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Breast feeding

The list of advantages of breastfeeding is endless and new reasons to breastfeed are being discovered all the time.

Breast fed babies are less likely to suffer from respiratory infections, stomach bugs, allergies and diabetes than bottle fed babies.

They are also likely to have higher IQs and be less likely to get heart disease in later life. Other advantages of breastfeeding are that you will burn an extra 200 calories a day, which helps shed your pregnancy weight.

You'll reduce your risk of breast cancer, and your baby's nappies won't be as smelly as a formula-fed baby.

But there is a real knack to breastfeeding and many women struggle. So although around 70 percent of mums try to breast feed their newborn in the first week, this plummets to 50 percent in the second week. And just one in five babies are breast fed by the time they are six months old.

The main reasons mums give up are insufficient milk, babies not sucking properly (latching on), and sore nipples. All of these problems can be solved.

Learning to breastfeed

The easiest way to learn is to have someone with you for each feed showing you exactly what to do. This isn't possible on a busy maternity ward, but do try to get as much help in the hospital as you can, even if you have to keep asking busy nurses to show you what to do.

It's all very well being told by nurses to use the ‘nose to nipple, tummy to mummy’ technique to position your baby correctly, but when you get home from hospital you may find that this all goes out the window and that your baby doesn't seem to be latching on.

But there's still plenty of help available. First, your midwife will probably visit the day after you get home from hospital. She'll help with feeding, and you can ask her about local breast feeding support groups; you can also get details of these from your GP.

Your midwife should have a 24-hour number, or you could try calling a breastfeeding help line such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and La Leche League UK which are available 24 hours.

NCT breast feeding counsellors - 0870444 8707

www.nctpregnancyandbabycare.com

La Leche League UK - 0845 120 2918

www.laleche.org.uk

If, after a few days you're really struggling with feeding your baby, you could try to see a specialist breast feeding counsellor, usually based at big hospitals. These women are specifically trained to solve breastfeeding problems.

How to tell if you are breastfeeding correctly

There’s no way of ‘measuring’ how much breast milk your baby is getting, but if he’s gaining weight, seems happy and sleepy after a feed, and has at least eight wet nappies a day, then he's almost certainly feeding well and getting enough milk.

You can tell that your baby is latched on and sucking correctly because his mouth will be open wide with his bottom lip sticking out, you'll see his jaw muscles working, and you'll hear him swallowing.

If his lips are pinched into a 'kissing' shape, his cheeks are sucked in and he makes clicking noises, then he's probably not latched on so won't be getting enough milk.

What to do if you can't breastfeed your baby

Should you find yourself unable to feed a desperately hungry baby in the middle of the night with no one to help you until the morning, then express some milk into a small receptacle or cup that the baby can sip from.

The hospital has purpose-made ones, so ask to take a few home. Or failing that, the plastic teat cover of a baby bottle works well. Make sure it is sterilised, or at least soaked in boiling water.

If you don't have a breast pump then express by hand straight into the cup simply by squeezing each breast. Then sit your baby up and let him sip from the cup. He'll probably lap it like a cat. A lot will get spilt and if you're short of milk (highly likely if you're stressed and tired) you could always use formula.

Breastfeeding experts advise against using a bottle in the early stages because the baby will get confused switching from a plastic teat to his mother's nipple, and the sucking technique is different.

But others will quietly tell you that babies are actually very good at adapting, and that if you're desperate, a bottle is OK in emergencies and won't affect breast feeding. Keep offering your baby your breast as this increases milk production.

Baby’s weight loss

It's normal for a baby to lose up to 10 percent of his birth weight in the first 10 days before starting to gain weight, especially if he is breastfed.

This is partly because he's not very good at feeding yet, but also because his kidneys haven't matured so produce large volumes of very dilute urine. If your baby is full term this isn't a problem because he'll have enough fat and fluid to carry him through.

Premature babies will almost certainly be kept in hospital until they have started gaining weight.