Baby Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a rewarding way for you and your baby to get to know each other while providing your little one with all the nutrients they need. Although it’s a natural process, it may be a little challenging to master at first – but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Read on for breastfeeding tips and learn what happens when you breastfeed, the benefits for you and your baby, how to avoid sore and cracked nipples with a good breastfeeding latch, what foods to avoid when breastfeeding and so much more.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for My Baby?

Breastfeeding offers plenty of great benefits for your baby. Breast milk is packed with minerals and nutrients to help your baby grow and develop. It’s always available to your baby whenever they need it, and the closeness of breastfeeding can support healthy emotional development by strengthening the bond between you and your baby.

Breastfeeding also lowers the chances of:

Some studies have also suggested that breastfeeding can lower the risk of childhood leukaemia. But more research is required in this area.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for You?

It’s not only beneficial for babies; breastfeeding also has health benefits for mums. Spending precious time breastfeeding your little one can help foster a strong bond. It’s also free, requires no preparation or special equipment and can be done anytime, anywhere.

In addition, breastfeeding may lower your risk of:

  • Breast cancer

  • Ovarian cancer

  • Osteoporosis (weak bones)

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Obesity.

How Do You Breastfeed?

When your baby is born, your midwife may encourage you to place your baby on your bare chest for skin-to-skin contact for at least an hour. This can trigger the reflex that helps your baby latch on to your nipple. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can also help stimulate your own milk production.

There’s no need to worry if you aren’t able to breastfeed right after birth – for example, if your newborn needs time in special care – you’ll still be able to bond and breastfeed as soon as your baby is back with you.

To start a feed, try to cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. If your little one yawns or open their mouth wide, pull them close to you, and direct your nipple towards the roof of their mouth.

Here are some tips for helping your baby get a good breastfeeding latch:

  1. Hold your baby close, with their nose at the same height as your nipple

  2. Let your baby’s head tip back slightly, allowing the top lip to brush against your nipple and your baby to open their mouth wide

  3. Your baby’s mouth should be open wide enough for their chin to touch your breast first, with the head tipped back so your baby’s tongue can reach as much of your breast as possible.

  4. You baby has a good latch if much more of the darker nipple skin is showing above your baby’s top lip than below it. When your baby is feeding well, their cheeks look full and rounded.

Breastfeeding and Pain – Does Breastfeeding Hurt?

Breastfeeding isn’t usually painful, but if you do experience breast pain during or after breastfeeding, the causes can usually be resolved quite quickly. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or a lactation consultant as soon as possible if you experience any pain or discomfort while breastfeeding.

Possible causes of breast pain include:

  • Breast engorgement. Overfull breasts can feel hard, tight or even painful. This can happen for various reasons. In the first few days of breastfeeding, your newborn may not be feeding enough to use up all the milk your body produces. Eventually your milk supply adjusts to match your baby’s needs, but this takes a few days. Expressing a little milk by hand can take the pressure off an engorged breast, but don’t take too much out – this will only stimulate your body to produce more.

  • Poor attachment. If your baby isn’t latching onto your nipple effectively, this can lead to sore or cracked nipples as well as overfull, engorged breasts. If your baby is finding it difficult to latch on properly, try some different breastfeeding positions or ask your midwife or health visitor for personalised advice.

  • A blocked milk duct. A small tender lump in your breast could be caused by a blockage in one of the ducts that carries milk to your nipple. Pointing your baby’s chin towards the lump while breastfeeding can help clear the duct. Gently massaging the lump towards your nipple while breastfeeding can also help. Apply warmth to the affected area by having a warm shower or using warm flannels. It’s important to clear a blocked milk duct quickly, to avoid mastitis.

  • Mastitis. Redness, tenderness and a heat in one breast are some of the symptoms of a breast inflammation known as mastitis, which may also be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as a fever and aches. If you think you have mastitis, stopping breastfeeding is not advised as this can make the problem worse. Apply warmth to the affected breast and let your baby feed on the tender breast first. Get as much rest and possible and see a doctor if the mastitis doesn’t get any better within 12 to 24 hours or if it gets worse.

  • Thrush. Pain in both breasts that lasts for up to an hour after a feed – even if the feed itself wasn’t painful – could be a thrush (candida) injection of the breast. Breastfeeding babies may also develop oral thrush. If you think you or your baby have a thrush infection, see your doctor who can diagnose it and prescribe antifungal gels or liquids to treat it. It’s OK to carry on breastfeeding.

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Breastfeeding in Public

Breastfeeding in public – whether that means feeding your little one in front of a friend or relative at home or in a café, shopping centre, public transport or other public place – is fully permitted in the UK, so know that it’s illegal to make a breastfeeding woman feel uncomfortable or ask her to leave the premises or stop breastfeeding.

Where you choose to breastfeed, is up to you. In the first few days or weeks while you’re still getting the hang of it, you may feel more comfortable breastfeeding in the private. Later, though, many mums start to feel more confident about feeding their baby in a more public setting.

You can make it easier by planning ahead and wearing clothes that will help you feel more comfortable when breastfeeding in public. For example, you might wear a loose top that’s easily lifted. Or, if you like to keep your tummy covered, you could put on two stretchy tops – one to pull up and the other to pull down.

If you don’t have a special nursing bra, a soft non-underwired bra is easy to pull up or down when it’s time for a feed.

What Does Healthy Breast Milk Look Like?

You may be surprised at the colour of your milk during the first few feeds. The thick, typically yellow fluid produced by your breasts the first few days after birth is called colostrum. It’s intended to be your baby’s very first meal and it’s a great source of nutrition and protection against diseases.

