It’s never too early to start thinking about how you’re going to feed your baby. But you do not have to make up your mind until your baby is born.

In the UK, more than 73% of mothers start breastfeeding. These are some of the reasons why:

  • your breast milk is perfectly designed for your baby
  • breast milk protects your baby from infections and diseases
  • breastfeeding provides health benefits for you
  • breast milk is available for your baby whenever your baby needs it
  • breastfeeding can build a strong emotional bond between you and your baby
  • Formula milk does not provide the same protection from illness and does not give you any health benefits.
  • Health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby
  • Breastfeeding has long-term benefits for your baby, lasting right into adulthood.

Any amount of breast milk has a positive effect. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.

Breastfeeding reduces your baby’s risk of:

  • infections, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
  • diarrhoea and vomiting, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • childhood leukaemia
  • obesity
  • cardiovascular disease in adulthood
  • Giving nothing but breast milk is recommended for about the first 6 months (26 weeks) of your baby’s life. After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside family foods for as long as you and your baby want will help them grow and develop healthily.
  • Breast milk adapts as your baby grows to meet your baby’s changing needs.

Health benefits of breastfeeding for you

Breastfeeding and making breast milk also has health benefits for you. The more you breastfeed, the greater the benefits.

Breastfeeding lowers your risk of:

  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • osteoporosis (weak bones)
  • cardiovascular disease
  • obesity

How to breastfeed

If breastfeeding feels a bit awkward at first, don’t worry. Breastfeeding is a skill that you and your baby learn together, and it can take time to get used to.

There are lots of different positions you can use to breastfeed. You just need to check the following points:

  • Are you comfortable? It’s worth getting comfortable before a feed. Use pillows or cushions if necessary. Your shoulders and arms should be relaxed.
  • Are your baby’s head and body in a straight line? (It’s hard for your baby to swallow if their head and neck are twisted.) 
  • Are you holding your baby close to you, facing your breast? Supporting their neck, shoulders and back should allow them to tilt their head back and swallow easily.
  • Always bring your baby to the breast rather than leaning forward to ‘post’ your breast into your baby’s mouth, as this can lead to poor attachment.
  • Your baby needs to get a big mouthful of breast. Placing your baby with their nose level with your nipple will encourage them to open their mouth wide and attach to the breast well.
  • Avoid holding the back of your baby’s head, so that they can tip their head back. This way your nipple goes past the hard roof of their mouth and ends up at the back of their mouth against the soft palate.

Breastfeeding and good attachment: how-to-guide

o     Hold your baby close to you with their nose level with the nipple.

o     Wait until your baby opens their mouth really wide with their tongue down. You can encourage them to do this by gently stroking their top lip.

o     Bring your baby on to your breast.

o     Your baby will tilt their head back and come to your breast chin first. Remember to support your baby’s neck but not hold the back of their head. They should then be able to take a large mouthful of breast. Your nipple should go towards the roof of their mouth.

Getting your baby comfortably positioned and attached is important in preventing sore nipples and allowing your baby to take your milk effectively. The first thing is to get comfortable yourself. Being skin-to-skin with your baby helps, especially at first and the emotional bonds built at this stage are an added benefit.

If your baby is not already rooting for your breast, you can touch her top lip with your nipple. Her ‘rooting’ instinct means she will lift her chin and open her mouth. This is why it doesn’t help to hold her head, she needs to be able to move her head back to get comfortably fixed.

Wait for her to open her mouth as wide as a yawn. Her mouth needs to be open wide enough to take in both your nipple and plenty of breast.

As soon as your baby’s jaw drops and her mouth is opening really wide, draw her whole body closer so that she gets a good mouthful of breast. Your nipple will enter the top of your baby’s mouth, not the middle. That way, she will be able to feed on your breast milk effectively.

It may take several attempts to get your baby attached correctly – and that means comfortably for you both. Your nipple needs to be at the back of your baby’s mouth so that it is not squashed. If you wish, support your breast gently from below, using the flat of your hand. It is important not to press or squeeze the delicate breast tissue as this could cause breastfeeding problems like bruising or a blocked milk duct.

If you are having difficulty in one position, you can try a different one.

For a visual guide on how to latch your baby onto the breast visit – https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/breastfeeding/how-to-breastfeed/breastfeeding-positions

Good breastfeeding attachment

What you should see:

  • baby tucked in as close to you as possible
  • chin against your breast, rather than tucked down, so head slightly tipped back
  • wide open mouth
  • nose not pressed into your breast
  • deep jaw movements
  • if some of the areola (the coloured part around your nipple) is showing, there will be more above the top lip than below the bottom lip.

   What you shouldn’t see:

  • cheeks sucked in
  • lips looking like sucking on a straw
  • squashed nipple at the end of the feed when your baby comes off.

