What to expect when breastfeeding?

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Breastfeeding is a wonderful, natural way to provide your baby with the optimum nutrition and immune support he/she needs. It has been shown to decrease allergies and asthma later in life and can help with things such as ear and respiratory infections. As well, breastfeeding makes it easier for you to bond with your baby.

Also, it's convenient - no need for bottles or formula! Not everyone will be able to breastfeed for various reasons but there are still many benefits. If you do not wish to try breastfeeding due to any reason at all, that's okay too - there are plenty of other options available such as bottle-feeding or using an electric breast pump if necessary (though this would only be if absolutely necessary).

Stages of mother milk: colostrum, transitional milk, and then mature milk

It takes about 4 weeks for your body to fully adjust to breastfeeding (giving colostrum at first is normal, like a "coloring book"). The main components of human breastmilk are carbohydrates (fats, sugars), proteins, and lipids/fatty acids.

Breastfeeding will decrease the chances of getting post-partum depression. The benefits of breastfeeding may continue even after you stop - adult immune systems respond better to diseases like flu when they were breastfed as infants! Human mother's milk contains more protein than cow's milk does but less lactose.

Also, it is much more easily digested by babies than formula or cows' milk so it decreases the chance that babies will develop allergies.

What should you eat/drink when breastfeeding?

You'll want to keep up with your diet; while not having a full meal is usually fine (especially when the baby isn't nursing), be sure that you're getting enough nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables.

When the baby does start feeding, try to finish eating beforehand so that there's no chance of choking for either of you. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine while breastfeeding (or ask your doctor if it's okay to have them in moderation) and be sure that you're staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Measuring your breastmilk

A simple way to measure your supply is by weighing it (in grams). Another option, especially if you are pumping, would be to count the number of ounces (or milliliters) pumped in 24 hours minus the number of ounces used for pumping or feeding. Then divide that by 6; this will tell you roughly how many ounces per feedings your baby should be getting.

If there is excess milk leftover after all feedings, then you can save it in the fridge and use it later when needed (though once the milk has been frozen or thawed, do not refreeze it; also remember that any time milk is left out at room temperature for more than an hour, it becomes unsafe to drink).

Problems with baby latching

If the baby is having trouble latching, they may not be getting enough to eat. You can break the suction by placing your clean finger gently between your baby's gums - this also stimulates the release of hormones which will help to produce more milk! If you are still having trouble, consult a breastfeeding specialist or pediatrician.

Also, remember that it might be helpful for your partner to watch you breastfeed and then try doing it themselves (it's very different from bottle feeding).

Breastfeeding positions

There are many different breastfeeding positions - football, cross-cradle, etc. It is good to find one that you are comfortable with so that you can get into a routine. Each baby will have his/her own preference of how they like to be held; some may want you laying down and others prefer sitting up or standing.

Generally speaking though, when in the position where your baby's nose is right over your nipple and in line with your baby (the imaginary line between your nipple and the middle of their nose), they should easily be able to latch on well and start nursing!

If not, try repositioning them or see if they can open their mouth more widely or are just not getting a good enough latch. The "football position" is often the one that works best for moms who have had trouble with breastfeeding before!

How often should you breastfeed?

Generally, you should breastfeed every 2-3 hours. Some babies are more greedy or have less tolerance for waiting so it's best to try to feed them as often as they want - remember that it can take up to 15 minutes to speed up your milk supply after a feeding!

Your breasts will also produce the most milk when your baby begins to actively suck at the breast rather than using the "suckling reflex" (where your infant sucks on their hands) but some babies use this reflex anyway and make very little work for you indeed! Try offering the breast frequently (every hour if possible) and see how much he/she eats.

You shouldn't be forceful with his/her head; just let him/her latch on at your own pace.

Make sure to offer a few minutes on each breast for feedings - many babies prefer one side over the other so you don't want to "take" that nipple from them! Let him/her take as long as they need to after feeding on one side, even if it takes more than 20-30 minutes.

Remember that your breasts will feel full and engorged while you're breastfeeding but once you've finished, they should deflate fairly quickly. Your breasts should produce no more milk than what your baby is drinking - if this happens, try pumping out any extra milk following a feeding (keeping in mind that this can make your supply go down).

If you have a partner or friend with whom to share the breastfeeding responsibilities (and it's best to share them with ONE partner if possible), remember that they may not know what to do or how.

