If you’ve never breastfed before, you might think it’ll come naturally to you and your newborn. Baby is hungry, you offer up your nipple, baby latches on and sucks sweetly until he’s full. Easy, right? But what’s natural isn’t necessarily always intuitive (at least at first)—for either mom or baby. We talked to breastfeeding experts and moms who’ve experienced nursing challenges to round up the best breastfeeding tips to help set you and baby up for success.
In this article:
Breastfeeding tips for newborns
Breastfeeding latching tips
Breastfeeding tips for pain
Inverted nipple breastfeeding tips
Breastfeeding tips for inverted nipples
Breastfeeding in public tips
Working and breastfeeding tips
Breastfeeding Tips for Newborns
Once baby arrives, moms are typically encouraged to start breastfeeding right away. But how will you and baby know what to do? Will he instinctively understand how to latch on? Will your milk let down? Luckily, experts at the hospital can help you both get off to a good start. Keep these important breastfeeding tips for newborns in mind:
Breastfeed right after birth
Breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, or as soon as possible, is key to setting you and baby up for future success, says Susan D. Crowe, MD, an ob-gyn and clinical associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. In fact, allowing moms and babies to have skin-to-skin contact right after delivery encourages newborns to start breastfeeding in the first 30 to 60 minutes. “That early initiation for breastfeeding is extremely important when it comes to sending signals to the brain and body to produce breast milk,” Crowe says. At the start, your body produces only a small amount of colostrum (the yellowish breast milk produced before normal lactation begins), which is all a newborn initially needs. But eventually you produce more breast milk as baby breastfeeds. Even if baby needs immediate medical attention or requires a stay in the NICU, you can still express colostrum with your hands to stimulate those breastfeeding signals.
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to hurt
If baby has a good latch, breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. Learning how to position your newborn and ensure a good latch can take time, but here’s what you’re aiming for: “You want to make sure baby is latched tightly to the breast so her cheeks and chin appear seamlessly attached to you. You shouldn’t be able to see her lips. And it should feel comfortable,” says Tamara Hawkins, an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant. If you experience pain, chances are baby’s latch is a little off. (See Breastfeeding Tips for Pain.)
Let others help with housework
For the first six weeks, while you’re establishing your breastfeeding, let others help out with chores around the house. “That means you shouldn't be cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes or changing the diapers,” Crowe says. “To fully support mom’s [breastfeeding] efforts, let others do everything else for her, because nursing baby is the one thing they can't do.” And when you’re not actively breastfeeding, focus on self-care, including eating well and getting rest. “If you invest the time initially, it’ll pay off in huge dividends later,” Crowe says.
Breastfeeding Latching Tips
Getting a good latch is one of the most important pieces of the breastfeeding puzzle—even more important than how you hold baby. To get a good latch, make sure the bottom of your areola (the area around the nipple) is in baby's mouth and the nipple is toward the back of her mouth, where the palate is soft and flexible. Experts offer these other breastfeeding tips to help make sure baby is feeding well.
Get baby to open wide
“It’s important that baby isn’t just attached to the nipple. Baby needs to have a wide, open mouth that will allow for effective emptying of the milk ducts around the nipple,” Crowe says. If baby is latched only onto the nipple, it will likely cause you pain and baby won’t fully empty the breast, which means baby isn’t getting a good feed and your body isn’t sending signals to the breast to make more milk.
Monitor baby’s birth weight
“One of the earliest markers [that baby’s not getting enough to eat] is if he’s lost more than 10 percent of his birth weight by the first pediatrician visit, which usually happens three or four days [after being discharged from the hospital],” Hawkins says. Another clue something’s off: When you don’t feel your breasts become engorged with milk by day five. If you don’t feel an obvious fullness by then, check in with a lactation consultant.
Count dirty diapers
The number of wet diapers baby produces can also be a sign she’s getting enough milk. “If mom is five days postpartum and has a full milk supply, she should be seeing a minimum of four to five urine- and stool-covered diapers a day,” Hawkins says. You can also bet baby is getting breast milk if your breasts become softer after nursing, you hear little swallowing sounds and baby looks satisfied.
Breastfeeding Tips for Pain
If you’ve never tried it, breastfeeding can seem like it might hurt—especially once baby’s teeth start coming in. Nursing shouldn’t actually be painful, but the experience is different for every mom. Try these top breastfeeding tips to prevent nursing discomfort in the first place, and learn how to remedy it quickly if you do have a painful run-in.
