Why is breastfeeding important?
Breastmilk is the normal food for babies, designed by nature for human infants:
- It is a complete food containing all your baby's nutritional needs for the first 6 months of life.
- It satisfies both hunger and thirst; extra water is not needed.
- It increases a baby's resistance to infection and disease.
Breastfeeding is important for mothers too.
- It's convenient, cheap and always there when you need it.
- It's always fresh, clean and safe.
- It quickly soothes a fussy, unhappy baby.
- It helps your uterus return to its normal size after childbirth.
- It gives you a chance to sit down during the day and rest.
- Mothers who don't breastfeed have increased risks of cancer of the breast and ovaries.
- Breastfeeding helps create a close and loving bond between you and your baby and can be a deeply satisfying experience for you both.
How soon after birth can I start to breastfeed?
Most babies have a strong need to suck when they are first born, so if you are both well you can start straight away. The first milk in your breasts is called colostrum.
How do I put my baby to the breast?
Your baby is hard-wired to find her way to your breast. If you hold your baby skin-to-skin on your chest, between your breasts, and wait a little while, you are likely to find that she attaches to feed all by herself. More information on baby-led attachment can be found here.
If you prefer to help your baby to attach, hold your baby close to you, chest to chest and chin to breast with your nipple opposite baby's mouth. Gently touch baby's lips with your nipple to encourage your baby's mouth to open wide. Make sure that your nipple and as much as possible of your areola (the darker area around your nipple) is in baby's mouth.
No matter what technique you use, when baby is positioned correctly for breastfeeding, it should not hurt you. Initial tenderness is normal. If you feel any nipple pain, seek help. For example by calling an ABA breastfeeding counsellor or seeing a lactation consultant.
How often should I breastfeed?
Your breasts make milk in response to your baby's sucking. The more milk the baby takes, the more milk you make.
You are more likely to establish a good supply of milk if you:
- Breastfeed frequently, whenever your baby fusses or seems hungry.
- Let baby finish the first breast. You will know this because the baby will stop sucking and swallowing and will let go of the breast. Then offer the second breast.
- Breastfeed your baby at night. This also helps prevent your breasts becoming too full and uncomfortable.
- Many young babies feed between 8-12 times in 24 hours.
- Avoid giving complementary bottles ('comps') unless medically necessary, as these will reduce your baby's needs to suck at the breast and so reduce your supply.
How can I help my baby to get the milk?
Your milk will flow more easily if you are relaxed and comfortable at feed times. This is not always easy in those early days when everything is new and strange and you and your baby are still getting to know each other.
The following hints may help:
- Cuddle your baby close to you, skin-to-skin, before offering the breast
- If your baby is too sleepy to feed and you are taking medications, ask your doctor if they could be affecting your baby
- Talk to your doctor if pain from stitches is making you tense
- Draw the curtains if you feel you would like privacy in hospital
- Breathing slowly and deeply may help you relax
- Gently massaging your breasts and rolling your nipples between your thumb and forefinger before putting baby to the breast may start your milk flowing.
Remember, a baby's tummy is tiny so he will need to breastfeed little and often.
How do I know my baby is getting enough?
You know your baby is getting enough breastmilk if she:
- Is breastfeeding well and frequently
- Has plenty of pale, wet nappies (at least 5 disposable or 6 cloth nappies in 24 hours)
- Has 3 or more soft bowel motions a day (babies older than around 6 weeks may have less than this)
- Is gaining weight and has some periods in which she seems reasonably alert, active and happy.
How can I increase my milk supply?
If you feel your supply is low:
- Breastfeed your baby more often
- Take things easy for a few days
- Relax and hold your baby skin-to-skin to encourage him to feed more often.
Also see the Low suppy article on this website.
The more milk your baby takes from your breasts, the more milk you will make. It will take a week or longer of more frequent feeds to see a real increase in milk supply.
Do I have to eat or drink particular foods?
There are no magic foods that will increase the milk supply. A sensible balanced diet is the key. You also do not need to avoid any particular foods. The most recent research suggests that excluding allergenic foods from a mother's diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding does not help prevent babies from developing allergies. Also see the Diet and weight loss while breastfeeding article on this website.
What about night feeds?
New babies wake at night from hunger and need to be breastfed. This also helps your milk supply. Some babies sleep through the night quite early while others take much longer to do so. Breastfeeding is a quick and easy way to soothe and settle your baby.
Can I breastfeed and return to the paid workforce?
More and more women are able to combine breastfeeding and working in the paid work force. There are lots of helpful articles on this topic available here. You may also like to read ABA's booklet, Breastfeeding: women and work, which is available for purchase from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Where do I get more breastfeeding help and information?
- Do not let worries or problems build up.
- In hospital, talk over your concerns with the staff and your medical adviser.
- Read ABA literature such as the ABA booklet, Breastfeeding: an introduction or the book Breastfeeding ... naturally, both available for purchase from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
- When you join the Australian Breastfeeding Association, you will receive a copy of ABA's book, Breastfeeding ... naturally, as part of your membership package.
- At home, contact your child health nurse, medical adviser or an ABA breastfeeding counsellor.
- Telephone counselling is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on the national ABA Breastfeeding Helpline. Call 1800 686 268, (1800 mum 2 mum). ABA members can also email an ABA breastfeeding counsellor for information, support and reassurance.
Breastfeeding: an introduction booklet
Breastfeeding: an Introduction provides a basic outline of the key aspects of breastfeeding.
The information on this website does not replace the advice of your health care provider.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association, February 2014