Find quick answers to your most pressing breastfeeding questions!

Breastfeeding is a minefield that most new mums have to navigate. While we know that breast is best for your child, new mums also have to deal with sore and cracked nipples, blocked ducts, engorgement, and possibly even mastitis. Plus, they often have to deal with pressure from the husband, parents and in-laws and even other mums.

Head and Senior Lactation Consultant at Thomson Parentcraft Centre, Chen Li Qin, has answers for all of your nursing questions.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

For mothers:

- Special bonding between mothers and babies because of skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact.
- It helps the uterus (womb) contract and return to its normal size more quickly. 
- It helps the mother to lose weight.
- Breastfeeding may prevent menstruation and may actually be nature’s way to ensure some time between pregnancies.
- It can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetics and high blood pressure.

For babies:

- Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies and mother’s breast milk will change to meet the baby’s nutritional needs.
- Protect babies against some short- and long-term illness and diseases including asthma, obesity, Type 1 diabetes, mid ear infections, stomach bugs and SIDS.  
- Breast milk shares antibodies from the mother with her baby and these antibodies help babies develop a strong immune system. 
- Breastmilk promotes baby’s healthy weight.
- Breastfeeding may make children smarter because of higher intelligence scores.

What food should I eat or avoid during breastfeeding? 

Although the emphasis on achieving and maintaining a “good” diet is important, the breast-feeding woman can still breastfeed even if her diet is not optimal. (Riordan, J. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation). However, you need to eat an extra 500 to 600 calories per day. 

You can use following tips to help plan your diet:
- Protein foods to be taken 2 to 3 times a day such as meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Eat 3 servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day.
- Include whole grains such as whole wheat breads, pasta, cereal and oatmeal in your daily diet.
- Those on a vegan diet need to take VitB12 to ensure baby does not develop B12 deficiency.
- Food to avoid include tilefish, swordfish, shark, and king mackerel as they contain high levels of mercury.
- Food to be reduced include alcohol and caffeine.

Under what conditions should I not breastfeed? 

In Singapore, all women can breastfeed except those who are HIV positive. 

Furthermore, women who actively use drugs or do not control their alcohol intake or have severe medical or surgical conditions that doctors may be advise not to breastfeed. 

I have inverted nipples, can I still breastfeed? 

Inverted nipples may make it difficult for your baby to attach to the breast, but it is possible to breastfeed with the practical guidance of the experienced lactation consultant. You may talk to your lactation consultant antenatally to build up the confidence. 

Immediately after the childbirth, try skin-to-skin and latch every 2  to 3 hours on demand if both you and your baby’s condition are stable. Do not introduce bottle and formula unless medically indicated. 

When can I first start to breastfeed? 

You should start breastfeeding immediately after giving birth if you and your baby’s condition is stable because the first hour after birth, your baby is mentally alert. It is what we call “Golden Hours.”

How frequently should I breastfeed? 

You should breastfeed your baby every 2 or 3 hours (8 to 12 times a day), according to your baby’s hunger cues. But be sure to wake your baby up if he or she is sleepy 3 hours later from the last feeding. 

For total breastfeeding babies, they may demand more during the evening or when there are growth spurts. 

What happens if my baby falls asleep after drinking from one breast?

Watch your baby! If your baby looks happy and content, probably one side of breastmilk is sufficient for your baby. If your baby looks tired, you may try burp baby and wake baby up and offer the other breast.

How do you know when to switch breasts?

If your baby’s swallowing has slowed or fall asleep, it’s time to switch sides. If your baby is awake and swallowing at the breast, there is no reason to switch sides. 

When should I unlatch my baby from my breast? 

Some babies will unlatch naturally when he or she has finished breastfeeding. 

Some babies have strong sucking instinct and they can “latch forever”. So, if your baby’s swallowing has slowed or falls asleep, you should unlatch him or her. 

Until which month should I breastfeed my baby? 

WHO suggested that you should exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months and you can continue breastfeed up to 2 years and beyond.

But you need to supplement with age-appropriated solids 6 months later. 

How long should each breastfeeding session last? 

Your baby may need 20 to 30 minutes on one side or both sides at the beginning. 

As your baby grows and becomes more skilled at breastfeeding, he or she will use less time to “empty” the breast.  

What can I do to prepare for breastfeeding? 
- Talk to your doctors and family members about your goals of breastfeeding to get the support.
- Attend childbirth education class to build up the confidence.
- Participate in support groups to learn more from other mothers.
- Around 37 weeks of gestational age, seek an experienced lactation consultant from the hospital that you planned to deliver at to have an arranged antenatal consultation. Learn hand expressing techniques and get familiar with your breast pump, so you will not feel overwhelmed with too much information after childbirth.

Any other tips for preparing for breastfeeding? 

- You can use a baby doll to practice latching and positioning during childbirth education class with the guidance of the trainer or follow the steps from breastfeeding videos.
- Gentle massage the breast or try hand expressing to harvest colostrum (the first round of breastmilk) during your shower after 37 weeks of gestational age, if you do not have any medical complications 
- At around 37 weeks of gestational age, you can book an appointment to see an experienced lactation consultant to discuss the flange size and proper usage of the breast pump.

Any things to take note of for breastmilk storage?  

- Use breastmilk storage bags or clean, food-graded containers to store expressed breast milk (EBM).
- Make sure the containers are made of glass or plastic and have tight fitting lids.
- Use waterproof labels and ink and label each container with the date and the time that you expressed.
- Place the containers or milk bags in the back of the refrigerator or freezer, where the temperature is the coolest. 
- Store an appropriate amount according to your baby’s age.

For help or advice about breastfeeding, contact the experienced team of lactation consultants at Thomson Parentcraft Centre.

Photo: iStock

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