In my work as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I see many parents who doubt their ability to successfully provide breast milk for their babies. If you’re new to breastfeeding or you’ve done it before but can’t remember what those early weeks were like, here are some tips to help you feel more at ease caring for your newborn. Click the button below to download and print a handy infographic featuring these tips, and read on for detailed suggestions:
1. Plan to breastfeed your newborn at least
8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period.
Newborn babies need to eat frequently. They’re used to having their nutritional needs met 24/7. Once they’re born, most healthy newborns will nurse within a couple of hours. For the first few days after delivery, your baby will receive colostrum, a thick, sticky, yellow milk that is packed full of nutrients. Frequent feedings will help increase your milk supply over the next several days and weeks.
2. Have a lactation consultant watch you nurse soon after you deliver.
If there’s an IBCLC available at the facility where you deliver, use her expertise to help you begin your breastfeeding journey. Ask questions and have her assist you with positioning. This is also a great time to have her go over the proper use of your breast pump and what you should expect over the next couple of weeks as you establish your breastfeeding relationship. Ask a partner, friend, or family member to be an extra set of eyes and ears to help make the transition home go more smoothly. Take notes or record a video (if you’re more of a visual learner) to help you remember what to do when you return home.
3. Look for early signs of hunger.
If you feed your newborn before she’s ravenous, she will latch on better and be more likely to have a productive feeding session. Watch for rooting, licking lips, bringing hands to the mouth, and moving legs in a crawling motion. These hunger cues will let you know your baby’s ready to eat. If you wait to nurse until she’s crying, latching her on will be more difficult; soothe her first to have a successful feeding session.
4. If your breasts are engorged and your baby can’t latch, try expressing some milk.
A few days after the birth of your baby, your breasts may become engorged, which may cause nipples to flatten out and breasts to become full, swollen, and tender. When this happens, some babies may struggle to latch. If you find yourself having difficulty latching your baby due to engorgement, try reverse pressure softening to relieve pressure around the nipple or hand express breast milk until your breasts soften enough that your baby can latch.
5. Gently encourage your baby
to wake up for a feeding.
Newborn babies love to curl up in a fetal position and snuggle, but this can make for a drowsy baby when it’s time to nurse. Sleepy newborns often won’t open their mouths to latch, which can make feeding sessions frustrating for new parents. To help wake your baby, remove his clothes, swaddle him, and change his diaper. If needed, place him skin-to-skin or hold him under his arms with his feet touching your belly to encourage his stepping reflex, which will help rouse him.
6. Bring your baby to your breast,
not your breast to your baby.
You just delivered a baby, so make breastfeeding as easy as possible. Hold your baby close or support her with a pillow to achieve better positioning, which will be more comfortable for you throughout the nursing session.
7. Tickle your baby’s nose with your nipple
to encourage the mouth to open wide.
Then guide your baby onto your breast
chin first to achieve a deep latch.
If your baby is in the football, cradle, or cross-cradle position, guide him onto your breast with one hand supporting his neck and back while the other hand positions your breast. If you’re nursing lying on your side or reclining, support your baby with one hand if needed and use the other hand to position your breast. You can even express a drop of breast milk to entice him. Check out this infographic for tips on how to get a good latch:
8. Listen for changes in your
baby's sucking pattern. When quick,
shallow sucks become slow, deep ones,
your milk has begun to let down.
As a new parent, it can be difficult to identify when your baby is transferring milk from your breast. While you’re producing colostrum, it’s especially difficult to differentiate between sucks and swallows. A newborn will often swallow after sucking several times. You might notice your baby pause for a breath, hear a faint swallowing sound, or see the jaw drop deeply. As your milk supply increases, your baby’s suck-to-swallow ratio will vary, perhaps going from 5 sucks to 1 swallow to a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio throughout a feed as your milk flow changes. If you’re still unsure if your baby is transferring milk adequately, contact an IBCLC who can evaluate you personally.
9. Reach out to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support group.
IBCLCs and breastfeeding support groups such as La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA, which both offer peer-to-peer breastfeeding support, can be invaluable along your breastfeeding journey. They’re there to identify and resolve feeding challenges, provide counseling and reassurance, and celebrate you and your baby in your breastfeeding successes.
10. Be patient and give yourself grace.
You and your baby are both
learning how to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding may be simple for some families and challenging for others. In most cases, challenges can be solved, and breastfeeding journeys continue for as long as desired. The most important thing is that you and your baby are cared for and healthy. Reach out for help, support, and encouragement if you need it, whether from family, friends, or a health care provider.
Every family has a unique breastfeeding journey. While these tips may not all apply to your family, I hope they’ve reassured you, boosted your confidence, empowered you to reach your breastfeeding goals, and encouraged you to reach out for further assistance if needed.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please reach out to your health care team with any questions.