Doesn’t breastfeeding look like the most natural, heartwarming thing you’ve ever seen? Throughout the pregnancy, we long for the day we’ll hold our babies in our arms and nurse them.
Only it’s rarely as perfect as you’d imagine — not at first anyway. You’ll probably be dealing with post-birth issues like exhaustion, healing from labor, and a slowly increasing breast milk supply.
Both first-time and repeat moms share breastfeeding predicaments and often times there will be some hits and some misses. If you’re considering breastfeeding your baby, here are some refreshing and helpful tips to help you along the way.
- Breastfeeding Tips for Newborns
- Breastfeeding Tips for Latching
- Breastfeeding Tips for Preemies
- Breastfeeding Tips for Night Time
- Breastfeeding Tips For Moms With Inverted or Flat Nipples
- Breastfeeding Tips for Large Breasts
- Breastfeeding Tips for Increasing Supply
- Breastfeeding Tips for Nursing in Public
- Breastfeeding Tips for Working Moms
- Breastfeeding Tips for Pain
- Breastfeeding Tools
- It’s Boob Time
Breastfeeding Tips for Newborns
When I gave birth to my first-born, I was so exhausted I fell asleep soon after. I woke up a couple of hours later to a sore body, and a baby sleeping.
The first two days were frustrating for me as I wasn’t sure the colostrum was enough for my baby. I worried and cried because I couldn’t nurse. Eventually, the milk did come and it would leak all over my clothes!
As a new mom, it’s easy to be completely overwhelmed by the arrival of your new baby. You want to do everything right, but you’re not sure how to go about it.
How do you get them to open their mouth and latch on properly? What do you do if your breasts don’t produce any milk? How often should you breastfeed and how will you know that you’re producing enough for your baby’s needs?
These questions may run through your mind and even have you second guessing your ability to nurse. Before you get to this point, take a deep breath.
Enlisting the help of your doctor or lactation consultant, as well as other moms who have breastfed, will be invaluable to you. Plus, your maternal instincts may kick in and enable you to successfully breastfeed your little one.
Prepare Ahead of Time
You can also sign up for a breastfeeding class. Breastfeeding classes teach you what to expect at birth and the different types of breastfeeding positions you can use.
Breastfeed Right After Birth
If possible, start breastfeeding your baby right after they are born.
Ideally, you’ll be able to spend the first hour or so skin-to-skin with your baby and postpone any hospital routines that would separate you. Most babies will nurse during this time if given the opportunity.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
During the first two to five days, your breasts will produce colostrum. Colostrum is a nutrient-rich sticky yellow fluid that is extremely beneficial to your baby.
Some of its benefits include:
- Building your baby’s immune system.
- Helping your baby pass their first stool, also known as meconium.
- Minimizing low blood sugar issues.
- Keeping jaundice at bay.
- Building a tough stomach lining that’s necessary to help prevent illnesses.
Colostrum is easy for the baby to digest and contains valuable nutrients, like proteins, vitamins, fats, and salts. All these are necessary for your baby’s transition from the womb to the outside world.
My mom used to tell me that babies can smell milk so they automatically know where to look. Babies are naturally able to find their mom’s breast when placed on her chest. Experts also recommend skin-to-skin contact after birth to help keep the baby calm and help them adapt to the outside world (1).
Breastfeeding isn’t just beneficial for your baby. New moms who breastfeed soon after having their baby will have improved lactation and lessened blood loss. It may also help you to shed the pounds gained during pregnancy, which is excellent news.
Breastfeeding moms are also less likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes and some cancers like breast cancer (2). Plus, the closeness that comes with breastfeeding strengthens the bond between a mom and her baby.
More Breast, Less Bottle
As much as possible, delay introducing your baby to bottle feeding. At the least, let your baby breastfeed exclusively for the first four weeks of their lives.
Uninterrupted breastfeeding helps you maintain a constant supply. Interchanging the bottle with your breast may interfere with your milk supply (3). The less stimulation your breasts get, the less milk you will make.
Additionally, the breastfeeding mechanisms differ from those of bottle feeding. Bottle nipples allow milk to flow easily, compared to breast milk which requires the baby to work for it. The interchange may cause nipple confusion and frustrate your baby.
What do you do if you have to leave your baby with someone else for a while? In such cases, consider introducing the bottle at least two weeks earlier. This will help both you and your little one adjust to the new mode of feeding.
You may need to find someone else to bottle feed your baby as the baby might refuse to bottle feed from you. Naturally, they’ll be wondering why you’re giving them a bottle rather than your breast.
