Breastfeeding your newborn is one of those many parenting things, that’s just meant to, ‘Come naturally’. So no pressure then!
A bit like when someone gives you directions and they end with, ‘You just can’t miss it!’
I always miss it.
And then I feel just a tiny bit silly!
Hopefully, you left the hospital with a tiny bit of knowledge and guidance on the skills of breastfeeding, because getting a good start is pretty damn important. But maybe you didn’t.
So this post covers some breastfeeding basics and should answer some of your most pressing questions when it comes to getting a good start!
For more on looking after yourself while breastfeeding (including avoiding cracked nipples) and
Figuring out how to breastfeed your newborn
First things first, let’s get the basics right. I say ‘basics’ because they are fundamental to successful breastfeeding, I’m not saying basic as in easy!
Getting a good latch is key
Pain during the entire breastfeeding process is a sign of a poor latch.
In addition, it’s unlikely your baby will be feeding effectively if you have a poor latch.
Hopefully, someone at the hospital helped you with this before you returned home. Otherwise, seek out a lactation consultant. But perhaps before that, this video has a really clear and thorough demonstration on how to ensure a good latch.
Signs of a good latch are:
- Your baby has a good chunk of nipple in his or her mouth (not just the tip of the nipple)
- No clicking or smacking noises
- You can hear swallowing (i.e. baby is getting milk)
- You can see your baby’s tongue when you pull the bottom lip down
If your baby doesn’t have a good latch, gently pull him or her off and start again – check that video again for some good step-by-step instructions.
Find a breastfeeding position that works for you and your baby
There are a lot of different positions for feeding your baby. Experiment with some of these breastfeeding positions until you find something that works for you and your baby. What’s best for you, will be different to what’s best for someone else.
Understanding more about breastmilk
Colostrum, transitional milk, mature milk, foremilk and hindmilk… That’s a lot of different types of milk!
Breast milk has the perfect balance of nutrients for your baby for the first 6 months of their life. It’s composed of:
- fat 3 – 5%
- protein 1%
- carbohydrate 7%
- water 88%+
It contains sufficient vitamins and minerals, with the exception of Vitamin D, since sunlight is needed for the body to manufacture this particular vitamin. Exposure to sunlight is advisable for adults, but for small babies avoiding sunburn is necessary. Check with your doctor if you’re concerned about your newborns Vitamin D levels since there seems to be no unified recommendation on this.
Breastmilk also contains antibodies (most significantly IgA), immune factors and white blood cells which gives your baby’s immune system a head start. This is one of the advantages of breastfeeding over formula feeding.
(But if you’re considering formula feeding don’t panic – as long as your newborn is up to date on vaccinations, formula fed babies are not at huge risk to deadly nasties – they just have to work a bit harder to build up their own immune system.)
Colostrum – how it’s different from mature breastmilk
Colostrum is the thick, sticky, yellow milk produced in the first few days after birth. It’s often called ‘first milk’ since it’s the first milk that your newborn will drink.
It is very nutrient dense vs. mature milk because your newborn can only ingest such small quantities. So you will only produce around 45ml on the first day after birth.
Colostrum has a higher protein content plus more minerals, vitamins and provides significant immune protection to your little one as he or she exposed to the big wide world to the first time.
Colostrum encourages baby’s first poo (the black sticky stuff called meconium) since it has a mild laxative effect.
When is mature milk produced
Delivery of the placenta initiates milk production (via the hormone prolactin). Milk production starts ramping up when your newborn is 2 to 4 days old. At this point, your milk is said to be ‘coming in’. By 2 weeks you will be producing ‘mature breast milk’, as described earlier.
What it feels like when your milk is ‘coming in’
Massive heavy boobs, veins popping out and I swear I could feel the milk trickling around inside! Though I can’t find anything online to say that this is really a thing.
The milk produced between colostrum and mature milk.
Foremilk and hindmilk
- FOREMILK: milk at the beginning of the feed
- HINDMILK: milk at the end of the feed
These terms are a bit confusing because the implication is that you have two types of milk (hence I’ve grouped them together).
It’s not a case of, at some point during a feed the milk magically jumps from one to the other. It’s one type of milk and the change is gradual.