Don’t be afraid to take control
It’s important for you to get comfortable and confident handling a small baby. “The No. 1 reason moms have pain is because they’re being too gentle,” Hawkins says. “They don't want to take control of baby and their breasts and bring the two together.” Trust yourself and do what needs to be done: Bring baby to your full breast, not just to your nipple.
Don’t wait to get help
Another common cause of pain during breastfeeding is an improper latch, which can actually injure the nipple. “It’s very important early on to get the help you and baby need to correct that, before the nipples are damaged,” Crowe says. Sometimes it’s a simple fix, like pulling baby’s chin down to make sure her lips are flanged outward—but other times it’s an issue of baby’s anatomy or your breast anatomy, and finding a remedy for that calls for professional help. C. Robinson, mom of a 21-month-old, was in pain and about to give up on nursing when she met with a lactation consultant who discovered her daughter had both a lip-tie and tongue-tie that prevented her from nursing properly. “That made the world of difference for both of us,” says Robinson, whose daughter underwent surgery at 4 months to correct the problem. (You can find a lactation consultant near you through the International Lactation Consultant Association website).
Keep your nipples moisturized
If your nipples are sore and cracked, a purified lanolin nipple cream or nursing ointment can help them stay moist. After a nursing session, you can also express a few drops of breast milk and, with clean hands, gently rub the milk onto your nipples.
Treat clogged milk ducts right away
If you have plugged or clogged ducts, which happens when your milk gets backed up and can cause severe pain, breastfeed on the side with the plugged duct as often as every two hours to help loosen the clog and get your milk moving freely again. You can also aim baby's chin at the plug, which will focus his sucking on the affected duct. “I had some clogged ducts in the beginning. Hot showers were amazing for that. After the hot shower I would apply a cool compress. It helped allow my milk to flow well and reduce inflammation,” says Laurie Davis Edwards, a mom of a 3-month-old, Ellie.
Breastfeeding Tips for Large Nipples
Moms with large nipples may find it difficult for baby to get a good latch. Because the nipple fills most of baby’s mouth, she may struggle to get enough of the areola to compress the milk ducts and drink enough milk. But these breastfeeding tips can help.
Use an electric breast pump
Pumping can help draw out the nipple, making it thinner and easier for baby to latch onto. It’s also a good way to help maintain your milk supply until baby has an easier time feeding. A lactation specialist can help you choose an effective pump that’s right for you.
Tease baby’s mouth wide open
Make sure baby is getting an extra-wide latch to help ensure he’s getting some of the areola as well as the nipple. Tease baby’s mouth open by pushing the nipple against his upper lip, encouraging him to lift his head up and back and open wide.
“If you have a good milk supply, baby will get enough milk, even with a latch that isn't perfect,” Hawkins says. And remember: As baby grows and her mouth gets bigger, breastfeeding with large nipples will cease to be a problem.
Inverted Nipple Breastfeeding Tips
Some moms have nipples that don’t protrude enough or nipples that turn inward instead of pointing outward, making it hard for baby to latch on to breastfeed. Thankfully, there are breastfeeding tips to help bring the nipple out.
Roll your nipples
Hawkins recommends manually pulling the nipple out or rolling the nipple between your fingers, something you can practice even before baby arrives.
Experiment with suction devices
Suction devices can help correct inverted nipples, and you can use them on your breasts once to twice a day starting a week or two before your due date, Hawkins says.
Put pressure on your areola
For some women whose breasts swell to the point where the nipples draw in and appear flat or inverted, Hawkins recommends placing your hand around the areola and pushing your breast into your chest. The manual pressure can reduce a lot of the swelling and help the nipple pop out.
Consider using nipple shields
If you have flat or inverted nipples, a nipple shield may help improve baby’s latch: Placed over your actual nipple during nursing, an artificial latex or silicone nipple shield has little holes in the tip to encourage milk flow and stimulate the roof of baby’s mouth to trigger a sucking reflex. But it’s best to use a nipple shield under the guidance of a lactation consultant, who can make sure it’s done properly without interfering with baby’s feeding or causing damage to mom’s nipples.
“Some women will pump for a short period of time to pull the nipple out and have it be in a better position for baby to latch onto,” Crowe says. Over time, baby may be able to pull the nipple out, solving the inverted nipple problem.
Breastfeeding in Public Tips
Once you and baby start venturing out of the house, chances are she’s going to get hungry. Breastfeeding in public can be nerve-racking for some, but know that it’s your right to feed baby whenever, wherever you need to. These tips for breastfeeding in public will help you prepare for any situation.
