Breastfeeding your baby has numerous benefits for both of you. For you, it reduces your lifetime risk of getting one of the most common cancers; breast cancer. It also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. For your baby it helps to protect him or her from infections due to the infection fighting proteins in it called “antibodies”. Your baby receives these proteins which are effectively your immune systems memory from a lifetime of exposure to infections. This can be really important in the first few weeks and months of life when your baby is still small and less able to fight infections. It also reduces the risk of cot death, obesity and cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
Whilst this all sounds great, what comes unexpected to many new mums is how difficult (and sometimes painful) breastfeeding can be. So it is good to be prepared. Learning how to latch your baby on properly (not as easy as it sounds!) reduces the risk of nipple trauma and makes feeding more comfortable as well as more effective. The baby needs to take the areola into its mouth (the flat part of the nipple) so that the nipple itself reaches as far as the soft palate. Antenatal classes will often cover how to breastfeed but by the time the baby arrives you may have forgotten and putting theory into practice can be hard. Your midwife on the postnatal ward will be busy but happy to help you with latching your baby on. Your community midwife can also help although this help is confined to the time of their home visits. Make sure you get help with the first few feeds, don’t struggle alone as once you have sore nipples they will be sore for a few feeds afterwards even once technique is corrected. In the community there are breastfeeding support specialists, ask your midwife for more details or they may have provided a leaflet in your antenatal pack. If you are really struggling sometimes an admission to a postnatal ward can be arranged depending on bed availability.
Another way to be prepared is to get the right equipment. A soft supportive breastfeeding bra that you can sleep in is essential. A lanolin based nipple cream is another key item for your hospital bag. If you do get sore nipples this can be applied afterwards and you can even air the nipples (maybe not whilst parents in-law visiting!) to help expedite healing.
If breastfeeding becomes more painful than it has been it is a good idea to see your GP to check for nipple thrush which can be easily treated. Another possible cause for pain and something to look out for is mastitis. If you get an unexplained fever whilst breastfeeding it can be due to infection in the breast tissue and this should be promptly treated with antibiotics, continuing to feed from both sides.
The first few days (and sometimes weeks) of breastfeeding can be tricky and take a lot of determination. Once you’ve both mastered it though, it is incredibly easy and convenient as well as being a lovely way to bond with your baby.
For more information including links to sources of breastfeeding support visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-help-support/