Breastfeeding: The benefits and how to make it easier

Breastfeeding baby being breastfed by her mother image
photo by Lucy Wolski on Unsplash

Breastfeeding is great for newborn babies and babies in general. However many mums are a little daunted by learning this new skill. We understand that, so here’s our guide to help you make your life a little easier.

You can relax when learning the breastfeeding basics and how to breastfeed your baby. We’re going to cover the benefits, foods you can eat to help, how to breastfeed, expressing your milk, some tips to make it easier and where to get breastfeeding support and advice.

Feeding babies this way is natural and it has been for thousands of years. Not just in humans but throughout the animal kingdom too. Sadly western culture has added a bit of a stigma to it when a mother should stop breastfeeding and especially breastfeeding in public.

Statistics say that during pregnancy around 79% of mums to be plan on breastfeeding their baby. Unfortunately, that figure drops drastically with many mums (about 34%) making it to 6 months or continuing past this time. This is a shame because breast milk is so beneficial. However, it’s also understandable, with a lack of support, the attitude of breastfeeding in public and the lack of understanding of the benefits.

Benefits of breastfeeding

There are many benefits of breastfeeding and to giving your baby breast milk over using formula. Formula just can’t compete with feeding your baby naturally. It just can’t provide the same health benefits. These advantages are not just for babies though, mums get a boost too.

Formula milk is also highly processed and of course there is the environmental impact too.

The benefits of breastfeeding are:

  • Breast milk has everything a baby needs.
  • Breastfeeding your baby creates a strengthened immune system and protects babies from diseases.
  • Breastfed babies have fewer cases of allergies.
  • Babies that are breastfed get ill less.
  • There’s no having to prepare breast milk, so it’s ready when your baby wants it.
  • It creates a stronger bond between you and your baby through the hormones it contains.
  • Breastfeeding also reduces a baby’s risk of vomiting, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), diarrhoea and being overweight.
  • Breastmilk contains good bacteria that help create a healthy gut and digestive system

If having these benefits to your baby weren’t enough to want to breastfeed then there are plenty for mothers too.

The benefits of breastfeeding for mothers

  • Lower risk of obesity.
  • Reduced chance of osteoporosis.
  • Lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • It lowers mothers chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease.
  • It’s cheaper than buying formula.

Breastfeeding and your diet

What you eat while breastfeeding is important, many of the nutrients you consume get into your breast milk. The nutrients then get consumed by your baby. They are then easily digested and absorbed by your baby. There are nutrients and other compounds that your baby can’t get from formula milk.

Your diet while breastfeeding should contain:

  • Water – It’s important to remain hydrated when not breastfeeding, more so when you are.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables – Getting your 5 a day are key here but try for more.
  • Carbohydrates – Such as pasta, rice and noodles – Wholemeal versions are best and they keep you fuller longer.
  • Dairy – Calcium and other nutrients can be found in milk, cheese and yoghurt. Full-fat versions are best as long as they are in moderation. Also, Kefir milk or yoghurt is great and adds good bacteria for an added benefits.
  • Protein – Oily fish is great here, and recommendations are to have 2 portions a week (but no more, see below). Poultry, meat and eggs are good and if you can, go organic. Protein can also be found in pulses, nuts and beans.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding

We know those cups of coffee can be a lifesaver when you have a newborn or young baby. However, just like the good nutrients in food, caffeine gets into your breast milk supply too. This can make your baby restless. It’s best to limit your caffeine intake to one cup of coffee a day. Remember caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate energy drinks and some soft drinks.

Alcohol should also be avoided where possible. If you do decide to have a drink then you should leave some time before resuming breastfeeding. How much time depends on how much you’ve drunk. Ideally, it should be 1 -2 hours per unit. How long you leave it before breastfeeding again depends on you. It depends on your metabolism, size and how much you’ve eaten.

Here is a guide to units of alcohol in different drinks and how long you should leave until breastfeeding if you have one drink:

  • A large glass of wine (2 units) you should leave about 2-4 hours.
  • A gin and tonic made with a single 25ml measure (1 unit) you should leave 1-2 hours.
  • A half a pint of cider (1 unit) you should leave 1-2 hours.
  • A pint of larger (2 units) you should leave 2-4 hours.

If you decided it was a good idea to have one of each of the above drinks, you’d want to leave between 6 -12 hours before breastfeeding your baby. Make sure you also drink plenty of water after drinking alcohol. You can find a guide to the units of alcohol in different drinks on the drinkaware website.

Although very good for you, you should limit your oily fish intake to 2 portions per week while breastfeeding. This is because they have a low level of pollutants, including Mercury in them. Also because of their high Mercury content, you should also limit consumption of Swordfish, Shark or Marlin.

Breastfeeding pillow

In the first few months your baby will be feeding a lot, you and your baby want to be as comfortable as possible. A breastfeeding pillow is a wise investment and can be very useful. Breastfeeding pillows can help greatly with your comfort and support to your baby.

It’ll aid your baby to get better access to your breast to help your baby with latching. They’ll ease any stresses on your neck, back, shoulders and arms by supporting you.

You can find Breastfeeding pillows here.

How to breastfeed your baby

Although there is no specific way to hold your baby while feeding them, there are things you should do to help them ‘latch on’. Initially, it may take several attempts to get your baby in a comfortable position and latch on. Keep on trying though it’ll eventually become second nature. You should ensure that both you and your baby are comfortable while feeding.

