Breastfeeding - tips & advice

Breastfeeding your baby really does give him or her the best start in life. It’s not always easy but once you and your little one get the hang of it, it can be one of the most rewarding feelings in the world, establishing a bond like no other. We’ve pulled a few useful tips, advice and facts together on breastfeeding so you can feel in the know and ready to give it a go.

Preparing to breastfeed

You don't need to do anything to prepare your body for breastfeeding, one of nature’s miracles it will happen by itself. To help you feel more confident as you get closer to meeting and feeding your little one, it can be helpful to read a little bit about it and attend a few classes on breastfeeding (you’ll find your local NCT runs these). Talk to your friends and family about it and any other new mums you’d like to get advice from. Keep in mind that every one is different. Breastfeeding might work for some people and not for others – there’s no right way, only your way of doing things.

What you'll need

You’ll need very little to breastfeed but there are few things that will help to have in advance of your baby arriving. A few nursing bras, some loose fitting or specially designed breastfeeding tops and some breast pads can make life easier. Make sure you have your nursing bras professionally fitted and not before 36 weeks pregnant to make sure your ribcage has finished expanding. You may also want to buy an express machine to help increase or ease your milk supply, or to help you share feeding with your husband or family members with a bottle or two.

How it works

From around 20 weeks into your pregnancy your breasts produce colostrum. Colostrum is a thick, rich liquid, usually golden yellow in colour and packed with nutrients and antibodies to give your baby the very best start in life. When your baby arrives and takes those first few mouthfuls of colostrum, it sends signals to your breasts to make milk. Even the very sensation of your baby suckling will trigger the production of milk. The more your baby suckles, the more milk your body makes. Some babies struggle to latch on from day one. If this is the case with yours, don’t panic. You can express colostrum to give to your baby and top up with formula until you feel comfortable breastfeeding alone. After 3 or 4 days of breastfeeding the colostrum changes to white breastmilk.  Women often feel that their breasts become full of milk at this stage and sometimes slightly uncomfortable. If you feel very uncomfortable and feeding doesn’t ease the pressure, you can always express a little with your hand or a pump to help make your breasts feel less full. Your breasts will self-regulate to meet your little one’s needs, producing more when he or she is hungrier at different points of the day, more thirst quenching in hot weather and more nutrient rich when your baby is hungry. It really is phenomenal and certainly one thing less for new mums to have to monitor themselves!

The first few days

As soon as your baby is born hold him or her close to your skin have skin-to-skin contact with them, it will soothe them and establish the special bond between you and your baby from the very beginning. Newborn babies have a strong, innate urge to feed, so if you can, try to feed your baby within the first hour after birth. If you put your baby on your front they may instinctively find your breast (by following your heartbeat) and latch on themselves (pretty incredible when you think about it!). However if they're sleepy you may need to put them to the breast yourself. It's really important to get your baby latched correctly so that they get enough milk and your nipples don't become sore. Ask for help to begin with so you know what is a good latch and what is not. It may not happen straight away but over the first days and weeks it will feel more and more natural.

There are no set times for length of feed or how often your baby should feed so just follow your baby's lead. You may want to feed regularly in the first few days when your baby is sleepy as leaving them too long can use up their energy stores. There are cues to look out for that will let you know when your baby is hungry such as smacking or licking the lips, opening and closing the mouth, sucking on anything – fists, fingers, toes, lips, tongue, toys or clothes and rooting or fidgeting around a lot. Crying is a very late signal that a baby is hungry and it can be stressful trying to feed a frantic baby, so try not to leave it too long. 

How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?

During the first few days when your baby is getting colostrum they may only wet one or two nappies a day. Once your milk comes in, your baby should be wetting at least six nappies and having at least two bowel movements a day. Again, every baby is different so talk to your midwife or health visitor if you are unsure. Your baby should be feeding frequently (around 8-12 feeds per 24 hours) and seem content after feeding. Your breasts should feel emptier after feeding and your little one should be gaining weight after the first two weeks of life. 

Getting support

There is so much support out there for new mums when it comes to breastfeeding. It shouldn’t be painful or stressful. Remember to ask for help if you find it difficult. You can talk to your health visitor or midwife, find a local breastfeeding café where you can talk to other new mums and reassure yourself that it isn’t just you, call the National Breastfeeding Line on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am – 9.30pm daily 365 days) or the NCT helpline on 0300 330 0700 (8am-midnight, 365 days a year).

Breastfeeding can turn into the most natural and wonderful experience but it can also be a tricky skill for you and your baby to learn. Don’t be too hard on yourself and take each feed a day at a time. The first 6 weeks are likely to be the most challenging but it does get easier so keep going!

Breastfeeding helplines

National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212
National Childbirth Trust 0300 330 0700
La Leche League 0845 120 2918
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers 0300 330 5453

Links to useful websites:

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