How to breastfeed your baby

Struggling to get to grips with feeding your baby, or just want to prepare yourself? Our guide from midwife and author Dr Mary Steen can help

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  • Your little one is here and you’re on cloud nine. But suddenly, this new arrival needs feeding, which can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re a first-time mum.

    For lots of reasons, breast milk is the best choice for your baby. The composition of the clever substance you produce changes constantly to provide the best nutritional needs for your baby’s growth, and research has suggested there’s a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome if your baby is breastfed.

    It’s great for your little one, and super convenient for you to do too, but breastfeeding can be a bit of an art. So how do you get going? With guidance and perseverance it should get easier. Follow our simple steps to find out how it’s done....

  • 1) Get stroking

    Gently stroke your baby’s cheek or the corner of her mouth when you bring her towards your breast ready to feed. This encourages her rooting reflex which helps her to open her mouth to find your nipple and the milk.

  • 2) Latch on

    When your baby opens up her mouth, bring her forward to your breast. Her tongue should be down and forward towards your breast, and you need to try and aim your nipple to the roof of her mouth. All of your nipple and some of your breast should be in her mouth for feeding.

  • 3) Go tum-to-tum

    Your baby is correctly positioned to feed when her tummy’s lying against yours. Her lower lip will be rolled out and her chin will be against your breast. In this position, her nose should be completely free of your breast so she can breathe without any problems as she takes in milk.

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  • 4) Listen up

    When your baby’s properly latched on to your breast, you should be able to hear a low-pitched swallowing noise from her. It shouldn’t be a loud sucking or smacking noise, and if you look down, you should be able to see your baby’s jaw moving gently as she feeds. It may take a little time to recognise, but these are the signs of successful feeding.

  • How to soothe sore nipples

    It’s completely normal for your breasts to feel sore and tender for the first few days of feeding. If you do have problems, use these tried-and-tested methods to get you back on track:

    • Start feeds on the least sore breast and move your baby over to the other breast once she’s feeding strongly.
    • Don’t pull your baby off your breast If she falls asleep while feeding, or you want to change breasts, carefully pop your little finger into her mouth so you can ease her off comfortably.
    • Between feeds, keep your bra and top off for short periods during the day while you’re at home to let the air get to your nipples.
    • Ease engorged breasts by massaging them with your hands with a movement towards your nipple to express a little bit of milk between feeds.
    • If your breasts are hot and inflamed or you’re suffering from mastitis, put cold cabbage leaves in your bra to reduce it – you might feel silly, but it works a treat.
    • Try to relax and sit comfortably while you feed. It sounds simple but it will help your milk come out easily
  • 3 popular feeding positions

    1) Cradle hold

    This is a favourite with many mums because it’s easy for your baby to latch on to your nipple. If your arms get achy, prop your baby up on a cushion to make it easier for her to get on to your breast.

  • 2) Lying down

    You can feed your baby lying down. This can be useful if your tummy is feeling sore from the birth, or if you had a c-section. Make sure your baby’s tummy is pressed up against yours and that she has all of your nipple in her mouth to feed.

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  • 3) Feeding twins

    Worried about feeding two hungry babies at once? Try the rugby hold which keeps them both well supported and allows you to see what both are doing. Rest both babies on a pillow on your lap lying either side of your body so they can latch on easily.

  • Mums’ stories

    “I found breastfeeding a little bit of a struggle at first, so I aimed to do it for six weeks. This seemed much more achievable to me than six months, or a year, especially as I was flagging a bit. By the time six weeks arrived I barely noticed as it had become second nature and now I plan to feed until six months, maybe longer.”

    Rachel Malcolm, 32, from London, mum to Maya, 2 months

    “When Eric was born he had trouble latching on and developed thrush in the first few weeks. I spoke to a friend from ante-natal classes who was also having a few issues, and contacted an NCT breastfeeding counsellor who was really supportive. I’m really glad I persevered and was honest about struggling as I love seeing him looking up into my eyes and sucking away happily.”

    Felicity Richards, 25, from Bristol, mum to Eric, 7 months

    “It sounds daft because the milk’s ‘ready-prepared’, but it helps to have areas in the house, like in the bedroom and lounge, set up so you can feed comfortably whenever you need to. I keep muslin clothes, dried snacks, books and the remote control in one place in each room so I’m all set up and ready to go whenever Samuel is.”

    Sarah Farquhar, 32, from Burbage, mum to Samuel, 4 months