How to Breastfeed
Although breastfeeding is a natural way to feed our babies, this does not mean it always comes easily. It can take days, weeks and sometimes months for a new mother and her baby to feel comfortable and confident with feeding.
Far from being something which just “comes naturally”, breastfeeding involves a range of skills which require learning and repetition. Like any new skill, time and practice make all the difference. It can also take time to get to know each other and for mothers to work out the subtle little cues and signals which makes their baby an individual.
Avoid feeling you are a failure if breastfeeding doesn’t go according to your plan. The only guarantee about having a baby is that they are unpredictable. They are also capable of teaching us more than we could ever imagine we needed to know. Don’t underestimate your baby’s ability to help you build skills in breastfeeding. They are biologically designed to feed from you; nature has designed them that way. A complex range of survival reflexes will help your little one to navigate their way to your breast, then find your nipple and start sucking.
What Contributes Towards Breastfeeding Success
- When mothers have a positive “can do” attitude. Motivation and a belief in yourself are invaluable.
- When partners are supportive and encouraging.
- Having a normal vaginal delivery with little or no birth complications. Being able to sit and position yourself comfortably will help when you are attaching your baby.
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. Early breastfeeding makes a difference.
- When problems are seen as challenges and not reasons to give up. Difficulties are not uncommon when breastfeeding is being established. But working through these step by step is useful and generally worthwhile.
- Having successfully breastfed previous babies. Conversely, mothers who have had breastfeeding difficulties previously can be very motivated to overcome any problems if they occur, with subsequent babies.
- Mothers who normalise breastfeeding, and who don’t view bottle feeding as an easier option, prime themselves for success.
- Having a baby who is alert with an effective suck and who clearly shows hunger signals can help.
- Breastfeed your baby as soon as possible after they are born. Have skin to skin contact, cuddle your baby and keep them close to you. (See WHO recommendation above).
- Research maternity hospitals where you live and make a decision to deliver your baby in one which is labelled “Baby Friendly”. This means the hospital has met purpose designed criteria which support breastfeeding.
- Avoid giving your baby a dummy (pacifier) until breastfeeding is well established. This can take 4-6 weeks after birth.
- Don’t offer your baby bottles of formula or water. The more frequently your baby sucks on your breast, the sooner your milk supply will be established.
- Avoid being separated from your baby for any period of time. The success of breastfeeding relies on a supply and demand principle. The more the baby sucks the more milk you will produce.
- It can take three days or more for breast milk to “come in”. Until this time, a mother’s breasts produce colostrum which is perfectly suitable for newborns. It is easy to digest, energy dense and full of antibodies.
- Be realistic. Newborn babies can feed as frequently as 10-12 times in a 24 hour period. Expecting them to fit into routines or schedules in the first few months will be unfair on both of you.
- Care well for yourself. Your baby cannot, for one minute, be capable of thoughtful consideration for itself – let alone anyone else.
- Turn your baby so they are facing you, with their chest to your chest and their chin to your breast.
- Unless your baby is very sleepy or small, let them indicate when they want to feed and are hungry. Demand feeding relies on the baby indicating they want to feed, rather than the mother controlling the frequency and/or timing of breastfeeds.
- Undress your baby if they are sleepy and unwrap them; skin to skin contact can help.
- Baby-led attachment is one option – where the baby is encouraged to follow their own instincts in finding the nipple and attaching themselves. This requires comfortable positioning of the baby and mother, and supporting the baby’s body as they attach and suck.
- You may want to help your baby attach by encouraging them to open their mouth in a wide gape. Brushing their lips with the underside of your nipple will persuade them to open their mouth. As they do, quickly bring your baby up to your breast. Make sure your baby’s tongue is not retracted back in their mouth, but is sitting forward over their bottom gums. This will mean your nipple is positioned on the top of your baby’s tongue which will promote efficient sucking.
- Your baby’s chin will be the first part to have contact with your breast, rather than their mouth.
- As you position your baby onto your breast, direct your nipple towards the roof of their mouth, rather than flat onto their tongue. As your baby starts to suck they will elongate your nipple in their mouth and use the junction of their hard and soft palate to create a vacuum in their mouth and draw the milk from your breast.
- Encourage your baby to get as much of your areola, the darker portion of your nipple, into their mouth as you can. This will reduce the likelihood of you developing sore nipples and it will also encourage an efficient milk transfer from your breast to your baby.
Signs of Correct Attachment
- Your baby will be sucking contentedly, with either short sucks or long drawing cycles. Look for a regular suck and swallow pattern.
- Their lips will be flanged out onto your areola, not pursed or sucked in.
- You won’t feel any pain. A little (tolerable) discomfort is common, especially in the early days.
- You baby’s jaw will be moving rhythmically, their ears may be moving and they are calm and content as they feed.
- Some babies make a clicking sound if they are not correctly attached, but this is not always a sign of incorrect attachment.
- Your baby’s cheeks will not be sucked in.