On the boob

Last week my NCT group all met for a three hour introduction to breastfeeding from a lactation expert. Even the gents turned up, which was nice.

I’m burying my head in the sand about the role my nipples will need to play in all of this. I’m really not keen on the idea of having them chowed down on. Thus far, I’ve read nothing on the matter and ended up fleeing from Boots in panic last time I was faced with nipple shielding paraphernalia.

We focused on the very first feed and saw an amazing video of a baby, seconds after it’s birth, being placed on the stomach of its mother and slowly worming it’s way up towards her boobs to feed. The baby ‘roots’ by bobbing it’s head up and down on the mother’s chest in various places until it’s nose hits her nipple, which triggers a reflex for the baby to open it’s mouth wide and latch on. Apparently letting the baby bob it’s own way onto the boob is the best way to get a good and painless latch at first. If babies have a little pethidine in their system after birth, they will be too tired to do this straight away, but that’s fine because they can try once they’ve slept it off.

We learned that in order for it not to hurt the mother, the baby needs to get the nipple so far into its mouth that it hits the soft part of the back of the throat. Any less than that and it rubs against the hard ridges of the roof of the baby’s mouth and then you get the dreaded chafe. If the latch is painful, you need to wedge your little finger into the baby’s mouth and prize it off like a limpet.

We had a demo of different positions to feed a baby in using plastic dolls. It was slightly surreal to glance around the room and see the men practice suckling the dolls, but great that they felt comfortable getting involved.

We were prepped on the slimy appearance of the newborn by being shown a video of a brand new, slippery vernix-covered one – and warned that washing the baby straightaway is no longer recommended (as there are a benefits to letting the baby bask in it’s own vernix for a while). It’s sticky and yellowy white, not so bad really. A couple of the gents looked a bit peaky at the sight, and one mumbled something about probably needing to go and top up the car parking meter at that point. Jake commented that it was similar to keeping the plastic cover on your mobile phone for a little bit after purchase – sensible.

We learned of the benefits of skin-to-skin immediately after the birth – that the mother’s body regulates the baby’s temperature and the physical connection releases the hormonal influxes the mother needs to promote milk production and help her pass the placenta quicker. Truly amazing.

We also saw the different types of milk that we will produce – colostrum initially, the glutinous golden tree-sap-like substance packed full of antibodies for the baby, followed by a watery milk, followed by a thick milk – more like your average blue top, with dense nutrients. The baby needs to try and suckle through these three courses to get everything she needs. She should stop when she’s drained everything, but you have to check in case she’s just tired – if you swap her over to the other boob prematurely she might not get the thick milk at the end of the first boob. This is also why you should never time the baby on one boob before you swap to the other. Babies all feed differently, some are efficient feeders and can drain a tit in as little as ten minutes. Others can take up to 45.

Their stomachs are only the size of a marble when they are first born, so they will only drink a very small amount. Young babies sometimes like to ‘cluster feed’ – small feeds every tens mins or so.

Breastfeeding is tricky. We were advised to keep at it, and if it isn’t going swimmingly but you still want to persevere, it is better to encourage the newborn to suck from a little cup or a tea spoon rather than a bottle – as drinking from a bottle is much easier for them than breastfeeding, and they are clever little creatures who won’t go back to working the teat once they know they can have easier access to grub. Who would?

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