Breastfeeding basics


Latch your baby within the first hour after birth

In ideal circumstances, your baby should latch onto your breast within the first hour after birth, as this is when the rooting and sucking reflexes are strongest. Even though your milk will only come in on about the third day, your baby will be getting small amounts of thick, yellow, nutrient-rich colostrum – the substance that boosts his immune system with your antibodies.

Latching correctly

Latching correctly is often the first hurdle in breastfeeding, especially if the “golden hour” has been missed due to a difficult birth, or if your baby is premature or has been tube fed or given a bottle in the nursery.

When your baby latches correctly, his mouth will cover the whole nipple and most of the areola – most importantly it should not hurt. The nipple should be far back in baby’s mouth and his lips will be pursed outwards. If it hurts, unlatch him by gently inserting your little finger between his mouth and your nipple to break the suction.

If you have a premature baby, you may not be able to breastfeed right away, but you should start expressing your milk for you baby to take through a tube or bottle until he is strong enough to suck.

How often should you breastfeed your baby?

The best way to get breastfeeding established – and to build up your milk supply – is to nurse as often as baby demands. Ideally you should feed your baby – or express your breasts – for 10 to 15 minutes per breast every 2 to 3 hours initially, or 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. Don’t wait until your baby cries from hunger – feed him as soon as he is awake, alert and rooting.

Babies are often very sleepy in the first few days after birth, sometimes too tired to stay awake during a feed. To wake him gently tug on the nipple to encourage him to latch on strongly and begin to suck again. Don’t let your newborn go for more than 4 to 5 hours without a feed, as his blood sugar will drop.

The best position for breastfeeding

It’s important to get comfortable for breastfeeding, so that your arms and back don’t get sore half way through. Choose a comfortable chair with a footrest and use a feeding cushion to support the arm that is supporting baby’s head, to lift him level with your breast.

Various positions can work well, but the classic breastfeeding position is to cradle your baby “tummy to tummy, chin to chest.” Make sure his ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line. Touch your nipple to baby’s mouth and as soon as his mouth opens pull him in quickly to your breast to latch on. Don’t worry if his nose is pressed against your breast – he will still be able to breathe through the curve of the nostril (and will detach if he can’t).

Remember to burp the baby!

Breastfed babies don’t swallow as much air as bottle-fed babies, so you may only need to burp baby once each side to get winds up. If he is pulling on and off the breast and fussing, he may have a wind.

Sit baby on your knee with your hand under his chin and rub his back in circles or pat. Alternatively, put him over your shoulder and pat or rub his back until your hear the wind come up. A little posseting (throwing up some milk) is normal.

Your diet does affect your milk

Follow a healthy, well-balanced diet emphasising bland foods and limiting caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, acid foods and “windy” foods.

Some babies will happily take all sorts of foods and flavours, while colicky or fussy babies may benefit from mom eliminating foods that may be causing the discomfort. Drink lots of water – breastfeeding is thirsty work!

The size and shape of your breasts makes no difference to your ability to breastfeed successfully. Some moms also worry that their milk isn’t “strong” enough or that they don’t have enough. Remember that breastmilk if your baby’s perfect food – it has everything he needs to grow and thrive in the first months of life.

Make sure she gets enough breastmilk

However if your baby is not gaining weight this may be because you are not feeding properly. Sometimes baby seems to be sucking, but are not getting enough milk. You should see your baby’s jaws working and you should be able to hear him actually swallowing the milk.

After a good feed he should be sleepy and sated, not fussy and crying. The fore-milk that comes out in the first few minutes of feeding is mainly to quench your baby’s thirst. He needs to stay on one breast long enough to get the rich, fatty hind-milk that fills up his tummy as well.

If you encounter problems getting breastfeeding established, consult your doctor or midwife, or consider getting the help of a breastfeeding consultant. Some common problems include:

  • Engorgement (when your breasts are over-full and sore)
  • Sore or cracked nipples
  • Mastitis (an infection of the milk ducts)
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