Newborn Breastfeeding: The 5 Golden Rules For Success From The Start

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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.

This post covers the golden rules of breastfeeding to ensure you get a good start!

For some frequently asked questions when it comes to everything else regarding breastfeeding your newborn, check out this post: Newborn Breastfeeding FAQs: The Answers You’re Desperately Searching For!

RULE 1: Ensure you get a good latch

IN A NUTSHELL

Good latch = contented baby.

Poor latch = hungry, gassy, fussy baby.

It’s no fun for anyone.

 A BIT MORE DETAIL

Ensuring a good latch is absolutely fundamental to your success in the newborn breastfeeding stakes.

Think of a poor latch like trying to drink from a cheapo travel mug.  It can take a while to work out how to get your tea out of it without a struggle or slurping and sucking in a load of air in the process.  In the meantime, you’re left thirsty and frustrated.  (And if you’re desperate for your caffeine fix, a little angry!).

All because you haven’t figured out how to get a good seal, yet.

‘Yet’ is the important word here.  Because it’s a learning experience and with practice and experimentation it should come good.

It’s the same when breastfeeding your newborn.

A poor latch will leave baby hungry and frustrated in the struggle to get milk.  Then there’s all the extra air your baby swallows.

Gassy baby alert.

But with practice and experimentation, it will come good.

HOW TO DO IT

1 – Recognise the signs of a good and poor latch

If your baby has a good latch you should notice the following:

  • Your baby has a good chunk of nipple in his or her mouth (not just the tip of the nipple)
  • You can hear swallowing (i.e. baby is getting milk)
  • You can see your baby’s tongue when you pull the bottom lip down.

Signs of a poor latch include:

  • Clicking or smacking noises
  • Painful nipples – baby latching right at the end of the nipple
  • Limited swallowing sounds as baby is not sucking efficiently
  • Tongue not visible when you pull the bottom lip down
  • Dribbles a lot during a feed
  • Gasps for air during a feed

2 – Learn how to get a good latch

Hopefully, someone at the hospital will have helped you.  If not this video has a great demo:

 

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.

3 – Experiment with different breastfeeding positions

There are a lot of different positions for feeding your baby.  You may find different positions make a good latch easier.

 

Breastfeeding positions
Experiment when breastfeeding your newborn in order to ensure a good latch and be comfortable

 

4 – Check for a tongue-tie

A tongue-tie is when baby’s tongue appears to be ‘tied’ to the bottom of the mouth.

It’s not uncommon (affecting around 10% of babies) and easily fixed with a simple procedure called tongue-tie division, involving anesthetic and a small amount of blood loss.

In the UK it’s often performed soon after birth before baby even goes home.  Check this article from the NHS for more details.

In other parts of the world, a ‘wait and see’ approach is preferred as some babies are able to breastfeed successfully with a tongue-tie.

This article from Mayo Clinic has more on the subject.

5 – If you’re still struggling, get help from a lactation consultant

There’s a whole profession dedicated to helping mama’s breastfeed because many, many moms find it tricky.  So go seek out your nearest lactation consultant.

RULE 2: Feed frequently and ‘on demand’ in the early days

IN A NUTSHELL

Breastfeed your newborn at least every 3 hours day and night, whenever baby needs to keep baby’s tummy full and build your milk supply quickly

A BIT MORE DETAIL

It’s important to feed frequently when only producing colostrum, immediately after birth, and in the subsequent days or weeks after your milk has ‘come in’ and you’re producing breastmilk (2-5 days postpartum).

3 reasons:

#1 – Newborns are tiny, so are their tummies!

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.

In the subsequent days/weeks the little and often needs to continue: Your newborn’s stomach will be filled relatively quickly and then digested in an hour or two.  At which point your baby will need feeding again…

The latest advice is to breastfeed your newborn AT LEAST every 3* hours until birthweight has been regained

*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 – Frequent feeding ensures your milk supply builds quickly

It’s the suckling of a newborn that further stimulates milk production, by elevating levels of the hormone, prolactin, in the mother.

So the more often your breasts are emptied, the quicker milk is produced; breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis.

The first few weeks your baby is growing quicker than at any other point in their life.  Their nutritional needs grow at an alarming rate and your milk supply needs to keep pace.

