Everything You Need to Know About Breastfeeding: For Complete Beginners
If you’re considering breastfeeding your baby, you’ll need to learn a few basics before giving birth.
If you’re a new mother, breastfeeding can seem intimidating because you’ve likely heard that many women have trouble with it.
In this post, we’ll give you the beginner’s instructions, tips for troubleshooting and what to do if you’re still having trouble.
It Isn’t Always Easy
Since breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby, many mothers assume it will be a breeze. Unfortunately, some women may have trouble in the beginning and may grow frustrated.
If this happens, know that this experience is normal and breastfeeding troubles can usually be overcome. While this post will guide you through breastfeeding tips, you may still have issues. Ask your doctor to recommend a lactation consultant if this occurs.
Steps You Can Take During Pregnancy for Better Breastfeeding
Here are a few tips you can use early-on to increase your chances of easy breastfeeding:
- Take a breastfeeding class. You don’t have to wait until you’ve had your baby. Taking a breastfeeding class during pregnancy can allow both you and your partner to ask questions.
- Seek additional support. You can begin building a breastfeeding support network during pregnancy or after delivery. Options include a breastfeeding support group, talking to friends who have breastfed or speaking to a lactation consultant.
- Prenatal vitamins. Taking a prenatal vitamin not only helps your body develop a baby during pregnancy, but it can also help with milk production. Read our full guide on prenatal vitamins for more information.
Steps You Can Take Right After Birth for Better Breastfeeding
- Ask for an expert. While you’re still in the hospital, ask to speak to a nurse or lactation consultant who can show you the basics. They’ll teach you how to get your baby to latch on to your breast and will teach you comfortable nursing positions. You can choose to ask your doctor beforehand if the hospital you’re giving birth in has experts available.
- Early breastfeeding. Try breastfeeding your baby as soon as you can.
- Avoid pacifiers, if possible. Ask nurses not to give your baby pacifiers, formula or sugar water unless it’s necessary. Continue avoiding pacifiers until your baby is good at latching onto your breast, which usually takes around 3 or 4 weeks.
- Express colostrum. Your body makes early milk, called colostrum. In the first three days, in addition to breastfeeding, you can use your hands to express the early milk. Research shows that it will significantly increase your milk production.
How to Get a Good Latch
Teaching your baby how to latch on correctly can be one of the most challenging parts of breastfeeding. Many experts recommend laid-back, or baby-led, breastfeeding. Using this method, you don’t force the latch and instead encourage your baby to follow her instincts.
First, start in a place where you can be comfortable and calm. With only her diaper on, lay your baby against your bare chest. Hold her between your breasts with no expectation of feeding yet.
If your baby is hungry, she may move her head or body or look up at you. If she begins searching for your breast, support her head and shoulders, but do not force her. When your baby’s chin hits your breast, her mouth will open, and she should reach up and get a deep latch.
If this doesn’t work, there are a few things you can try:
- Lightly move your nipple over your baby’s lips. This may encourage her to open her mouth.
- Position your baby so that her chin and lower jaw are touching your breast.
- To encourage your baby to latch deeply, try to position her lower lip further from the base of the nipple.
What is Considered a Good Latch?
- Doesn’t hurt or pinch you.
- You don’t or barely see your areola because your baby’s mouth is covering it.
- Your baby doesn’t need to turn her head while drinking. She is comfortably rested on your body.
- Your baby’s lips are turned outward. You may not be able to see her bottom lip.
- After nursing, if your nipple is flat, the latch is only on the nipple and may cause pain. If it’s the same shape before and after feeding, it’s a good latch.
Why Does It Hurt?
Many mothers have trouble with latching at first and experience pain. This often happens when the baby is sucking on just the nipple when sucking on the entire area, including the areola is preferable.
If this happens, place a clean finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to stop them from sucking. Then, try again.
How Should I Hold My Baby During Nursing?
There are various breastfeeding holds you can use to make breastfeeding easier. You can try a few to see which work best for you and your baby. Check the illustrated positions here.
Answers to Your Breastfeeding Questions
What is “Let-Down”?
Breastfeeding let down is a reflex in which milk is released when your baby latches on. It’s also called milk ejection. When this happens, you may feel a tingle or discomfort in your breast. This sensation can also happen a few times during feeding. If milk gushes out and your baby is bothered by it, try expressing a bit of milk before feeding.
When Do I Feed My Baby?
From birth up to 6 weeks, you should feed your baby whenever they want. On average, a baby this young will be hungry every couple of hours, meaning 10 to 12 daily feedings. However, your baby may feed more or less and that’s normal. Over time, you’ll learn when he is hungry and a schedule will naturally form.
Each feeding may last from 15 to 20 minutes per breast but may be shorter or longer depending on how hungry your baby is.
As your baby grows, the time between his feedings will lengthen. If you’re worried about producing enough milk, remember that it’s based on supply and demand. The more milk your baby needs and eats, the more milk your body will make. Your body will learn to adjust to it over time, no matter your breast size.
You should also note that breastmilk will change color over the first days and weeks.
How Do I Know My Baby is Hungry?
Your baby will hint to you that she’s hungry with a few signs:
- Becoming more alert
- Turning her head (to look for the breast)
- Moving her mouth in a sucking motion
- Bringing her hands or firsts up to her mouth
- Crying—this is usually a late sign of hunger. Try to recognize signs before this point because it’s harder for your baby to latch when she is upset.
How Can I Make More Breastmilk?
To ensure you’re making enough breastmilk, it’s best to breastfeed often and completely empty your breasts each time to prevent build-up. To do this, you can massage your breasts, offer your baby both breasts, or pump after nursing.
My Newborn Lost Weight. Does That Mean She’s Not Drinking Enough?
During the first few days of life, it’s natural for a baby to lose weight. Babies are born with extra fluid and when that fluid is lost, your baby will lose a few ounces. After the first week, she will probably start gaining about an ounce a day.
How Do I Know My Baby is Drinking Enough?
You know your baby is consuming your breastmilk when you hear her gulp and swallow during nursing. You may also see breastmilk dripping from her mouth.
Your pediatrician will weigh and measure your baby during each visit to make sure she is growing at an appropriate weight. If you wish, you can purchase your own baby scale and learn about weighing your baby here.
A good way to see if your baby is getting enough nutrients is to pay attention to how many wet and dirty diapers they have. After the first week, a newborn can be expected to have around 5-7 wet diapers and 3-4 dirty diapers a day, according to the American Pregnancy Association. It’s normal for this amount to change over time. When you start introducing solid foods, the number of diapers may also change.
When Should I Stop Breastfeeding?
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a baby should be breastfed for the first 6 months. It’s also recommended that you continue breastfeeding after your baby has started eating solid foods and after her first birthday.
A baby will naturally wean herself off of breastmilk when she is ready. With that being said, there are other factors to consider such as how you feel or if you need to return to work.
I’m Still Having Trouble. Help?
If it seems like you’ve tried everything and you’re still having trouble breastfeeding, it’s time to seek professional help. Here are a few options:
- Contacting your doctor or midwife for help
- Contacting a lactation consultant
- For more info on latching, you can call the Office on Women’s Health helpline at 1-800-994-9662
- Join a breastfeeding support group
- Attend a local breastfeeding clinic or class
Do you have any breastfeeding tips for new mothers? If so, comment them below. Be sure to share this post with any pregnant friends or family members.