How to Start Breastfeeding your Baby: A Beginner's Guide

Written by Tara Carnegie

mother breastfeeding baby in park

Getting Started With Breastfeeding

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 83% of all women choose to breastfeed their children. That doesn't mean that it's possible for all moms, or that it's easy for all of them either!

Breastfeeding is one of the most important and satisfying bonding experiences that a mom will have with a new baby, and it carries health and well-being benefits for both baby and the mother.

While most mothers make the choice to breastfeed their baby, the entire process is more complex and difficult than putting a baby on your breast. Some women struggle with breastfeeding but, with proper preparation and knowledge, breastfeeding often becomes an easy and comfortable task.

Reasons to Breastfeed

You probably don’t need to be told how important breastfeeding is for the health and development of your baby but some women are not sure about all the wonderful benefits it provides.

For many years, scientists have been studying the ingredients that make breast milk the perfect food for babies. So far, they have discovered over 200 compounds that fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid in digestion and support brain growth. These are all nature-made properties that even the best food sciences and ingredients cannot copy! In other words, even the best baby formulas cannot match the natural benefits of breastmilk.

The important long-term benefits of breast feeding include reduced risk of asthma, allergies, obesity and some forms of childhood cancer. Breast milk has also been shown to help develop intelligence in babies because of the nutrients that support brain growth.

Breastfeeding is also beneficial to mothers. The hormones that are released during breast feeding help to lessen blood loss post-delivery and shrink the uterus back to its normal size. Long term benefits include a lower risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.

Breast milk is a power packed liquid that offers more for your baby than formula. For these reasons, it’s important to commit to breast feeding. However, many wonderful women have tried and were unable to feed their child in order to sustain their weight and health. You need to make the best choice for your little one and if that means switching to formula then you have made the right decision.

Breastfeeding and Positioning

For some mothers, the process of breastfeeding comes naturally but there is a certain level of skill required for successful feeding and positioning. Incorrect positioning is one of the common reasons for unsuccessful feeding and it can also injure the nipple or breast quite easily.

Lactation consultants and nurses are often the best sources of advice when it comes to positioning and latch technique. However, the following is a basic technique that works for most women. If it does not work for you, seek the advice of a professional.

Basic Positioning Technique

Begin by stroking your baby’s cheek with your nipple. Once your little one opens his or her mouth toward the nipple, push the nipple into his or her mouth so that the baby’s lips surround the areola as much as possible. This position is known as latching.

When it comes to positioning your and your baby’s body, it is important that you are both comfortable. Here are positions you can try:

  • Upright. A sitting position where your back is straight.
  • Mobile. Mobile is where the mother carries her baby in a sling or carrier while breastfeeding. This position can take some practice but is a great way to feed your baby while being able to move around.
  • Lying down. This is a good position for night feedings or for those still recovery from delivery or caesarean section. The easiest way to achieve this position is to lay on your side and snuggle your baby close to your breast.
  • Hands and knees. In this feeding position, the mother is on all fours with the baby underneath her. This position is not normally recommended but may be a great way to incorporate a little strengthening exercise into your day.

Anytime you don’t feel comfortable with a feeding position be sure to stop and readjust yourself or try a different position. It is likely that you will need to experiment with many different positions until you find one that works with you and your baby.

Breast Compression

If you find that your milk supply seems low or that your little one doesn’t seem to be feeding as long as he or she should, you can used breast compression to continue the flow of milk and encourage your baby to continue to feed. Compression will also stimulate a let-down reflex, a tingling sensation that indicates that your milk is ready to flow.

How to Use Breast Compression

  1. Hold the baby with one arm and your breast with the other arm, positioning your thumb on one side of your breast and your finger on the other side far back from the nipple.
  2. Observe your baby’s drinking but don’t be obsessive about seeing every suck. An open pause type of sucking means that the baby is getting more milk.
  3. When your baby is nibbling or no longer drinking, compress the breast by gently squeezing and holding your breast. Avoid rolling your fingers over your breast toward your child’s mouth.
  4. Keep up the pressure until your baby no longer drinks with the compression then release the pressure. If your baby doesn’t stop sucking with the release of the compression, wait a bit before compressing again. Releasing the compression allows your hand to rest.
  5. Continue this pattern of compressing and releasing on one breast until your baby no longer drinks with the compression. You should allow him or her to finish the breast on their own. If your baby is no longer drinking then take him or her off the breast.
  6. If your baby is still hungry, offer the other breast and repeat the process.

If everything is going well, breast compression may not be necessary but it is always a good idea to know how it is performed. If you're having any challenges with milk production, be sure to check out our article regarding how to increase milk supply.

Returning to Work

The recommended length of breastfeeding is two years and most mothers are back to work by then. Even though you have returned to work, you can continue breastfeeding, even if you can’t connect with your baby throughout the day to do so.

If you are unable to feed during the day, you can save your milk supply by using a breast pump (we review the best breast pumps here) to express milk while you are at work. If you are unable to, or uncomfortable with, pumping at work you do have the option of gradually replacing daytime feedings with formula and continue with breastfeeding in the evenings.

Advantages of Pumping at Work

Pumping at work will help stimulate your production of milk – this means that not only will you have a pumped supply but you’ll have plenty available during evenings feeds. You can also collect the milk you pump so that your little one will have the health and nutritional benefits of breast milk even when you aren’t there.

Some mothers feel that pumping at work helps them feel a connection to their child during the day.

How to Pump at Work

To manage pumping breast milk at work, you’ll need the following:

  • Breast pump – preferably a fully automatic electric pump with a double collection kit so you can pump both breasts at the same time. Otherwise, you can purchase a manual hand pump at a lower cost but it does take some more time and effort.
  • Baby Bottles or bags – for collecting and storing the milk.
  • Refrigerator or cooler – to keep the milk cold.
  • Breast pads – to help protect your clothes in case you leak.

It’s recommended that you get used to pumping before you return to work so that you can troubleshoot comfort and usage issues. You’ll also want to ensure that your place of work has a comfortable and private area where you can pump.

You’ll want to pump every 2-3 hours if possible, but every 4 hours will suffice if you are unable to do so.

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