby 

Hold me, baby

A relaxed mother means a relaxed baby, so get comfortable!

While there are four conventional ways to hold and position your baby while breastfeeding, there are no hard and fast rules.

As long as you’re comfortable and relaxed, and your baby can latch correctly, then you can hold your baby in any position you want and enjoy.

Madonna or cradle hold

This is the most common hold. Hold your baby on your lap, tummy to tummy, with his head level with your nipple.

Support his head in the crook of your arm, while the rest of your arm holds his neck, spine and bottom.

If you find it comfortable, you can also rest your arm on the sides of the chair, or place a pillow or breastfeeding cushion underneath it.

You can use your free hand to position your nipple into his mouth, while your supporting arm guides your baby towards your breast.

Cross cradle

With this latch, it’s easier to see how well your baby has latched onto your breast. And because of the extra support it provides, it is also useful for preemies.

Hold baby tummy to tummy using the opposite arm to breast to hold him.

Support the base of his neck with your fingers, and use your palm to hold his shoulder and upper back.

Side-lying hold

This is a great position for night feeds, or forgetting some rest during a day-time feed.

It is also good if you have had a C-section or episiotomy, as it takes the pressure off your abdomen.

You and your baby both lie on your sides, tummy to tummy, with his head level with your nipple.

Rest your head on your hand, arm or a pillow, and you can use your free hand to guide your baby onto your nipple if needs be.

Football hold

This is another hold that is useful if you have had a C-section, or if you have large breasts, flat or inverted nipples or a fast letdown, as you’re better able to control your baby’s position.

Hold your baby on the side you’re going to feed him from, with his head level with your nipple and legs tucked up behind you, underneath your arm.

Support your baby at the base of his neck and shoulders.

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Protect your assets

Now that you have done pregnancy, had a baby and are breastfeeding, does it seem like your once pert and perky breasts have a life of their own?

It is true, they will keep changing shape and size with each stage, and the best way to keep them looking their best is to dress them right. It’s time to go bra shopping. Bra sense:

1. Get a professional measurement done at a maternity or lingerie shop.

2. Look for a bra that provides convenient, easy access to the breast.

3. Choose a bra made of cotton or other smooth breathable fabric and make sure that any decorative details are not scratchy and irritating to your skin, or will get in your baby’s way.

4. A bra with a four- to six-hook back closure is going to offer you the most flexibility in fit. And wide, cushioned, and non-stretch straps are best for support.

5. Your bra should be soft and supple and not restrict milk flow, so steer clear of underwires.

Also see: 'Quarantine surprise': Chrissy Teigen and John Legend share baby news 

Living food

Yes, the breast is best for your baby, but why?

Not only is it always at the right temperature, comes pre-mixed in sterile containers and is available whenever it is demanded, it is also the perfect food: it is a living food.

Breastmilk has just the right amount of protein, water, essential fats and sugars to meet your baby’s nutritional requirements.

He does not need anything else for the first six months of his life. And breastmilk has other health-boosting benefits too.

Scientists have discovered close to 200 compounds in breastmilk that fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid digestion and support brain growth.

The amazing thing about breastmilk is that it changes and adjusts its nutritional and immune-boosting content to meet your baby’s changing needs.

So, for example, on a very hot day, your breastmilk will contain more water to quench your baby’s thirst and to prevent dehydration, or it creates immune protection based on whatever germs or viruses you have been exposed to.

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