The notion that boobs plus baby equals breastfeeding bliss is a nice one. The reality for many mothers, though, is that breastfeeding takes practice from both of you. If you're able to breastfeed, and choose to do so, you might find you need some guidance, at least initially. Which is where we come in…
Many mothers find breastfeeding to be a relaxing bonding experience. But it's not unusual to experience some difficulty getting started or a few hiccups along the way. Whether your baby is struggling to latch on, you've bought a breast pump and don't know how to use it (or are just downright terrified by the noise it makes), or could simply use some friendly advice, you're in the right place.
Getting started with breastfeeding
Unfortunately, starting to breastfeed isn't usually as simple as offering your baby a breast and telling them to get on with it while you binge on box sets/eat biscuits/drink tea (although those days will come). It can take a bit of time for you and your baby to get used to breastfeeding – and that's ok.
Getting breastfeeding established is a little bit like learning a new skill; it can be daunting at first and it's easy to get dispirited when your baby doesn't guzzle away on their first attempt, but with a little preparation and perseverance, it usually gets much easier for both you and your baby.If you think you're feeding too often, you probably have it about right.
If you're pregnant, it can help to spend some time thinking and learning about breastfeeding before your due date; perhaps borrow a book on the subject or have a browse of the Mumsnet pages on breastfeeding.
There are probably more of these than you realise (as a newbie, at least), and it may take a bit of shifting around before you find the one that works best for you. Don't worry if it feels a bit awkward at first – just get comfortable, make sure your baby's head and body are supported in a straight line so they can swallow easily, and the rest will come with practise.
- Cradle hold – as the name suggests, cradle your baby across your lap, using the arm on the side that your baby is feeding to support her. Rest the head in the crook of your elbow and let the rest of her lie on your hand. Bring her forward to the breast, rather than leaning forward.
- Rugby hold – place a pillow beside you on the side you intend your baby to feed from and tuck your baby's body beside you, her hip to yours, under your arm. Support the head with your hand and guide her to the nipple. This a useful position if you're breastfeeding twins.
- Lying down – a good position for night feeds, or if you're recovering from a birth injury or caesarean. Lie on your side and place your baby's body parallel with yours, and tuck a pillow behind them for extra support.
How do I know if my baby is latched on properly?
If you've just started breastfeeding, you may be unsure whether your baby is latching on correctly. Our tips for a successful latch, including signs of a good latch, tell you how to ensure your baby is getting enough milk when she feeds and recommend breastfeeding positions for helping your baby to latch on.
If you've tried adjusting your feeding position and technique but your baby still is not latching on, there could be something else stopping your baby from feeding correctly. For example, she may have thrush, reflux or a medical condition such as tongue tie or a cleft palate (although a cleft palate is usually picked up earlier).Keep persevering one feed at a time and try to find local breastfeeding clinics.
Your breastfeeding journey is unique and you know your baby better than anyone else. So, if you feel that something isn't right with your latch, speak to your health visitor or GP, and they will be able to advise you. Although some pain is to be expected when you start breastfeeding, and nipples do eventually toughen up, pain can also indicate that something is wrong. Listen to your body and trust your instincts.
How do I express milk?
Expressing breastmilk can give you flexibility and some respite from breastfeeding. Whether you express by hand, or with a pump, it allows you to transfer your breast milk into a bottle.
Combining breast and bottle feeding is known as mixed feeding and allows other people, such as your partner, to feed the baby with a bottle (yup, this can mean getting your partner to take on a night feed, which means more sleep for you!).
As well as giving you a break from breastfeeding your baby, feeding your baby expressed milk allows you a bit of freedom from avoiding alcohol and certain foods. For example, if you have a night out planned, you can give your baby milk expressed beforehand to eliminate any chances of alcohol entering her system through your breast milk.
Expressing can also boost your milk supply, relieve breast engorgement and help a premature baby who is yet to develop their suckling reflux.
If you're about to be the mother of twins, you may be wondering how you can breastfeed two babies. Fear not – it is possible to breastfeed twins when you find a technique, position and routine that works for you (see the rugby hold above). You can find much more information and advice on breastfeeding twins here, including help with tandem feeding and breastfeeding premature twins
Breastfeeding a premature baby or baby in special care
If you had a premature birth or your baby is in a neonatal or special care baby unit for another reason, it might feel like the odds are stacked against you for breastfeeding. However, there’s lots you can do to ensure your baby gets the great start breastfeeding offers if you decide you want to give it a go.
If you want to breastfeed your premature baby, or baby in special care, make sure you let the unit staff know from the beginning, so you're both on the same page.I made damned sure she gained weight by feeding her on demand, sometimes every 20 minutes. It was hard but worth it in the end.
Lots of very premature babies find it difficult to suck, so you may have to express milk and feed your baby using a cup or syringe to begin with. Your baby might also need to be given special newborn formula at first to 'top her up' and may need to be tube fed, too.
You can find more information on breastfeeding a baby in special care, including advice on where to get support once your baby comes home, here.
How much should my baby weigh?