This means feeding your newborn frequently to quickly build your milk supply (remembering to eat and drink plenty, because if you’re anything like me, you won’t know hunger or thirst like it!)

#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!

HOW TO DO IT

1- Keep a track of when baby last fed

Either watch the clock or try a baby feeding/sleeping app.

I used Baby Daybook on my iPhone.  For Android check out this article from Mom Junction for some different options.

Don’t forget that 3 hours is the time from the start of one feed to the start of the next.  

 

An app can help when starting a newborn sleep schedule
A baby feed and sleep tracking app helps keep track of when you last fed and on which breast

2 – Wake baby if up it’s been 3 hours since their last feed

Forget that old-fashioned saying ‘you should never wake a sleeping baby’.  Wake baby up to ensure baby feeds at least every 3 hours.

After birthweight has been regained and you have the OK from your doctor you can let baby go longer between feeds.

But continue to wake baby up after 3 hours IN THE DAY.  Let baby wake naturally at night.

This ensures any longer gaps between feeds are at night and helps fix day night confusion.

3 – Don’t leave baby hungry

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.

But be careful that you are interpreting rooting correctly – more on this at Rule 5.

4 – Let your newborn breastfeed until satisfied

Breastfed babies know when they are full so will stop when they’re done.

However, falling asleep doesn’t necessarily mean baby is full.  Your newborn may just tired or a sleepy feeder!  To avoid the serial snacker, read on.

RULE 3: Avoid the serial snacker

IN A NUTSHELL

Some newborn’s have a tendency to snack.  But breastfeeding a serial snacker is exhausting.

A BIT MORE DETAIL

So this is for you, not for baby.

Your newborn will be just fine whether he has 12 feeds a day or 30 half-hearted lazy 2-3 minute gulps.

But you won’t.

My firstborn was a snacker of note.  At 3 weeks old he’d feed a few minutes (4-5 mins tops), then fall asleep. Wake hungry 20 to 40 minutes later, feed 2 minutes, fall asleep. And so on, day and night.

I soon figured out this had to change if breastfeeding beyond week 3.5 was going to be achievable.

HOW TO DO IT

1 – Aim for longer feed times from one feed to the next

This will encourage some bigger gaps between feeds.  You know, like more than 25 minutes before you have to start all over again.

You can still feed on demand, but, hopefully not quite as often.

By the time your milk has come in, aim for at least 10 minutes sucking.  At the end of week 2, 20 to 40 minutes.

Of course, EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT.  Those timings are GUIDELINES.

Just try to ensure feeds are getting progressively longer, as are the gaps between feeds.

 

Dream Feed takes perseverence
Waking up a sleepy feeder is necessary in avoiding the ‘serial snacker’!

 

2 – Wake up a sleepy feeder to drink a bit more

My first born in particular was a very sleepy feeder and partly why I think he became such an avid snacker.  So I had to work very hard to keep him awake to take a bigger feed.  Here are some of the many, many things you can try:

  • tickle feet and hands
  • lightly touch back and cheeks
  • talk to your baby
  • remove nappy
  • top-and-tail or gently wipe face and hands etc with a washcloth
  • remove a layer of clothing

If baby loses interest when feeding

  • unlatching and re-latching (a poor latch may mean that milk flow is slow and baby loses interest)
  • play and tickle finger, hands and feet
  • change feeding positions
  • pull your nipple or bottle teat slowly out of their mouth – this can often lead to frantic sucking!
  • dabbing some milk on babys’ lips

With patience and perseverance, you will quickly start to stretch feeds out and things will become a whole lot easier.  Pinky promise.

Then, once you’ve stretched feeds to every 2 or 3 hours, you will be able to start some kind of schedule if that’s your thing.  I started this sleep and feeding schedule and never looked back!

RULE 4: Only switch to the other breast when baby has emptied the first

IN A NUTSHELL

Feed until breast is empty, switch sides, feed some more.  This ensures baby reaches the ‘hindmilk’.

A BIT MORE DETAIL

This is due to the changing composition of milk during a feed.  As the breast empties, the lactose content decreases and fat content increases so:

  • the foremilk, at the beginning of the feed, is high in lactose and low in fat
  • the hindmilk (of the same breast and feed) is high in fat and low in lactose

You want to ensure baby reaches this fattier hindmilk for 3 reasons:

1 – 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.