If your baby is having a hard time adjusting to bottle feeding, try:
- Offering them a bottle containing about half an ounce of breast milk after a regular feeding. Put some breast milk on the nipple and let the baby taste it.
- Let the baby play with the nipple. As they chew on it, suck, and rub it on their mouths, they may start getting used to it.
If your baby still won’t take the bottle, then you can try feeding them using a cup a medicine dropper, or a spoon. Be patient as you experiment with different feeding methods. You’ll eventually find one that works best for your baby (4).
How to Breastfeed: A Step-By-Step Guide
Breastfeeding involves holding your baby properly and having a good part of your areola in their mouth. Here is how to get started (5):
- Hygiene is of the essence, so wash your hands before feeding the baby, to minimize the transfer of germs.
- Hold your baby in your preferred position. We will be looking at these in the next section.
- Use your free hand to hold your breast. Your thumb should be on top of the breast and your fingers below.
- Touch the center of your baby’s lips using your nipple to get them to open their mouth. You want to make sure they open wide so they can latch on properly.
- Pull your baby close and put your nipple into their mouth. Ensure that a part of your areola goes in as well. A good latch will ensure the baby squeezes milk from the ducts around the areola and not your nipple (6).
As you breastfeed, ensure your baby can breathe comfortably. Muffled sounds could mean they are struggling to get air. Sometimes it’s as easy as shifting them just a bit or pressing their shoulder blades closer to you so they tip their head back and move their nose away from the breast.
Don’t worry about the quantity of milk coming out. As the days go by, your milk supply will increase. The key is to breastfeed frequently and be patient.
How Often Should I Breastfeed?
Ideally, the breast should be offered on demand. Breast milk is easy to digest and since your baby’s stomach is quite small, the process finishes fast. This means your baby will nurse more often.
How Often To Feed Your Baby
Some babies tend to sleep for long periods, so be on the lookout for that. Don’t let the baby sleep for more than three hours without nursing, otherwise, they may become dehydrated. If the problem persists, speak to your pediatrician about it (7).
Pick up on your baby’s hunger cues and feed them immediately if they show signs of being hungry. If you wait until they cry, you may have a hard time calming them down and feeding them. Some of the cues include (8):
- Turning their head toward mom’s breast or the bottle.
- Putting their hands in their mouths.
- Clenching hands.
- Puckering, smacking, or licking their lips.
- Crying (though this is a late sign of hunger).
Breastfeeding Tips for Latching
A good latch, where your nipple and part of your areola is in your baby’s mouth, is crucial to successful feeding. When the baby latches well, they’re able to nurse and empty the breast, which prevents engorgement. It also reduces the likelihood of cracked nipples.
Most babies will latch on well, but some may find it difficult. Some of the reasons for poor latching include (9):
- Flat nipples: Nipples that don’t stick out from breasts make it difficult for a baby to latch on.
- Engorgement: If overly full breasts make the nipple flat and the areola hard, it can be difficult for baby to grasp.
- Mom has large nipples or large breasts: Your newborn baby may find it difficult to fit the nipple and areola inside their mouth.
- A fussy or crying baby: A fussy child will not be interested in taking the breast or latching well.
- Drowsy baby: Newborn babies tend to sleep a lot, but some babies sleep more than others, even when placed on the breast. Such a baby may not latch on properly.
- Babies born with a tongue-tie: The tissue connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth is sometimes too short. This makes it hard for the baby to extend its tongue to grasp the nipple and effectively remove milk.
Babies born with cleft lip or cleft palate: Babies with a cleft lip may find it difficult to close around the breast, which can cause latching problems.
If your baby can’t latch well, chances are that they are also not feeding well. This may lead to weight loss, among other health problems. A tongue-tie and cleft lip or cleft palate can be corrected by surgery.
Speak to your pediatrician or lactation consultant if:
- Your baby can’t latch on well for most feedings.
- Your baby has less than six wet diapers every day.
- Your baby’s lips are dry.
- The soft spot on top of baby’s head seems like it is sinking into their skull.
Here are some valuable tips to help your baby latch on well.
Breastfeeding Tips for Preemies
Every parent dreams of bringing home a healthy and full-term baby. When the baby is born prematurely, parents find themselves in a position they didn’t expect. Often, the joy of a new baby is shrouded in worry, powerlessness, and fear of the future.
This state of worry can drain you emotionally. It’s okay to cry and to vent your frustrations, so go ahead and do it.
