Congratulations on your baby! If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you are a new or expecting mom who hopes to breastfeed. The key to a successful breastfeeding journey is to inform yourself of what to expect, especially in those first few weeks after baby arrives.
Here we have gathered together a list of our top tips and the most common questions new moms have about breastfeeding.
Why Should I Breastfeed?
Whether you will be breast or bottle feeding with baby formula is entirely your own choice! There are lots of great benefits to breastfeeding – your breast milk is the optimal food for your baby, it’s at the perfect temperature and meets their emotional needs as well as nutritional ones.
Breast milk has everything your baby needs until they start to take solid foods at around six months. The milk flow is perfect and the composition of breast milk means that it is easily digested in your baby’s stomach. The breastfed baby is also at reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome.
Your breastfed baby will be less likely to suffer from diabetes, certain cancers and obesity- this protection is lifelong! Breast fed babies also typically suffer from fewer ear infections and other childhood illnesses. Longitudinal studies have associated breastfeeding with higher IQ at school-going age.
The first milk, called colostrum, is commonly called liquid gold – it’s packed with immunological benefits. Your milk will also adapt to meet your baby’s needs, even containing more sleepy hormones at night time to help the baby fall asleep. Meanwhile, infant formula is the same for every baby, at every feed.
Breastfeeding is beneficial to both you and baby. Breastfeeding mothers are at reduced risk for postpartum depression, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and breast cancer. Breastfeeding can even help lower high blood pressure. Your breastfed baby will be less likely to suffer from diabetes, certain cancers and obesity- this protection is lifelong! Breastfed babies also typically suffer from fewer ear infections and other childhood illnesses. Longitudinal studies have associated breastfeeding with higher IQ at school going age. Read more on the benefits of breastfeeding for mom
Is Breastfeeding Hard for First Time Moms?
Every new mom has their own unique set of circumstances. Breastfeeding can however be physically and emotionally challenging – the mom will be exhausted and hormonal after giving birth, which can make learning a new skill difficult.
The best way to get ready for the challenges you may face in breastfeeding is to inform yourself of the benefits, the possible problems you may face and who to call for support when you need it. A strong personal support network of friends and family who can help around the house while you get the hang of it is massively helpful.
Breastfeeding is a skill, and as such, it does take some time to get the hang of it. It can be difficult to get positioning right, and obstacles such as painful nipples or poor latch can present physical challenges too. That said, the same is true for any mother!
How Do I Get My Husband or Partner Involved?
Many people assume that if you are breastfeeding, your partner cannot be involved, and this simply isn’t true!
Many dads love to cuddle with mom and baby during nursing sessions. It’s also a great idea for dad to bring baby to mom when it’s feeding time- this makes dad a part of the routine. Dad could also burp the baby mid feed.
Another option is to express son that your partner can give the baby in a bottle – dad will just love having the baby look up at him while the baby enjoys a feed.
What Should I Expect in the First Few Weeks?
It can feel like your baby is nursing constantly in the early weeks. For the first few days, baby will be getting colostrum in tiny amounts, before your mature milk comes in somewhere in the first 3-7 days. Breast engorgement is common – breastfeed frequently to alleviate any discomfort, and use a nursing pad to soak up the infamous milk leaks. Expect lots of dirty and wet diapers!
Most babies will have their first growth spurt at around one week old- many women see their baby cry for more milk constantly and think that this means that baby is not getting enough milk. In fact, breastfeeding works by supply and demand – your baby is nursing more frequently to increase milk production!
The more you nurse, the more your breasts will make. A nursing pillow is a great investment for this period, as you will spend a lot of your time nursing!
Should Breastfeeding Hurt?
Sore nipples are common in the early stages, but breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt after the first couple of weeks. The cause of nipple pain is often an issue with baby’s latch.
To encourage a good latch, first of all, find the right position for you- both you and baby should feel comfortable. Next, position your baby’s head so that their nose is to your nipple; gently push the nipple downwards in to baby’s mouth, ensuring to get a good amount of the breast in to baby’s mouth. This method should correct a shallow or poor latch.
Inverted or flat nipples can also cause some pain in the early days, however very often this rectifies itself. This does not mean that you cannot breast feed.
Should you experience cracked or bleeding nipples, let nipples air dry . If only one breast is affected, you may choose to express milk on that side until you have healed. If you continue to struggle, consult a lactation consultant or the la leche league for advice.
How Can I Make My First Time Breastfeeding Less Painful?