What you should hear:

  • soft sounds of milk being swallowed.

What you shouldn’t hear:

  • clicking noises
  • lip smacking.

What you may feel:

  • a feeling of being ‘firmly gripped’
  • the let-down reflex – a tingling, ‘drawing’ feeling in your breasts
  • a fleeting pain at the start of the feed in the first few days or weeks. (Imagining a relaxing scene, or getting someone to massage your shoulders, may help in these situations.)

What you shouldn’t feel:

  • pain while your baby is actually feeding or persisting after the feed.
  • If you see, hear or feel anything that doesn’t seem right, you can gently insert your little finger into your baby’s mouth to break the suction and let her come off, then let her start again. It helps you both if you can stay calm and relaxed, so remember to breathe and ask a midwife or breastfeeding counsellor for help if you need to. 

Skin-to-skin contact

Having skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after the birth will help to keep them warm and calm, and steady their breathing.

Skin to skin means holding your baby naked or dressed only in a nappy against your skin, usually under your top or under a blanket.

Skin-to-skin time can be a bonding experience for you and your baby. It’s also a great time to have your first breastfeed. If you need any help, your midwife will support you with positioning and attachment.

Skin-to-skin contact is good at any time. It will help to comfort you and your baby over the first few days and weeks as you get to know each other. It also helps your baby attach to your breast using their natural crawling and latching on reflexes.

If skin-to-skin contact is delayed for some reason – for example, if your baby needs to spend some time in special care – it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to bond with or breastfeed your baby.

If necessary, your midwife will show you how to express your breast milk until your baby is ready to breastfeed. They will also help you have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as it’s possible.

Skin-to-skin after a caesarean

If your baby is born by caesarean, you should still be able to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after the birth.

Colostrum: your first milk

The fluid your breasts produce in the first few days after birth is called colostrum. It’s usually a golden yellow colour. It’s a very concentrated food, so your baby will only need about a teaspoonful at each feed.

Your baby may want to feed quite often, perhaps every hour to begin with. They’ll begin to have fewer, longer feeds once your breasts start to produce more “mature” milk after a few days.

The more you breastfeed, the more your baby’s sucking will stimulate your supply and the more milk you’ll make.

Your let-down reflex

Your baby’s sucking causes milk stored in your breasts to be squeezed down ducts towards your nipples. This is called the let-down reflex.

Some women get a tingling feeling, which can be quite strong. Others feel nothing at all.

You’ll see your baby respond when your milk lets down. Their quick sucks will change to deep rhythmic swallows as the milk begins to flow. Babies often pause after the initial quick sucks while they wait for more milk to be delivered.

If your baby seems to be falling asleep before the deep swallowing stage of feeds, they may not be properly attached to the breast. Ask your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter to check your baby’s positioning and attachment.

Sometimes you’ll notice your milk letting down in response to your baby crying or when you have a warm bath or shower. This is normal.

How often should I feed my baby?

In the first week, your baby may want to feed very often. It could be every hour in the first few days.

Feed your baby as often as they want and for as long as they want. They’ll begin to have fewer, longer feeds after a few days.

As a very rough guide, your baby should feed at least 8 times or more every 24 hours during the first few weeks.

It’s fine to feed your baby whenever they are hungry, when your breasts feel full or if you just want to have a cuddle. It’s not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby.

When your baby is hungry they may:

  • get restless
  • suck their fist or fingers
  • make murmuring sounds
  • turn their head and open their mouth (rooting)
  • It’s best to try and feed your baby during these early feeding cues as a crying baby is difficult to feed.

Building up your milk supply

Around 2 to 4 days after birth you may notice that your breasts become fuller and warmer. This is often referred to as your milk “coming in”.

Your milk will vary according to your baby’s needs. Each time your baby feeds, your body knows to make more milk for the next feed. The amount of milk you make will increase or decrease depending on how often your baby feeds.

In the early weeks, “topping up” with formula milk or giving your baby a dummy can lower your milk supply.

Feed your baby as often as they want and for as long as they want. This is called responsive feeding. In other words, responding to your baby’s needs. It’s also known as on-demand or baby-led feeding.

In the beginning, it can feel like you’re doing nothing but feeding. But gradually you and your baby will get into a pattern, and the amount of milk you produce will settle down.

It’s important to breastfeed at night because this is when you produce more hormones (prolactin) to build up your milk supply.

How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk

  • Your baby will appear content and satisfied after most feeds.
  • They should be healthy and gaining weight (although it’s normal for babies to lose a little weight in the first days after birth). Talk to your midwife or health visitor if you are concerned your baby is not gaining weight and is unsettled during or after breast feeds.
  • After the first few days, your baby should have at least six wet nappies a day.
  • After the first few days, they should also pass at least two soft yellow poos the size of a £2 coin every day.