Remember that your breasts are very sensitive and you will want to be treated gently; if they're rough, let him/her know! When you feel like you need a break, ask for it (you can always watch TV while nursing). If you need help, ask for it. Most of all, make sure your partner is supportive of breastfeeding - some women risk having their children removed from their care by social services over this one issue alone.

How much milk should you produce?

This is a tricky question - most women will not produce enough milk for their babies and must seek out alternatives such as supplementary feeding or pumping. If this happens, try eating more oatmeal (a type of porridge), drinking mother's milk tea, or taking Fenugreek before nursing to boost your supply.

Many mothers also take Domperidone if they're unable to increase their supply with herbs alone - this is not advised unless prescribed by a doctor however because it can cause side effects in infants who drink the breastmilk from mothers on it. It's important that you don't give up hope and remember that while some women do have low supplies, others find themselves with too much!

You should try to nurse your baby at least every 2-3 hours to stimulate the production of milk and make sure that you aren't taking any medications or herbal supplements (including prenatal vitamins) during this time. Remember: even if you don't produce a lot of milk, you can still feed your child - it just depends on what the alternatives are.

Breastfeeding problems

If your baby has lost weight or you feel concerned because of cramping, there may be an infection or other problem. Remember to watch for signs of dehydration in your baby - these include cracked lips, sunken eyes, and dehydrated-looking skin.

If you think your baby might be dehydrated (or if they already are), try using breastmilk that has been frozen (this can actually help rehydrate them faster than the formula would). If it's too late and they're still having problems, you will want to consult a pediatrician. Make sure to go with a pediatrician that is very pro-breastfeeding - many are still against it for some reason.

Usually, the first two months of breastfeeding will be the most difficult, but if you have bad problems at any point, feel free to contact an experienced lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist/endocrinologist who can give you advice on how to proceed.

Also, remember that your milk supply is usually directly related to how much milk you use for feedings and pumping so if you would like more milk, try offering him/her the breast more often (and pump during intervals when they're sleeping; this has worked wonders for mothers in the past).

Sometimes babies just prefer one breast over another (or need different amounts each feeding on different breasts) so if you have a difference in the amount of milk your baby is drinking, try feeding on both sides more often.

If you are concerned about problems related to low supply or weight gain, ask your pediatrician for help. Some moms have used herbs and other supplements to increase their milk production - while some swear by them, others have experienced no effect whatsoever.

If you do choose to use anything herbal or otherwise that has not been cleared by a doctor or certified health professional, be sure that it's safe for babies and avoid consulting a lactation consultant/breastfeeding specialist before using it (though they may recommend something else instead). Remember: NEVER give honey teas or herbal teas to infants under one year old as this can cause botulism!

What do you do if my nipples are tender/cracked?

Don't panic - many new mothers experience discomfort while breastfeeding (due to sore or cracked nipples). If the pain is mild, try soaking them in warm salt water for 20 minutes before nursing; this will help remove dead skin cells and make it easier on the baby's tiny mouth.

Some mothers also apply breastmilk to their nipples after nursing; besides acting as a natural antibiotic (which can hasten to heal), it can increase your supply over time due to the hormones in it.

Remember to wear nursing bras while you're pregnant so that your breasts don't start growing too large; if they do, you can try hand-expressing colostrum (a clear fluid resembling milk) from them to relieve some of the pain and discomfort! You can also type "lactation cookies" into Google for some recipes that help increase supply.

How long should you breastfeed?

It really depends on you. Some women go their whole lives nursing one child but others find that they don't have the time, energy, or patience to continue once their baby is older (this is perfectly normal).

If you do wish to stop breastfeeding at some point, try gradually cutting back over a week or two - switch your baby off of the breast/breastfeed less often while continuing to nurse him/her until he/she no longer wants it.

It's also best to use bottles of pumped milk in increasing amounts over this time so that your baby gets used to them and doesn't refuse bottles when he/she is older. Remember that if you stop suddenly, your body will keep making milk for up to 2 weeks which can lead to mastitis.

If breastfeeding is uncomfortable/painful/unattractive

Don't be afraid to pump - many women find this easier than holding their child every few hours but remember to always breastfeed on demand (if the baby doesn't want or need it). This way, you can take turns at the breast and pump in between.

Remember: pumping will not automatically increase your supply - if your child is taking less than one ounce per day, you might want to consider supplementing with a bottle of pumped milk or simply waiting longer in-between feedings.