Breastfeeding – Basics

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When Baby Is Born
Studies now show that if a baby placed on its mother’s tummy after birth, it will move over to mother’s breast and latch on within about 45 minutes. These babies are alert because the mothers did not have much medication during labour. These studies show that the less we interfere with babies after birth, the better.

Important: Ask the hospital staff and your doctor to make sure that, as long as all is well, the nurse helps you put your baby to your breast as soon after the birth as you are comfortable.

Even if baby doesn’t latch on, being close to your breast will give you both an idea of what it’s all about.

Babies are very wide awake for a couple of hours after birth, it’s part of the ‘getting to know you’ time.

Your Hospital Stay
Ever since time began, mothers have kept their babies with them after birth. It’s only in this century that we have kept them apart.

Have your baby in your room with you. You will get to know your baby much quicker and will soon be able to tell when a feeding is necessary. When infants feel hungry, they start making small movements, perhaps putting their hands to their mouths and turning their heads. This is a good time to pick your baby up and get ready for a feed.

Important: Don’t have too many visitors during your hospital stay or during the first days at home.

Out of Bed
Sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable to move around after you have given birth, but it helps if you can sit in a chair as soon as possible to breast-feed. Sitting in a chair helps you to sit straight without leaning backward or forward. Use pillows to support your back and the baby. Use a footstool to support your legs.

If you are going to feed in bed, either lie down or make sure your backrest is in an upright position so you are sitting straight.

Memo: Make sure your breasts are free from bras and nighties. It’s hard to learn a new skill if you don’t have easy access to your breasts.

Try the different holds shown in the pictures. Many mothers feel more comfortable with the cross-cradle hold, but remember to bring your arms back into a cradle hold once baby is latched.

Breast-Feeding Skills
Although breast-feeding is a natural process, it is also a learned skill for both a mother and her baby. You need to learn how to put your baby to your breast, how to know when the baby is feeding well, how to know when your baby is full and how to know if you are running into problems.

Putting Baby to the Breast
There are some basic ideas to follow which will help your baby to feed more easily.

  • Your baby’s face should be facing your breast (not the ceiling) and the body should be in line. If you look down, the ears, tip of the shoulder and hip bone will be in a straight line. That way, the baby’s head will not be twisted to the side. It’s hard for a baby to swallow when the neck is twisted.
  • Baby’s mouth should be across from your nipple or even slightly below.
  • You can support your baby in different ways with your arms and pillows.

When you hold your breast with your fingers out of the way, yet still supporting your breast tissue, it helps your baby to find and latch on to your breast much more easily.

It is important for your baby to latch well. An infant’s mouth has to be filled with breast tissue so that there is no space left in the mouth and your nipple is placed as far at the back of baby’s mouth as possible. When that happens your baby will be able to reach the part of your breast where the milk is, behind your areola (the brown part which surrounds your nipple).

Important: It is necessary to understand that the baby is breast-feeding – not nipple feeding.

Your nipple is out of the way of the strong little jaws and should be free from pain and damage. The tongue will be lying under your breast tissue and reach baby’s gum line. This is what is meant by breast-feeding and not nipple feeding.

Ready, Steady, Go
When you are holding your baby in a firm hold, you are in control. Baby is facing your breast with mouth just below your nipple. Now you have to have patience and wait for a big mouth – a mouth as big as a yawn. A baby will do this if hungry.
Sometimes, touching baby’s lips gently with your nipple may tease the mouth open.
When you see that big mouth, very quickly pull baby on to your breast. Do not try to push your nipple into the mouth, it will just get stuck at the front of the mouth which will be painful. The baby comes to the breast chin first, not nose first!

Important: If you feel pain it means the jaws are coming together on your nipple. If this keeps happening, your nipple will get very sore and may bleed.

It is hard for you to see what the latch looks like, but you can feel it. You should not feel pain. Your baby’s nose will be touching your breast and the lower jaw will be under your areola. Some mothers become concerned that their baby won’t be able to breath. Don’t worry – if an infant is having trouble breathing it will come off the breast on its own.

If there is any space between baby’s nose and your breast, the baby isn’t on your breast enough or its head may be tilted too far back. If the nose is buried in your breast tissue, baby is too high up. Noses make good direction signals.

If you can see any of the above or feel pain, take your baby off and try again.

When baby is latched on well with a big mouth, the lower lip will be curled down and will be well under your breast. To take baby off the breast, insert your finger in baby’s mouth to break the suction. Keep your baby close to you throughout the feed. If he is not well-supported, he may slide onto the nipple, causing pain.

Is Baby Feeding Well?
latched on, you will see little jaw movements. These are telling your
brain that it’s feeding time. As the milk lets down, you will see the
jaw rhythm change to big open and close movements. The movement can be
seen right up to the tip of the ears. As baby swallows the milk you can
hear swallowing noises. At first, it may be a small sound, like a soft
‘ka’ in the back of the throat. Later, as the milk has more volume, you
can hear swallowing much more easily.

Babies have a pattern of suckling
movements when they are feeding. They suck, swallow, suck, swallow,
suck, swallow…and pause. Then the pattern will start all over again.

