Breastfeeding basics for beginners

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 Photo: Getty Images

Even though breastfeeding your baby may be the most natural thing you ever do, it is still a learned skill which can take time to master in the early days. New mums can feel overwhelmed as they question if what they are doing is right.

And new mums often find themselves asking a lot of questions. Am I holding and attaching my baby correctly? Is it supposed to hurt? How often should I be feeding my baby? How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?

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Here are 10 tips to help make breastfeeding successful and stress free for both you and your baby as quickly as possible.

1. Attachment

A baby that attaches well to the breast can help prevent many problems that arise during the early days of breastfeeding.

While midwives and lactation consultants will be able to offer advice if you think your baby is not attaching well, here are some basic things you can look for while your baby is at your breast.

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  • Your baby's chin should be pressed into the breast with their nose clear or only just touching the breast.
  • Their lips should be flanged out, not sucked in.
  • You might be able to see your baby's whole jaw moving as they suck and even their ears wiggling.
  • Your baby should not be sucking in air or slipping off the breast.

2. How often?

Many new parents are keen to find out how many times a day their baby should be feeding and how long each feed should last for. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all answer to that question.

Some babies may feed between 8 and 12 times in any 24 hour period, however some might feed more and others might feed less. The only way to know how often your baby needs to be fed is to observe their cues and feed them when they want to be fed.

3. Reading cues

When a newborn starts stirring from their sleep, stretching and turning their head it might be an early indication they are getting ready for feed. They may then put their fist in their mouth and their movements might become faster. When they become agitated, cry and begin to turn red they need to be fed immediately.

Of course each baby is different and may have different cues which new their mum will soon become an expert at reading.

4. Is my baby getting enough milk?

If your baby has at least 6 to 8 very wet cloth nappies, or at least 5 very wet disposable nappies in a 24 hour period, then you are probably getting enough milk.

More long term if you baby has good skin colour and muscle tone and has some weight gain and growth in length and head circumference, then you can assume they are getting all the nutrients they need.

5. Storing milk

You can keep expressed milk in a sealed container in the back of the fridge (not the door) for up to 3-5 days. Alternatively, expressed breast milk can be kept safely in the freezer for up to 6 months.

6 Dealing with leaks

If your breasts are leaking (and that's totally normal!), try using breast pads to absorb leaking milk. Change pads frequently to avoid the nipple becoming too soggy and prone to infection.

7. Be comfortable

Find a comfortable position to feed in whilst lying down, as this will give you a chance to have a break. It is important you take all the time you need and are not rushed.

8. Be prepared

Get a good chair or breastfeeding pillow and create a feeding area, with some magazines or books so you can relax while you feed. You can also set up a DVD, record your favourite shows on TV, or binge-watch all those classic series to help get you through the long night feeds.

If you're using a breast pump, it can help to have a photo or video of your baby with you to look at - this can help with let-down. 

Also make sure you have a bottle of water handy - breastfeeding can be thirsty work for you too!

9. Eat right  

It may sound simple, but be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet while breastfeeding to ensure you get plenty of iron, protein and calcium.

While it can be easy to slip into bad eating habits in the early sleep-deprived days of motherhood, your breast milk production can suffer if you are not getting the right nutrients.

10. Ask for help

Ask for your partner's support - ask for them to bring you some water and a snack whenever you are feeding.

If you continue to have trouble breastfeeding speak to your doctor, get in touch with a local lactation consultant or call the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268.