Breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding responsibilities of motherhood, fostering close bonding between mother and child, while also providing a plethora of health benefits for both. For babies, breast milk provides optimal nutrition and antibodies, reduces the risk of asthma, ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and has been linked to higher IQ. For mothers, it aids postpartum weight loss, and reduces risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
As per WHO guidelines, a mother should exclusively breastfeed the baby until six months of age. After that, with the introduction of solid foods, she should continue breastfeeding until the baby is 24 months old, if possible.
As much as breastfeeding is a most natural process, breastfeeding know-how does not come intuitively for most new moms. It is good to be equipped with some basic knowledge for a head start. Understanding common breastfeeding mistakes may help you to avoid them and better navigate challenges ahead.
What Are the Common Breastfeeding Mistakes New Mothers Make?
1. Not positioning the baby properly
If the baby is not positioned properly, not only will she be unable to draw milk efficiently, there will be increased discomfort for the mother.
The following steps are a guide on how to ensure good positioning and latch:
- Hold your baby at the breast level. You can use a nursing pillow to bring the baby to the correct height.
- Tease your baby to open her mouth as wide as possible by tickling her lips with your nipple, or squeezing colostrum/milk onto her lips.
- Once her mouth is wide open, bring the baby forward towards breast instead of leaning over to push your breast into her mouth. Keep a hold of your breast until she has a firm grasp.
- Direct your nipple to the roof of your baby’s mouth and ensure she takes in the whole areola, so that baby’s mouth, tongue and lips can massage milk out of your milk glands. Sucking on just the nipple will not only leave your infant hungry because the glands that secrete the milk will not be compressed, it will also make your nipples sore and cracked.
- Your baby’s upper and lower lips flare out like fish lips and not tucked in, to form a good seal on the breast.
- Your baby’s chin is touching the breast and the nose is slightly away from the breast.
- You may feel the initial tug on the nipple when your baby suckles but you should not have nipple pain throughout the entire nursing session.
- Look out for a strong, steady suck-swallow-breathe pattern. It is a hallmark of good suckling, along with a rhythmic motion in the baby’s cheek, jaw and ear. Once your milk comes in, listen out for swallowing or gulping; clicking noises imply poor latch.
2. Believing that the baby does not like milk
Some babies cry or leave the breast a few minutes after feeding. This does not mean the baby is not interested in breastmilk.
The main reason for crying or leaving the breast could be a poor latch. Without proper latching, the baby cannot suck the required quantity of milk. If the baby leaves the breast or cries, you should provide extra support and help the baby latch the breast properly. You can also help the milk flow by slowly massaging the breast before and during nursing.
3. Feeding on a schedule
Most mothers think they should feed the baby at fixed intervals. During the first few weeks after the birth however, when your milk supply is still being established, it is best to feed the baby as per her hunger cues. Hungry infants move their hands toward their mouths, make mouth movements or sucking noises, or move toward your breast. Feeding on demand not only satiates the baby, it also helps to boost milk production.
4. Suffering pain while feeding
You might experience nipple pain and discomfort the first time you feed the baby. After a few weeks of continuous feeding, the pain should subside. Protracted pain could be due to some underlying issues e.g. poor latch. If poor latch persists, milk ducts may become blocked as milk is not drained well, leading to engorgement or even mastitis.
If you are not able to achieve a good latch yourself, get help from a lactation consultant to pinpoint and correct the cause. In some cases, poor latch could be caused by the baby’s tongue-tie, which may require medical attention.
5. Introducing bottle feeding early
If you introduce bottle feeding even before the baby is adept at breastfeeding, the baby is likely to desist breastmilk. This is because it is easier to feed on a bottle than the breast. Similarly, if you introduce a pacifier early on, then it might cause nipple confusion and the baby may refuse to feed on the breast. This may reduce your milk supply as supply is regulated by demand.
6. Thinking that your milk supply is low
Some mothers, especially those who express breastmilk, have a misconception that low volume pumped out equates low production . However, there are many factors influencing volume pumped out, like efficiency of pump or time of last feed. Furthermore, a baby extracts milk more efficiently than any pump. As long as your baby has enough wet and dirty diapers (5 to 6 a day at 1 week old) and is gaining weight steadily, you can infer that the baby is getting enough milk.
7. Skipping feeding or pumping
Unless you are weaning the baby, you should not skip a feed or pumping session. If you skip one session, then it signals the body that the baby needs less milk and the milk supply slowly starts decreasing accordingly. If you cannot feed the baby for some reason, you should express the milk for that session.
8. Adjusting your diet
Mothers may think they need to adjust their diet so that the taste of their breast milk does not change. Unless the baby is allergic to any particular food you eat, you need not change your diet. There can indeed be a slight change in the taste of breastmilk when you eat certain food items. But this taste will prepare the baby to adjust to the diet of the family in the future.
9. Not taking prenatal supplements
Around 300-500 calories are burnt every day when you breastfeed the baby. This should be replenished with additional calories. The calories that you get from your regular diet may not be enough during this stage. It is advisable to continue taking prenatal vitamins during the breastfeeding stage as well.
10. Not feeding while sick
Most mothers hesitate to feed the baby when they are sick as they fear passing on the infection to the baby. But feeding while being sick helps to pass antibodies to the baby. This helps the baby to recover fast in case they catch an infection.
For new mothers, breastfeeding may be physically and mentally taxing at the start. Being well-informed of breastfeeding basics prior to the baby’s arrival will prepare you better for the challenges ahead. In addition, having a good support network of fellow breastfeeding mothers to provide encouragement and advice, coupled with lots of practice, will ensure you become adept at breastfeeding in time to come. Remember that help is always at hand, and if you feel that the baby is not feeding well or sense something amiss, you should not hesitate to consult your lactation consultant or doctor who can guide you the right way.