  • Position your baby facing you and supported with a breastfeeding pillow, bring their head up to your breast.
  • Place your baby’s lips on to your nipple until they open their mouth.
  • Make sure that they take your nipple into their mouth along with about 3 cm of your areola.
  • When your baby has their chin and tip of their nose touching your breast you will have a correct latch.

Your newborn baby has the stomach the size of a ping pong ball. because of this they need feeding little and often. They will need feeding between 8 and 12 times per day. Each breastfeeding session will normally last between 20 and 35 minutes.

How long should you breastfeed for

World Health Organisation guidelines recommend that mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. After that, the recommendation is to continue breastfeeding them up to the age of 2 or longer. This should be along with other nutritious foods.

Some cultures around the world breastfeed for much longer. The Inuits go right up to the age of seven. How long you breastfeed your baby for is entirely up to you. Keep going or stop when you feel the time is right for you and your baby.

Expressing breast milk

Sometimes it’s not always possible to breastfeed your baby when they need it. You may have to go out, just need a break or not be comfortable feeding your baby in public. It may be that breastfeeding doesn’t work for you.

That’s where expressing your milk comes in handy. You can express milk with either a manual pump where you have to ‘pump’ the handle lots of times. The alternative is using an electric pump that does it for you. Most mums prefer using an electric pump for expressing their breast milk.

We think one of the best benefits of expressing milk is that dads can help out too. This way mothers can have a rest and get some me-time. It’s also a great way for dads to bond with their baby while the baby still gets the benefits of your breast milk.

The best breast pump for expressing

When it comes to breast pumps you want to have the best. You need it to be portable, quiet and comfortable and all at a reasonable price. So we did some extensive research. As well as personal experience we looked at hundreds of reviews on Amazon and across the internet. We checked them for fake reviews and looked at the good reviews and the bad. Through this, there is one breast pump that wins hands down.

The PiAEK Electric dual breastfeeding pump does not have the 3489+ reviews of the Bellababy breast pump. However, from the 300+ reviews, the PiAEK does have a massive 87% of them are 4 stars and above.

Medela breast pumps

Medela is a company that is well known for its breastfeeding equipment. In a Which? magazine review 36% of mums went for a Medela Breast pump. This is a huge market share and Medela are without doubt at the top of the market.

In a Which? magazine review of breast pumps, 36% of mums went for a Medela breast pump.

Breastfeeding tips

  • Feed your newborn baby within the first hour after birth. The milk produced in the first few days is known as ‘colostrum’ and it’s full of antibodies and proteins that help your baby immensely.
  • Feed your baby equally from both breasts.
  • Try various positions – Even if you’ve found a comfortable position. You may find a more comfortable one. At the very least it’ll help take the stress off your back, neck and shoulders to move around.
  • Get as much skin to skin time as you can in the first few weeks.
  • If you are getting sore nipples it may be because your baby isn’t latching on properly. Poor latching is the main cause of this.
  • Make sure you get enough me time and rest, eat a balanced diet, exercise and plenty of water. A relaxed healthy mother is best for breastfeeding.
  • Pay attention and try to learn your baby’s cues for when they are hungry. They can be restlessness, rapid eye movements looking around for food, sucking on their fist or finger and crying.
  • Signs that your baby is getting enough milk are:
    • Regular wet nappies.
    • Your breasts will feel softer after feeding.
    • Your baby will suck a few times followed by a pause as they swallow.
    • They’ll be chilled out while feeding and satisfied after and may fall asleep.
  • Your breasts produce milk to supply and demand. So if your baby wants to feed more often they’ll produce more. Make sure you feed enough times a day or express your milk otherwise it’s possible you’ll run out of milk.
  • Cows milk is not suitable for babies under the age of 12 months.

Stopping breastfeeding

There are many reasons for wanting or needing to stop breastfeeding. It’s your decision when you choose when to stop breastfeeding or if continue to breastfeed for longer. Don’t be swayed by anyone who wants you to stop if you don’t want to. Likewise, if you want to stop but someone is trying to get you to continue, stay strong and go with what you want.

Remember there are many benefits to breastfeeding up to at least 6 months and beyond. Also, The World Health Organisation suggests solely breastfeeding for 6 months. Then continuing alongside weaning until or beyond their second birthday.

If you need impartial help or advice about stopping breastfeeding then you can call the National Breastfeeding Hotline the number is below.

There is no hard and fast rule to stopping breastfeeding. You should gradually phase it out rather than just stopping. This will help avoid problems with your breasts and send them the signal to stop producing milk.

If you need to stop because you can’t physically feed your baby then expressing your milk is obviously a good option. Then mix this in with formula feeding. As you express, reduce the time doing it and don’t pump until your breasts are fully emptied. This will send the signal that you don’t need as much milk.

You can then reduce the number of times you express and eventually stop.

Where to get further breastfeeding support and help

If you need to speak to someone for some help or support breastfeeding your child you can call the National Breastfeeding Hotline on 0300 100 0212 or use their Live Chat Support here. They are available between 9.30 am and 9.30 pm 365 days a year.

If you’re concerned that your baby is not gaining weight then you should speak to your health visitor or doctor. Read our article about average baby weights and heights.

Breastfeeding conclusion

Breastfeeding is so beneficial for babies and their mothers. It’s not always easy at the start when you first try breastfeeding your newborn baby. It’s well worth giving it your best shot and sticking with it for as long as you can. Initial issues can usually be easily worked out. Look for support by either asking a friend who has successfully breastfed, your health visitor or the breastfeeding hotline above.

However, if you do have to either move on to expressing or formula feeding, you shouldn’t feel any shame or guilt.

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