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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- Sit comfortably with your back and feet well supported.
- 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.
- Place your baby close to you, with their chest against yours and their chin against your breast. Support their body so they lie comfortably.
- 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.
- 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