Breastfeeding for Beginners
If you've just started breastfeeding, you're doing the right thing for you and your baby.
But if breastfeeding doesn't come naturally at first, don't worry. Plenty of new mums and babies have to practise and persevere until they get the hang of it.
Is it true that breast is best?
Yes, breastmilk is the best food for your baby. It's the healthiest way to feed her.
Breastmilk is a complete food. It contains at least 400 nutrients, as well as hormones and disease-fighting compounds, that aren't present in formula milk. Its nutritional makeup even adjusts to your baby's needs as she grows.
Feeding your baby only breastmilk for up to six months (exclusive breastfeeding) is particularly good for her. It can improve your baby’s cognitive development. So being breastfed could even make her more intelligent.
Babies who are exclusively breastfed from birth are also much less likely to be ill in their first year of life. Being breastfed may help your baby to fend off illnesses such as:
We can't say that exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of children ever developing eczema. But babies who are breastfed for any period of time do tend to have lower rates of severe eczema than babies who were always formula-fed. It's also possible that breastfeeding delays when your child first develops eczema.
Breastfeeding helps to build a special bond between you and your baby. And in the long-term, breastfeeding may help your baby to stay healthy. Studies have shown that adults who were breastfed as babies, when compared with those who were formula-fed:
- had lower blood pressure
- had lower cholesterol levels
- were less likely to become obese
- were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding is good for you, too, and may help you to lose weight. In the long term, it also helps to:
- lower your risk of breast cancer
- protect against ovarian cancer before the menopause
- reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
How long will I be breastfeeding for?
The Department of Health recommends that your baby has only breastmilk for the first six months of her life. It also recommends that you carry on breastfeeding after your baby has started on solid foods, until the end of her first year and beyond, if you'd like to.
Continuing to breastfeed while introducing solid foods to your baby may benefit her immune system. She may also be less likely to develop health conditions such as coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes.
Most mums aim to breastfeed for between three months and 12 months, and some choose to breastfeed beyond the first year (extended breastfeeding). A lot depends on your individual circumstances and how you feel about it.
How can I prepare for breastfeeding?
Staying healthy is as much as you can do to prepare your body for breastfeeding. But learning as much as you can about breastfeeding before your baby is born will help you when the time comes.
Read how to prepare for breastfeeding, and encourage your partner to learn about it too, so he's ready to support you.
How do I start breastfeeding?
- Feeds can take anything from five minutes to 40 minutes, so find a comfortable place before you start. In the early days of breastfeeding, when you're still trying to get the hang of it, creating the right atmosphere is important.
- If you're easily distracted by noise, find somewhere quiet. If you tend to get bored, you may want to feed with the radio or television on, but only if breastfeeding is going well. Try different spots until you find what works for you.
- Hold your baby in a position that won't make your arms and back ache. Have cushions or pillows nearby to support you or your baby. Laid-back breastfeeding involves lying on your back, so that your baby can rest on your body, while your hands are free to support her. Or try the cradle hold, which means cradling your baby across your chest, raised up on a cushion or pillow. It depends on what's most comfortable for you.
- Get yourself and your baby in a relaxed position before you start feeding. Pay attention to how your breasts feel when your baby latches on. She should take in a big mouthful of breast tissue.
- If you have large breasts, you may find it more comfortable to lie on your side while feeding, or you may want to try holding your baby under your arm in a rugby ball position.
- If latching on hurts, break the suction by gently inserting your little finger between your baby's gums and your nipple, and try again. Once your baby latches on properly, she'll be able to do the rest.
How easy is breastfeeding?
Though some women take to breastfeeding easily, many new mums find it hard to get going. So if you're feeling discouraged, you're not alone. Talk to your community midwife, or ask to be referred to a breastfeeding specialist, if you're having problems. She can watch you feed your baby, and suggest ways to make it easier.
The National Childbirth Trust, La Leche League and The Breastfeeding Network can put you in touch with skilled supporters.
Breastfeeding takes practice, and is a skill that you and your baby will be learning from scratch. Give yourself as much time as you need to get it down to a fine art. Take it a day, a week, or even just one feed, at a time.
If you're having a bad feeding day, tell yourself that tomorrow will be better, and that any problems you are having are likely to pass. By the time of your postnatal check, you'll probably be breastfeeding without giving it a second thought. If not, ask for support.
Can I breastfeed in public?
You may feel shy about breastfeeding in front of other people. But you have the right to breastfeed in public places in England, Scotland and Wales. The rules differ slightly in Northern Ireland, but you have some protection under the Sex Discrimination Act.
You may feel comfortable about breastfeeding in front of others. However if you feel self-conscious, there are tops that allow you to breastfeed discreetly. Shirts that you have to unbutton will make you feel exposed as you feed, and buttons are fiddly to deal with. Stretchy tops you can pull up work well.
If it makes you feel more comfortable, drape a scarf, muslin or blanket over your shoulder and chest while you feed. This will give you and your baby privacy. Make sure your baby can breathe easily, though.
Some larger shops have mum-and-baby rooms where you can sit comfortably and feed, and local councils also provide information about where you are welcome to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding your baby when she's hungry is your first priority, so try not to feel self-conscious about doing what's best for her.
What should I buy for breastfeeding?
Buy at least two or three comfortable breastfeeding or nursing bras so your breasts are properly supported. These have hooks or zips that you can easily undo when your baby needs to feed.
Make sure that your bras fit properly, and that any flaps open completely. If only a small part of your breast is exposed, the bra may press on breast tissue and lead to blocked ducts or mastitis.
You may prefer to wait to buy bras until after your baby is born, to make sure that they will fit you perfectly. But bear in mind that getting out of the house with a newborn isn't easy, so think about going in late pregnancy. Many department stores have staff who are trained to fit nursing bras after 36 weeks of pregnancy.
You may find that your breasts have a tendency to leak, as even another baby's cry or the sight of a baby can stimulate milk flow. Keep a supply of washable or disposable breast pads handy, and consider buying a light-weight nursing bra for night-time, so you can wear breast pads while you sleep. If you're planning to express your breastmilk, you may want to consider buying a breast pump.
Can I breastfeed after I go back to work?
If you're going back to work, it doesn't mean you have to stop breastfeeding. If your workplace has a nursery, you may be able to visit your baby during the working day, and breastfeed her as usual.
If you can't visit your baby during the day, you may want to express milk. Or you may choose to breastfeed only when you are with your baby, and give her formula milk during the day (mixed feeding).
Let your employer know in writing if you want to breastfeed after you return to work, so a risk assessment can be carried out. This is to make sure that your workplace is safe for a breastfeeding mum.
It's good news for employers, too. Mums who are supported to carry on breastfeeding after they return to work take less time off. And some research suggests that exclusively breastfed babies are less likely to be ill than babies who are formula-fed.
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