You may have always taken it for granted that you wanted to breastfeed your baby – after all, not only is it the most nourishing and natural way of feeding your spawn, it’s also free.

What you may not have realized, however, is just how tough it can be and how much you need to know. From getting the perfect latch to feeding in public, knowing how much milk your baby needs to breastfeeding positions – luckily our handy guide is here to have you breastfeeding like a pro in no time.

So pull up that breastfeeding cushion, sit back and let’s get started…

Why breastfeed?

If you’re a mom and have decided to breastfeed your baby, things are about to get serious. Especially for those two things you’ve been carting around on your chest since your tricky teenage years.

While some people might feel nervous, or even embarrassed about breastfeeding their baby, know that breastfeeding really is the best thing you could be doing for your little one. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies should be exclusively fed on breast milk for the first six months of their life, and from then on as they start eating real food, breast milk should be present in their life up until at least two years of age. If you’re not able to make it to the two-year stage, any amount of breast milk your baby gets from you is always going to have a positive impact on both their health and emotional wellbeing.

Breastfeeding can protect your baby from asthma, diabetes, diarrhea and vomiting, chest infections, eczema, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), ear infections and obesity.

Simply put, breast milk is pretty phenomenal stuff. It can help protect your baby from all manner of serious ailments including; asthma, diabetes, diarrhea and vomiting, chest infections, eczema, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), ear infections and obesity. What’s more, feeding your baby has all sorts of health benefits for you too; such as reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, obesity and osteoporosis. Add to that the emotional benefits of feeding your child, and you have a pretty solid case for cracking on with the boob.

Alongside this, breastfeeding can be a great way to get back into those pre-pregnancy jeans. Clever evolution means that when women breastfeed they call upon the fat cells stored in the body to help fuel milk production. And that’s even with an additional 300 to 500 calories recommended a day to keep up your energy – better have that extra slice of cake then.

If however, you decide not to breastfeed your baby, or you struggle to the point that you’re unable to continue, it’s very important that you are given information about preparing and using feeding formula as safely as possible. Speak to your doctor as soon as you can if that’s the case.

Breastfeeding fact: scientists have discovered three different types of stem cells present in breast milk which promote muscle and cell growth.

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Breastfeeding: those early days

The first days of feeding can be toe-curlingly difficult on the breastfeeding front. While many experts advocate that breastfeeding should not hurt if you’re doing it correctly, we’re going to be straight with you – not many ladies we know have actually had this experience. While it shouldn’t be painful as such, getting used to being used as a feeding station can be pretty hard going on your body, and you may experience a certain amount of discomfort, such as cracked or sore nipples.

Before your milk comes in, normally around the two to four-day mark, these early days of breastfeeding are super important. This is because your body has created colostrum – otherwise known as liquid gold. This concentrated baby food is often a yellow golden color. Colostrum contains high levels of nutrients and antibodies. It also has a slight laxative effect that gets your baby’s system moving – hello black meconium poop. The aim is for your baby to get as much of this good stuff as you can make.

How to get the perfect latch

If you’re new to breastfeeding, then you might be slightly obsessed with finding the perfect latch technique. Some babies take to breastfeeding instinctively, others might need a bit more help. Here’s a tried and tested technique:

For a deep latch, tilt your baby’s head back with their chin elevated, then lift them to the nipple. This should be just above the baby’s upper lip. You then wait for your baby’s mouth to open wide before placing your breast on the lower jaw first. Now tip your baby’s head forward and place the upper jaw well behind your nipple.

If your baby’s struggling to latch on, or if the latch is painful, then it’s worth consulting a lactation specialist. A lactation specialist can identify issues such as a tongue tie. While most are picked up in hospital, occasionally minor tongue ties slip through the net. These can cause all sorts of bother to you both; such as reduced milk consumption, mastitis (an infection of your milk ducts) and blisters, ouch.

Breastfeeding tip: steer clear of using a pacifier with a breastfed baby, as they can interfere with breastfeeding and reduce your milk supply.

How do I know when my baby is hungry?

Before your baby starts crying for milk, there are a number of ways they’ll let you know that they’re hungry. These include:

  • Putting their hands in their mouth
  • Turning their heads
  • Licking their lips
  • Squeaking
  • Fussing
  • Rooting around as if looking for your breast (aka ‘nuzzling’)

Breastfeeding fact: chilled cabbage leaves can help with engorgement and breast pain.

