From Colostrum to Weaning: A Breastfeeding Comprehensive Guide by Dr. Danielle Prime

Breastfeeding is a beautiful yet complex journey full of questions and discoveries. As new mums start this journey, they often have many questions. Here to help us is Dr. Danielle Prime, our editor. With a rich background in lactation research, a PhD in Biochemistry from The University of Western Australia, and pivotal role in Medela's Medical Research team since 2012, Dr. Prime graciously leads us through the journey of breastfeeding, bringing a wealth of knowledge to address common queries and provide insightful guidance on this natural yet intricate process.

Collecting Colostrum: The First Nutrient-rich Drops

If you're having a healthy pregnancy, hand expressing colostrum post the 36-week mark is generally safe. Any collected colostrum can serve as a milk reserve for the baby, especially if initial breastfeeding faces challenges. Colostrum collection pre-birth is not an indicator of your ability to breastfeed post-delivery, as the real milk-making begins after your baby's arrival.

Making Milk: The Journey Begins

Once your baby is born, your body transitions through various stages before establishing a full milk supply. The 'initiation' stage begins post the delivery of the placenta, triggering your body to begin milk production. The next phase is the 'build' stage, where the more milk you remove, the more your body produces. Monitoring your baby's weight and ensuring your breasts receive early, frequent, and effective stimulation helps in establishing a good milk supply.

The Breastfeeding Basics: Latch, Comfort, and Frequency

Breastfeeding, although natural, can initially be uncomfortable. It's a learning curve for both you and your baby . Ensuring a good latch and seeking professional support early on can make a significant difference. In the early days and weeks after birth, your newborn will likely want to feed every two to three hours. This feeding frequency helps to initiate and build your milk production. Once your milk supply is established, you and your baby will naturally find your feeding frequency rhythm.

Pump and Store: Tips for Safe Milk Storage

Dr. Prime advises spending the initial weeks post-birth establishing breastfeeding, there is no need to introduce a pump unless necessary. Pumps are useful when you are separated from your baby or if your baby is in neonatal intensive care. If you plan to pump, for example, you’re returning to work, begin a few weeks before you need to, allowing your body time to adjust. If you have expressed breast milk, it's crucial to store it correctly. Expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature (16°C to 25°C) for up to four hours. If not used within a few hours, store it in the fridge for up to three days, preferably at the back where it's coldest. For longer storage, freeze the milk; it's safe in a deep freezer (-18°C) for six months.

The Wonder of Weaning: A Gradual Transition

International health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by a gradual introduction of complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding. The weaning process is unique to each mother-baby duo, and there's no strict timeline to adhere to. As you introduce complementary foods, your baby will start to take a little less breastmilk, marking the start of the weaning process. But this process can take as long as mum and baby would like it to. Keep in mind, that breastfeeding at two years will look a lot different to breastfeeding at two months. At two years perhaps it’s only a morning and afternoon feed.

At whichever time you do decide to stop, it is best to start reducing the amount of milk you make gradually in order to avoid engorgement or potential mastitis. Your breasts work on ‘supply and demand’ so as you start to demand less milk, your supply will adjust accordingly.

No matter when you wean, be proud of however long you can provide your baby with the unique and fascinating components that exist in breast milk!

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