Your baby will lose some of their birth weight in their first few days but this is nothing to be concerned about. Babies are born with some extra fluid and the loss of this is entirely normal. About 80% of newborns will reach their birth weight again within their first two weeks, although this may take a little longer for some.
Your baby will be measured at certain ages to check that she’s putting on weight at the expected rate. If her weight gain has slowed, it could be for a number of reasons, and your midwives and health visitors will be able to help you get things back on course.
You can find more information on your baby's weight gain here, including what to do if your baby isn't gaining weight and how to increase your milk supply.
Although your baby's growth will be continuous throughout their first few years, there will be growth spurts when they grow more rapidly. There are some signs to look out for other than your baby literally growing overnight, such as erratic sleep patterns and clinginess or grumpiness.
Breastfeeding problems and solutions
Breastfeeding can be an amazing experience, but it isn’t always easy, particularly at the start. Uncomfortable, heavy and engorged breasts, cracked or sore nipples, blocked nipple ducts and thrush are just some of the things breastfeeding mums often worry about. These problems are common and can be remedied.
For more advice, visit our breastfeeding problems page.
What can I eat and drink?
Eating a varied and nutritious diet while you're breastfeeding is very important for keeping you and your baby healthy. Although there are few hard-and-fast rules on what you can and can't eat and drink during pregnancy, it is best to limit certain things or avoid them altogether. We have plenty of information on these foods and drinks, including whether you can eat nuts while breastfeeding.
Alcohol and breastfeeding
It's best to limit your alcohol intake while breastfeeding, though the occasional glass is alright. The NHS recommends you limit your intake to two units once or twice a week. That's a couple of small glasses of wine, a pint of beer, or two single measures of spirits.
How to stop breastfeeding
There is no set time for stopping breastfeeding. You must decide when to wean your baby off the breast based on what’s best for both of you.
The consensus among experts, including the NHS and the World Health Organisation (WHO), is that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. Breastmilk provides babies with all of the vital nutrients and energy they need for weight gain and development. Breastmilk (and formula) is also considered better for a young baby’s developing digestive system than solid foods, which is why you're advised to delay weaning until at least six months.It took about six weeks for the foot-stomping, toe-curling agony to end. It was worth it, though, and I ended up feeding my daughter for two years.
The WHO recommends you continue breastfeeding, alongside giving your child solid foods, until they are two-years-old. However, for some mothers, breastfeeding for this long is either impractical or not desirable.
You can find more advice on weaning your baby off breastfeeding here.
Some mothers choose to breastfeed their children for a longer period than the average, known as 'extended breastfeeding'. Although there is no official definition, breastfeeding is generally considered to be 'extended' when a mother breastfeeds her child for over a year. There are benefits and downsides of extended breastfeeding, and it's up to you when to stop.
Breastfeeding in public – your rights
As many breastfeeding mothers know, breastfeeding in public can be daunting if you've never done it before. Once you get into the swing of things, however, it will become second nature.
Remember that you are protected by law. You can never be asked to leave a premises or refused service if you are breastfeeding your child, so try not to let any looks or remarks put you off. Most people won't bat an eyelid but, on those rare occasions when you do feel a bit conspicuous, try to remember that your child is hungry and you are making sure they are fed – simple.
You can find more information about your rights, as well as advice on how to get your baby to latch on well in public here.
If you're planning to return to work but don't want to switch to formula feeding, it is possible to carry on breastfeeding (although it might mean spending your lunch breaks attached to your breast pump!). For more information on your rights and the practicalities of continuing to breastfeed when you're back at work, visit this page.
Where to find advice about breastfeeding
Whether you're a first-time mum, or you've done it all before with your other children, no one can predict what breastfeeding is going to be like. If you need a helping hand, or just want some reassurance, there is a wealth of advice and support available.
There's always support available from Mumsnetters over on our Feeding Talk board.
Mumsnetters' breastfeeding tips
Breastfeeding on your side at night is very comfortable with some good pillows.
That 'breastfeeding shouldn't hurt if you're doing it correctly' is – in the first few weeks, anyway – a BIG FAT LIE. Even if the latch is fine, many new mothers find BF uncomfortable at first.
Skin to skin, try to feed right after birth (or as soon after as possible). Get as much help with the latch as you can while in hospital.
Lansinoh on your nipples before and after every feed for the first couple of weeks helps keep your nips in good condition!
Late in my second pregnancy, I started going to breastfeeding support groups to introduce myself and get to know people. They added me to their secret Facebook group. It was them who told me my baby had tongue tie after I described our difficulties, after everyone else had missed it, and they gave me tips to get me through till it was dealt with.
Giving a bottle of formula to give yourself a break is not the end of the world and is better than giving up altogether (I did after two weeks with DD1, and switched to formula as there was no advice from midwife that it's ok to mix a bit).
With both DC1 and DC2 it was agony for the first couple of weeks, but then my nipples adjusted. Nipple shields are amazing, don't let anyone tell you different. It took seven weeks to get to a point with DC1 where I could feed comfortably.