Although breastfeeding is natural, it is also a learned skill.
Like with learning all new skills, breastfeeding can take some practice to feel confident about it.
Over time, you learn to trust yourself and things start to fall into place.
Knowing certain things before the first breastfeed can help get breastfeeding going well sooner and help you feel more confident during the challenging early weeks.
Here are 12 things you need to know before the first breastfeed:
#1: Good Attachment Helps Prevent Nipple Pain And Damage
Getting a good attachment to the breast can help prevent nipple pain and damage. You can tell if your baby is attached well if:
- His chin is in touching your breast
- His nose is free or just touching your breast
- His lips are flanged out (not sucked in), particularly his lower lip
- More of the chin side of the jaw is covering your areola as compared to his top law
When bringing your baby to your breast, hold him in close, with his chest touching yours. Ensure you being him to your breast and not your breast to him.
When his head tips back and his mouth opens wide, your nipple should be pointing towards the roof of his mouth. You can encourage him to open his mouth wide by brushing your nipple over his top lip. When his mouth is wide open, hug him swiftly onto your breast. It can take a few goes to get the timing right.
Also read our article: how to breastfeed – 5 key steps for new mothers.
#2: Many Mothers Feel Nipple Pain That Ceases After Initial Attachment
It’s common to feel nipple pain that goes away after the initial attachment.
If you feel pain beyond this, insert a clean finger into the side of your baby’s mouth and press down firmly on his gum to break the suction. Take him off and start again.
If you continue to feel pain after the initial attachment or if you notice nipple damage, seek help from a lactation consultant.
#3: Your Let-Down Reflex Makes Your Milk Available To Your Baby
Around the time your milk comes in (day 3 or so), you may be able to feel your let-down reflex.
The let-down reflex is where the hormone oxytocin is released from your brain and makes the muscles around your glandular (milk-making) tissue contact, pushing milk into the milk ducts and out your nipple and hence made available to your baby.
You may feel your let-down reflex a tingling/prickling/slight pain/sudden fullness in your breast.
You may not feel any of those things but you may notice milk leaking from the other breast when the let-down occurs (as the let-down reflex occurs simultaneously on both breasts). Or, you may notice your baby’s sucking changes from a quick shallow suck at the start of the feed to a deeper rhythmical suck with swallows when the let-down occurs.
#4: Colostrum Is All Healthy Term Babies Need In The Early Days
It is normal for newborns to only need the small volume feeds of colostrum in the early days.
There are few medical reasons when formula supplementation is necessary.
A newborn’s tummy is tiny, about the size of a marble. Nature designed things beautifully because as the amount of milk you make increases, the size of your baby’s tummy increases too.
Colostrum is a concentrated source of anti-infective factors, protein and minerals. It provides excellent protection for your baby from infection and helps your baby to pass meconium (his first poo).
Exclusive breastfeeding (nothing else other than breastmilk, not even water) helps to colonise your baby’s gut with healthy bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria may have important long-term health benefits.
#5: Your Baby’s Poos Lightening In Colour In The Early Days Is A Good Sign
If your baby’s poos are lightening in colour during the early days, this is a good sign that he is getting enough milk.
The first poo a baby does is black and sticky (meconium). By day two, your baby’s poo should be softer but still dark in colour. By day three, he should be doing poo that is lighter in colour (e.g. green). By around day five, his poo should be a mustard-yellow colour (or very light green or orange). As the colour of the poo gets lighter, they become runnier in consistency and large in amount.
#6: Skin-to-skin Contact Helps Get Breastfeeding Off To A Great Start
Skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby straight after birth, whenever possible, helps get breastfeeding off to the best start possible. This is because skin-to-skin contact helps your baby’s natural instincts to find your breast on his own kick in. This is called baby-led attachment (see below).
Skin-to-skin contact also helps to help regulate your baby’s heart rate, blood sugar levels and temperature and helps you to learn your baby’s feeding cues.
So, whenever you are awake, particularly during the early weeks, enjoy skin-to-skin with your baby as often as you can and reap the benefits.
#7: Baby-Led Attachment Is A Baby’s Most Natural Introduction To Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is instinctive for your baby. He is born knowing how to instinctively find your breasts on his own accord.
To do baby-led attachment, many mothers find a semi-reclined position helpful. Place your baby on your chest, with his head just above your breasts. When he is ready to feed, he will squirm his way down to one of your breasts, nuzzle around before latching on and begin suckling.
Let your baby lead the way, but assist where necessary (e.g. to keep his body aligned, support him behind his neck and shoulder blades and keep him in close to you).
If your baby is always put to your breast, he doesn’t learn as much as compared to when he finds your breasts on his own accord by following through on his instincts. If your baby has many opportunities, particularly in the early weeks, to do baby-led attachment, he will become more orientated to your breasts. He will more quickly become an expert at breastfeeding.
In these ways, baby-led attachment can help reduce the incidence of sore nipples and reduce the likelihood of your baby simply not latching on at all.
#8: Your Baby’s Feeding Cues Mean He Wants To Feed
Feeding according to need (or demand feeding) means feeding your baby when he shows signs of wanting to. Your baby wants to feed when he is showing feeding cues.
Early feeding cues include when your baby:
- Turns his head from side to side with his mouth open
- Sticks his tongue in and out
- Brings his hands close to his mouth
- Wriggles around
- Makes squeaky sorts of noises
Unlike scheduled feeds, feeding your baby when he is showing these early feeding cues can help him to feed better and hence get what he needs.
#9: Burp Baby When Swapping Breasts And After Feeds
Interestingly, in some cultures, burping a baby is not heard of.
When a baby breastfeeds, he takes in less air than if he bottle-feeds. This is because he typically forms a good seal when breastfeeding and so little, if any, air is swallowed.
Nonetheless, a short break of up to a couple of minutes between breasts and after a feed, with your baby upright over your shoulder, can help him burp if he needs to.
Spending lots of time trying to ‘get a burp up’ can be stressful and your baby may not even need to burp.
As your baby gets older and more mobile, you will no longer need to burp him – he’ll be able to himself if he needs to.
#10: Early Weight Loss Is Normal
It is normal for babies to lose weight in the early days after birth.
Babies have inbuilt ways to maintain their water, glucose and energy levels until large volumes of milk are available. There’s generally no need to worry about early weight loss. One your milk has come in and the volume of milk your baby drinks increases, he will keep gaining weight.
For more information on early newborn weight loss read here.
#11: Know How To Tell If Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk
It is important to rely on the reliable signs (and not unreliable signs) to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
To read about what the reliable signs are, see BellyBelly’s article 3 Reliable Signs That Your Baby Is Getting Enough.
To read about what the unreliable signs are, see BellyBelly’s article 5 Unreliable Signs That Your Baby Is Getting Enough.
#12: Don’t Delay Getting Help If You Need It
Most breastfeeding problems can be sorted out with timely support and information. It is important to not ask to right questions from the ‘wrong’ people however.
If you need any help or have any questions about breastfeeding, it is important to know who to contact.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a great resource for information and support. You can speak with one of their trained breastfeeding counsellors by calling the National Breastfeeding Helpline.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants are ‘the’ experts in breastfeeding and have received intensive breastfeeding training. You can find a lactation consultant here.