Congratulations on your lovely new baby.
A newborn is such a precious gift and your milk is your gift to them.
But enough mushy stuff – let’s get practical…
Breastfeeding is a skill that both mom and baby have to learn and nowadays many of us don’t have close friend or family members to sit us down and show us how it’s done. So preparing for breastfeeding is more important than ever.
This is a step by step plan for brand new mommies who want to learn how to breastfeed a newborn.
Let’s get started.
Please note that this is not medical advice.
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1# Prepare for breastfeeding success before baby arrives
You can make your breastfeeding experience easier with a little preparation before baby arrives. Organise your space and stock up on a few items that you actually really need. I wouldn’t by too many items before your baby is born because some you’ll probably never use – but buy nursing pads! You need those.
Create a nursing station
In particular I would set up at least one nursing station in your home where you can plonk yourself down at a moment’s notice when baby suddenly gets hungry. It’s so much easier when you have all your nursing items to hand and you aren’t wrestling a hungry, angry baby while trying to find a burp cloth!
Basic breastfeeding supplies
You’re not here for a shopping list but I wouldn’t want to try to breastfeed without these 3 things.
A nursing bra for easy access to the milk supply! These ones are very comfortable – I wore them constantly.
Nipple cream in case you get sore nipples in the early days. This one is fantastic.
Nursing pads – because who wants to talk to visitors with huge wet circles forming on their top?
Ok, you’ve got the basic items – now onto the good stuff!
2# Get off to a great start
Breastfeeding starts with skin-to-skin
Breastfeeding can start almost as soon as your baby is born.
Take advantage of skin-to-skin time to let your baby rest on your bare skin and feel your warmth. (You might need a blanket over both of you.)
After a while – and how long varies but it’s usually within an hour or so – your baby will start to give feeding cues.
Cues baby is hungry include beginning to stretch, turning their head or trying to move towards your breast. If you notice any of these, it’s time to try a first feed.
If it feels strange and awkward, don’t worry. You are both new to this – even if your have breastfed previous babies, you are new to nursing this baby.
3# Master latching on
Getting a great latch when breastfeeding a newborn
To get a great latch for breastfeeding a newborn, you need to hold your baby very close with their body against yours. Get your breast out before you pick baby up so you don’t have to do it one-handed.
Nipple to nose
Line baby up so that their nose is next to your nipple and wait for them to give you a big gaping mouth. This isn’t easy – newborns’ mouths are tiny, even when gaping. Just wait for the biggest mouth you can get – try tickling their chin or touching your nipple to their nose to see if it helps.
Baby to breast – chin first
When you see that gape, move fast! Move your baby forward so your nipple and a big mouthful of breast goes into their mouth. They should come towards you chin first and scoop the breast into their mouth with their tongue.
This can be tricky to master – but you must bring your baby to your breast. Try hard not to ‘post’ your nipple into your baby’s mouth – they are not going to latch well and have a big enough mouthful of breast that way.
What does a good latch look like?
When your baby is latched on, check these things:
– Are baby’s lips splayed outwards?
– Has baby got a big mouthful? When latching is complete, most of your areola will be in their mouth – but you may see a bit above their top lip.
– Is baby sucking rhythmically and swallowing? You will get used to listening for their quiet sucks.
– Does baby seem contented? Drifting off to sleep at the breast at the end of a feed is a good indicator of contentment.
– Are you in any pain? Nipple soreness tells you that something isn’t right and it’s best to break the latch and try again. Continuing to nurse with a bad latch will make the pain worse. You can break baby’s latch by slipping your pinky into the corner of their mouth to break the suction and release your nipple.
Here’s a helpful video of a mom latching on her newborn and demonstrating how she knows his latch is correct.
4# Master breastfeeding positioning
You’re probably used to seeing women breastfeeding their babies in cradle hold – holding the baby across their body – but there are many positions you can try. The best one is the one that is most comfortable and convenient for you – or a variety.
Give them all a try and see what works – and if one doesn’t work at the beginning, come back to it later because things change once your baby grows a little.
The classic mother-and-baby hold! Lie your baby across your lap and hold them close in to your body. Baby’s head rests gently in the crook of your arm with your opposite hand free to stroke them or reach the remote control. When feeding is going well, this is a lovely, easy way to hold your baby and much gentler on the wrists than cross cradle.
Cross cradle hold
It can be a little hard to distinguish between this hold and cradle position but it’s all in where your hands are. As with cradle, your baby is in your lap and lying across your body but this time the baby’s head is resting in your opposite hand.
This is great for extra control of what your baby is doing and I recommend it if you are experiencing sore nipples and need to latch baby on very carefully.
That said, I ended up with very sore wrists with my second baby because I used cross cradle all the time and spent hours each day holding that little head firmly where I wanted it. It turned out that he had tongue tie but my wrists took months to recover. (These wrist supports really helped.)
Football / rugby ball hold
This hold is great for breastfeeding twins or if you’re trying to find a way to get a deeper latch. Your baby is not in your lap for this position – instead they are placed around the side of your body, tucked under your arm like a football.
Once baby is settled and comfy with their legs round the side of you, you can support their head with your hand and bring them to the breast. This can be a little hard on your wrists and hands because you need to keep baby there for a while but many mothers find it a comfortable way to nurse.
Lying down to breastfeed
This is my favourite position because my hands don’t have to do anything and I can relax! It was not great in the early days, however, because my daughter’s mouth was tiny and we couldn’t get latched well lying down. By ten weeks it was the position I used the most and probably still is.
Nipple and baby mouth size and shape are so varied that it’s impossible to suggest a best position. Try them all and then try again later if one doesn’t work out in the beginning.