2 – Fully emptying the breast ensures speedy milk production

Since the emptier it is, the faster milk is produced.

3 – Ensuring a good balance of fore and hindmilk minimizes gassiness

If you consistently breastfeed your newborn a lot of foremilk, because you switch sides before reaching the hindmilk, baby will receive an excessive amount of lactose.

Baby may struggle to digest all the lactose.  As a result, some may be left undigested, which instead ferments in the gut and then you’ve got a gassy baby on your hands.

It’s important to note that you DO NOT need to reach the fattier hindmilk to ensure healthy weight gain for your breastfeeding newborn; for weight gain, it’s the total volume of milk intake that’s important, as noted by this article. Over the course of several feeds over several days, your baby will have had the same intake of milk fats and lactose.

 

Newborn breastfeeding
Only switch to the other breast when baby has emptied the first – Rule no 4 in successfully breastfeeding your newborn

 

Only switch to the other breast when baby has emptied the first – Rule no. 4 for successfully breastfeeding your newborn

HOW TO DO IT

1 – Only switch breasts when the first is empty

This is pretty simple… Baby may come off your breast or get frustrated.  Your breast will feel empty.

2 – If baby did not fully drain milk from the last breast at the last feed, that’s the breast to start the feed on.

This is best clarified with an example:

Feed 1: Start the breastfeed on the left until empty.  Switch sides and your newborn breastfeeds a little longer on the right. 

So at the end of the feed (Ie baby was satisfied), there’s still milk left in the right breast.

Feed 2: Start the breastfeed on the right until empty.  Switch sides and your newborn breastfeeds a little longer on the left.

So at the end of the feed (Ie baby was satisfied), there was still milk left in the left breast.

Feed 3: Start the breastfeed on the left until empty.  Switch sides and your newborn breastfeeds a little longer on the right.

So at the end of the feed (Ie baby was satisfied), there was still milk left in the left breast.

And so on.

3 – If baby did drain milk from the last breast at the last feed (you offered more milk from the other breast but baby refused) then start the next feed with the other side.

Another example:

Feed 1: You breastfeed your newborn on the left until empty.  You offer baby the right breast but baby is full and doesn’t drink any more

Feed 2: You breastfeed your newborn on the right until empty.  You offer baby the left breast but baby is full and doesn’t drink any more

And so on.

4 – Keep track of which breast was last when breastfeeding your newborn

It can be difficult to achieve number 2 or 3 above, if you don’t know which side you last fed on.

Some people use the hairband trick:  put a hairband on the wrist of the side you last fed on so you don’t forget.

The problem I had with this is either I forgot to move the hairband or I ended up using the hairband for my hair.

A baby feeding/sleeping app is much easier.

You just press ‘start right’ when you start feeding on the right breast and ‘stop right’ when you stop.  Switch sides, press ‘start left’ and so on.

As mentioned earlier, I recommend Baby Daybook for iPhone or check out this article from Mom Junction for other options.

RULE 5: Avoid ‘comfort feeding’ which can lead to digestive discomfort

IN A NUTSHELL

Feed baby only when hungry.  Learn to ‘listen’ to your baby’s unique cries and get to the root of the problem.  Comfort feeding may only make a fussy baby worse.

A BIT MORE DETAIL

This final rule is where it can become a bit tricky.

You see, rooting and sucking is not only a hunger cue.  It’s also a cue that your newborn is seeking comfort, hence the well-known ‘comfort feed’.

So this is tricky for two reasons:  not only is it easy to misread rooting and sucking as hunger, it’s also the most normal and natural thing to want to comfort feed, knowing that it should help calm baby.

The issue with comfort feeding

Simply put, this puts baby at risk of ‘digestive overload’.

As pointed out earlier, the stomach of a newborn is small; it can only hold so much.

So although babies do need to feed often, they can also only feed so much and so often.  There needs to be enough time for the stomach enzymes to do their job before milk passes into the gut.

Feeding your newborn too soon after the last feed, when baby is not hungry, means their stomach may still be rather full. As a result, semi-digested milk is forced into the gut too early.  Undigested fats and lactose (the main milk sugar) ferment in the gut causing gas and discomfort.

