Breastfeeding: The importance of a full feed

Since I started my training as a breastfeeding buddy, I have heard the same complaint over and over from other peer supporters and mums – that parents are consistently getting incorrect or bad advice from midwives, health visitors and doctors.

I think that this is something that puts a lot of parents off breastfeeding in the early weeks , when they need real support and encouragement. A lot of the time things are going perfectly well but a midwife or health visitor puts doubt into a mother’s mind instead of just telling sleep deprived (and a little bit paranoid!) new mums that what is going on with their baby is perfectly normal and everything is going fine. As a result mums are giving up breastfeeding after a few weeks, or supplementing their breast milk with formula, when there is no real need for them to.

Mmmm Milk!!

If your baby is gaining weight ok (and by that I mean hasn’t fluctuated more than two centiles from their usual line), is peeing & pooing regularly, then the chances are everything is just fine and you have nothing to worry about!

A frequent complaint I hear is that midwives or health visitors are advising mums to breastfeed on a more regular & regimented schedule, or that you should try topping up with formula – without checking that the baby is being breastfed properly first. If the baby in question isn’t gaining weight as fast as they’d like, they skip past checking the latch or educating the mother about the patterns of a full breastfeed, and go straight to the “easy” (but often wrong!) answers instead.

Everyone goes on about the importance of having a good latch, but that’s not the be-all and end-all of a successful breastfeed – although it’s vitally important for both you & your baby, there are other things to consider too. One of these is being able to recognise the different stages of a feed, by watching the suck/swallow patterns throughout, and learning to recognise when your baby has moved through each stage of a feed.

Learning to recognise the stages of a feed

Breastfeeding has a recognisable suck/swallow pattern:



The suck:swallow pattern of a feed

A breastfeed starts with the baby making short rapid sucks. This triggers the release of the oxytocin hormone, which is when the ‘let-down’ reflex occurs.

This then changes to active feeding, with long slow, rhythmic sucking and swallowing with pauses.

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The end of feed has something called “flutter sucking” with occasional swallows.

Quite a few mums mistake this for their baby “messing about” and so take their baby off before they get all of the fattiest bit of the feed, especially if they’ve had bad advice telling them not to indulge comfort sucking! This can lead to the issue of babies not gaining weight as they should be, or feeding more frequently than they would if they were getting a full feed each time.

If you are worried that your baby is falling asleep before this stage is happening (or lasting long enough!) try tickling their feet a bit or removing a layer of clothing; they could just be getting too comfy and warm to make the effort.

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When the feed has finished naturally, the baby releases breast themselves, and is sleepy and satisfied. Have a nice cuddle and enjoy the moment!

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