Join preemie support groups and ask for help whenever you need it (10). Hang in there, mom.
Why You Should Breastfeed Your Preemie
Preemies present a delicate situation as their health, feeding, and development needs to be monitored meticulously. Your baby needs all the help they can get and your breast milk will be crucial to their development.
Research shows breast milk from moms with preemies contains higher concentrations of protein, magnesium, iron, and sodium chloride (11). It’s nature’s way of ensuring that baby gets what they need at the stage they are in.
It is also loaded with antibodies and other substances that will help your baby fight off infections. Think ear infections, lower respiratory infections — such as pneumonia — and urinary tract infection.
Your breast milk will minimize the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a severe intestinal infection unique to preterm babies (12). And there is the part where you get to hold, bond with and nurture your baby, which we all love to do.
How Soon Can You Start Breastfeeding?
Babies born before 32 weeks gestation may not be able to simultaneously suck, swallow, and breathe. As such, they can’t breastfeed and may require other forms of feeding, such as intravenous feeding, cup, or finger feeding. Often they can have pumped breastmilk, though.
At week 34, they may transition fully into breastfeeding. Until your baby can nurse at your breast, the best way to stimulate milk production is by using a pump. You can choose to use the hospital-grade breast pump if available, or buy your own.
Ramping Up Milk Supply for Preemies
Having looked at how important breast milk is for your preemie, here are some ways to build and maintain supply:
- A double breast pump is your friend: Pump often, preferably every two to three hours for at least 15 to 20 minutes, which translates to around eight times in 24 hours (13).
- Try hand expressing: As your milk supply increases, your breasts may become engorged, which is quite painful. Hand expressing will relieve the pressure from your breasts. It also provides some skin to skin contact which may stimulate the milk-making hormones.
- Allow your baby to breastfeed at their pace: Initially, your baby may not be able to nurse successfully. Empty your breast of milk and allow the baby to practice sucking.
- Try kangaroo care: Holding your little one skin-to-skin offers tremendous benefits to your baby, including temperature regulation and better sleep. Additionally, it calms your baby and makes them feel safe, and they will naturally be inclined to reach for your breast.
- Explore alternative feeding methods: If your baby can’t breastfeed yet, your doctor will discuss with you other feeding options available.
- Get help: Are you having trouble finding good breastfeeding positions? Or do you have concerns over your milk supply? Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your pediatrician or lactation consultant.
Caring for Your Preemie At Home
You may experience mixed emotions when the time comes for you to take your little one home. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little unsure of yourself.
Stay in touch with your doctor or lactation consultant. They are there to help you. Lastly, keep a record of your baby’s growth and milestones.
Breastfeeding Tips for Night Time
Yes, it does sound (and even feel) nightmarish, waking up in the middle of the night to breastfeed! Yet, breastfeeding your baby exclusively, day and night, can give you more sleep by up to 40 to 45 minutes every night. This translates to around five hours a week (14).
Understandably, some moms may not be able to breastfeed at night for one reason or another. It’s also tempting to have your partner offer the baby formula while you rest.
Before you do that, take a look at the health benefits your baby gets from breastfeeding at night:
- Milk supply peaks during the night, meaning your baby gets more milk at each feeding session.
- Night-time breast milk contains an amino acid that promotes brain development and helps the baby sleep more easily.
- Night-time breast milk also contains melatonin, a special hormone that helps your baby develop a day/night routine.
- Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, has higher levels at night, so nighttime feedings help you maintain a good milk supply.
Here are some tips to help make those night time feedings easier:
Breastfeeding Tips For Moms With Inverted or Flat Nipples
Flat nipples refer to nipples that do not protrude from the breast. Looking at them, they seem to be in line with the areola and are not raised at all. Inverted nipples, on the other hand, turn inward (15).
Types of Flat and Inverted Nipples
There are different types of flat or inverted nipples:
1. Dimpled Nipples
With dimpled nipples, only a part of the nipple will protrude. You can pull out the nipple, but it will go back to its flat position.
2. Unilateral Flat or Inverted Nipples
Here, only one breast has either a flat or inverted nipple.
3. Inverted Nipples
Nipple inversion exists in varying degrees, from slight to moderate to severe. Babies who suck normally may be able to bring out a slightly inverted nipple. Preemies and babies with a weak suck may find it difficult to latch on at first.
Moderate and severe inversions are somewhat harder to deal with. The nipples retract to the point where they are level with the areola or beneath it (16). This will present challenges for your baby when breastfeeding.
