Beginning of breastfeeding may be difficult. But if you are planning to breastfeed for the first time you might be worried that won’t be able to produce enough milk or that your milk won’t be nourishing enough. Do not be anxious- you are not likely to have any problems. All women are equipped to feed a baby. No breast is too small and in most cases, your supply of milk will automatically adjust to meet your baby’s needs.
Breastfeeding on demand
A baby can digest a full feed of breast milk in about an hour and half to two hours (half the time it takes for bottle-fed baby to digest a full feed of infant formula). So breastfeeding on demand means frequent feeding, but this doesn’t mean your milk supplies will run out. Research shows that mothers who breastfeed their babies on demand produce more milk that mother who feed their babies at regular but less frequent intervals.
One study compared babies breastfed on demand with those fed only every three or four hours. The babies fed on demand got an average of nearly 10 feed a day, compared to an average for the others of just over seven. The more frequent feeding didn’t mean that a daily amount of milk was being divided into more but smaller feeds- in fact, it was opposite.
Better fed – breastfeeding on demand
The fed-on demand babies got an average of just over 73 milliliters at each feed (725 milliliters a day, while those fed at fixed intervals got only 68.8 milliliters each fed (502 milliliters a day). As a result, after two weeks the babies who were fed on demand had gained more weight than the others- an average of 561 grams compared to 347 grams.
Keeping up your milk supply
Milk production can be affected by many things, including how you’re feeling, how healthy you are, and what you can eat.
The change from colostrum to breast milk is triggered by changes in your hormones after birth, but continuing supplies of milk at demand depend on the sucking action of your baby. When he sucks, nerve endings of your areolae are stimulated, sending signals to a part of your brain called hypothalamus. The hypothalamus it turn sends signals to your pituitary gland telling it to release prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production- the response of your baby’s sucking is known as the prolactin reflex. Your pituitary gland also releases oxytocin, a hormone that causes the muscles fibres around the milk glands to contract, squeezing the milk from the glands into your milk ducts. That is called the milk ejection or ‘let down’ reflex. When your breasts are full, it can be triggered not only by sucking but also by your baby’s hunger cries or even simply when he’s near you.
A good milk supply
The best way to keep your milk supply is to feed your baby often, so that the prolactin reflex and the milk ejection reflex are triggered frequently. This will also prevent engorgement – swelling of your milk – producing glands by milk. If the glands do swell, they won’t be able to make milk efficiently. And you won’t feel like feeding because you will find it painful. For these reasons, the reflex that promotes the release of prolactin diminishes and so on your milk production slows down. If this does happen you can relieve engorged breasts by expressing milk, and stop it happening again by feeding your baby often.
It is also important to wait until your baby empties the first breast you gave him before switching him to the other. This way he will be sure to get not only the first thirst- quenching, low- fat foremilk that comes from your breast first, but also the highly nourishing, fat-rich hind milk that follows.
Have a balanced diet while you are breastfeeding
You will need to eat well and healthy at this time, as your body has an even greater need for nourishment than during pregnancy. You do not need to eat any special foods for breastfeeding but it is best to have a balanced diet with plenty of protein, iron, and calcium, and lots of fluids, fresh fruit, and vegetables. Three good meals, with light snacks of fruit, cheese, or milky drinks in between, will give you energy and keep you from getting too tired. It is a good idea to keep taking an iron supplement daily. Looking after your baby can be exhausting, so have a rest or sleep during the day whenever you get the chance. If you are diabetic, your doctor will keep a close eye on your diet, and your glucose and insulin levels.
When your start making love again, do not use oral contraceptives until you stop breastfeeding!