Sleep, feed, repeat! - The realities of breastfeeding
In the early weeks after babies are born, all they want or need to do is to sleep, breastfeed, sleep some more and then breastfeed again. It’s no wonder that new mothers can feel a sense of endless repetition as they go through the same responses’ multiple times, day and night. It’s not until around 6-8 weeks after birth that breastfeeding becomes well established and a sense that, perhaps, the beginnings of a day and night routine may just be starting.
Frequent, effective breastfeeding helps the mother’s breasts to produce enough milk for her baby to thrive.
In the first few months, you could be forgiven for thinking that all you’re doing is feeding and settling your baby. This is probably true. Try to be reassured that these early, demanding days don’t last forever. With time and gut maturity, your baby will feed less often and there will be more of a predictable pattern to their day. Remember, your baby’s stomach is tiny - at birth it’s around the size of a cherry and by one month, the size of an egg. They won’t have the ability to hold more than a small amount of milk at any one time, so expect them to breastfeed frequently.
Top 5 breastfeeding tips for the early weeks
- Aim for a simple life and focus on what needs to be done. You, your baby and meeting their needs are the most important things. Prioritise what can’t wait and delegate what you can to other people.
- Sit, stare and gaze at your baby. In the quiet, unfiltered moments you will fall more deeply in love with them.
- Accept that breastfeeding is a set of learned skills. Be kind to yourself if you find breastfeeding challenging. Speak with a Midwife, Child Health Nurse or Lactation Consultant for support.
- Expect some breast and nipple tenderness as you become used to breastfeeding. Encouraging your baby to have a correct and deep latch on the nipple may take a bit of practice.
- Experiment with offering one or both breasts during feeds. You may find your baby is satisfied with one side, but offer the second side to see if they are still keen to feed.
Top 5 settling tips for the early weeks
- Always follow the safe sleeping guidelines. Sleep your baby in their own safe cot in your room for the first 6-12 months.
- Wrap or swaddle your baby in a cotton or muslin wrap. This will help to contain their startle reflex and keep them on their back.
- Expect your baby to go off to sleep when they’re being breastfed and held. Your baby is too young and their brain too immature to fit into any predictable pattern of sleep/wake cycles.
- Expect your baby to have a couple of wakeful, unsettled times each day. They’re unlikely to sleep for longer, continuous periods overnight until they’re closer to six months of age.
- Remember that when your baby is sleeping, they’re conserving energy, releasing growth hormones and consolidating memories. Sleep is an in important state in your baby’s life, so make sure they have enough opportunity to sleep and rest.
- A small baby only has a small stomach. Breast milk is quickly metabolised and babies need to feed frequently to fuel growth and maintain their hydration.
- It’s completely normal for very young babies to want to breastfeed up to 12 times in 24 hours.
- Cluster feeding is common, particularly in the late afternoon and evenings.
- Breastfeed your baby according to their hunger cues. Some days they will want to feed more often than others.
- Young babies need the comfort of frequent breastfeeding. It’s not just their nutritional needs which are met when they’re feeding, but their emotional needs as well.
Written for Tooshies by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, August 2022.