How to Check for Flat or Inverted Nipples
You can do this simple exam at home. Place your fingers around the edges of the areola and lightly compress your breast. If your nipple protrudes, you’re just fine.
However, if the nipple is drawn back in, then you have an inverted nipple.
You can also ask your doctor to conduct this exam and let you know what type of nipples you have (17).
Bringing out Flat or Inverted Nipples
There are various techniques you can use to bring out flat or inverted nipples. However, care needs to be taken to ensure you don’t damage your nipple in the process.
- Plan ahead: Sometimes inverted nipples can continue to develop during pregnancy and become everted. Speak to your doctor and let them recommend the best course of action.
- Breastfeed often, especially soon after birth: As your baby starts to breastfeed, they will help draw out the nipples.
- Use a breast pump: The suction from the breast pump may help draw out, and possibly elongate your nipples. Pumping just before you nurse can help your baby have a better latch.
- Wear breast shells: Breast shells exert pressure at the base of the nipple to enable them to stick out. Just remember you’ll need to remove them before breastfeeding.
- Use nipple shields while nursing: Nipple shields are silicone nipples worn over natural nipples to help a baby latch on. Continued use may see your nipples protrude, which will allow you to wean your baby off the shields.
There are moms who are able to manually draw out their nipples just before feeding, through nipple stimulation and/or reverse pressure softening. There are also nipple everter devices that work as a mini breast pump to pull the nipple out for latching.
Nipple stimulation involves using your thumb and index finger to gently roll your nipple. You then briefly use a cold, wet cloth to touch the nipple.
With reverse pressure softening, you place your fingers firmly around the base of the nipple. With steady pressure, push inward toward the wall of your chest for one minute. You then release the breast and repeat the process if needed (18).
Ensuring Your Baby Gets Enough Milk
If your baby is unable to latch on and nurse correctly, they’re not receiving the nutrition they need. Watch your baby’s diapers – if enough comes out we know enough went in. They should have the recommended six wet diapers and at least 3 bowel movements in a day.
The last thing any mom wants is for their baby to associate breastfeeding with frustration and unpleasantness. If they’re unable to latch and get any milk, they might refuse to nurse when offered the breast, and even become fussy.
If this happens for you, express as much milk as you can to maintain supply. Also, look for breastfeeding positions that work best for flat or inverted nipples. Work closely with a lactation consultant to get feedings on the right path.
Finally, find ways to calm your baby when you sense fussiness coming on. Rock them, speak, or sing softly to them or walk around.
Once they become calm, offer the breast again. Patience will be key as you both adjust and find what works best.
Breastfeeding Tips for Large Breasts
For large-breasted women, breastfeeding comes with a unique set of issues. Finding a suitable breastfeeding position may be more difficult. You’ll be looking for one that is comfortable for you both and lets you see how your baby is latching.
Additionally, women with large breasts worry they may suffocate their babies or hurt them with the weight of their breasts. Women with large breasts will need to support the weight of their breast throughout a feeding.
Similarly, moms with large nipples may experience challenges breastfeeding their newborns. The babies may not be able to take more than the nipple into their mouths and they end up nursing on the nipple and not getting enough to eat.
Unless you have a lot of milk, your baby may not receive sufficient milk to develop properly. To add to that, a poor latch can lead to sore nipples, which may end up cracking or bleeding (19).
Fortunately, large nipples may only be a problem in the first weeks of life. As your baby grows older, their mouth will become bigger and they’ll be able to latch on well. In the meantime, you may need to use a nipple shield, or to pump and bottle feed until baby can open wide enough to latch well.
Breastfeeding Tips for Increasing Supply
Many moms worry about producing enough milk for their babies. Often, they will wonder how much milk supply is normal. Research shows that nursing moms should produce no less than 440 milliliters (14 ounces) a day, 11 days after the birth of their baby (20). Breastfed babies will eventually eat between 570 and 900 milliliters (19 to 30 ounces) each day.
Unless there is an underlying factor that inhibits milk production, most moms are capable of producing sufficient milk for their babies.
You can know if your baby is receiving enough milk by looking at the tips we shared earlier, under the benefits of a good latch. If you suspect your baby is not getting enough milk, consult your doctor or lactation consultant.
Factors That Affect Milk Supply
Certain factors may hinder an adequate supply of milk. These include:
- Mom’s health issues, such as anemia and retained placenta.
- Surgeries and certain cancers that can cause fewer milk ducts.
- Mom’s medications, such as antihistamines.
- Oral contraceptives.
- Drinking alcohol, using drugs, and smoking.
