Breastfeeding Basics

I truly believe that breastfeeding can make a difference in a baby’s and a mother’s life in so many aspects. Because breastfeeding is not only about milk. I wish all the moms knew that and I wish all the moms were more informed and supported when they chose whether or not to breastfeed their babies.

I often get asked “how can I get prepared for breastfeeding?”. Find the right information and know who can support you. It can be anyone who has successfully breastfed her baby. Your mom, your grandmother, your aunt, a good friend or a professional. Do your research before you give birth.

You don’t need to buy anything in order to successfully breastfeed your baby. I am sharing below the basics in order to have a good start with breastfeeding:

It is important to put the baby on your breast within the first hour after birth. Your first milk is called colostrum, also known as liquid gold as it offers to your baby protection from all the bacteria he’s exposed to after coming out into the world. You might notice that at the beginning your milk is not much, it’s thicker and somehow yellow. This is normal.

  • Good positioning and latching. Start by sitting comfortably and then you put your baby on the breast. One of the first things my midwife told me when I had my first baby was “you bring your baby to the breast, not the other way around.” 
  • Breastfeeding should not hurt! If it is, probably the positioning or the latching has to be checked and readjusted. Many hospitals are breastfeeding friendly and will show how to put your baby on the breast. It is ok if you have no idea how to hold the baby. Ask the nurses or the lactation consultant of the hospital to show you. Again and again if necessary, that’s part of their job! If one breastfeeding position does not feel comfortable for you, try a different one. Once you are at home with your baby, you can experiment with different positions and find which works best.
  • Feeding on demand (frequency of feeding): breastmilk is a light meal and as such it is very easily digestible. It is also the only food your baby is eating, and your baby has a lot of work to do in order to grow up! We often hear that you should feed your baby every 2-3 hours but that is not true, especially with exclusively breastfed babies. Mostly because babies cover more needs than just hunger by being on the breast. They are born with the need and the ability to suck and they use the breast for milk and to satisfy their hunger but also for comfort, when they are in pain, when they are overwhelmed and they need a safe place, when they are cold, when they want to feel you close and for whatever other reason. It is very important that until breastfeeding is established (that is usually on an average after the first 6 – 8 weeks) the baby drinks whenever he needs. Clocks and schedules are not your allies at this phase.
  • Cluster feeding: now that we covered the feeding on demand, we can go one step further and talk about cluster feeding, which is not unusual for newborn babies. Usually, during the first weeks, the mothers are told that they should feed their babies 8-12 times per 24 hours. What best describes cluster feeding, is that the mom cannot really tell when a feeding ends and when the next one starts. When your baby is cluster feeding, you cannot really count or tell how many times you fed your baby in one day. As one mother I worked with, described it “at the beginning, it was like I was breastfeeding my baby once per day. Only that this one time was lasting almost 20 hours”. As long as your baby is gaining weight and generally looks to be doing well, has wet and dirty diapers, there is nothing wrong with cluster feeding. The important here though is that if you are a mother of a cluster feeder, in order for you to be able to respond to your baby’s needs, you need support with everything else: nutritious meals and snacks, groceries, cleaning, even someone to refill your bottle of water, to make you a tea, to bring you a healthy snack or to just simply sit next to you and keep you company.
  • Overcoming the challenges: Whom should you contact for support: do you have any friend or close relative who has experience breastfeeding their babies? Those are the first people you can contact. Then, for more professional help, there are the Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) who might also do home visits. And then, there are volunteer lactation consultants like La Leche League who will provide information and support for free. Plenty of online information of course, but this option has always the risk of overwhelming you or confuse you with the contradictory information, especially if you are a first-time mom with a newborn. As I always say, it might be wiser to be informed before your baby comes!

Breastfeeding does take some effort, persistence and consistency. Having the appropriate support before things escalate will make your life easier. Don’t wait for things to get really bad in order to ask for help and don’t forget to take daily small breaks and to breathe!

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