Congratulations on your new baby! Whether you’re still waiting for your new arrival, or you’ve already met your little one, I know these beginner breastfeeding tips will be helpful!
Breastfeeding your newborn has so many benefits! According to both the CDC and the WHO, breastfeeding improves the long-term health of both babies and mothers.
When young, breastfed babies have a lower risk of SIDS, ear infections, and stomach bugs. When they grow up, they have lower risk of asthma, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.
In addition, breastfeeding moms have lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancers, as well as better cardiovascular health. Breastfeeding is a win-win for mom and baby!
And the thing is, despite what you’ve been told, there are very few women who are physiologically unable to breastfeed. I don’t say that to judge anyone who chooses not to breastfeed or are one of those few who can’t. I’m just encouraging you that it is highly unlikely that you can’t breastfeed!
The actual biggest obstacles to breastfeeding for many moms? Misinformation (or no information), lack of support, and fear.
Worry that you can’t do it.
That you won’t produce enough milk.
That breastfeeding will hurt too much.
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My dear friend, Alison Todd of Down Home Health, is an experienced mother (and breastfeeder!) with three little boys of her own. While we both have extensive breastfeeding knowledge, we’ve had different paths (particularly with each firstborn child). Alison has joined forces with me for this post to teach you the best newborn breastfeeding tips out there.
Get all the (accurate) breastfeeding knowledge you can
Alison says, “Being armed with knowledge was helpful to me. I read a ton, including The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – my fave print resource, and Kellymom which is my fave web resource.”
But at the same time, you have to be careful. There are LOTS of opinions on breastfeeding out there, but not all of them are accurate! Avoid anything that’s fear-mongering or focused only on negative breastfeeding experiences. Those stories aren’t going to help you.
If you want a quick, FREE resource that gives you great information on newborn breastfeeding, sign up for Breastfeeding 101! This seven-page guide includes a first-week diaper tracker, the best ways to know your baby is eating enough (and that your milk supply is solid), links to the best in-depth breastfeeding resources, and more!
Find your breastfeeding support team
To be successful at breastfeeding, you’ll do yourself a favor to meet people who are also excited about nursing. If you have some friends or family who are/were avid breastfeeders, start with them! They might have a lot of the information and support you need.
Get the support you need from family
And if your family and friends aren’t interested in or educated on breastfeeding, make sure you communicate with them. That doesn’t mean to beat them over the head with breastfeeding propaganda, but you want to make sure they’re going to support you.
For example, when I was pregnant with my first child, a formula company sent me a free sample can (which I feel like is a really sketchy practice designed to undermine breastfeeding efforts and sell formula where it’s not needed, but I digress). I decided to just get rid of it, because I was committed to breastfeeding. A family member who was visiting at the time asked, “Shouldn’t you hang onto that, just in case?” I simply responded that I didn’t want to have an easy way out on a difficult day.
As Alison said, “I made sure the people around me knew how important it was for me to be successful.” This fact was really helpful to her when she was struggling during her first several weeks of nursing.
Alison’s husband knew how badly she wanted to breastfeed successfully, so instead of just telling her to give up and switch to formula, he continued to encourage her! To this day, she’s still grateful and largely credits his support as part of her success.
Pick the right healthcare team for breastfeeding
Alison brings up another great point about your healthcare team. “I also talked with my midwife and asked about views on nursing when interviewing pediatricians. What I wish I had done before my first baby arrived was to find an IBCLC or two outside of the hospital. The one at the hospital I delivered at wasn’t very good, and I was overwhelmed once he was here and I was struggling with supply.” (aside from Samantha: I personally know the lactation consultant at my own hospital and she is EXCELLENT, so this experience won’t be the same for everyone!)
Bottom line: talk to your pediatrician and let them know your intentions. If they don’t support breastfeeding (or give you outdated advice), pass and find someone else.
Check out your local La Leche League
Another fantastic resource: La Leche League. This international group holds monthly meetings all over the world. The leaders are well-vetted and trained (many are certified lactation consultants!) and passionate about their work. Check out their group locator to find your local meeting!
Learn how supply and demand affect breastfeeding
It’s important to know that breastfeeding is supply and demand – if you allow your baby to nurse on demand with lots of skin-to-skin, that will help build and regulate your supply better than anything else.
This is the most important principle of breastfeeding, so get familiar with it (Check out this review of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class, the best online breastfeeding course out there) and use it to your advantage!
RELATED: What to expect with a new baby – 8 tips
For example, don’t worry if your baby starts eating constantly for a few days. There’s nothing wrong with you or your supply – your baby is having a growth spurt! Most likely, he will become really sleepy in a day or two and then start doing something brand new or hit a new milestone!
RELATED: How to know your breastfed baby is eating enough
Here’s a few more tips from Alison on how to keep your breastmilk supply up.
Don’t use a pacifier (or dummy in the UK) for your breastfed newborn. Pacifiers were made to imitate breasts, and not the other way around.
Plus, pacifiers cause babies to nurse less often and may affect supply. Allowing your baby to be pacified at the breast instead of using an imitator (at least until your supply is established) isn’t a bad thing.
Don’t rely on bottles at night
Anytime baby eats, if it’s not from your breast, you should also be creating demand by hand expressing or pumping. This is why the “pump a bottle so you can sleep longer and hubs can feed baby” advice is so dangerous!