Good positioning is vital! Ask your midwife to show you a few different nursing positions, relax, and be the patient ad you are both learning. It can help to use a pure lanolin cream, this is particularly beneficial if you do suffer cracked or painful nipples later.
The latch is important; ensure that baby’s chin is tucked under the breast, with the nipple and a good amount of breast tissue in baby’s mouth, nipple pointing to the soft palette.
Keep well hydrated and seek advice immediately if you are having issues with latch or positioning- these issues are often easily rectified, and it’s much wiser to act before your nipples become too sore!
Breastfeeding Tips for First Time Mothers
As a first time mother, you are adjusting to a huge amount of change in the post partum period- preparation is the key to breastfeeding success.
It is recommended to have a lactation consultant on board. Let your family doctor know that you are breastfeeding, and try to find a local breastfeeding class. You’ll get lots of great tips for new moms there.
There are no “right” answers- the frequency and length of feeds, for example, will vary massively depending on your baby’s age, along with how efficient they are at the breast. Look at how your own baby is doing rather than comparing to anybody else.
How Can I Tell if My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?
This is a common worry amongst new moms. The best way to tell if baby is getting enough milk is to keep an eye on wet diapers. Your baby should be feeding frequently and having ten or more wet and dirty diapers a day- they may have a bowel movement with every feed.
Your baby should also meet their developmental and weight gain milestones. Baby should double their birth weight by six months.
If concerned- nurse more! This will stimulate milk production. Offer the first breast, help your baby to bring upwind, and then offer the second breast. Ensure that you allow each nursing session to come to a natural end; this ensures that baby is getting the more fatty and filling hindmilk.
As baby becomes satisfied, you’ll find that baby sucks less frequently until he eventually stops, you’ll also notice that baby’s body is relaxed when he has had his fill.
Is It Okay to Combination Feed?
You should feed your baby however best suits your lifestyle! That said, it is recommended that you exclusively breastfeed for the first six weeks – not only does this maximise the breastfeeding benefits to your baby, but it also ensures that your milk supply is well established before you start skipping feeds or introducing a pump.
If you are planning to combination feed, think first about your strategy- try to keep some kind of routine so that your breasts can adapt to the new schedule. Many moms continue to breastfeed during the day but offer a bottle at night, others leave a bottle for baby while they work but breast feed the rest of the time.
If you expect that breastfeeding frequency is going to reduce substantially, you may need to pump or hand express off some of the excess milk while your body adjusts.
Growth and developmental spurts are regular in the first year of baby’s life, and can be distressing if you don’t know what to expect- and what you can expect is a crying baby and lots of nursing!
A proper latch is key, other than that, let baby take as much milk as they want- they are doing just what they should be doing!
If a growing spurt is intense, you might want to use a breast pump just to help ease sore nipples or give yourself a break. Other than that, remember that every nursing session boosts you milk supply to ensure your baby get’s enough milk.
Breast milk is easily digested, which is why you’ll find baby keeps coming back for more- it doesn’t mean that she isn’t getting enough milk!
Do I Need To Top Up With Formula Milk?
Well-meaning friends and family often suggest formula top-ups at the first sign of trouble. Most of the time, however, there is a breastfeeding solution for every breastfeeding problem.
with 97% of mothers being physically capable of producing milk to meet their infant’s needs, it’s unlikely that you need to offer formula top-ups – if you feel that baby needs more breast milk, simply nurse more frequently. It’s incredibly common for moms to panic and thinks that the baby needs more breastmilk when in fact the baby is just going through a growth spurt. The only way to increase your milk supply is to nurse more.
While the occasional top-up may seem harmless, the issue is that for every feed away from your breast, your body is missing an important signal to make more milk. That demand for milk is your baby’s way of telling your body to make more, and without putting baby to your breast, your breasts won’t get that message, The more feeds you miss, the higher the deficit between what baby wants and what baby gets.
If you wish to breastfeed, it is best to hold off on offering formula top-ups for the first six weeks at least.
How Do I Increase Milk Supply?
To boost milk supply, simply offer the breast more often. Ensure that baby’s mouth is wide open to ensure a strong, effective latch at every feed. Put baby’s nose to nipple, graze baby’s lips with the nipple, and gently push in a handful of breast tissue when they open their mouth.
Your breast milk supply and milk flow will adjust quickly to the increase in feeds.
How Do I Deal With Oversupply?
Oversupply occurs when your breasts produce more milk than your baby needs. This can happen naturally, however, most often it happens because there are larger gaps between nursing sessions, or your baby is unwell and not taking as much milk.
