Congratulations! Your bumbling little cocoon of joy is home and you couldn’t be more ecstatic, exhausted, scared, and ready to do everything you can for your baby. So...now what? We are sharing all you need to know about breastfeeding.
The choice to breastfeed or not is one of the first decisions you will have to make for your little one. There is no right or wrong answer. No matter what method you choose, the choice to breastfeed is dependent on what you believe will work best for you and your baby.
While this guide was made with breastfeeding mothers in mind, there are plenty of helpful breastfeeding tips and pieces of advice mothers can use whether they are breastfeeding or formula-feeding their baby.
As always, as long as you and your baby are healthy, that is the most important thing. For when you love yourself—and you are happy—you love motherhood even more.
What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
The benefits of breastfeeding are countless. But the most crucial benefit and reason for breastfeeding is the nutrients your baby receives in the breast milk.
Breast milk is jovially called “liquid gold” because of all the built-in natural antibodies, nutrients, proteins, and fats your baby needs to develop. Babies who are breastfed are said to have fewer infections and viruses, and have lower risks of chronic diseases and ailments in the future.
As for the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, when you breastfeed, you burn more calories as your uterine section shrinks back to normal faster than if you were not to breastfeed. Nursing can also speed up healing time and post-delivery bleeding and is said to decrease the risk of having future breast and ovarian cancer.
Nursing also creates a stronger bond between mother and baby. Although difficult at first, breastfeeding leads you to work together with your baby. Finding the right position, recognizing hunger cues, and knowing when they’re satisfied is something you will learn—and become an expert at—over time.
Breastfeeding Dictionary, Terms You Need To Know
- What is Cluster Feeding/Bunch Feeding: When your baby feeds very frequently within short amounts of time at certain points of the day. Most mothers report cluster feeding to occur in the evening.
- What is Colostrum: The first milk your body produces during pregnancy. Colostrum may start producing three to fourth months during pregnancy, but typically leaks towards the end of pregnancy and after giving birth. Colostrum is thicker in texture and is usually clear or a deep golden color. Although the amount of colostrum produced is minimal, every bit of it is packed with antibodies and immunoglobulins that protect your baby.
- Difference between Foremilk and Hindmilk: The milk the baby receives at the beginning of a feeding session is called “foremilk” and the milk received towards the end of a session is called “hindmilk.” While the breast only produces one kind of milk, hindmilk is said to be higher in fat.
- What are Hunger Cues: Gestures or facial and body movements that indicate your newborn is ready to feed. Hunger cues can include turning their side to side, putting their hand to their mouth, or crying (a late sign of hunger).
- Latching: How well a baby feeds is often reliant on how well a baby has latched onto the mother’s breast. There are different positions and techniques mothers can use to help their baby have a successful latching.
- Let-down: More accurately termed “milk ejection reflex,” let-down occurs when the nerves in your breasts sends signals to release the flow of milk so your baby can nurse. Some mothers report a feeling of tingling and some don’t feel anything at all, both of which are normal.
- Mastitis: Mastitis while breastfeeding is an infection of breast tissue most commonly a result of milk being backed up in the milk ducts.
- Prolactin: The main hormone responsible for milk production.
- Pumping: Extracting breast milk using an external device. Manual or electric breast pumps are available to mothers who want to pump and store breast milk so the baby can feed even if the mother is not there.
- Rooting: Rooting often occurs when you touch your breast to your baby’s mouth or stroke their cheek. The baby will in turn, open its mouth and turn its head to the side in an effort to find the breast and feed.
- Tongue-Tie: A baby is considered to have ‘tongue-tie’ when the frenulum (the strip of skin that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) restricts the baby’s ability to open its mouth or move its tongue resulting in difficulty latching during breastfeeding. (If the frenulum connecting the upper lip to the gums restricts movement, it is called 'lip-tie.')
Most Common Breastfeeding Questions
When Should my Breast Milk Come In?
For the initial few days after giving birth, your breasts will produce colostrum or “pre-milk.” After three to four days, you may notice that your breasts are firmer, a sign that breast milk is in the process of being produced and will come in shortly. Keep in mind that all bodies are different. Some mothers may have milk that is quickly produced while others take longer. If you are concerned that your breast milk is taking too long to come in, consult with your doctor or a lactation specialist.
Does Breastfeeding Hurt?
Breastfeeding will take some getting used to. In the beginning, your breasts may feel sore and tender, but there are positions and techniques you can learn that help your baby latch on correctly while minimizing pain. New mothers may experience a few seconds of initial latch-on pain, but if latched correctly, the pain should subside as the baby feeds. If you have significant pain, try repositioning and re-latching your baby. If the pain still does not decrease, talk with a lactation consultant or doctor to make sure there aren't any other factors, like infection, that may be causing the pain.
How Often Should I Feed?
Your baby will often give hunger cues when he or she is ready to nurse. Hunger cues can include seeking or rooting (looking for or moving their mouth towards the breast or milk source), moving their heads side to side, opening their mouths, and crying (note: crying is a late hunger cue. Your newborn will give you other cues to signal he/she is hungry, but if they go unnoticed, your baby may start to cry.)