In the first few weeks, you need to let the baby be at the breast as often as he or she desires to teach your body how much milk your baby needs. Your baby is better and more efficient at getting milk than your pump is, so let her nurse instead of you pumping extra.
RELATED: Bed sharing with baby: How to do so safely
Don’t stress about a “breastfeeding diet”
There’s so much out there about “the best foods for breastfeeding” or “foods to avoid while breastfeeding.” Herbal supplements, tons of oatmeal, there’s all sorts of foods that people insist you have to eat if you’re going to nurse. Some people even insist you should buy a special supply-boosting supplement!
But here’s the secret: You do not need to eat a special breastfeeding diet for breastfeeding success. In fact, relying on galactagogues (the fancy word for foods and supplements that supposedly increase your milk supply) keeps your focus away from supply and demand, the thing you should be thinking about.
Honestly, this is one of the things that really grinds my gears. I hate that people are getting bad information on breastfeeding when the answer is so simple: Supply and demand.
Maybe avoid gassy (I couldn’t eat beans for a year with my oldest daughter) and spicy foods just the first few months. But generally, the more varied your diet, the better for your child (and the less picky he’ll be when he’s older!).
Honestly, if you feel like a food you eat affects your baby, use your judgement, but otherwise everything should be fine!
Give yourself grace
Just because breastfeeding is natural doesn’t mean it comes without a learning curve. I remember the first day or two with my oldest, I couldn’t figure out how to hold her head so she could nurse! I was holding my boob, my husband was holding her head, and it was just really awkward. But I figured it out after a few days.
In addition, my firstborn had a few days of difficulty latching simply due to sleepiness. Fortunately, I knew that was a possibility with me having had an epidural (which is only one of many reasons that I totally recommend an unmedicated birth now!), so I stuck it out and kept trying until we both got the hang of it.
Be ready for some tenderness (but NOT excruciating pain!)
You may have heard that breastfeeding should NOT hurt. That’s sort of true, but there’s some caveats.
A few days after your baby is born, your breasts will become much fuller (your milk will come in). They may become sore and engorged. Fortunately, this only lasts a few days, but I have a whole post about how to deal with engorgement!
RELATED: Engorgement relief for the first week breastfeeding
Of course your nipples are (probably) not used to being stimulated for 30 minutes at a time when your baby first arrives! They might feel a little irritated, similar to how your foot feels when breaking in new shoes. It should get better within a few weeks.
Good news: you can get relief for raw nipples! Alison says, “I LOVE gel soothies for tender nipples – the Ameda or Lanisoh brands are best. I would suggest taking some to the hospital (just in case, but some hospitals have them) and having some at home too.
What you should not feel, though, is pain that you absolutely can’t stand. If your nipples crack or bleed, or if they come out creased after your baby nurses, get your baby’s latch checked by a certified lactation consultant. Note: Pediatricians and OB/gyns are unfortunately not the best place to go for this kind of help. They usually have little training on the mechanics of breastfeeding.
RELATED: Natural birth or epidural: Which should you choose?
As much preparation as she did, even Alison had a difficult start to breastfeeding her newborn. She says, “I had a really hard go of breastfeeding with my first. He had a tongue-tie, and it took about 6 weeks for my supply to get to where I could nurse him without supplementing. I kept learning and had a much smoother time with my second and third children.”
She continues, “In an ideal situation, you would sit around, breasts uncovered, nursing baby as needed, sleeping as much as you could, and staying hydrated and well fed for at least two weeks to let your body heal, you and baby learn to nurse, and your supply to start to regulate. The closer you can get to that, the better. Don’t let politeness or visitors prevent you from nursing. Don’t let yourself be consumed with ‘getting back to normal,’ and instead, focus on learning your new normal. Allow yourself grace and rest!”
So like all the advice you’ve likely heard before about the postpartum time: Your body needs to heal. You need time to bond with your baby and establish breastfeeding. Don’t worry about laundry and all that stuff, it’ll come. Accept what help comes your way, and ask for help where you can.
RELATED: How to take care of yourself postpartum: 8 tips
Start thinking about a breast pump, but don’t use it yet
Like mentioned above, you shouldn’t start pumping milk until 4-6 weeks after baby is born. You will establish your supply better if you wait a month or two before pumping and instead let your baby regulate your milk supply.
If you’re going back to work though, it’s a good idea to go ahead and choose a breast pump. The awesome thing is that pumps are now often covered by insurance!
If you’ll be working and pumping, you’ll need an electric double pump. The Medela On the Go Tote is a great choice with its own case and portable battery (Want to get a FREE Medela breastpump? Apply to qualify through insurance with Aeroflow Breastpumps now! You’ll just need your insurance card).
With her third child (now 9 months old), Alison uses the Spectra S2 pump with Freemie cups. She says that after three children and three pumps, she’s never had better pumping output than with the Spectra S2. Plus, the Freemie cups allow you to pump without needing a hands-free bra!
If you’re staying at home, it’s still a good idea to have a breast pump, but a simpler one will work fine. Try something like this manual breast pump. It’s cheaper and easier to carry with you if you go out of town.
Newborn breastfeeding tips: wrapping things up
Congratulations on the beginning of your breastfeeding journey! I hope these breastfeeding tips for beginners have been useful to you. I wish for you a beautiful breastfeeding relationship with your newborn baby.
Any questions or thoughts that we’ve missed? Make sure to let us know in the comments and we’ll get back to you!