When learning a new skill, a few handy tips from an expert can help you avoid any pitfalls and set you on the right path to success. And learning how to breastfeed is no exception. Knowing how often your baby might feed, whether they need one breast or two, which position to use or who to call if there is a problem can all help breastfeeding run smoothly. This article discusses what to expect when you’re breastfeeding, how to breastfeed successfully, and shares useful breastfeeding tips for newborns.
Breastfeeding tips before baby arrives
- You don’t need to buy special breastfeeding clothes, bras, a breastfeeding pillow or nursing chair, dummies or bottles.
- You won’t necessarily need a pump.
- Avoid any books that promise to ‘train’ your baby as they undermine breastfeeding and disregard your baby’s needs.
What will I need?
You won’t need very much to breastfeed in the way of equipment but;
- Find out about breastfeeding so you know what to expect (use this website or see the list of breastfeeding friendly books below).
- Some mothers choose to wear a nursing bra (but it’s not essential) and breast pads may be handy as some mothers find they leak from the opposite breast while they are feeding at first.
- A soft wrap sling or ring sling1 may be useful to keep baby close, especially if you have other children to look after.
A natural birth helps breastfeeding
An unmedicated birth helps get breastfeeding off to a good start because pethidine (a strong painkiller used in childbirth) and epidural drugs can pass across the placenta to the baby and make him sleepy and may cause him to have difficulty breastfeeding at first. Pethidine can have an effect on a baby for a couple of weeks. And a cesarean section will make looking after a newborn that much harder as it is major surgery. Medications or surgery don’t mean breastfeeding won’t go well though, just be prepared that if your baby doesn’t latch straight away it certainly isn’t because he doesn’t like breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding a newborn baby
- Your baby’s first breastfeed is important. Washing and weighing baby can wait while you get to know each other and he has his first feed. The first milk (known as colostrum) is a concentrated milk which is rich in antibodies to protect your baby against infection and to seal and protect your baby’s gut.
- If your baby won’t latch, spending lots of time skin-to-skin can help and start hand expressing your milk and feeding him by cup, spoon or syringe until he is ready to latch. Stanford University’s Jane Morton has a great video about the value of hand expressing your breast milk in the very first hour after birth called Successful Breastfeeding Begins Right at Birth. There can be lots of reasons why a baby doesn’t latch straight away, read My Baby Just Doesn’t Get It by Diane Wiessinger and see How to Get Baby Back to Breast for more ideas, or call your IBCLC lactation consultant for one-to-one help.
How to breastfeed
- Hold your baby so his tummy is close against your body, with his nose level with your nipple before he opens his mouth to latch. Check that his head and neck are all in one line (it’s very hard to swallow if your head is turned to one side). As he opens his mouth widely to take the breast, bring him in close to you so he can get a big mouthful of breast not just a nipple. See the articles Breastfeeding Positions for Newborns, Latching Tips and Breastfeeding Videos for help with positioning.
- Avoid holding the back of a baby’s head while he latches and feeds as his reflexes will cause him to pull back against your hand and away from the breast. Let your body take his weight so he feels safe and supported.
- Breastfeed often—the more often you feed, the more milk you will make. The first milk (colostrum) is made in just the right amounts for your baby’s little tummy, it will increase on or around the third day when your milk ‘comes in’ just when your baby is ready for more. Breastmilk can be digested in an hour so frequent feeds are perfect for him 2. Expect your newborn to breastfeed at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.
- Remind a sleepy baby to feed every couple of hours or 10 to 12 times in 24 hours. Hold him skin-to-skin and encourage latching on during periods of light sleep or as soon as he wakes. Use breast compression to keep him feeding.
- Night feeds are important—your baby can take up to a third of his 24 hour milk volume at night.
- One breast or two? As a good general rule let your baby finish the first breast and then offer the other side at each feed. He may or may not finish the second side and then start the next feed with this same breast. See One Breast or Two Per Feed? for much more information and see Forget About Foremilk and Hindmilk if you are confused about different kinds of milk.
- Breastfeed comfortably—if breastfeeding hurts, something is wrong. If your baby only latches on the nipple instead of taking a deep mouthful of breast it will be painful. ‘Nipple feeding’ will also be like trying to get toothpaste out of a tube by squeezing the hard nozzle i.e. you won’t get any paste (milk) until you squeeze behind the nozzle (nipple). See Why Does Breastfeeding Hurt? for more ideas and contact your IBCLC lactation consultant for help to get breastfeeding pain free.
