Breastfeeding basics

Before you give birth, it’s a great idea to read up on breastfeeding to familiarise yourself with the various techniques and what to expect.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful way of bonding with your newborn, it’s free and can provide you with a tremendous sense of achievement. It also gives your baby the best possible start in life.

When to begin

If you feel up to it, by all means put your baby to your breast straight after the birth. If you’re in hospital or have had a planned home birth, you’ll benefit from the experience of the midwives or other medical staff around you, and they’ll be able to help position your baby correctly. However, if you’re simply too exhausted – which is always understandable – it’s OK to leave it for a little while, while you catch up on some rest. Your midwife will advise you further.

The first few days

Initially your milk will be made up of colostrum, which is the nutritious first milk sometimes noticed by mothers during pregnancy. After a few days, your milk will come in and you’ll notice your breasts swell to a much larger size. Over the next week or so, your breasts will adjust to produce exactly the right amount of milk to suit your baby’s developing needs.

Latching on

If your baby isn’t correctly latched on, the milk will flow slowly, the baby may become frustrated and you’re likely to develop sore nipples. So it’s worth taking some time to practice the positioning of your nipple into your baby’s mouth.

  1. Place your baby so he is chest-to-chest with you, and then bring him towards your breast.
  2. Your baby’s mouth needs to be wide open with his tongue pressed forward. This should happen naturally when he is alert and hungry, but if it doesn’t, encourage him to open his mouth by touching his cheek with your breast.
  3. As your baby takes in your nipple, his mouth should cover most of the areola (the coloured area surrounding your nipple).
  4. If your baby is positioned correctly, he will visibly relax while feeding and might well reach out and touch you for comfort.
  5. Your baby will automatically stop feeding by opening his mouth and releasing your nipple when he’s full (or possibly when he’s dosed off into a contented reverie!). Should you need to stop the feed before this happens, gently break the suction by inserting a finger between his lips and your breast – never pull the nipple away as this will hurt!

Length of feeds

Feeds typically take anything between ten minutes and a whole hour! As babies self-regulate in terms of how much nutrition they need, there’s no need to time how long each feed should last. Your baby will naturally stop when he is full, likewise he’ll keep going until his tummy tells him he’s satisfied. If he’s particularly sleepy and keeps drifting off, it’s likely that the feed will last longer.

As your baby grows you will find that the length of feeds changes according to his needs, and his feeding pattern will change. With practice, babies become very adept at breastfeeding, which usually translates into a shorter feed, and older babies are definitely more predictable, making timetabling breastfeeding that much easier!

Frequency of feeds

All babies differ, so it’s hard to generalise here. Women are currently advised to feed on demand, so that your baby will never go hungry. Newborns nurse very frequently in their first few weeks of life, maybe eight to twelve times a day, then gradually the feeds spread out to more predictable patterns, around six to eight times a day. Once weaning is introduced at around six months, the frequency will drop again until gradually breastfeeding is phased out completely. There will always be times when your baby feeds more or less in a day than expected, and this could be down to many factors including illness, growth spurts and tiredness.

Which breast to use

In order to keep things even and comfortable, take turns with your breasts, alternating for each feed. It should be obvious to you which breast’s turn is next as one will likely be fuller and firmer than the other, but if you find it hard to remember, write it down!

Concerned about your milk supply?

Although breastfeeding is an acquired skill and can sometimes take a while to master, almost all women are physically able to nurse their children. When feeding on demand, the breasts naturally adapt to provide exactly the right amount of milk that the baby needs. Whilst it can be disconcerting as it’s impossible to physically see the amount consumed, as long as there are regular wet and soiled nappies and the baby is growing, it is highly likely that enough milk is being produced.

How long to breastfeed

The decision to wean your baby off breastfeeding is a personal one and shouldn’t be influenced by outside opinion. Typically doctors advise women to breastfeed exclusively until around the age of six months, when solids are introduced into the diet. This naturally decreases the amount of breastfeeds each day and, by the age of one year, many babies are only feeding first thing in the morning and last thing at night. If you are happy at this stage to continue breastfeeding, then there is no reason why you should give up, although in our society it is unusual to feed into toddler or childhood. Plus little teeth hurt!

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The information provided on this site is not meant to substitute for the advice of a qualified medical professional. neither assumes any legal liability nor makes any warranty or guarantee, either expressed or implied, regarding the completeness, accuracy, usefulness, or currency of this information. It is the responsibility of the reader to check for updates to the information contained on this site.