A version of this article was first published in the Spring 2017 edition of OHbaby! Magazine.
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the swollen feet, late night kicks, morning sickness, and around the clock toilet breaks of pregnancy.
You’ve got through the barrage of ‘helpful’ tips from well meaning family, friends…and strangers. The excitement of pink or blue, the baby shower, and the inevitable labour. Now you have your little one in your arms, and your world becomes about them.
Believe it or not, the first six months of your baby’s life is just as exhausting for them as it is for you.
The First Six Months
In the first six months your baby’s brain is going through massive development as new neurons are connecting to help them make sense of this new world around them.
In particular, the areas supporting visual, auditory, and long term memory are going through the most pronounced change. Long term memory is not just about events, people, and places, it is also about remembering routine, as well as learning skills and facts which will help your child throughout their schooling and adulthood.
The best nutrients to support this brain development are protein, iron, zinc, polyunsaturated fatty acids, iodine, folate, and vitamins A, B6, and B12.
This period is the time for peak iron requirements. It is therefore very important that if you are breastfeeding, and low in iron, you make sure your supplementation is being taken regularly.
What can you do for your baby during the first six months of baby’s life?
Breastfeeding gives you optimal nutrition for no cost. So what are the best tips for establishing breastfeeding?
Skin to Skin
Have plenty of skin to skin contact, if possible, and allow baby to attach early on.
Try not to be frightened or overwhelmed by the idea of breastfeeding.
It is normal to have very little supply in the first 24 – 48 hours. By day 3 – 4 your breasts will become large, hard and quite painful. This is also normal and it will not last (I promise!) Freeze facecloths or breastpads and hold them around your breast to help ease the heat and pain. With regular feeding it won’t last long at all.
Get help early on.
Having someone who knows what they’re talking about walking you through the journey will help ease your mind and get on the right path quicker.
Forget the clock and watch your baby instead.
Whilst getting into a routine will save your sanity later on, in the first couple of weeks it is important to just let your baby get all the nutrients they need and let their natural instincts guide your milk production. Your baby’s tummy is little, so they need frequent feeds. Let them lead your schedule for the first 3 – 4 weeks at least.
Top tips for continued breastfeeding
Drink plenty of water.
At least 2 litres of water a day will be the biggest boost to your supply.
Understand what your milk is made of.
Breastmilk can be broken down into foremilk and hindmilk.
Foremilk is more watery and has a higher carbohydrate concentration. It is useful for quenching baby’s thirst.
Hindmilk is fattier and satisfies hunger. Instead of timing how long baby is on each breast, keep baby on one until it is fully drained. Then swap to the other. If baby can’t finish both breasts, then start the next feed on the breast they were on last. This way both breasts get equally drained throughout at 24hr period, and baby gets access to all the nutrients, rather than too much foremilk.
Be mindful of possible hurdles, most of which can be fixed.
Oversupply – this is actually more common than undersupply. It typically means that baby gets more foremilk than they need, and often milk will release quite quickly/with force.
This can lead to baby drinking quickly to keep up, leaving them windy and unsettled.
You can fix this by letting baby suckle until you feel your letdown reflex happening, de-attach baby and allow milk to spray out into a tissue, then re-attach baby to continue feeding.
Alternatively you can express a small amount of milk at the beginning of a feed then let baby breastfeed.
A poor latch, tongue-tie, or the position baby is laying in, may cause undersupply due to your breast not being drained properly. This too is rectifiable, if you have a chat to a breastfeeding expert.
Get onto issues like cracked nipples, sore spots etc. very quickly.
Have healing balm on hand so that any sores on your nipples will heal without causing you problems. Just remember to read the label to make sure it is safe for baby.
Also consult with a professional as it may mean baby’s latch isn’t quite right. Sore lumps or hot spots may indicate a blocked duct or the beginnings of mastitis. Heat pack, massage whilst baby feeds, and massage in the shower will all help to unblock the duct and prevent infection.
Keeping mum healthy too
Your diet does not need to be too drastically different to any other healthy diet. It is very easy to overeat, or reach for unhealthy food options, due to lack of sleep and hormone changes. I have compiled the following list to help you through the first six months,
Limit caffeine as much as possible.
It can disrupt both your and baby’s sleep. Caffeine free herbal teas are a great choice!
Iron stores are really important.
Your baby will get all their iron from your breastmilk, so it is important you keep your stores up. Iron helps all of us transport oxygen around our body. I have some handy tips on how to do this with the meal ideas below.
Vitamin D is essential for the skeletal and immune systems.
Many adults are low in Vitamin D as our main source of it is actually the sun! Due to our increasingly sedentary indoor lifestyles we are seeing a resurgence in Vitamin D deficiency. The easiest way to get Vitamin D is to take a nice 15 – 20 minute walk first thing in the morning before the sun is too intense. If the weather is not wonderful then Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg. If concerned you can have a chat to you GP about supplementation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are fantastic for your breastmilk, and your own wellbeing.
They are essential in brain development of newborns. Omega-3 fatty acids are obtained from foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, and oils.
There will be large demands on your body for calcium – you need at least three servings of dairy each day to help with your calcium needs
Don’t skip meals.
Ask for help from friends or family to put together a bit of a stash of homemade freezer meals. You need to keep your energy up as breastfeeding uses an additional 300 – 500 calories per day! You will however have some left over fat stores from pregnancy to help you get through the first six months. This is perfectly normal, and nature’s way of providing reserve for the baby.
Prepare snacks ahead of time
Make some healthy quick snacks that you can have overnight, or invest in a flask that you can fill with hot chocolate the night before. It makes a welcome surprise when you wake up for those night feeds.
It is normal to feel anxious, overwhelmed, or emotional in the first few months. That doesn’t mean it is okay, or that you should just suffer through it! Consult your GP if you are concerned. Accept support, even if it is someone to watch the baby in your house whilst you sleep. Trying to get out for walks can also help with mood.
Some healthy food options
Fruit smoothie - Mix yoghurt, milk, and a handful of frozen berries and banana together. Then blend and drink!
Bran cereal - with milk and chopped up banana on top
Egg - however you like it on a piece of wholegrain toast
Fruit salad - (kiwifruit, apple, and bananas are best) with a few dollops of yoghurt
Rice cakes - or a slice of wholegrain bread with peanut butter / cottage cheese / avocado
Matchbox size Edam Cheese with vegetable sticks
Bowl of vegetable soup - with a wholegrain roll
Melted cheese and tomato on 1 slice of wholegrain toast
Baked potato - with tined fish or baked beans sprinkled with cheese
Homemade muffin or oat bar – check out this receipe: Oaty Date Bites