Breastfeeding advice and guidance
A woman’s body starts preparing for breastfeeding when she is pregnant. Every woman produces breast milk after their baby is born. Most women can make all the milk their baby needs, including a mother with twins. For breastfeeding mothers, every time the baby feeds or you express milk, you release more hormones and produce more milk.
Breastfeeding for the first time
Breastfeeding is natural, but mothers and babies need help to learn how to breastfeed successfully. Your midwife or health visitor can help you start breastfeeding your baby.
Skin to skin contact
It is important to hold your baby in skin to skin contact immediately after birth. Your midwife usually gives you the baby to hold in skin to skin contact.
During skin to skin contact:
- the midwife places your baby on your tummy so their head is near your breast
- you gently caress your baby
- your baby can see your face
- there is no interruption as you get to know your baby
You should keep this contact for an hour after birth or until your baby finishes their first feed.
This contact helps:
- keep your baby warm and calm
- regulate your baby’s breathing and heartbeat
- you give the first breastfeed
Staying with your baby
In the first six months, it’s best if your baby stays with you all the time, including at night. Place your baby in a cot to sleep in your bedroom, but never in your bed. By staying with your baby, you learn about your baby and become a more confident mother. It also helps establish successful breastfeeding more quickly.
Attaching your baby to breastfeed
The way you attach your baby to your breast is important so that feeding is comfortable and your baby gets milk. Our section on attachment explains this in more detail.
Signs your baby is getting enough breast milk
When your baby is a few days old, they have about six nappies every day. Their stools change from black to brown. When they’re a week old, their stools are soft and mustard-coloured. If your baby is getting enough milk, they should gain weight within the first two weeks.
Babies usually want to feed between eight and 10 times in 24 hours. Breastfed babies don’t overfeed. Feeding your baby when they want to breastfeed helps you produce all the milk your baby needs. Responsive breastfeeding means responding to your baby’s early feeding signals when they:
- start to waken
- lick their lips
- make sucking sounds
- suck their fingers
Timing your breastfeeds
If you use a timetable or routine to breastfeed, this disrupts the natural demand and supply mechanism for breast milk. For example, giving your baby a certain number of minutes on each breast every three or four hours can stop you producing enough milk.
Deciding not to breastfeed
Breast milk has an ‘inhibitory factor’. A build-up of this factor slows down your production of milk. You stop producing breast milk if you don’t breastfeed or express milk.
Giving your baby breast milk and formula milk
While breastfeeding, it is best to avoid giving your baby formula milk. It is more difficult for your baby to digest formula milk, so they feel full for longer and are less keen to breastfeed. Less demand means your body produces less breast milk.
Giving your baby a dummy
A dummy can confuse a baby learning to breastfeed. If your baby gets used to a dummy, they suck less effectively and get less milk from the breast.
Drinking alcohol if you breastfeed
If you drink alcohol, some of it passes to your baby when breastfeeding. Alcohol can affect how easily your baby feeds. It is sensible to drink no more than two units of alcohol a week when breastfeeding.
Smoking if you breastfeed
It is best not to smoke if you’re breastfeeding as your breast milk will contain nicotine. This increases your risk of infection, which can lower your milk supply and cause mastitis. There is also an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) for the baby of a mother who smokes.
Taking medicine if you breastfeed
Prescription and over the counter medicine can affect breastfeeding. If your GP prescribes medication, tell them you’re breastfeeding. If you buy over the counter painkillers or cold and flu remedies, ask the pharmacist about breastfeeding and any effects from taking the medication.
Taking illegal drugs and breastfeeding
If you regularly take drugs, breastfeeding is very good for a baby at risk of withdrawal symptoms when they’re born.