Layer your shirts
You might want to try double-layering your shirts, wearing a tank top underneath a T-shirt, Hawkins suggests. Here’s how it works: Reach under the T-shirt and open up your bra, then pull the tank top down. As you’re pulling baby up to your breast, you can then lift your T-shirt up and quickly latch baby so there's minimal exposure of your nipple. This way, “the T-shirt is still covering the top part of your body, the tank top is covering your belly and baby is covering your breast,” Hawkins says.
Practice in private
Before you breastfeed in public, practice at home. Figure out how to hold baby without a pillow and how to dress for easy access. “Practice pulling your shirt and bra down and giving baby access to the breast at home in front of a mirror to gain a bit more confidence,” Hawkins says.
Find a quiet corner
Find a quiet spot if you can so baby isn’t overstimulated by what’s happening around you. “I would just find a seat away from everyone else,” Stacey says. “This was more to prevent my son from being distracted than for privacy.”
Don’t feel pressured to use a cover-up
Cover-ups may work if baby is small, but if it’s warm out, it can get pretty hot under there, and babies tend to sweat under them, Hawkins warns. “I never used a cover because my son would have ripped it off and brought more attention to us than just nursing like normal,” Stacey says.
Pack the essential accessories
If you’re traveling and need to pump, make sure you have a hand pump in addition to your normal electric one in case there aren't outlets or your battery dies. “I got comfortable with pumping in public when I was in the airport,” says Davis Edwards, who also points out not all airports have lactation rooms: “I put a cover over me and pumped at the restaurant while eating before my flight!”
Working and Breastfeeding Tips
Going back to work signals a change in your breastfeeding routine—after all, you won’t be around to feed baby whenever he’s hungry. Many moms worry about keeping up their nursing—and their milk supply—once they return to the office, but there are plenty of breastfeeding tips to help you navigate the transition.
Practice pumping before heading back to work
Before going back to work, you may want to practice pumping once a day or every other day, Crowe says, since getting a preview of that experience will help you get comfortable using your breast pump.
Pump often, not longer
A lot of women struggle to find time to pump once they return to work, but when it comes to pumping, frequency is more important than length of time, Hawkins says. “Some people talk themselves out of pumping because they think they need to pump for 30 minutes. But sometimes just five minutes is enough to maintain the milk supply.” The reason: If your breasts remain full of milk, the cells actually start to turn off production, leading to low milk supply.
Expect your milk supply to fluctuate
Keep in mind that your milk supply might dip as the week wears on. “Expect an ebb and flow of your volume,” Hawkins says. “A lot of moms can expect to have a very robust milk supply in the beginning of the week, but as the week ends, your milk supply may decrease due to stress and sleep deprivation. Mothers who aren’t able to pump routinely may especially notice a decrease in milk supply by the end of the week.”
Get baby used to the bottle
With you away at the office, baby will need to drink from a bottle. To help your child adjust, express some breast milk into a bottle and try bottle-feeding baby before you head back to work. “Even a half an ounce or an ounce is good to start with, so baby can learn and you can make sure baby is comfortable using the bottle,” Crowe says.
Try power pumping
If you’re struggling to keep your milk supply up, try power pumping on the weekend. That’s when you pump repeatedly within a set amount of time—generally for 10 minutes every hour, Hawkins says. By emptying the breast over and over, you signal your body to make more milk more quickly. A great time to power pump is while baby is asleep.
Give yourself permission to take it one day at a time
Most breastfeeding moms experience moments—when you’re engorged or your nipples are bleeding—that make you wonder, Oh my God, am I ever going to be able to do this? “Tell yourself, ‘Let me just see how today goes,’ and then do it again the next day,” Davis Edwards says. “Create small milestones for yourself” rather than commit to, say, nursing for a year. “So far it's working,” she says.
Keep it up for as long as you can
Even if it’s a week, a month or a year—however long you can nurse for, do it! “I was able to breastfeed for seven months, even though I started out hoping for a year,” says Robinson, whose milk supply went down after returning to work. And despite having a difficult breastfeeding journey, she says, “It’s outshined by the reward.”
Get support from your mom tribe
A little encouragement from fellow moms can go a long way. “The moms of the breastfeeding community are amazing women with lots of help, suggestions and hugs!” Robinson says. “These women are available at all times, day and night, so if you’re up, believe me, you can find another mom who’s nursing at that time too.”
Published August 2017