If this is the case, you may have to express off excess milk to make yourself feel comfortable – you can store this in the fridge or freezer and give it to the baby later if you wish.
Ease the symptoms of oversupply by massaging the breast, expressing, and using hot compresses if you experience any pain or discomfort. A hot bath can help.
If you suffer from oversupply, be aware of the signs of symptoms of mastitis; a nasty breastfeeding infection that can be triggered by blocked ducts. If your breast becomes swollen, red or hot to the touch, do get in touch with your doctor. You may feel a large golf ball-sized lump where the duct is blocked with milk.
If you have too much or excess breast milk, we’ve lots of ideas for use to use up surplus milk, never let it go to waste!
Tips for Expressing Breast Milk
One of the important tips for new moms from lactation consultants is actually not to pump milk in the very early days- be sure to let your milk come in and adjust to your baby’s needs first- each time baby latches stimulate your supply much better than a pump can.
Remember that you should be able to satisfy the baby’s needs simply by putting the baby’s mouth to the nipple until you give your baby solid foods at around 6 months. You can then introduce cow’s milk for one year.
If however, you wish to express milk to return to work or because you will be away from the baby, the best tip is to relax, keep well hydrated, and bring a photo or item of your baby’s clothing. Some moms even smell the baby’s head to stimulate milk flow- it actually helps! You can hand express or use a pump. Check out our handy guide for breastfeeding tips when you are returning to work.
When is the Best Time for Weaning?
The benefits of breastfeeding are emotional as well as physical, and there is no set time when the benefits simply stop. When to stop breastfeeding is entirely a personal choice and depends on the needs of your nursling and yourself.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 weeks of life. Breastfeeding should continue to the age of two years and beyond, for as long as is mutually desirable for mom and infant. We’ve written a great article about the ups and downs of extended breastfeeding. We’ve also looked into how to tell when your baby is ready for weaning.
Most children will self wean between the ages of 2-4- this is when the child naturally reduces and stops feeding altogether.
If however, you decide to encourage weaning before this stage, ensure that you do so gradually- not only does this help your baby adjust to the change, but it gives your body time to adjust and gradually reduce milk supply. An abrupt stop to breastfeeding can cause mastitis. We’ve done a guide to how to stop breastfeeding.
Can I Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Absolutely! It is a myth that you cannot fall pregnant while breastfeeding.
The truth is that breastfeeding amenorrhea (a lack of periods) can only be relied upon as a method of contraception of very strict criteria are met; baby must be under 6 months, exclusively breastfed, receiving no other food or drinks, not be having any bottles or pacifiers, and feeding regularly day and night.
Additionally, as soon as the mom has had her first postpartum period, breastfeeding can no longer be relied upon to prevent pregnancy. Even one missed breastfeed can be enough to trigger a return to fertility! We’ve done a guide to periods and breastfeeding here.
For this reason, it is not recommended to use breastfeeding as a method of contraception if you are sure that you do not wish to fall pregnant again.
Can I Continue to Take My Meds While Breastfeeding?
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for advice about specific medications. They can evaluate the pros and cons of breastfeeding in relation to how safe your medication is for the infant, however, normally if a medication is safe to use in pregnancy it will be safe throughout breastfeeding too.
For most moms, even if their usual medication isn’t breastfeeding safe, there will be a suitable alternative available. Speak to your doctor about what adjustments can be made.
There are several contraceptive options, along with meds to suit common postnatal conditions such as postnatal depression, which are fine to use while you breastfeed. This is because only tiny amounts of the drug make it through to your breast milk.
Getting Breastfeeding Help
A local mom and baby group is a great way to get breastfeeding tips and support. If you are concerned about yourself or your baby, you should however speak to your pediatrician or OBGYN who can help you get to the bottom of what’s going on. There is almost always a breastfeeding solution for every breastfeeding problem!
In Summary: Top Tips for Success
Our top tip is to inform yourself, arm yourself with as much information you can and get the support of a great lactation consultant and some mom friends. As a new mom, you’ll find that a good support network is key.
There are many huge benefits to breastfeeding, and the vast majority of women who want to breastfeed are physically able to do so. You may experience some obstacles, but be assured that with the right support, you should be able to breastfeed with success. If you’d like to learn more, check out this article titled “Everything You Need to Know About Breastfeeding.”
This article was written by Sandra Baker – full time writer and the mother of four amazing kids (including twins!)
She’s also a breastfeeding counselor and has spent years helping new parents learn how to care for their children. When she’s not writing or caring for her children, Sandra likes to spend time reading and taking walks with her husband.