The crucial early weeks of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is not easy. I struggled with both of my kids. I would say the babies who latch on immediately and present zero problems at all are the exception, rather than the rule.

If you’re reading this you’ve either just had a baby or you’re about to and you’ve decided to give breastfeeding a go.

I’m going to emphasise right off the bat – every mum and every baby is different. A few women can’t breastfeed and some may decide they just don’t want to. That is fine and don’t let anyone make you feel any different.

I am not a lactation expert but I’ve breastfed two babies – one who I fed by exclusively pumping for 20 weeks. The other took sheer grit and determination to get through the pain and hours of feeding in the night.

I’ve spoken to many breastfeeding experts, midwives and health visitors over the course of my breastfeeding journeys. And I’ve read a LOT of material.

So here is the key information I’ve learned that can help give you the best chance of successfully breastfeeding your baby. If you’re ever worried about whether your baby is getting enough milk, contact your health visitor or doctor and they will help you.

For further reading, check out my guide on surviving the first eight weeks of breastfeeding.

9 secrets for successful breastfeeding

The latch

My favourite resource for the first weeks of breastfeeding my second baby was YouTube. It helped me so very much to figure out what it should look like. Here’s one video here but there are loads more:

When your baby latches on their mouth needs to open wide. Not just open a bit, but wide. And they need to take a big chunk of your boob in their mouth in order to extract milk efficiently from you.

If you’re struggling to get them to open their mouth wide enough, stroke the top of their lip with your finger or nipple. Try squeezing some milk out so they know there’s food to be had.

There should be more nipple exposed above their top lip than below. The lips should be flanged, not tucked inwards.

Breastfeeding latch guide

A guide to latching your baby correctly

The pain

The midwives and everyone else will tell you early breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. It’s true that once it’s established and you’re doing it right, it won’t hurt. But it hurt me in the early weeks and my friends have said the same thing.

The important thing is your baby is latching on right and having enough milk. Manage the pain by switching sides regularly and using Lansinoh nipple cream to soothe. It does get easier.

I used to wince at every single latch in the first four weeks, it was agony. But gradually it stopped hurting until I couldn’t really feel anything at all apart from slight pressure.

What a feeding baby looks and sounds like

A feeding baby will move their lower jaw quickly at first as they encourage a letdown (the first rush of milk) and then this will slow as they take in gulps of milk.

You should be able to hear them swallowing and there will contented noises if they’re getting what they want!

Remember to switch sides

It might be more comfortable for you to hold your baby on one particular side when feeding, but if you show a preference for one boob over the other and allow your baby to feed more from that one, you’re going to have wonky boobs.

Your body doesn’t know to compensate for what’s taken from one side. So you need to switch to the other side so that your body knows to keep making milk from both boobs. This is for your comfort and just way better for your supply if you have both boobs working well.

If you’ve forgotten what side you fed your baby from at the last nursing session, try using a hair band as a reminder. When your feed is over put it on the wrist you just fed from to remind you.

A combination of lack of sleep and post-baby brain mean it can be harder than you’d think to remember!

Experiment with different positions

You don’t just have to cradle your baby and feed. You can feed lying down, or using the rugby hold. There are many options so just find what feels right for you.

Boost your supply with a pump

It really can help if you pump right after a feed. It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, but even 10 minutes using a good electric pump can help get your supply going way quicker.

I like the Medela Swing: Medela Swing Electric Breast Pump with Calma

Keep a close eye on the nappies

If you want to know if your baby is having enough milk, look at the nappies. There should be wet nappies multiple times a day and a breastfed baby should poo at least once a day as well.

No wee means they aren’t getting enough fluids. You need to take action quickly if this is happening. Visit your local breastfeeding clinic for advice on your latch or ask a health visitor to check your baby for tongue tie (which restricts your baby from feeding properly) or any other issues.

Supplementing with formula isn’t failure!

It can actually give you the crucial crutch to keep you going for longer, before you burn out completely.

Formula is not poison. Of course breast milk is best, the science tells us this. But a bottle of formula once a day or once every other day will not undo all of the goodness you’re offering your baby by feeding them breastmilk at every other feed.

Yes there is information suggesting that giving some formula can increase the risk of allergies. But it doesn’t mean your child WILL have allergies if you give them some formula, it’s based on statistics and probabilities.

Do your research, ask your midwife or GP about it if you need more reassurance. Most good healthcare professionals won’t bat an eyelid when you bring up mixed feeding, because they just want to see that your baby is fed and you are happy.

Make a record

It can be really hard to keep track of when you’ve fed and for how long. This doesn’t give you an accurate picture of whether your baby is feeding enough, as some newborn babies can gulp a whole feed in 10 minutes while others like to sip for 30 minutes or more.

However what it can do is help you spot patterns in your baby’s feeding.

In the very early days and weeks it’s unlikely there will be any pattern. But if you keep writing down the feeds and their duration, you may see a pattern emerge and, if you’re anything like me, once you feel like you’re in a bit of a routine with feeding you’ll feel a bit more in control.

Plus it helps to know when your baby is likely to be hungry. Some are hungry every three hours, some every two hours. Get to know your baby.

To help, download my FREE printable chart for you to record your baby’s feeds. To receive it, just subscribe to my newsletter here. I promise no spam, just great content and lots of freebies.

Read more tips for breastfeeding:

How to survive the first eight weeks of breastfeeding

Want to improve your chances of succeeding at breastfeeding? Here's the crucial tips and steps you can take to get through the difficult early weeks of breastfeeding a newborn baby

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