Noticing hunger cues can be difficult in the beginning, so putting your baby on a feeding schedule may be more beneficial for you and your baby. A typical schedule is feeding every two hours in the very beginning to help with your baby’s initial weight gain. While feeding every two hours can be exhausting, the more you feed, the more milk will be produced. When you first start breastfeeding, your milk supply will consistently increase until it is fully established around three months. This is why nursing frequently and adhering to a schedule during the first three months will benefit you and your baby in the long-run.
When Should I Start Pumping?
Whether you are going back to work or you want to store breast milk in case you can’t be with your baby, pumping is a great option. If you are exclusively pumping, you can pump as soon as six hours after birth, and then up to 8-12 times a day thereafter. A good tip when it comes to pumping is to pump in the morning. Mothers typically have more milk supply in the morning as opposed to night.
How Long Do I Pump For?
The average recommendation is to pump 15-20 minutes in the beginning when you’re first producing your milk and 30 minutes once your milk is fully established. Some mothers find it more helpful to pump based on a daily volume goal instead of basing pumping off of timed sessions. If you want to aim for a daily volume goal, 25-35 ounces daily is a sufficient amount of milk to produce and store for your baby. If you’re in the initial stage of breastfeeding, know that it will take time to reach this 25-35 daily ounce total, so don’t stress if you can’t produce this much in the beginning!
Do I Need to Switch Sides When Breastfeeding?
Most experts recommend alternating sides when you first start breastfeeding in order for both breasts to produce milk. Switching sides during a feeding can also help prevent milk duct blockage and will help both breasts produce milk equally. According to Mom Smart Not Hard, nursing a newborn for 15-20 minutes on each side after let-down is a good starting point. If you decide to breastfeed from only one side during a feeding session, make sure to start with the opposite breast during your next feed.
One Breast Produces More Milk than the Other. Is that Normal?
While let-down typically occurs at the same time on each side, you may notice that one of your breasts produces more milk than the other. While there is no harm in this, try feeding your newborn longer on the breast that produces less milk. To put it simply, the more your baby feeds, the more milk is produced.
Having one breast produce more milk than the other could also be because your baby has developed a side preference. Try repositioning and do your best to nurse on each side evenly to keep your milk production functioning. Only feeding on one side indefinitely may stop lactation in your opposite breast completely.
Am I Breastfeeding Too Often?
A newborn will typically feed every 1.5 to 3 hours as babies usually digest breast milk within 60-90 minutes. As a newborn, you may feed your baby around 8-12 times a day. After a month or two, your baby won’t need to feed quite as often and may feed around 7-9 times a day. Remember that breast milk is more easily digested than formula, so if you are breastfeeding your baby, don’t compare the amount of feedings to a baby who is formula-fed.
When Should I Stop Breastfeeding Completely?
Choosing when to stop breastfeeding is up to you. Doctors often recommend exclusively breastfeeding your newborn (sans formula, non-breast milk food) for the first six months and to continue breastfeeding up to a year in addition to age-appropriate foods. Some mothers choose to continue to breastfeed up to two years if breastfeeding works for both mother and child. Talk with your doctor or a lactation consultant to talk about the best plan for you.
Basic Nutritional Needs For Breastfeeding Moms
After delivery, strengthening your nutritional health is critical to you and your baby’s well-being. While all vitamins are good for you and aid in more effective absorption and faster tissue healing, each vitamin ultimately serves a different purpose. Below are some of the most beneficial vitamins to consume during the postpartum period.
- Vitamin A: Antioxidant that promotes healthy skin, eyesight, and growth. Strengthens immune system and can protect against sore throat, colds, and acne.
- Vitamin B: There are many forms of vitamin B. One form breastfeeding mothers need is vitamin B12. B12 is responsible for the production of red blood cells, healthy nervous system development, and may alleviate depression and increase energy.
- Vitamin C: Helps make collagen, speeds up wound healing, boosts immune system, and helps the body absorb iron and folic acid.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D aids in the development of strong teeth and bones and is produced when skin is exposed to sunlight. Because you and your baby will be indoors for the beginning of the postpartum period, vitamin D supplements may benefit both mother and baby.
If you lost a significant amount of blood during delivery, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite due to your diminished iron levels. During the postpartum period, focus needs to be placed on rebuilding your red blood cells by meeting your daily suggested intake of iron. Iron in animal and veggie proteins are ideal. Vitamin C aids in more effective iron absorption so consume foods and liquids high in vitamin C.
Studies have shown women who are nursing can lose 3-5% of their bone mass. During breastfeeding, babies acquire calcium from the mother which is why maintaining calcium intake is so important.
Nursing mothers are said to need double the daily amount of protein than non-pregnant, non-nursing women. Protein is important for developing and growing tissue in the body, can optimize your milk supply, and leaves you with more sustainable energy throughout the day.
