How to breastfeed

Breastfeeding is a skill that you will learn along with your baby. Babies are born with the ability to get themselves to the breast to feed and your role is to hold your baby in a good position to help them find the breast. Attending one of our workshops or drop-in sessions before or after your baby is born can help you prepare for breastfeeding and provide you with support after your baby has arrived.

Skin-to-skin contact

Getting to know your baby through skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth:
  • Helps with bonding
  • Keeps baby warm
  • Is a great start for breastfeeding
  • Helps to calm you both
  • Regulates your baby's heartbeat and breathing
At other times it can:
  • Calm an unsettled baby
  • Stimulate a sleepy baby
  • Help your baby overcome many breastfeeding difficulties
  • Stimulate the production of breastfeeding hormones

Rooming-in

Rooming-in is where new babies stay with their mothers rather than being taken to a separate room for special care.
 
After birth, if possible, you will be encouraged to keep your baby with you at all times while you are in hospital. When you go home it is important that your baby is in the same room as you during the day and the night for the first six months of their life. This allows you to get to know each other and helps you recognise the subtle body language - sometimes called feeding cues - that tell you when your baby needs feeding.
 
Being near to each other means that your baby doesn't have to wait to be fed and will be calmer when it comes to feeding time. It makes breastfeeding at night easier and your baby is less likely to need supplementary formula feeds. It also reduces the risk of cot death (sudden infant death).

Feeding cues

Babies' tummies are very small and they need feeding often - feeding cues let you know when to feed your baby. It's best to follow your baby's feeding cues rather than trying to time feeds by a clock. Feeding cues include:
  • Beginning to wriggle
  • Moving eyes (even when closed)
  • Making cooing sounds
  • Suckling fists or blanket
  • Rooting (turning head towards anything that strokes the cheek or mouth)
  • Waving arms

The sooner you respond, the calmer your baby will be when you bring them to the breast. Crying is the last resort and some babies may miss feeds if they are not offered a feed until they cry.

Positioning your baby

Every mum and baby will develop their own technique for breastfeeding. There are many different positions for breastfeeding, but the principles are the same whatever the position. Keeping these points in mind will help you find the one that is right for you and your baby:

Holding your baby
  • Your baby’s head and body should be in a straight line to allow them to swallow easily
  • Support the length of your baby’s body with your arm and their neck and shoulders with your thumb and first finger just behind the ears

Bringing your baby to the breast

  • Hold your baby close to you so that their nose is level with you nipple
  • Let your baby’s head tip back a little so their top lip can brush against your nipple – this should make them open their mouth
  • When their mouth is wide open, bring your baby to the breast with their head back and chin leading – this way they are able to take in a large mouthful of breast and not just the nipple
Attaching at the breast
You can tell if your baby is attached well if:
  • Their mouth is wide open
  • Their lower lip is further away from the base of the nipple than the top lip
  • Their chin is tucked tightly into the breast and their nose is free
  • Their cheeks are full and rounded for the whole feed
  • Sucks start off rapid and shallow, becoming deeper and more rhythmic as the milk begins to flow
  • From the time your baby is three to four days old you will be able to hear or see them swallowing frequently during the feed
  • There are short pauses from time to time followed by your baby starting to suckle again
  • You feel no pain for the whole feed

How you hold your baby and bring them to the breast affects how well they are able to breastfeed. If your baby isn’t attached well you may find your nipples becoming sore, your baby may need to feed more often and you may not produce enough milk for your baby. The tip of your nipple may look squashed by the end of a feed.

First few days

Your baby’s stomach is tiny at birth and grows to a capacity of about 30ml by day three. During the first few days your baby only takes about 7-10ml of colostrum (your first milk) each time they feed. Colostrum  has all your baby needs in a very concentrated form.

You should encourage your baby to feed three or four times in the first 24 hours by having as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, but remember that some babies will feed less and some will feed more.

By day three you will be producing milk, your breasts will feel fuller and your baby should be feeding at least eight times every 24 hours.

Exclusive breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding (giving your baby breast milk only) is recommended for around the first six months of your baby's life. In the early days it can be tempting to give an occasional bottle of formula or a dummy to pacify your baby, but we do not recommend this for several reasons:
  • Formula makes your baby feel fuller so they may breastfeed less and it's easy to overfeed using formula
  • Missing breastfeeds will reduce your milk supply
  • Using a teat changes the way babies suck, making it more difficult to attach at the breast
  • Even a small amount of formula undoes some of the good that exclusive breastfeeding does for your baby

More information

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