Frequently asked questions
- How can I tell if My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?
- How can I cope with my Baby Waking Up at Night?
- How can I Make More Breast Milk?
- What is the Best Breastfeeding Diet and Foods to Avoid?
- Can I Take Medications While Breastfeeding?
- What if my Baby Isn’t Gaining Weight?
Feeding cues, cluster feeds and keeping baby close
- Crying is a late sign of hunger so offer a breastfeed at the first sign of hunger cues like fidgeting, rooting (head turning with an open mouth searching for the breast) and sucking fingers and fists. If you’re worried that He Can’t Be Hungry He Only Just Ate! …He can!
- It can be normal for babies to cluster feed i.e. seem to want to feed all the time at certain times of the day, for example during the evening and during growth spurts. The closer together the feeds, the higher the fat content of all the milk and the higher its calorific value so you can forget about foremilk and hindmilk. If your baby seems to feed and feed all day long without gaps, check that your baby is swallowing breast milk when he is at the breast and keep an eye on his weight gain incase he is not getting enough milk.
- You can’t spoil a baby—the easiest way to care for your newborn baby is to keep him close and respond to his every need. Dads can help with this—by cuddling, changing, bathing or carrying baby in a sling.
When to get help
If you find breastfeeding painful, if your baby is getting increasingly jaundiced, if he isn’t having any dirty nappies, gaining weight or if he seems constantly unsettled; find a good breastfeeding helper or IBCLC lactation consultant.
- Pain. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, if it does, seek help early and contact your IBCLC. Getting your baby latched on comfortably is important for preventing sore nipples and for stimulating a full milk supply.
- Jaundice. A certain amount of jaundice is normal but if baby isn’t doing plenty of poops to excrete the bilirubin it will be reabsorbed which is not a good thing. Express your milk and feed by spoon, cup, syringe or by finger feeding while you seek urgent help with feeding.
- Dirty nappies. Plenty of breastfed baby poop is a good guide to how much milk has been drunk. If there aren’t many dirty nappies in the first few weeks this is a warning sign that your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
- Baby losing weight or not gaining weight. Although losing a little weight in the first few days is normal, your baby will soon start to gain 30g‑40g a day. If this is not happening see Baby Not Gaining Weight and contact your IBCLC lactation consultant. The sooner you get help the better for your milk supply.
What about dummies (pacifiers)?
As well as affecting your milk production, dummies (pacifiers) can confuse your baby’s sucking technique and may make him reluctant to breastfeed or affect his latch. If a mother offers a dummy to quiet her baby when he stirs she can miss his hunger cues which can affect his milk consumption and weight gain. Studies link dummies with fewer breastfeeds, shorter overall duration of breastfeeding, dental caries, poor teeth alignment and increased risk of infections. If you do want to introduce one this NHS leaflet has useful tips.
What about bottle teats?
Bottles can confuse your baby’s sucking technique, just like dummies in the previous section. Frequent bottle feeds may make your baby reluctant to breastfeed or affect his latch. If only small volumes of supplement are needed, you can try using a spoon, flexible feeding cup, or supplemental nursing system (SNS). If you do use a bottle try these Tips to Bottle Feed a Breastfed Baby to mimic breastfeeding as much as possible.
More breastfeeding tips
There is a lot of good information about how to breastfeed in books and online (including on this website!) but also some very poor and misleading information written by people who actually know very little about breastfeeding. If you are looking online, look for a website edited by an IBCLC lactation consultant or breastfeeding savvy doctor.
Or, if you prefer to read a book try:
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, LLLI, 2010
- Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding (updated edition), Jack Newman & Teresa Pitman, 2014
- Breastfeeding Made Simple by Mohrbacher & Kendall-Tackett, 2010
Finding out as much as possible about breastfeeding before your baby is born can help to get breastfeeding off to a good start. The quality of information in books and online and even between health care professionals can vary considerably. If problems do come along, contact an IBCLC lactation consultant for help as soon as possible. Breastfeeding problems usually have breastfeeding solutions but the sooner they are addressed the easier it will be to solve them.