Diary of a Night Nanny: the early days of breastfeeding

Georgie Bateman offers up her expert advice to help one new mum with breastfeeding

I have been caring for Polly, who is only four days old. I worked my first night last night for her mum, Laura, whose milk had still not come through. But when I walk through the door, Laura’s first exclamation is, “Look at my boobs – what a cleavage!”

It’s true – colostrum doesn’t fill breasts up in the way that milk does, and the first day that a mother’s milk comes in can be a very odd feeling. First-time mothers are often nervous about breastfeeding because it’s such a new sensation, and if your baby has trouble latching on, it can seem impossible.

When I’m not working as a night nanny, I volunteer as a Breastfeeding Peer supporter in my local hospital, and the wide variety of experiences the new mums have with their babies amaze me. Some latch on within an hour of birth, others are so sleepy that it’s hard to get them interested in the breast, and some premature babies need a lot of coaxing. But within 24 hours, most mothers who want to breastfeed will be doing so successfully, but they are still feeding colostrum. When the milk comes in, it can feel very different.

I sit down opposite Laura, who is feeding Polly. “Am I doing it right?” she asks me. “It’s just that my breasts do feel a bit hot and uncomfortable.”

I explain to Laura how her breasts have become engorged, but she is doing the right thing in feeding Polly.

“You didn’t need to produce much colostrum to feed Polly; it was a case of quality rather than quantity, and it was rich and thick. But your milk is more liquid and there is more of it. And your body doesn’t know how much of it Polly is going to want, so it is over-producing for the moment. In a day or so, your body will anticipate how much Polly needs and you will be more comfortable.”

Engorged breasts can feel tender and hard because they are so full. Both breasts will be swollen, the nipples may be stretched flat and because more blood flows to the breasts, the surrounding tissue swells, worsening the full feeling.

This can put a mother off breastfeeding, but feeding your baby is the best way to reduce engorgement. Once Polly has had her fill on one side, Laura winds her and then offers her the other breast. Polly is keen to have more, and Laura feels much more comfortable after the feed. “We could consider expressing if you still feel discomfort,” I suggest.

“No, I’m fine now,” she pauses, then says with a small laugh, “My mother suggested a hot shower or cabbage leaves might help? But one is hot and the other cold, so they sound a bit contradictory!”

The application of heat before a feed can help the milk to flow, but I think a hot flannel applied to the breast is better than a shower. “But no more than 10 minutes,” I caution.

And everyone has heard the old wives’ tale about using cabbage leaves – it is certainly an effective trick, but medical research has been unable to discover why. It’s probably simply because the cool leaf, when placed over the breast, acts like an ice-pack and relieves the tenderness and swelling.

“You could try it,” I say, “but make sure you have removed the outer leaves and washed the leaves you’re going to use. If you also cut out the stem, you’ll find they’re a better fit!”

We both laugh at the thought, when Laura’s husband, Mike, comes in. “Time my beautiful girls were in bed,” he says. Laura is beginning to look tired and Polly has finished her feed.

I take her from her mother and wind her gently. As Laura goes up for a bath before bed, I take Polly into the nursery and settle her for the night.

For more details, contact Georgie Bateman at Night Nannies on 01794 301762 or georgie@nightnannies.com.

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