To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August), I want to share my top tips on getting started with breastfeeding. For me, the first days and weeks were the hardest part of what was ultimately a wonderful experience. As a new mum, I had read so much but I still didn’t really know what to DO when my beautiful baby boy was placed in my arms.
We learnt together, through late-night googling and Mumsnet, breastfeeding support groups and endless practice. I came to love breastfeeding, snuggled up with my baby in a cosy armchair and the world shrinking to just us two. I loved seeing his milk-drunk little face like in the photo above.
And when my twins came along two years later, I needed all that experience to exclusively breastfeed them as well. While I don’t pretend to be an expert, I’ve often been asked for my advice on breastfeeding. So these are the tips I would give to any new mum who wants to breastfeed:
1. Learn the latch
You’ll probably have read lots about the importance of getting a good ‘latch’, or connection between baby and breast. It seems like something a baby should know how to do naturally … but they often don’t! If this will be your first time breastfeeding, I strongly recommend watching a good, detailed, close-up video of how to latch a baby - the Breastfeeding series from Global Health Media is excellent.
Quick tips for a good latch:
- Cradle your baby with their head in the crook of your arm, so their nose is about level with your nipple (lower down than you’d think!)
- Use your other hand and arm to support the baby’s neck and shoulders. Tilt their head back gently with your hand and tickle their upper lip with your nipple until they open their mouth wide
- At the instant their mouth is wide open, bring your baby quickly onto your breast, chin first and let them close their mouth onto your nipple. This should give you a good deep latch. Check their nose is clear and listen for that magic sucking and swallowing :)
If you have a good latch, your baby will get more milk, faster - which means happy baby and happy boobs. A bad latch will hurt your nipples like FIRE. If it hurts after the initial 30 seconds or so when your milk lets down, you probably have a bad latch. Try adjusting the position and re-attaching, and if it’s not getting better, seek help from your midwife, health visitor, or even better, a lactation consultant.
2. Feed, feed, feed - babies have tiny tummies!
As a new parent, you’ll be consumed with anxiety over everything your precious little bundle does, and especially about whether they’re eating enough. When your baby wants to feed lots, it’s tempting to worry that they aren’t getting enough milk.
However, as the chart below shows, newborn babies’ tummies are really tiny (like a few teaspoons tiny). They only need a little milk each feed, and your colostrum - the first, thick, yellowy milk you produce in the first days after birth - is incredibly nutritious.
Little and often is best for them, and best for stimulating your milk supply. Milk production works on a demand-and-supply basis, so the more they feed, the more milk you make. Cluster feeding (wanting to feed semi-constantly for hours at a time) is common in the first few weeks, so line up a good box set, surround yourself with snacks and just feed, feed, feed.
Remember also that a little weight loss is entirely normal in the first week as they clear out the meconium (first poo) from their gut and adjust to a completely new way of receiving food. A good way to check they’re getting enough is to monitor the number of wet nappies - at least two on day 2, at least 3 on days 3-4, rising to over six in 24 hours by day 5 when your milk should be fully in. See a handy summary from Breastfeeding Together here.
3. Every mother and baby breastfeeds differently
If there’s one thing I wish someone had told me, it’s this. It’s so tempting to compare yourself to other mums - but we are all different and we feed differently. Some mums have a fast letdown and can fully feed a baby in 10 minutes. Some will need 30+ minutes to complete a feed. Both are normal. Some will leak milk and be changing breast pads every few hours, others won’t leak a drop. It’s really tempting (especially at 3am) to google questions like how long should my baby feed, how much milk should I produce, but there is no one right answer.
The same goes for your baby. Some feed faster than others. Some spit up a dribble and some a flood (my twins were one of each). Some want to comfort feed and others are only in it for the meal and then doze off.
As a mum and baby, you’re your own little team and you have to figure out what works for you. But if you get a good latch, feed often and just focus on the two of you, you’ll be well on your way.