- Supplementing breastfeeding for bottles of formula.
- Not feeding the baby often or on demand.
- High blood pressure induced by pregnancy.
- Poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes.
- A poor latch.
- Tongue-tie in your baby.
- Insufficient glandular tissue.
How to Boost Supply
- Breastfeed often and on demand.
- Use a breast pump to stimulate production.
- Switch sides at each feeding. In cases where you or your baby prefer a particular breast, pump milk from the other side to maintain supply.
- As much as possible, avoid formula supplementation.
- Ensure baby latches on well.
- Consult your doctor before taking any medicine that may affect supply.
- Take care of yourself by resting and exercising.
- Eat nutritious, well-balanced meals. When possible, include galactagogues, such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, oatmeal, and goat’s rue.
- Stay hydrated by drinking at least 12 glasses of water daily (21).
- Get help from a lactation consultant who will share useful tips.
- Avoid alcohol while breastfeeding (22).
- Hand express to stimulate milk production, especially after breastfeeding your baby. It sends a signal to your body that more milk is needed.
- Focus on your baby. Spend time skin-to-skin and enjoy your baby’s smell. It stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that is responsible for milk ejection (23).
Breastfeeding Tips for Nursing in Public
It’s easy to understand why moms may find breastfeeding in public somewhat unnerving. Not only do you feel exposed, but there is also the fear of being bullied.
But here’s the thing, breastfeeding in public is legal in the United States. All 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have legislation that specifically allows breastfeeding in public or private locations.
Of the 50 states, 30 of them exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. These include Florida, New York, Tennessee, and Washington. You can view the full list here.
So, if you have to breastfeed on the go, do it. You’re well within your rights.
Public Breastfeeding Tips
Here are some tips to help put you at ease when breastfeeding in public.
Breastfeeding Tips for Working Moms
Leaving your baby to resume work has got to be one of the most heart-wrenching situations for a mom. Many times, a mom will be faced with the decision to either wean their baby off the breast or continue breastfeeding.
For the first 6 months of life, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding exclusively is recommended (25). If you’re resuming work before your baby is 6 months old, we would also encourage you to keep at it.
Tips for the Breastfeeding Working Mom
Here are some tips to help you transition back to work (26).
Breastfeeding Tips for Pain
Should breastfeeding be a painful experience? Ideally, no, especially if your baby is latching well. However, most moms will feel some discomfort for about 30 to 60 seconds as their baby starts breastfeeding for the first week or so.
This pain comes from your nipple and areola, as your baby pulls them into their mouth. The pain should go away after about a minute. Continued pain is a sign that other things may be going on.
Causes of Breast Pain
Pain in your breast can come from one of the following causes:
1. Breast Engorgement
Two to five days after the birth, a new mom may experience painful breast engorgement that results from milk coming in. The breasts become full, heavy, and hard. Sometimes, pain even extends to the armpits.
Other times, engorgement is the result of IV fluids given to women in labor or those who had a cesarean birth. Left untreated, engorgement can lead to blocked ducts and other illnesses, including damaged breast tissue (29), as well as low milk supply.
Applying a warm compress for about three minutes and nursing frequently may help reduce engorgement. Hand expressing at this time might be painful, but it could relieve pressure from your breasts. The best treatment is to nurse your baby often.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast, caused by an infection. Some of the symptoms include breast pain, burning sensation when breastfeeding, discharge from nipple, swelling, nausea, and fever.
Keep milk flowing in the affected breast, by breastfeeding every two hours or more. You can also apply a warm compress on the breast and massage it.
Additionally, speak to your doctor who will recommend the best course of action, including medication (30).
3. What About Abdominal Cramps?
Many new moms will experience menstruation-like cramps days after delivery. This pain is associated with your uterus that is beginning to shrink back to its original size.
How to Ease Pain While Breastfeeding
Here are some tips to give you pain relief while breastfeeding (31) :
In essence, breastfeeding requires two things — you and your baby. However, some accessories may help make the breastfeeding sessions more comfortable or more effective.
It’s Boob Time
Choosing to breastfeed your baby is one of the best gifts you can offer your newborn. Your milk is loaded with vital nutrients to help your child transition from the womb and into our world.
Take time to know what kind of breasts and nipples you have. Educate yourself on the type of feeding positions that will work best for you. Breastfeed your baby often to establish a good milk supply and maximize the time you spend with them.
Ask for help when you’re unsure of anything, and use whatever breastfeeding tools will make your experience better. And remember to take care of yourself. Your baby needs you.