You’d think getting started breastfeeding would be easy — after all, women have been breastfeeding children for thousands of years and no special equipment is required. Yet with all the information out there, it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. Here’s a list you can refer to when you need a confidence boost or a quick reminder.
1. Prepare ahead of time. Don’t wait until after you deliver to learn about how newborns feed or what breastfeeding position might work for you. Buying a reliable book and reading through it before you give birth can help you familiarize yourself with what to expect, as can taking a breastfeeding class or attending a La Leche League meeting.
2. Have an IBCLC on speed dial. Consider taking a class from or meeting with an IBCLC when you are pregnant so you’ll have someone to go to right away if needed postpartum. Making sure your insurance covers their visits is another task you can take care of while pregnant.
3. Maximize skin-to-skin. Want a good start to breastfeeding? Room-in with your baby and keep them skin-to-skin. This helps in so many ways, and if you aren’t sure if your baby needs to feed, keeping them close in this way will let you know for sure. Talk about easy-to-read signals!
4. It’s all about the latch. A good latch is a deep latch, where baby has not just the nipple but also the areola and some breast tissue in his or her mouth. This allows for good milk transfer and keeps breastfeeding from being painful. Before you leave the hospital, make sure a lactation consultant has watched your baby latch and given you the thumbs up so you aren’t returning in a few days with sore, cracked nipples from improper latching.
5. Avoid unnecessary supplements or artificial nipples. When you are just starting out, stay away from pacifiers while breastfeeding is getting established. Extra bottles to “top off” baby also get in the way of establishing your milk supply and can lead to nipple confusion. Unless considered medically necessary by a doctor, stick with exclusive breastfeeding so you and your baby can learn the ropes without any distractions.
6. When to worry about pain. It seems everyone wants to scare pregnant women and tell them how much breastfeeding will hurt. Some discomfort is normal, especially in the first few weeks during the initial latch, as well as with tender or sensitive nipples when showering. However, pain during an entire feed or pain that is excruciating is not OK and should prompt you to be seen as soon as possible to assess what’s going on.
7. Know how to ensure your baby is getting enough. Being concerned about how much milk your baby is getting is something many moms new to breastfeeding fret about. If your newborn is feeding 8-12 times in 24 hours, has adequate wet and dirty diapers, is content after feeds, and is gaining weight appropriately, then you can bet you’re making enough milk. Still not sure? Contact a lactation consultant.
8. Be aware of normal newborn nursing patterns. Some newborns feed for 20 minutes, and others take up to an hour. Some will nurse every three hours like clockwork, while others will cluster feed. These are all normal patterns but can be worrisome if you don’t know this (for example, many moms think cluster feeding is a sign of low milk supply). Learn what’s normal so you can be more confident with your own baby’s eating habits.
9. Keep the focus on breastfeeding. Your job with your newborn is to feed him or her, feed yourself, and rest. Let the laundry go, keep visitors to a minimum, and if they must stop by, let them know they need to bring you food! Gently remind the visitor who has stayed for hours you need time to feed your baby and get a nap in for yourself.
10. Stay fed and hydrated. Yes, your body is nourishing another human, but in order to do so effectively you need to remember to feed yourself, too. You don’t need to go overboard or worry if your diet is perfect. Eat if you are hungry, and drink to prevent thirst. Always keep water and snacks close by when sitting down to feed your baby, and ask others to help with this task.
11. Give yourself and baby time to learn. We say breastfeeding is the most natural thing a mom and baby can do, but it is still something that needs to be learned by everyone involved. Realize in the early weeks that this is the time when you might feel like you are learning to ride a bike and keep falling off. Don’t lose hope! You’ll get there.
12. It’s OK to not love it at first. Many women feel guilty that they don’t love every moment of breastfeeding, especially at the beginning. You are not alone! Set small goals and realize not every feed will be blissful, but many will be! Before you know it, you will probably be looking forward to those nursing sessions where you get to sit and relax as your baby latches and feeds like an old pro.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- With so much information about breastfeeding available, it can seem overwhelming when preparing to do it for the first time.
- Knowing your baby is getting enough and having support when you need it can boost your confidence in the early days.
- Not every baby or mother takes to breastfeeding the same. It’s a learning process for everyone involved.