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Breastfeeding your baby

5-minute read

Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby. It provides all the nutrition your baby needs during their first 6 months, and also helps to create a loving bond between you and your baby.

The first milk you produce is called colostrum. It is rich in antibodies and fat, which newborns need to build their immunity.

Benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mum

Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial, even if it’s only for a short time.

For your baby

Breastfeeding:

  • reduces the risk of infections, in particular middle ear infections, diarrhoeal diseases, urinary tract infections and upper respiratory tract infections
  • lowers the risk of some childhood cancers and juvenile diabetes
  • reduces the risk of allergies and eczema
  • helps protect against sudden unexplained death in infancy (SUDI)

For you

Breastfeeding:

  • helps lessen recovery time after birth
  • helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size
  • benefits your health by reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis
  • is cheaper than formula feeding
  • can be more convenient

What breast changes occur during pregnancy?

Some of the first signs of pregnancy are breast and nipple tenderness. This is because even during the earliest stages of pregnancy, a woman’s breasts are preparing to breastfeed.

Most women’s breasts and nipples undergo changes to some degree. These include breasts and nipples enlarging, the nipple and areola — the skin surrounding the nipple — darkening, veins in the breast showing more prominently and breasts feeling heavier.

Your breasts first produce colostrum — the first milk — at any time from the second trimester. The amount of colostrum varies between women. Many women can express a few millilitres a day once they enter their third trimester.

Maternity care providers may recommend expressing colostrum if your baby is expected to be premature or unwell after birth because these conditions may affect your ability to breastfeed early on.

When does the first breastfeed happen?

Ideally, babies can begin feeding from your breast soon after they are born. Most maternity hospitals support breastfeeding within one hour after birth. Newborns are usually alert after they are born and will attempt to seek your breast and attach.

Skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her baby is an important way to encourage early connection and bonding. However, if your baby is unwell or needs special care, you may have to delay your first breastfeed. Speak with your maternity care providers about how you’d like to manage feeding your baby soon after birth.

If a baby is unwell or needs , the first breastfeed may be delayed. Speak with your maternity care providers about how you’d like to manage your baby’s first feeds.

Common early breastfeeding issues

Breastfeeding is a set of skills for both mother and baby. Often, breastfeeding is fairly straightforward, with only minor issues that can be quickly overcome. However, some women experience challenges when they breastfeed and benefit from support.

  • Sore cracked nipples — This is usually a sign that the baby isn’t attached correctly.
  • A hungry baby — It can take a few days for your colostrum milk to become mature milk, during which time your newborn can be hungry and unsettled. Frequent breastfeeding helps manage this and increases your supply.
  • A sleepy baby — Labour and birth can be very tiring for mothers and babies. It can take a few days for newborns to learn how to attach and drink from your breast. To help manage this, gently stimulate your baby to keep them alert and provide skin-to-skin contact.
  • Breast engorgement — This is a common issue at around 2-6 days after birth. A mother’s breasts can feel uncomfortably full of milk as they adjust to her baby’s feeding demands. Frequent breastfeeding and ensuring correct attachment at the breast often helps resolve this.

How to get started — step-by-step

Encourage your baby to seek and attach to your breast themselves.

  1. Look for cues or signals that indicate your baby is hungry. Being awake, mouthing, sticking their tongue out, fussiness and wriggling are all instinctive feeding behaviours.
  2. Sit comfortably with your back and feet well supported.
  3. Aim for skin-to-skin contact with your baby and put them into a breastfeeding position. Any comfortable position for both of you is suitable.
  4. Place your baby close to you, with their chest against yours and their chin against your breast. Support their body so they lie comfortably.
  5. Gently stroke your baby’s mouth with the underside of your areola. This should encourage your baby to open their mouth. As their mouth opens and their tongue comes forward, bring your baby to your breast and aim your nipple towards the roof of their mouth. Their mouth should be open wide with a part of your areola in their mouth, not just your nipple. Think about how this feels — it should not be painful while they suck, but their mouth should follow a sucking and swallowing pattern.
  6. Look at your baby as they’re feeding and follow their lead when they show that they want to keep sucking or have finished.

Getting a good attachment - video

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

Common discomforts associated with breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be easy, but you may initially experience nipple tenderness and engorgement until your breastmilk supply aligns with your baby’s demands.

Some women develop mastitis — an infection of the breast. If you experience this, it’s important to breastfeed as often as possible and promptly seek medical help.

Babies often want to cluster feed when they go through growth spurts. Cluster feeding occurs when the baby wants many brief breastfeeds over a short period of time. This is normal and often happens in the first stages of breastfeeding and during periods of rapid growth.

For breastfeeding help

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Last reviewed: September 2020


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Need more information?

Oversupply of breastmilk

Some mothers make more milk than the baby requires, and this is known as ‘oversupply’.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Breastmilk & breastfeeding: benefits | Raising Children Network

Breastmilk – designed by nature for human babies. Breastmilk and breastfeeding have many health and practical benefits for mothers and babies. Read more.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Unusual appearances of breastmilk | Australian Breastfeeding Association

What colour is breastmilk?The colour of breastmilk varies. Colostrum is typically yellowish and mature breastmilk is typically bluish-white. However, there is a wide range of normal when it comes to the colour of breastmilk. Most mothers are unaware of the colour of their breastmilk, unless they express.In most cases, the colour of a mother’s breastmilk is nothing to be worried about. However, it is always a good idea to seek medical advice if you are concerned.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Expressing and storing breastmilk | Australian Breastfeeding Association

For most mothers the easiest and most efficient way to feed your baby breastmilk is usually at the breast, but there may be occasions when this is not possible and you need to express your milk. Expressing, storing and feeding expressed breastmilk can be a totally new skill to learn so here are the basic tips you will need.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

How breastmilk is made | Australian Breastfeeding Association

How your breasts make and give milkThe onset of breastmilk production is triggered by delivery of the placenta which results in a sudden drop in progesterone levels.The skin covering the nipple contains many nerves that are triggered by the baby’s sucking.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Expressing and storing breastmilk | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Which breast pump is best for you?

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Breastfeeding - expressing breastmilk - Better Health Channel

Expressing breast milk by hand is a cheap and convenient method.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Using expressed breastmilk in childcare settings | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Providing a mother’s expressed breastmilk to her child in early childhood education and care services supports mother and child to continue.  While away from their child, mothers need to express breastmilk at similar intervals than they would normally breastfeed. Bottles of expressed breastmilk need to be carefully prepared, stored and heated.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Breastfeeding and healthy eating

Breastmilk gives your baby the best start in life

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Guide to feeding your baby formula / breastmilk substitutes | Australian Breastfeeding Association

It is not always easy to find information about how to prepare formula / breastmilk substitutes safely and correctly— information that is unbiased, accurate and free from commercial interests.Below are some links to documents which provide you with information which is unbiased, accurate and free from commercial interests about how to minimise the risks to your baby when you sterilise equipment and prepare and give formula.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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