Folic acid - or folate - is recognized as an integral vitamin during pregnancy. During the postpartum period, folic acid is just as important while breastfeeding as it aids in the production of red blood cells and proper bone development.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Science has shown that approximately 60% of the brain is comprised of fat. This fatty material is known as DHA or Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown throughout the years that the more Omega-3 your brain consists of, the more effectively your brain functions. When a mother is breastfeeding, the mother’s supply of Omega-3 decreases as some of it passes through to the baby. Eating foods high in Omega-3 or other healthy saturated fats supports proper brain development for the baby, strengthens the immune system, enhances circulation, balances hormones, and has also been known to lessen symptoms of postnatal depression in mothers.
Your breastfeeding diet is very important! Not just to make sure your milk has all the essential nutrients your baby needs but also to make sure you have the energy to keep up meet the challenges of being a new mom.
What are Galactagogues? How Can they Increase my supply?
Galactagogues are substances that promote or increase the production of breast milk. Galactagogues are most commonly found in the forms of food, medicinal drugs, and teas.
When breastfeeding, new mothers are often concerned with the amount of milk they produce and how they can increase their milk production to better feed their baby. There are many natural ingredients and supplemental products out there that can help with lactation.
Foods & Supplements that Help with Lactation
There are a substantial amount of foods and supplements that can help with lactation. Some of these include:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Chia seeds
- Red raspberry leaf
- Dark leafy greens
- Majka Lactation Bites: Main lactation ingredient is glossostemon bruguieri, an Egyptian root used for centuries to promote healthy milk supply in new mothers
- Majka Nourishing Lactation Protein Powder: Formulated with a special lactation blend the consists of organic ginger root, turmeric root extract, shatavari, clove, caraway and other natural ingredients to help boost your supply but also help you cover your nutritional needs
Breastfeeding Recipes to Try at Home:
Foods to Avoid when Breastfeeding
To boost your milk supply, it's equally as important to focus on foods to avoid while breastfeeding. While nursing, women should limit or remove a few foods from their diets:
- Alcohol: Alcohol can contribute to irregular brain development. Additionally, there's no level of alcohol that's safe for a baby to consume through breast milk. Therefore, it may be best to avoid the substance entirely.
- Coffee: It's recommended to consume less than 300mg of caffeine a day. Luckily, there are many coffee alternatives for breastfeeding moms.
- Fish: Due to the mercury content, exposure to fish can put an infant's nervous system at risk. If you choose to consume fish, be sure to eat fish with low mercury levels and stay up-to-date on local water advisories.
While breastfeeding, you'll also want to keep an eye out for any foods that could irritate your baby's tummy, along with allergens. Common allergens include:
- Dairy milk
Factors that Can Contribute to Low Breast Milk Supply
- Insufficient Milk Duct Glands: Your breasts may not have enough milk ducts. If this is the case, you can supplement your breast milk with formula.
- Hormonal or Endocrine Problems: Diabetes, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), thyroid problems, high blood pressure, or hormonal imbalances may contribute to low milk production.
- Prior Breast Surgery: If you had breast surgery or breast augmentations prior to having your baby, you may be more at risk for having low milk production. Look for healthy lactation supplements to aid in the increase of milk supply.
- Birth Control or Medicine: Taking birth control or certain medications can cause your milk supply to decrease. Consult with your doctor about potential birth control or medicines that may be hindering your milk supply.
- Latching Issues: Low milk production may happen because your baby isn’t latching correctly and isn’t getting enough milk. The less milk that excretes from your breasts, the less physical room there is to replenish. Talk with a lactation consultant or doctor about tips on proper latching techniques or if there are any medical issues interfering with your baby's latching.
- Minimal Feedings: The less you feed your baby, the less your body feels the need to replenish your milk supply. Keep to a feeding schedule to train your body to consistently produce milk.
When Should I Talk to a Lactation Consultant?
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful, yet very stressful period, especially at the beginning. If you are experiencing pain, are worried that your baby’s health is at risk, or find yourself feeling anxious about breastfeeding, contact a lactation consultant to see how you can make breastfeeding the best experience for you and your child. Search for lactation consultants online in your area, contact your OBGYN, or utilize one of the below resources to find a lactation consultant near you:
- International Lactation Consultant Association
- La Leche League
- If you are in the United States, click here for La Leche League leaders
- Breastfeeding USA
Our Favorite Breastfeeding Apps
Apps make everything easier. With the help of these applications, you can monitor your breastfeeding schedule right at your fingertips. Here are some of our favorite breastfeeding apps to get you started:
- Baby Connect: Helps you record when you nurse, pumping sessions, and duration of feedings. You can sync the data to share with your partner or caretakers too.
- LatchME: Provides answers to your breastfeeding questions, like nipple soreness, for moms looking for support. Plus, this app has a breastfeeding spot locator to help you find places to breastfeed around you!
- Baby Breastfeeding Tracker: Allows you to track feedings, diaper changes, growth, and more.
- LactMED: Trusted database of drugs and supplements that can impact breastfeeding.
Our Favorite Breastfeeding Products
- Medela Double Electric Pump (with carrier bag)
- Spectra Hospital Grade Breast Pump
- Willow Breast Pump