All you need to know is that as the breast empties during a feed, the fat content of the milk gradually increases, because the breast becomes emptier.
(As a result, hindmilk has a higher fat content than the foremilk of the same feed, because the fat content is directly related to breast emptiness, as confirmed by research such as this.)
This is important when thinking about when to switch from one breast to the other, see later.
Read more about foremilk and hindmilk here.
The process of breastfeeding: what’s happening
There’s more going on than first meets the eye! It’s not just a case of milk flowing from mother to baby.
Breastfeeding stimulates further milk production
The effectiveness of prolactin to produce milk is related to how full the breast is:
- EMPTY breast – prolactin at maximum effectiveness: fast milk production
- FULL breast – prolactin at minimum effectiveness: slow milk production
So the more often your breasts are emptied (from breastfeeding or pumping), the quicker milk is produced: milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis.
Skin-to-skin contact is an important aspect of breastfeeding
Skin-to-skin contact helps regulate body temperature and reduce stress levels in your newborn.
Breastfeeding will also stimulate the release of oxytocin in you, the mother, and should help calm you.
For these reasons, it’s important to realize that breastfeeding will be a source of great comfort for your baby. So even if you don’t believe your newborn is due a feed or hungry, there may still be a need for a ‘comfort’ feed.
Newborn breastfeeding in the early days – 3 rules to follow
RULE 1: Feed frequently from day 1, at least every 3 hours
In that first week you need to feed little and often. Or even, a lot and often!
Around 8 – 12 times a day the first week or two, ‘on demand’ or whenever your baby needs.
This is extremely important:
- when only producing colustrum soon after birth
- and in the subsequent days or weeks after your milk ‘come in’, and you are producing breastmilk (2-5 days postpartum)
This is for 3 reasons:
#1 – Newborns are tiny, so are their tummies!
So their tiny tums need filling regularly.
BEFORE YOUR MILK ‘COMES IN’
Colostrum, the precursor to milk, has a high nutrient value and is full of antibodies, but is low in volume. So your newborn will need to be fed little and often to get adequate nourishment.
THE SUBSEQUENT DAYS/WEEKS AFTER
Even once you are producing breastmilk your newborn’s stomach is still tiny and after a few minutes sucking will be full. Then this milk will be quickly digested, so not too long after it’ll be empty again.
So newborns need to feed often, AT LEAST every 3 hours until birthweight has been regained, according to the latest advice. 3 hours is the time from the start of one feed to the start of the next. So if baby took 1 hour to feed, then a feed will be due 2 hours later.
#2 – Breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis
As explained above, milk production is directly related to the frequency of feeding. So it’s important to feed your newborn frequently:
BEFORE YOUR MILK ‘COMES IN’
The switch between producing colostrum and breastmilk, or Lactogenesis II, is regulated by hormones and initiated by delivery of the placenta at birth.
So although your milk will ‘come in’ regardless of whether you breastfeed or not, recent evidence suggests that feeding within an hour of birth promotes a larger milk supply in later days.
THE SUBSEQUENT DAYS/WEEKS AFTER
Frequent feedings help build your milk supply. These first few weeks your baby is growing quicker than at any other point in their life! So their nutritional needs grow at an alarming rate and your milk supply needs to keep pace!
#3 – Babies feed for reasons other than for nutrition
Your baby has just gone from the warm, cozy, dark existence of being inside you, to the bright lights and noise of the outside world. They want and need the comfort of being close to you and you need it too!
RULE 2: Wake your newborn to feed if necessary
As per #1 above, you don’t want to let a very small baby go longer than 3 hours from one feed to the next.
So it’s standard medical advice to wake your newborn to feed if 3 hours have passed since the beginning of their last feed. This also ensures your milk production does not drop as per #2.
After birthweight has been regained you may get the OK from your doctor/health advisor to let baby go longer between feeds.
But continue to wake baby up after 3 hours IN THE DAY. This ensures any longer gaps between feeds are at night.
So if you’re wondering how often to feed your newborn at night – the answer is every 3 hours until birth weight has been regained and you have the all clear from your doctor. Then, as little as possible!
This avoids day night confusion.