At this age, your newborn’s tummy can only hold about a teaspoon of liquid, so don’t expect your baby to feed much at first. Due to its high concentration, your newborn only requires a small amount with each feed to get all the nutrients they need – about a teaspoonful each feed.

Around two to four days after your baby’s birth, you will notice your milk is getting creamier. This is when your ‘mature’ milk comes in. At this point, you may find your baby wants to feed for longer, and slightly less often in certain cases. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce.

How Often Should You Breastfeed?

It’s important that you let your baby set their own schedule. There is no set length of time or frequency for breastfeeding. Don’t be surprised if your infant wants to feed every hour for the first couple of days. As a rough guide, you’ll probably need to feed your baby every 2 to 3 hours, or 8 to 12 times a day.

Your midwife may encourage you to feed whenever they are hungry, when your breasts feel full or if you just want to enjoy some quality time cuddling your baby.

When your baby is hungry, they may let you know by:

  • Being restless

  • Sucking their fist or fingers

  • Making murmuring sounds

  • Turning their head and opening their mouth (rooting).

How Do You Know Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?

You may find yourself worried that you aren’t producing enough breast milk for your baby during the first few days. It can often take a while to feel confident that your baby is getting all the milk they need. Luckily, there are a few tell-tale signs:

  • You can hear and see them swallowing

  • Their wee will be pale and not dark brown

  • Your nipple appears pretty much the same after every feed

  • Your baby comes off the breast of their own accord at the end of each feed

  • Your baby appears calm and relaxed during feeds

Foods to Avoid When Breastfeeding

It can often be hard to know what is best to get more of or avoid when breastfeeding. The most important thing is to eat a balanced diet to ensure your little one gets all the healthy nutrients they need.

There’s no strict meal plan you need to stick to in order to have a healthy breastfeeding diet. However, there are certain things your GP may advise you to avoid, particularly if your baby is sensitive to certain foods or drinks. Traces of what you eat and drink can pass through to your breast milk, so it’s good to be aware of any sensitivities.

When breastfeeding, it’s generally recommended that you keep the following things in mind:

  • Caffeine. Not just the caffeine found in coffee, but also in chocolate, energy drinks and soft drinks. Caffeine is a stimulant which has the power to make your baby restless and is therefore not recommended in excess. If you like to start the day with a fresh brew, try to limit the amount of caffeine to 300mg per day when breastfeeding.

  • Alcohol. The general rule of thumb is to avoid alcohol entirely when breastfeeding. That said, the occasional glass or two is unlikely to harm your baby. Leave two to three hours between drinking and breastfeeding, or express before having a glass to ensure no alcohol ends up in your breast milk.

  • Fish. Fish and shellfish provide important vitamins and minerals as part of a healthy diet. However, certain fish contain high levels of mercury, which can cause damage to the nervous systems in babies and small children. That’s why it’s best to avoid fish such as shark, swordfish and marlin when breastfeeding, or limit your consumption to one portion a week. Oily fish is also a great source of vitamin D, but it should be limited to two portions a week.

What Do You Need to Know About Expressing Breast Milk?

Breast milk production is based on supply and demand. The more milk you feed or pump, the more you’ll produce. There are plenty of reasons you may want to express and store your breastmilk. For example, it can be handy when you return to work and when your partner wants to feed your baby.

Here are some tips for expressing breast milk:

  • Relax. Stress can reduce the amount of milk you produce, so find a quiet and relaxing place to express.

  • Express often. This will help to increase your breastmilk supply. You can even express both breasts simultaneously.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

How Long Should a Child Be Breastfed For?

Experts advise exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months to make sure your little one enjoys all the benefits of breast milk. After that, you can start to introduce a more varied diet, adding solid foods in addition to breast milk for up to 2 years or longer.

There is no set time limit for how long you can breastfeed your baby – it’s a choice that should be right for both of you. Read more about weaning your baby and stopping breastfeeding.

Is There Anything Else That Can Help You With Breastfeeding?

You may need a little help getting started, especially if it’s your first time breastfeeding. That’s perfectly normal. Here are a few tips to make breastfeeding a little easier:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The first time you breastfeed your baby, ask for help. Your midwife can help you find the best breastfeeding position for your newborn and help them latch on correctly.

  • Consider sleeping in the same room as your baby. For the first six months, it may be more convenient for you to keep your baby in the same room as you, in their own crib or cot. This will make it far easier to reach your baby quickly when they’re hungry – resulting in less tears for a happy mum and baby.

  • Hold off on reaching for dummies too soon. You might want to hold off on giving your baby a dummy. Giving your little one a dummy too soon may interfere with breastfeeding as the sucking motion is different than for the nipple. Experts say to only give your baby a dummy once you have breastfeeding well established, usually three or four weeks after birth.

  • Take care of your nipples. You may experience sensitive or sore nipples when you start breastfeeding. This is very common in the first week of breastfeeding. Some women find it soothing to rub breast milk onto their nipples. Others find comfort in lanolin to relieve dry, cracked nipples. Ideally, let your nipples dry before getting dressed and use breast pads after every feed. Poor attachment or positioning is the most common cause of sore nipples when breastfeeding. Tell-tale signs include flattened, wedge-shaped or white nipples after a feed. Ask your midwife or health visitor for advice or help if you’re not sure your baby has a good latch.

The bottom line

Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it can take time for both you and your baby to get into a successful routine. In fact, many mums need a little help at some point. Read more about feeding a newborn for help with those first few feeds. You can also get help from a lactation consultant who can help teach you proper breastfeeding techniques.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.