Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish and bond with your baby. It's a natural process, but one that may be challenging at first, until you get the hang of it. Learn about what happens when you breastfeed, the benefits for you and your baby, and how to breastfeed, from latching to pumping

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for My Baby?

Breastfeeding your baby gives her plenty of benefits. Breast milk comes packed with minerals and nutrients to help your little one grow. It also lowers the chances of

  • infections

  • vomiting

  • diarrhoea

  • juvenile type 2 diabetes

  • obesity in adolescence and adulthood

  • childhood leukaemia

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

  • cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Me?

It’s not only the baby who benefits, but mum, too. Breastfeeding helps mother-baby bonding, because it stimulates the release of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’, which also helps shrink the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. Breast milk is convenient, needing no preparation, and is always available. Furthermore, breastfeeding may reduce the risk of

  • breast cancer

  • ovarian cancer

  • osteoporosis

  • cardiovascular disease

  • obesity.

Breastfeeding can also help you lose the baby weight. Nursing uses up to 500 extra calories per day, helping you shed some of those extra pounds you gained during pregnancy, so you can lose weight at the right pace for your body. Don’t worry if your weight goes down slowly: your body will need some of this fat as your baby grows and demands more milk.

How Do I Breastfeed?

Right after your baby is born, hold her directly against your bare skin. This should trigger the reflex that helps your baby latch on. Try to cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. If she yawns or opens her mouth wide, pull her close to you, and aim the nipple toward the roof of her mouth. Bring your baby to your breast, not your breast to your baby.

You might find that your baby only wants to feed from one breast, or she may want double portions. When she releases one breast, offer the other to see if she’s still hungry. If she’s not, just remember to start feeding with the other breast next time. Feel free to try different breastfeeding positions to find the one that's most comfortable.

What Does Healthy Breast Milk Look Like?

In those first few days when you start breastfeeding, you may notice your milk is more of a thick, yellowish substance. You might wonder if that’s really what breast milk is supposed to look like, but don’t worry, it is perfectly normal. What you’re producing at this stage is called colostrum, and it’s intended to be your baby’s very first meal and first immunisation against diseases. At this age, your baby’s tummy can only hold about a teaspoon of liquid, so don’t expect her to feed much at first.

Around two to four days after your baby’s birth, you will notice your milk is getting creamier. This transitional milk is produced as your breasts shift from producing colostrum to mature breast milk. Mature breast milk comes into full production at the end of the second week after your baby is born. Mature milk is thinner than transitional milk when it’s first secreted, not unlike skim milk, but it becomes creamier when fat is released later during feeding.

How Can I Tell if My Baby Is Hungry?

Timing is also important when it comes to breastfeeding. If your baby is crying, it’s a late sign of hunger, and an unhappy baby may have trouble latching on. Keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of hunger; for example, when your baby:

  • gets restless

  • makes murmuring sounds

  • turns his head and opens his mouth in a motion called ‘rooting’

  • makes sucking motions, sometimes sucking his fist or fingers.

How Often Should I Breastfeed?

Let your baby set her own schedule. Frequent feeding will help stimulate a good milk supply that’s tailored to your newborn’s breastfeeding needs. Roughly, she should be fed at least eight times a day, or more. It’s impossible to overfeed a baby, so just keep an eye out for the feeding cues that your baby is getting hungry.

How Do I Know My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?

You may be wondering if your baby is getting enough milk. If you hear him swallow as he nurses, you’ll know he’s getting some milk. You know your newborn is getting enough to eat if:

  • From day four, he produces around six wet nappies and at least two yellow, soft stools a day, until he’s 6 weeks old.

  • Your breasts feel soft after feeding.

  • Your baby gains weight steadily after the first two weeks.

  • Your baby seems content and satisfied after feeding.

What Are the Dos and Don’ts of Breastfeeding?

You may be wondering what you can and can’t do while you’re lactating, or if you need to eat a special breastfeeding diet to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients she needs. Breastfeeding uses around 500 extra calories, so it’s a good idea to follow a healthy, balanced diet. While you’re nursing you’ll want to:

  • Eat fish, including some oily fish, two to three times a week.

  • Take a daily supplement containing vitamin D, if your GP recommends it.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

  • Drink little to no caffeine in those first few days after your baby is born (later on, a moderate amount, approximately 200mg per day, is unlikely to affect your baby).

  • Avoid drinking more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.

  • Wait at least two hours after drinking alcohol before breastfeeding.

  • Ask your GP about taking medication while breastfeeding. Most medications are safe to take, but some can be passed onto your baby in low doses through breast milk.

  • Avoid smoking, as second-hand smoke can harm infants and can also cause serious breastfeeding problems for babies.

  • Talk to your GP about your options for birth control that can be used while breastfeeding.

What Do I Need to Know About Pumping Breast Milk?

Breast milk production is based on supply and demand, so the more you feed or pump, the more milk you’ll produce. Pumping can help if you’re going back to work while you’re still breastfeeding, or if you want to maintain your milk supply when your baby doesn’t want to nurse.

Here are some tips for pumping breast milk:

  • Relax. It can take a while to get your milk to start flowing, so find a quiet and relaxing place to pump.

  • Pump often. This will keep your milk production up.

  • Feed your baby on demand. If you notice your baby is hungry, try to breastfeed directly. This will also mean you’ll have more milk supply when you pump.

  • >Drink plenty of fluids.

You can also express milk by hand if you prefer to do so, instead of using a pump.

How Long Should I Breastfeed For?

Healthcare professionals recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life. After that, you can start to introduce a more varied diet, adding solid foods in addition to breast milk. 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. When you're ready to wean him off breastfeeding, read our advice on weaning.

Is There Anything Else That Can Help Me With Breastfeeding?

You may need a little help getting started, especially if it’s your first time nursing, and 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. A maternity nurse or a health visitor can help you find the best breastfeeding position for your newborn and help her 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 at night, in her own cot or bassinet, so you can nurse her more easily when she’s hungry.

  • Try not to give your baby a dummy too soon. You might want to hold off on giving your baby a dummy. Giving her one too soon may interfere with breastfeeding, as the sucking motion is different than for the nipple. Experts say to only give her a dummy once you have breastfeeding well established, usually when she’s around a month old.

  • Take care of your nipples. You can let the milk dry naturally on your nipples, which can actually soothe them, but if you don’t have the time, just pat them gently dry. Use breast pads to avoid leaking, and change them often. While bathing, try to avoid or minimise shampoo or soap contact with your nipples. Consult your midwife, health visitor, or breastfeeding specialist if you’re concerned.

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 nursing a newborn for help with those first few feeds. You can also get help from a breastfeeding specialist who can help teach you proper breastfeeding techniques.