This overloads your newborn’s digestive system.

cry-it-out to get baby to sleep through night
If your newborn is upset, fussy or gassy, a ‘comfort’ breastfeed may only make things worse

 

HOW TO DO IT

 1 – Stop feeding if you see signs of digestive overload

Excess gassiness, abdominal pain and discomfort could mean digestive overload.  Or that baby needs to pass wind.

Either way, feeding is not the answer.

‘You will find yourself in a vicious cycle where baby looks to suck and feed more, in seeking more comfort.  Putting more pressure on the digestive system…

If your newborn only becomes more uncomfortable, distressed and fussy while feeding, it’s likely baby wants comfort, not more milk.

So although with good intention, by comfort feeding you’re only making the issue worse.

2 – Learn to decode your baby’s cries so you can get to the root of the cause

So if baby is rooting and seeking comfort, rather than hunger, the first thing to do is try and look for cause of the issue.

Is it a stubborn burp?  Is it gas pain lower down?  Is it something completely different.

Don’t just look at what baby is doing, listen.

If you listen hard, you’ll notice that the cries of your baby are subtly different.  By tuning into these cries you will soon be able to distinguish a hungry cry from others.

Luckily for us parents, someone else has done a fair bit of work on this which should really give you a head start.  Priscilla Dunstan decoded what she calls the ‘universal language of newborn babies’, which identifies 5 distinct cries or ‘words’ as follows:

  • Neh = “I’m hungry”
  • Eh = “I need to burp”
  • Eair = “I have lower gas pain”
  • Heh = “I’m experiencing discomfort”
  • Owh = “I’m sleepy”

You can listen to these different cries here:

If it’s an ‘eh’ you can hear, try and burp baby, rather than comfort feed.

If it’s an ‘eair’ you can hear, it’s a more serious gas issue lower down.

If so, I have just the post for you: Got a gassy baby? 16 Common causes & remedies to fix them for good

And so on.

3 – If you can’t relieve baby’s discomfort, find other ways to comfort your newborn (other than a breastfeed)

A pacifier can help with digestive overload, allowing baby to suck and help them calm down, without drinking even more milk.

Other than that, there are a myriad of things to try and calm baby:

  • the ‘colic carry’ or ‘tiger in the tree’ – lie baby over your forearm, with her head towards your elbow and your hand supporting her crotch
  • singing to your baby
  • dancing while carrying your baby
  • walking up the stairs backward with your baby
  • baby wearing
  • a warm bath
  • music or white noise

And so on…

Resist the urge to comfort feed!

In Summary

So there you have it, the 5 golden rules for breastfeeding your newborn.

To summarise…

Rule 1: Ensure your newborn is getting a good latch.  Experiment and get help if necessary.

Rule 2: Feed at least every 3 hours and ‘on demand’ in the early days to ensure your newborns’ tummy is full and to build your milk supply.

Rule 3: Beware the serial snacker!

Rule 4: ONLY switch breasts when the first is fully drained.  This ensures your baby reaches the fattier milk and reduces excess gassiness.

Rule 5: Resist the urge to comfort feed.  Get to the bottom of the issue by learning your newborn’s unique cries

Any questions on newborn breastfeeding?  There are lots of FAQs answered in this post: Newborn Breastfeeding FAQs: The Answers You’re Desperately Searching For!

Otherwise, hit me up with your questions below!

Useful stuff? Want to save it for later?  Want to share with other sleep-deprived mommas? Click above or pin this image:

Learn the 5 golden rules to successful breastfeeding your newborn. There are many breastfeeding tips out there – but these are the 5 new moms need to start out right. These include info and tips on breastfeeding latch (inc. different breastfeeding positions), how to ensure you build up a good milk supply, what it means to ‘feed on demand’ and why you need to. When to switch breasts and how to keep track. The issues a comfort ‘breastfeed’ can cause your newborn. All the breastfeeding tips to start off right!

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Hi, I'm Sarah

Mum of two outrageously gorgeous and ridiculously energetic toddlers – A.K.A. not so little, Littllees.  I’m determined to give them the best without losing my mind.  I reckon it’s possible.  Most days.  

I love a challenge and have to find out they ‘why’, ‘what’ or ‘how to’  –  there are rather a lot of these when it comes to kids… 

I also love, love, love things to be neat and tidy and just so.   The Littlees normally have other ideas!  

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