Get Milk! Breastfeeding Basics for First Time Mothers

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!
If you’re pregnant and planning to breastfeed, it can be tricky to wade your way through the buckets of advice and tips online. The first couple of weeks of breastfeeding can be particularly challenging, especially for first time mums who often find breastfeeding isn’t as easy as they’d thought it would be. With that in mind, here’s a quick list of some breastfeeding basics – the essentials you need to remember for the first couple of weeks as you and your baby get the hang of things.

1. Breastfeeding works on supply and demand.

Bottom line: the more frequently the baby feeds and removes milk from the breast, the more milk you’ll make. In fact, the more your breasts are stimulated generally, the more milk you’ll make. This includes pumping – so be careful not to pump too much if you already have an oversupply. If you have an undersupply, the first point of call is more frequent feeding and pumping, and lots of skin to skin. Skin to skin time with your baby stimulates your milk supply.

2. The formula feeding baby shouldn’t be used as the measure of normal for a breastfeeding baby.

There are usually differences in weight gain and feeding patterns between formula and breastfed infants, but breastfeeding is the “biologicial baseline” for human babies. Don’t compare your baby’s weight gain or feeding pattern to that of your friend’s bottle fed baby.

3. Frequent feeds are normal for a newborn.

Breastfeeding newborns may feed every 2-3 hours – this is absolutely normal. Some babies may want to feed as much as every hour in the first couple of weeks. Four hourly feeding patterns may also be normal, but the broader expectation new parents sometimes have of four hour feeds arises from what is normal for formula fed babies. Your breastmilk is nutritionally tailored to your baby – and as such, he will digest it more easily, quickly and completely than formula.
Cluster feeding (feeding more frequently, most often late in the day) is biologically normal behaviour in young babies. Don’t panic! This usually doesn’t last long at a stretch but periods of this behaviour may come and go occasionally, during a growth spurt for example.
Frequent feeding on its own doesn’t necessarily mean you have a milk supply issue. See next point!

4. A baby who’s wetting and soiling 8-10 nappies in 24 hours, and gaining weight as expected is most likely getting enough milk.

Bottom Line: If it’s not going in, it wouldn’t be coming out. Expressing isn’t an adequate way to measure how much your baby is getting; your baby will generally be able to extract more milk from your breasts than a pump. Stick to basics – weight gain, nappy output, and watching that baby is relatively relaxed and content right after a feed – to judge that he’s getting enough.

5. Breastfeeds don’t need to be timed.

Some babies are fast, efficient feeders and will only feed for 10 minutes. Others like to linger and may take an hour. Either is fine if time at the breast is spent actually drinking. Allow your baby to feed for as long as he wants to, and once again go back to the basics to judge that he’s getting enough. Marathon feeds and snacking will usually settle down with time.

6. Baby doesn’t have to take both breasts at every feed.

Allow him to drink until he comes off, and then offer the second breast. If he doesn’t want it – he’s probably full. Just start with that breast at the next feed. Baby will begin to show frustration (fussing, popping on and off the breast) when the first breast is empty, or he may just fall asleep if he’s had enough.

7. Breastfed babies poop a lot. And it’s sticky and wet.

Breastfed babies will usually have multiple soiled nappies over 24 hours that are soft and yellow in colour, and “seedy” in consistency like wholegrain mustard. This is NOT diarrhea, or intolerance of your milk. This is normal.

8. Newborns often go through “growth spurts” at varying frequency. This makes them want to breastfeed…a lot.

They may feed almost constantly for a day or two and be quite unsettled (or they might just sleep more – lucky you!). This short period of more frequent feeding doesn’t mean you’re losing your milk, or that baby isn’t getting enough. The baby is telling your breasts to “up production” so that you can meet his needs as he grows (see #1!). He’s also getting other things from these frequent feedings – namely, comfort from sucking and being close to you.

9. Be mindful of your diet – but don’t obsess.

Most western diets provide more than enough calories and nutrition for good quality breastmilk, even if you don’t feel like you’re eating as well as you should. All things being equal, your breastmilk is still the optimal food for your baby.

10. If you’re worried about your baby’s feeding…

Always check with a Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Some health care providers have quite limited knowledge of breastfeeding issues.