RULE 3: Only switch to the other breast when baby has emptied the first
A little earlier on we talked about how the fat composition of milk increases during a feed, so the fat content of the later hindmilk is higher than that of the earlier foremilk (from that same breast and feed).
So to ensure baby reaches this fattier milk hindmilk feed from one breast until it’s empty, before switching to the other.
It’s important to note that you DO NOT need to reach the fattier hindmilk to ensure healthy weight gain in your newborn.
It’s the total volume of milk intake that’s important, as noted by this article since over the course of several feeds over several days, your baby will have had the same intake of milk fats.
The reason is this: this fattier hindmilk will satisfy your newborns’ hunger a little longer.
So in light of trying to get a little more time between feeds, try and ensure baby reaches the hindmilk. Do not switch breasts mid-feed. Wait until baby comes off and the breast is fully drained before offering the other breast.
This also ensures the breast is as empty as possible, meaning quicker milk production.
How your breastmilk may change in the day
Your milk supply is likely to be highest in the morning because you have (hopefully) managed some sleep and rest, even if just a little bit. As the day progresses you are likely to have less and less milk.
Since emptier breasts mean milk with higher fat content, your milk towards the end of the day will be fattier.
Due to this change, you may find your baby takes longer feeds towards the end of the day, in order to get the same amount of milk. In addition, newborns tend to ‘tank-up’ before night time. This is a good thing – since it helps ensure a longer stretch of sleep at night.
Feeding your newborn ‘on demand’
As established earlier, feeding frequently and as and when your baby requires is essential in those early days. This is called ‘feeding on demand’, ‘responsive feeding’ or ‘baby-led’ feeding.
What this means specifically:
1 Feed baby at the first sign of hunger
Feeding cues include rooting, opening the mouth, stirring and stretching, sucking fingers as per this chart below.
Crying is a late hunger cue – you want to feed baby before the cries errupt! Otherwise, you may find it difficult to get a good latch.
2 Let your newborn drink until satisfied
Breastfed babies know when they are full so will stop when they’re done.
Formula-fed babies can be pushed to feed more, so this is a no-no. If your baby starts turning head away or playing with the bottle nipple those are signs they’ve had enough.
However, falling asleep doesn’t necessarily mean baby is full. Your newborn may just tired or a sleepy feeder! This is when you may want to wake your baby to encourage him or her to feed more, otherwise you may have a snacker on your hands!
A feeding schedule is possible later on
This does go against the ‘feeding on demand’ advice but a baby who continues to snack day and night when several weeks or months old is quite exhausting! I speak from experience.
Are you finding feeding demand exhausting? If so, a feeding schedule may suit you and your newborn better.
Check out this post: Is Feeding On Demand Crushing You? How To Cheat The System (It doesn’t involve leaving your baby hungry at any point!)
Plus, I have a post describing the schedule I used: Starting A Newborn Sleep Schedule That You And Your Baby Will Love – The Ultimate Guide
Not only did my two babies sleep through the night by 3 months (without crying), they were such happy babies and the long afternoon nap saved my bacon!
I had 2 under 2 and they both took the same afternoon nap. In fact at 2 and 3.5 they still do! Need I say more?
Hopefully, I’ve answered a good few questions when it comes to starting out your breastfeeding journey right. Please let me know if you have any more, in the comments below. Or check out this post
Getting a good latch and finding a feeding position that works for you and your baby are key to get right asap! Experiment and get help if necessary.
Then work at frequent feedings to ensure your newborns’ tummy is full and the grams/ounces are piling on. Feeding frequently as and when your baby needs builds your milk supply quickly. Plus it gives ample opportunity for that all important skin-to-skin.
Wake your baby if it’s been 3 hours since the last feed, until birth weight has been regained. When your newborn has regained their birthweight and you have the go-ahead from your doctor, continue to feed every 3 hours in the day, to ensure you get some longer stretches at night.
ONLY switch breasts when the first is fully drained. This ensures your baby reaches the fattier milk and should stay fuller a little longer.
Feed on demand in the early days, then, if want to break some rules, you may wish to move towards a newborn sleep and feeding schedule! Go on, I dare you!