Breastfeeding Primer

You’ve weighed your options, and you’ve decided you want to breastfeed your baby. However, for some new moms, breastfeeding doesn’t come as naturally as they thought it would. Just hang in there -- it just takes a little time and patience.

The first days
Your breast milk will likely come in a few days after your baby is born. Colostrum (a yellowish substance full of protein and disease-fighting antibodies) arrives first, so keep nursing even if you think nothing’s coming out. Colostrum is meant to be your baby’s first food and is important for newborn health.

Don’t be shy about asking for help! Most hospitals have a breastfeeding class that you can take before you give birth; they’ll also have lactation experts on staff for one-on-one help. Get some guidance to learn how to help your baby latch onto the breast, and be able to tell whether she is nursing properly.

Establishing a good milk supply
Rest, proper nutrition and plenty of fluids are all essential components for a good milk supply. Your milk changes its taste based on the food you consume, so you may notice your baby reacting to what you’ve eaten. Most newborns adjust well to the flavors of their mom’s milk, so try not to worry that the spicy stir-fry you had for dinner is affecting your child. Remember, moms all over the world eat all kinds of foods and successfully nurse at the same time! A good milk supply is built by nursing regularly, or about every two to three hours for infants. The more you nurse, the more milk you’ll make.

Years ago, it was believed that pacifier use would interfere with how much your baby takes from the breast. Thankfully, this thinking has been debunked. It’s fine to introduce a pacifier once you’ve gotten into a good breastfeeding routine, usually after three to four weeks. Pacifier use may also reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is another great reason to introduce it.

Using a bottle
Even the most dedicated breastfeeding mothers may want to supplement with a bottle. But it’s best not to start this until nursing is well established, usually when your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old. Some babies will balk at the bottle if it’s given by mom, even if it contains beloved breast milk. Newborns are smart -- in many cases they can smell their moms and prefer to feed at the breast. Your best bet here is let Dad, a babysitter, or other family member offer the first few bottles until your baby learns to accept the milk this way.

Feeding times
When your baby is a newborn, feed her whenever she is crying -- on demand. She won’t eat much at any one feeding since her stomach is so small. Most newborns nurse often, usually 10 to 12 feedings in a 24-hour period.

Watch for these hunger signs:

  • The rooting reflex -- she’ll open her eyes and turn her head toward the place where your breast might be
  • Nuzzling at your breast
  • Making sucking motions or putting her hands to her mouth
  • Crying

How much breast milk is enough?
You can’t see the milk going into your baby’s mouth (though it may drip a little around her lips), but you can tell she’s getting it by the swallowing sounds she makes. You’ll also know she’s eating enough by counting her diapers. She should be wetting several each day, even 8 to 12, with pale yellow urine and about 4 to 5 with soft yellow bowel movements. She’ll also appear satisfied after each feeding and may doze off. Babies who are properly nursing will gain four to seven ounces a week. (You can bring your baby to the doctor for a weigh-in if you have concerns.)

When there isn’t enough milk
It’s hard work keeping up with the feeding demands of a newborn! You may feel like you’re nursing around the clock but your baby is still hungry. Try not to be alarmed. Babies go through growth spurts, nursing more on some days than others. Your body will learn to adapt and catch up. Still, there are a few things you can do to help. Drink more fluids (keep a glass of water where you sit to nurse to remind yourself) and try to sleep when the baby sleeps. (This is easier said than done!) Slowing down your activities and errands will give your body the rest it needs and can help boost milk production.

Milk on the go
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to stop if you go back to work. Many companies today understand the needs of new moms and offer spaces for pumping breast milk. If your employer doesn’t have a private, clean and relaxing place for you to pump, talk with your human resources representative.