Four effective breastfeeding positions

Before you get into your groove, it can be useful to try out a number of different breastfeeding positions to find one that works best for the both of you. Here are four to get you started:

  • The Cradle Hold – One of the most common breastfeeding positions. Chest to chest, the mom’s arm supports the baby at the breast, while the baby’s head is cradled near her elbow, and her arm supports the infant along the back and neck.
  • The Cross Cradle Hold – Supporting your baby’s head and neck with your hand, the cross cradle position uses the opposite arm to the cradle position. It allows you to shape your breast and guide your baby’s mouth so they can easily latch on.
  • Lying-down – This position is great if you’ve had a C-section. It’s also great at night when you can quickly draw your baby to your side without having to get up. The baby’s mouth should be in line with your nipple, and you can prop yourself or the baby’s head up with pillows if you need extra elevation.
  • The Football Hold – American football and rugby fans will have a certain advantage here. Holding the ball, sorry, baby under your arm like a quarterback, you can support your baby’s head to find your nipple, using pillows for extra support if needed.

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How much milk does my baby need?

Even though you may feel like your baby is feeding ALL the time, to start off with these little tykes’ stomachs are actually very small – the size of a marble.

When your baby’s fresh into the world, they’ll need to feed around 8-12 times a day for the first four weeks. But whenever your baby shows signs that they might be hungry, it’s a good idea to offer them the breast; as this stimulates good milk production.

Over the coming weeks, exclusively breastfed babies between one to six months will consume an average of 25oz (750ml) per day. Although some hungrier babies will take up to 30 oz (900ml) a day.

Because there are no measurements attached to your boobs, you’ll know that your baby is getting enough milk by the frequent passing of stools and wet diapers, as well as gaining weight. However, babies always lose a bit of fat in their first couple of weeks; around 10% of their original weight – so try not to worry.

How long should I be breastfeeding for?

Newborns can seem like relentless feeders, but on average most sessions should last around 20 to 45 minutes. Because they’re drowsy little things, they can often fall asleep way before they’re finished; you’ll need to be patient.

Continue to feed on the side your baby fell asleep on until you feel that breast empty. The empty breast should feel squashier and softer than the other side. Only then should you offer them the opposite breast. This is so that your baby can help you establish a good mix supply, and get both the watery hydrating foremilk at the start of the feed and the fattier hindmilk that helps them pack on the pounds at the end of the feed.

There may come a time that you find yourself captive on the sofa, prisoner to your baby’s excessive feeding demands. This is known as cluster feeding and mostly happens in the evening or during the night. Cluster feeding can occur around the time your baby is going through a growth spurt or preparing for a long stretch of sleep. Some experts think that cluster feeding is also a way for your baby to help boost your milk supply. While it can be mightily frustrating, don’t give in and think your baby needs to supplemented with formula. Simply get your partner or friends to tank you up with all the snacks, box sets and support you need – this time will pass!

Breastfeeding tip: keep a hair tie on the right or left wrist depending on which side you last fed on, to remind you which breast to use for the next feed.

What do I do if my baby won’t feed?

Sometimes babies aren’t as keen to feed as you’d expect them to be. This can be for all manner of reason, such as a traumatic birth, illness, or drugs given through labor. Sometimes, however, there’s just no rhyme or reason to it – welcome to parenthood.

If your newborn is a reluctant feeder, don’t panic. Remember that all babies are made to breastfeed. But it can just take some babies longer to tap into their instincts. Give your little one plenty of skin-to-skin time on your chest. This is so they can get used to being near their feeding source. At first, it can be helpful to hand express every couple of hours and give your baby colostrum that way. This helps to establish a regular demand and helps to bring on your milk supply.

How to increase your milk supply

A lot of the time mothers will be needlessly worrying about their milk supply. Chances are they’ll be producing enough. But if you’re positive that there is an issue, then you can follow these handy tips to help boost milk supply:

  • Check your baby’s latch, is it secure and properly positioned?
  • Empty your boobs with every feed, they should feel soft and reduce in size
  • Offer your baby both breasts
  • Feed your newborn at least eight times in 24 hours, including at least once throughout the night
  • Express to stimulate more milk production

Always remember that breastfeeding is about supply and demand. The more your baby feeds, the more you’ll create. If you’re struggling or are worrying that your baby isn’t putting on weight, then always refer to a lactation consultant or doctor for more guidance.

How to stop breastfeeding

Some moms might consider stopping breastfeeding for a number of reasons; such as going back to work, pain and soreness, low milk supply or other physical issues that make it hard to continue.

Always consult your doctor if you’d like to continue but feel unable to do so. Most issues can be sorted with the right support and guidance. If however, you decide to stop, it’s important to do it gradually. Quitting breastfeedig outright can lead to painfully engorged breasts and can even make you quite ill. Instead, gradually reduce the number of feeds you’re giving a day, which will slow down your milk supply. It will also give you the opportunity to change your mind if you decide to pick it up again.

If you’re breastfeeding, you might also want to discover these five bottle feeding tips to make breastfeeding easier.

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