This pattern continues throughout the
feed. Infants will come off the breast by themselves or fall asleep.
This is a good time to take your baby off the first breast, offer a
burp, and move to the second breast.

your baby in an upright position is often enough to encourage a burp.
Sitting baby up or putting baby onto your shoulder while supporting the
back and head works well. There is no need to pat the back hard – gentle
rubbing will do the trick. If baby doesn’t burp after a minute or two,
don’t worry. Babies can burp all on their own!

Length of Feeding
used to be told to time their babies at the breast. We now know that
babies will tell us when to change breasts. They are much smarter than a
clock. If you let your baby feed at the first breast for as long as the
feeding pattern is going well, the baby will get that high fat milk we
were talking about.

Babies may not feed for as long at the second breast. That’s fine – you can start at that breast at the next feed.

Babies are all different. Some feed
quickly, some slowly. As you learn to understand what your baby is
telling you, you will feel more confident that you both know what you
are doing.

Memo: If feeds are taking longer than an hour baby is not latched on well. When full, baby will come off your breast without help.

Frequency of Feeding
milk is easily digested and new babies have small stomachs. They may
ask to feed every 1-1/2 hours to every 3 hours during the day, perhaps
every 3 to 4 hours at night. This pattern changes as the weeks go by. As
the infant grows and as your breasts become better at what they are
doing, your baby will take more milk and last longer between feeds.

Is Baby Getting Enough?
Signs that tell you that your baby is feeding well:

  • You feel no pain when baby latches.
  • You see the big jaw movement and you hear swallowing.
  • Baby is really soaking about 6 – 8 diapers daily by the second week.
  • Baby is having lots of stools, at least one big one a day.
  • Baby appears content between feeds.
  • Baby’s clothes start to get too small.

Memo: Breast-fed babies have loose, yellow, seedy stools. This is because breast milk is easily digested and ‘used up’.

When You Should Get Help

  • If you are feeling any pain or discomfort in your breasts or nipples.
  • If your baby wants to feed all the time or within an hour of the last feed.
  • If feeds are lasting longer than an hour.
  • If you are not getting many really wet diapers or stools.
  • If baby is fussy at the breast or between feeds.
  • If you have so much milk your baby can’t cope with the amount.
  • If you aren’t enjoying the experience yet feel you’re doing everything right.

It is important that you reach out for help when you need it as you are
learning the skills of breast-feeding. Some mothers wait too long
because they are afraid of looking foolish. Most problems can be solved
with help and support. The first few weeks are a time to pull in all of
your support people.

Storage of Breast Milk
Breast milk can be stored in a refrigerator for up to eight days.
When storing milk for freezing, it will keep:

  • In a freezer compartment inside a fridge: 2 weeks.
  • In a self-contained freezer unit: 3 – 4 months.
  • In a separate deep freeze at 0F, (-17.7C): six months or longer. (ref. La Leche League International.)
  • All stored milk should be labelled and dated.


  • Hold the closed container under cool running water, slowly adding warmer water until the milk is thawed.
  • Shake the container.

Memo: Breast milk separates when left standing. This is normal. Shaking returns the milk to its usual form.

Other Fluids
Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that all babies be exclusively
breast-fed for 4 to 6 months. This means that babies need only breast
milk at this time.

Many mothers feel that they have to give
their baby juice, water and some formula as well as breast milk. This is
not true. Babies only need breast milk in order to grow well.

Extra Fluids
your baby extra fluids with formula or water between feeds will stop
the hunger feeling. Your baby needs to be hungry when coming to you to
feed, in order to help your milk supply to grow.

Even on very hot days you have plenty of water in your breast milk to meet your child’s needs.

baby suckles on the breast in a different way than on a pacifier. In
the early days, as you are both getting used to breast-feeding,
pacifiers may mix up how a baby sucks. They may also stop baby from
feeling hungry. Try to avoid giving baby a pacifier in the hospital and
when you first get home.

Growth Spurts
seem to want to feed more often at about 2 – 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months
and 6 months. If you notice your baby asking to feed more often, or
being fussy around these times, feed more often. Your milk supply will
catch up to the demand quickly.

mothers breast-feed twins. If you know you are going to have twins,
find out if there is a Twin’s Club in your area or call La Leche League.
They will put you in touch with another breast-feeding mother of twins.
She will be the real expert!

sometimes may feel as though they are being left out of the picture.
They need to know how important they are to the breast-feeding mother.
They can help their baby to have the best start possible by being
involved in other ways; sometimes a hug works wonders.

This is only a brief outline of the
information you may find useful as you build this new relationship with
your baby. If you want to learn more, there is a lot of good information
and help waiting for you. Remember, find some good support people, seek
help if you need to…and enjoy.

Recommended Reading
Breastfeeding: Getting Breastfeeding Right for You. Renfrew, Fisher, and Armes (In most book stores).
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. La Leche League, International.

Breast Feeding Support

  • Public Health nurses
  • La Leche League
  • Lactation Consultant Association
  • Community Health Centres
  • Breastfeeding Clinics

There are many videos about breast-feeding. Ask at your public health department or library. BCCE

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