The Breastfeeding Basics You Need to Know Before Baby Arrives

Once upon a time, we lived in tribal societies. We watched mothers, aunts, and cousins breastfeed all the time.

Breastfeeding basics and challenges were no secrets. We were surrounded by experienced women to help us new moms adapt to breastfeeding with ease.

These days, our modern, Westernized society expects mama to nurse in private. Breastfeeding is natural, yet publicly unacceptable. Mom and Dad are sent home with their newborn alone to figure it all out for themselves. No wonder it seems so hard!

While breastfeeding is natural, it is a learned skill that requires patience and practice. When there is a premature baby or baby born with health problems, breastfeeding can be harder than usual. Breastfeeding provides such huge health benefits for both the mother and baby that it’s worth making your way through the challenges.

Why it’s important to breastfeed:
  • Breast milk is like liquid gold. Colostrum, the first thick, yellow breast milk you make, is rich in nutrients and antibodies that protect your baby.
  • As your baby grows, breast milk changes to match your baby’s exact needs. Colostrum becomes mature milk as your baby grows. By the fifth day, your milk becomes thinner and is full of fat, water, sugar and protein to help your baby develop.
  • Breastmilk is easy to digest. For premature babies, breast milk (as compared to formula) is much easier to digest.
  • Breast milk fights disease. Breast milk contains hormones, cells, and antibodies which protect baby from illness. The formula does not come close to matching the chemical makeup of breast milk. This is why formula-fed babies have a higher risk of:
  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Childhood leukemia
breastfeeding basics
Now, the breastfeeding basics:

Making Milk

Your breasts make milk in response to your child’s needs. The more a baby feeds, the more milk is produced (so don’t pump early on!). Babies double in size in months and need many feedings due to their tiny tummies. Most mothers make more than enough milk for their baby’s needs, though most worry that they don’t.

  • Birth

Your body makes colostrum in small amounts. This is vital for your baby’s health as it provides protection against diseases. You may be exhausted, but breastfeed as soon as possible. Nursing in the first hour of the baby’s life is very important!

“Breastfeeding initiation and duration is likely to be more successful with babies who have early skin to skin contact.” //

  • First 12 to 24 hours

Your baby will drink about a teaspoon or two of colostrum at each feeding. It is normal for the baby to sleep heavily. You will also be tired so get some rest.

Some babies just want to nuzzle and may be too tired to latch on properly. Feedings at this stage are very short and disorganized. Take advantage of your baby’s waking moments to try to feed them.

  • 3 to 5 days after birth

Your milk will begin to turn white though it may have a yellow or golden tint. Baby will feed at least 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period.

At this stage, babies don’t eat on a schedule.  Your baby may eat every 1.5 to 3 hours and sleep for 3 to 4 hours at a time. A feeding may take between 15 to 20 minutes.

Your breasts will feel full and may leak.

  • First 4 to 6 weeks

Baby will be better at breastfeeding and their stomach will grow, allowing them to drink more milk. Feedings take less time and might get farther apart. Your body is now used to breastfeeding and your breasts are softer.

Learning to breastfeed

Breastfeeding takes time to master. Here’re some things that will help:

  1. Breastfeed as soon as possible after birth.
  2. Talk to a lactation consultant immediately and frequently if you have any questions.
  3. Ask the nurses to bring your baby into the room all day and night so you can breastfeed often.
  4. Avoid pacifiers and nipples before your baby gets used to the breast.

Putting your baby to the breast

There is no one correct way to breastfeed, but there are a few steps you can take to help your baby latch on to the breast properly. A good latch not only enables your baby to feed well but also ensures you don’t get hurt in the process.

skin-to-skin contact

Hold your baby against your chest while they are wearing only a diaper. Put the baby upright with their head under your chin. Your baby should be very comfortable in the valley between your breasts. You can place a blanket over the both of you. Your body temperature will keep your baby warm.

Your baby will move their head back and forth looking for the breast with their head.

Support your baby’s neck and shoulders with one hand and hips with the other. Your baby’s head should be tilted back slightly. This will make it easier for them to suck or swallow. Do not push the back of your baby’s head into your breast.

learning to breastfeed

Allow your breast to hang naturally. Your baby will feel the breast on their cheek and will open his or her mouth over it. You may also guide the nipple into the baby’s mouth.

learning to breastfeed 2

Your baby’s nose will be lined opposite your nipple as their chin is pressed into your breast. Their nostrils will flare to allow them to breathe.

learning to breastfeed 3

Some babies latch on right away while others need a bit of practice.

 Signs of a good latch

  1. The latch feels comfortable. There may be discomfort, but no sharp or stabbing pains.
  2. Your baby’s chest is against your body and they don’t need to turn their head to drink.
  3. Baby’s mouth is filled with the breast. You will see no areola, or if it’s showing you see more above the lip and little or nothing below.
  4. Baby’s tongue is capped under the breast though you may not see it.
  5. You can hear or see the baby swallow.
  6. Your baby’s lips turn out like fish lips.
  7. Baby’s ears wiggle slightly.

Is my baby getting enough milk?

All babies lose weight during the first week after birth, then start to gain it back.

A newborn’s stomach is the size of a hazelnut. At most, it can accommodate one teaspoon, maybe two, of milk (which is why they nurse so frequently!). By the time your baby is 2 weeks old, their stomach will have grown to the size of an egg. If your baby is getting enough milk, they will typically be content and start gaining weight after the first week.

Signs your baby is breastfeeding properly:

  • Passing clear or pale urine, not deep yellow or orange.
  • Regular bowel movements.
  • Switches between short sleeping periods and alert periods.
  • Looks content after feedings.

Almost all medications pass through the milk and to your baby. Discuss any medicines you use with your doctor. For women with chronic health problems, where stopping the medication may be life-threatening, it is better to formula feed.

Common illnesses such as diarrhea, coughs, colds, and flu cannot be passed through breast milk. Breast milk has antibodies that help protect your baby from getting ill.

Did we miss any breastfeeding basics? We’d love to hear from you!


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