5# Form good breastfeeding habits
How long should a newborn feed?
Your new baby is just learning the skill of breastfeeding so feeds will probably be pretty long. I loved watch box sets while nursing because a 40-45 minute episode was the perfect length for me and my baby.
Not every baby takes that long to feed though – but you can expect at least 20 minutes per feed. Once your baby starts to look satisfied on one side – perhaps becoming sleepy or sucking less – you can offer the other breast.
Newborn babies are often very sleepy and it might feel like hard work just getting your baby to feed in the early days. If your baby is very sleepy, your lactation consultant or midwife may suggest waking them for feeds to ensure they are getting enough milk.
How often to breastfeed a newborn baby
Brand new babies feed very frequently because their stomachs are so small and your milk is quickly digested. To keep your baby satisfied and build your milk supply, feed your baby on demand.
A brand new baby will feed roughly every 1.5 to 3 hours! As your baby becomes more skilful at extracting milk from your breasts, this will reduce a little but as soon as a growth spurt comes along, they will feed more again.
There’s no sugar-coating it – the early days of breastfeeding are exhausting for a new mom. It does get easier as the months pass – and formula fed babies also eat very regularly to begin with too.
It can be inconvenient – it can feel like it’s all you ever do – but if breastfeeding your baby is a priority, it’s worth it.
It’s also worth it every time you look down at that milk-drunk baby asleep in your arms.
Breastfeed day and night
To keep that tiny belly filled up and your baby’s weight gain on track, you need to nurse your newborn day and night.
Sometimes this may mean waking your baby to feed them when you would rather get some sleep yourself.
Having your baby close by, for example in a co-sleeper crib, can make this a little easier.
6# Master your milk supply
Perhaps you’re sitting there with your lovely new baby, heart full to bursting – and breasts empty and sad.
Don’t despair! These first couple of days breastfeeding a newborn, you are producing liquid gold – colostrum. I know it seems like the tiniest amount and you’re wondering how it can possibly be enough.
But your baby’s stomach is tiny right now so a couple of millilitres really do make a difference. And colostrum has vital roles to play in preparing your baby’s gut for the milk to come and passing over your immunities to protect them.
Your milk will come in by day five and possibly before.
*But if you are worried at all, speak to your midwife or a lactation consultant to get a professional view.
Once your milk come in, you will notice it. Leaking, wet shirts and engorgement are all common in beginner breastfeeders. Many new moms get a lot of milk at once and become engorged, which can be uncomfortable.
If you find that your breasts get engorged in the early days – or at all – there are a few things you can do to make it better.
Your baby will ease the pressure in your breasts better than any pump! Let your baby nurse often and breastfeed on both sides to remove milk and ease any discomfort.
Pumping will also help in the short term – and you could build up a nice stash of milk! – but removing milk from your breasts stimulates them to produce more. If your breasts are hard and lumpy, go ahead and pump because it will ease the pain.
When your breast are hard and sore, hand expressing can be gentler than using a pump. Use a big bowl if you want o catch the milk – it goes everywhere! Even better, if you have someone to look after your baby or they are asleep, get in the shower or bath. When you relax in the warm water, you’ll probably find that your milk starts to flow by itself, giving you welcome relief. And a milk bath.
You should find that your supply settles down quickly to fit your baby’s demand and if it doesn’t, you should seek medical help.
Build your breastmilk supply
Once engorgement settles down, over the first month of breastfeeding, your baby will rapidly build your milk supply with their regular on-demand nursing.
All those times you have to feed your baby AGAIN even though you just did or even though your poor boobs are soft and empty feeling – that is your baby building up your supply.
Some moms also benefit from breastmilk-promoting recipes like this lactation smoothie.
7# Take care of you
You might not feel like you have time for self care – or ANYTHING except breastfeeding! – but if you are uncomfortable or in actual pain, you’re going to be miserable.
Think about your posture and make sure you are well supported as you nurse.
Try to avoid breastfeeding hunched over. It’s easy to do because babies are heavy – even newborns after holding them for a long time! Support that baby right up at the level of your breasts with regular pillows or a specialist nursing pillow like this one.
Good posture and support also helps you maintain the best possible latch and avoid eyewatering nipple soreness.
8# Know what to look for
How to know if breastfeeding is going well
It’s easy to start to worry that something is not quite right, so here are a few signs to help you know whether all is well.
Output (what a great euphemism!) is a great guide to how breastfeeding is going. If your baby is wetting around 10-12 nappies (diapers) per day and passing stools, then it’s likely that they are fine. Check with your healthcare professional to know exactly how many you should be getting for your baby’s age and weight.
Your baby should regain their birth weight by the time they are two weeks old and keep gaining from there. Have your baby weighed regularly by your healthcare professional to ensure they are on track and to catch any problems early.
Does your little one doze off after feeding and seem generally contented? If so, they are probably getting enough milk (assuming that they are also having consistent weight gain and output.)
#9 Create a support network
Breastfeeding a newborn can be lonely. You’re home most of the time and breastfeeding never seems to end. You might miss friends you see less of now.
Support can be the difference between giving up and pushing through to the good bit (when breastfeeding gets easy) so find people to talk to.
The best people to support you are other breastfeeding moms – because they know what you’re going through.
Your own mom, sisters and friends who have breastfed – or even better, are nursing now – can help you so much. Whether by listening when you need to vent or taking your baby for walk so you can sleep – this is a time to lean on people who love you.
And if you need support in the middle of the night, Facebook breastfeeding groups are a godsend!
You’ve got this
Your breastmilk is the best possible food for your baby – made specially by your body in response to their needs. For me, breastfeeding became easy after a while but in the beginning it was just me and my determination to keep going.
With support, advice and determination you can do this.