Breast-feeding for first timers

In pregnancy, and the first few days after your baby’s born, your breasts make colostrum. This is a highly nutritious, concentrated fluid that builds your baby’s resistance to infection, and helps get his digestive system working well.

On days two to five, your breasts start making breast milk.

You’ll continue to make milk, as long as you and your baby ‘tell’ your body it’s needed, by

  • feeding your baby as often as he wants, and letting him stay on as long as he wants to on the ‘first’ side, before offering the ‘second’. He may or may not want the second side. In the first weeks, frequent feeding is normal.
  • making sure your baby is positioned at your breast, and ‘attached’ to you, in the right way. This is called ‘latching on’ and it means he gets a satisfying amount of milk when he feeds, and he also stimulates your breast milk production more effectively.

You’ll also need to avoid bottles in the early days. A bottle of formula can work against you establishing breastfeeding because it fills up a baby’s tummy, and means he’s less keen to come to the breast, so you make less milk. (Bottles introduced later on, when breastfeeding’s well underway, are much less likely to interfere with your supply).

Getting your baby latched on

Follow these rules for happy feeding

  • get yourself comfortable and relaxed.
  • hold your baby across your body, so his chest is against your chest and his head doesn’t have to turn to take your breast.
  • keeping your fingers well away from your nipple, bring your baby to your breast when his mouth is w…i…d…e open. It shouldn’t hurt when he comes on (though a fleeting feeling of being ‘gripped’ is nothing to worry about). If it hurts, take him off and try again, this time waiting until his mouth is open wider. Remember to insert a finger gently into the side of his mouth when taking him off your nipple.

Getting breast-feeding help

Ask for help from a midwife at first, unless you’re really certain you have everything right. Later, at home, you can get help from a community midwife, a health visitor or a breast-feeding counsellor.

Knowing you’re doing fine

A well-fed breast-fed baby gains weight (though not always at the same rate every week) and is contented after most feeds. He or she will also have several wet nappies a day. The number of dirty nappies is not so crucial – it’s quite usual for babies to have frequent dirty nappies at first, and then fewer as they get older. But there is a wide range of normal. If you’re worried, ask your health visitor. Breast-fed babies do cry, though, and they can suffer from colic, too.

If your baby seems cross and hungry a lot of the time, then seek help. Sometimes, this situation resolves itself, as both you and your baby get better at feeding. However, there are ways to help in the meantime.

For example, you may need to help your baby get a better position on the breast., or hold her in a way that’s more comfortable. Talk it over with someone who can support your wish to breastfeed, and who understands how breastfeeding works.

Expressing milk

You can express your breast milk for your baby to drink from a bottle or a cup, if you have to be away when she’d normally have a feed. It’s easiest to do this when your milk supply is established. It can be done from the beginning, however, and some mothers do this for their babies in special care, who may be unable to come to the breast.

  • use a pump or your hands to express your milk. A midwife or breastfeeding counsellor will explain what to do.
  • store your milk in the fridge (for up to 24 hours) or the freezer (for up to three months).

Later on

Breast-feeding’s different as your baby gets beyond the first few weeks.

  • feeds tend to get shorter and less frequent , as your baby and you become more efficient. You may find there are still times – possibly in the evenings – when a longer, comforting feed is the norm.
  • your breasts will get softer, as more of the fatty tissue is replaced by milk-producing and storing tissue (the fat comes back when you finally stop breastfeeding).
  • the antibodies in breast milk continue to help your baby fight against infection, and it remains a nutritious, healthy drink whatever his age.

Think about introducing solids at six months, although you can do this a bit sooner if baby seems ready and if your health visitor or doctor agrees. Keep up with the breast-feeding as long as you both want to.

Looking after yourself

You might hear all sorts of advice about what you should eat and drink when you’re breastfeeding. The only rules are

  • eat according to your hunger and drink according to thirst.
  • rest when you’re tired.

These guidelines are for you. You will produce as much nutritious breast milk as anyone else, whether or not you eat a good diet or rest a lot. But you will enjoy being a mum and breastfeeding, if you remember to care for yourself as well as your baby.

What if breast-feeding doesn’t work out?

Breast-feeding isn’t always easy to get going. Sometimes, it’s hard at the start, especially if you have had a long labour with pain relief. Both you and your baby may need time to recover, and there is no doubt that babies in this situation are slower off the mark with breastfeeding. Some babies need feeding very frequently, and this can mean a very challenging first few weeks for mothers who feel they’re feeding all the time. Soreness can make feeding a chore rather than a pleasure.

Most problems can be resolved with the right information, but the information and support from people around you may be hard to get. Or, you may decide it’s just not for you, and you’d be happier and more confident as a mother by bottle-feeding. This is your decision. Breastfeeding may be the healthier choice for your baby, but it’s not the only way of mothering.

You may be disappointed if breast-feeding doesn’t work out, but there is no reason to feel guilty!

More information?

  • Contact a breastfeeding counsellor from the National Childbirth Trust (see your phone book or phone HQ on 020 8992 8637
  • La Leche League 020 7242 1278
  • Association of Breastfeeding Mothers 020 8778 4769

All these organisations have helpful leaflets on different aspects of breastfeeding.

For more breast-feeding advice, visit the Breastfeeding Network

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