From your first feed to breastfeeding in public, our experts explain how it’s done
Breastfeeding is natural, but it can be tricky at first and you can sometimes feel like a milk machine. But it has so many benefits for you and your baby, and once you get the knack, it can be a breeze. So, let’s get you started with expert advice on the answers to some of your most common breastfeeding questions.
Why is breastfeeding good for my baby?
Breast milk is magical stuff. With the perfect balance of nutrients, breastfeeding helps protect your baby from infections and diseases. Scientists also tell us that good nutrition during the first 1,000 days of your baby’s life (from conception to their second birthday) significantly influences their future health.
Why is breastfeeding good for me?
There are lots of good reasons to breastfeed, including benefits to mum. These include:
It helps your body return to normal
Breastfeeding helps your uterus contract (you may even be able to feel it tightening during the feeds in the first few days), and you may experience cramp-like sensations, called after pains. "It also helps your body get rid of lochia – birth-related discharge – more quickly," explains Boots Parenting Club midwife Emma Mills.
It helps you to regain your old figure
Breastfeeding is likely to be your fastest ticket back to your pre-pregnancy shape. "Your body lays down fat during pregnancy in preparation for breastfeeding," says Emma. "So, when you start feeding, your body burns more calories."
You’ll protect your future health
Studies have shown that the longer you breastfeed, the lower your future risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
How do I start breastfeeding?
Your first breastfeed
As soon as your baby is born, where possible you should offer them your breast. The first milk you produce will be colostrum, which is a yellow liquid (sometimes thick and sometimes watery) that’s full of immune-supporting ingredients for your baby. "It will take a few days for your breast milk to 'come in' so you will need to feed fairly frequently (every 2-3 hours) until it is fully in," says Boots Parenting Club breastfeeding expert Clare Byam-Cook SRN SCM*.
The best position for feeding
Make sure you and your baby are comfy, as feeds can take anything from five minutes to an hour. The cross-cradle position is a good one when establishing breastfeeding: hold the baby close, facing the breast with its shoulders and body in a straight line and its neck supported but the head free to extend (use a feeding pillow if you feel more comfortable); offer your breast to your baby and make sure they take a big mouthful of breast tissue – if they are just sucking on the nipple it will be painful and more difficult for them to feed efficiently. You will know when your baby is correctly ‘latched on’ because it shouldn’t hurt and they will be doing deep, rhythmic sucks rather than quick shallow ones.
If I can’t get my baby to latch on
"It can be fairly common for a mother to experience latching difficulties in the early days, especially if she has large breasts or flat nipples," says Clare. "If this happens, you could try my technique, which involves gently squeezing your breast on either side of the areola surrounding the nipple. The idea is to make your breasts smaller, rather than expecting your baby to open their mouth wider."
Does breastfeeding hurt?
No, not if your baby is correctly latched on. Some women nail breastfeeding straight away, others need more practice. "One feed in the wrong position can make the nipple sore," says Emma.
*Clare Byam-Cook is the author of What to expect when you’re breastfeeding… and what if you can’t?
Common breastfeeding niggles solved
Just the phrase 'sore nipples' is enough to make you wince! If you’re suffering, protect your nipples with a lanolin-based cream while you get to grips with latching on. Apply after feeds: there’s no need to wash it off before breastfeeding.
If your nipples are really cracked and sore, you could try using a nipple shield to see if that helps make feeding less painful. You must not use a shield until your milk is in (a baby cannot get colostrum through a shield) and you will need to observe whether your baby is feeding well. "Don’t worry, though, sore nipples should heal in 24-48 hours with correct attachment," says Emma.
"Breasts can feel full and engorged when your milk comes in between days three and five after the birth," says Emma. "This will usually subside within 24-48 hours." But if they become so engorged that your baby can't latch on, you may need to express some milk with a pump to soften the breast and/or feed your baby with your expressed milk with a bottle until the engorgement subsides. Speak to your midwife if you're having problems with feeding positions, latching on or if you're experiencing pain.
It is common to develop mastitis if you have sore, cracked nipples, engorged breasts or blocked milk ducts, but it can sometimes occur even when breastfeeding is going well. If either of your breasts become red, hot or painful and you get a fever, contact your GP as soon as possible.
Do I have to breastfeed all through the night?
During the first few weeks, babies need to feed every two to four hours, both day and night. As your baby develops, they will take in more milk and be satisfied for longer. "Once feeding is well established, you may want to consider expressing spare milk with a manual or electric pump in the morning, when you will usually have a greater supply," says Emma (see our Guide to Expressing Milk). "Then your partner can help with night feeds, while you sleep."
Can I breastfeed in public?
You have the right to breastfeed anywhere in public – and never let anyone tell you any differently! So, when you’re ready to get out and about:
Feed your baby before you leave the house
They’ll be satisfied and happy and you may even be able to eat lunch with a friend while they snooze!
Wear suitable clothing for feeding
Loose-fitting tops or shorts with a vest top underneath work well, as you can open the top buttons and pull down the vest – or some women like using a nursing cover to shield baby and breast. Have a practice at home first so you’re not flustered.
Keep your changing bag well stocked
You’ll need lots of nappies, wipes, muslins for milk mopping and a change of clothes and plastic bags in case of nappy explosions! Breast pads are also useful if your breasts leak a little between feeds.
What can I eat and drink if I'm breastfeeding?
You can eat most things when you’re breastfeeding. In fact, you’ll be burning around 500 extra calories a day, so get stuck in! "Good nutrition is more important than ever," says Boots Parenting Club nutritionist Vicky Pennington. Focus on your five-a-day of fruit and veg, lean meats and fish, whole grains and dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt.
The Department of Health recommends all adults consider a supplement of 10mcg (micrograms) of vitamin D a day in the autumn and winter. "You may find it easier to eat little and often," says Vicky. Plus, stay well hydrated and keep healthy snacks like raisins, apricots, oatcakes, cheese or vegetable sticks with hummus to hand. The occasional sweet treat is fine too – goodness knows you deserve a slice of cake!