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HealthInfo Canterbury

Starting to breastfeed

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Newborn baby breastfeedingBreastfeeding is a skill like any other, and takes time to learn, for you and your baby. You need patience, time and support from family, friends, whānau, and health professionals. You also need access to up-to-date information.

Most mothers can breastfeed and even if it isn't easy at first, it does get easier with time and practice.

Colostrum, which is thick and yellow, and the first milk you produce after birth, is the perfect food for your newborn. You make just a small amount of it, but it contains lots of antibodies and prebiotics. These help to protect your baby from infections and help them to grow healthy gut bacteria.

Around three days after your baby is born, your milk will change from colostrum to a thinner, whitish liquid. During this time your breasts will start to feel quite full, but you can avoid engorgement by feeding your baby often.

It's normal for babies to lose some weight in their first week, but they should be back to their birth weight by the time they're 10 days to two weeks old.

Getting the right latch is the key to comfortable and successful breastfeeding. Your baby needs to be able to remove milk effectively, and a good latch means you won't damage your nipples. Watch this video showing how to position your baby and make sure they latch well.

Feeding frequency

It’s good to let your baby feed whenever they show signs they're hungry. These hunger signs include nuzzling, hand sucking, or mouthing (they open their mouth, turn their head, and possibly poke their tongue out). Crying is the last feeding cue, and once your baby gets upset it may be hard to get them to latch.

From the second day after birth, babies often feed a lot. This is because they have tiny stomachs and can only take small amounts of breast milk with each feed. During this time, frequent feeding also helps to stimulate your milk supply.

As your baby grows, their stomach will get bigger, so they'll be able to feed less often but take more milk at each feed.

After the first few days, your baby will feed around eight times every 24 hours – some will feed more often than this. Every baby is different, and the number of times they feed depends on several things such as:

Women's breasts are all different, and some store more milk than others (which has nothing to do with your breast size). As a result, some babies feed more often than some others. It's also quite normal for babies to have several days when they want to feed more often, as they're going through a growth spurt. If you're worried about how often your baby is feeding, talk to your midwife or Well Child nurse.

Supplements and special foods

Your baby needs iodine to help their brain develop, so health professionals recommend you take an iodine supplement when you're breastfeeding. You can buy iodine supplements over the counter at a pharmacy, but it's cheaper to get them on prescription from your GP or midwife.

As long as you're eating a healthy diet, you shouldn't have to take any other supplements.

Breastfeeding can make you thirsty. Have a glass of water next to you each time you breastfeed.

Avoid alcohol when you're breastfeeding, but having an occasional drink is usually safe. If you do have a drink, the Feed Safe app helps you to figure out when your breast milk will be free of alcohol and answers some common questions about alcohol and breastfeeding. It's free to download.

How long to breastfeed

It's best to give your baby breast milk only (called exclusive breastfeeding) for their first six months. After that, for the first year and beyond, continue to breastfeed while you introduce new foods.

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On the next page: Getting help with breastfeeding

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created February 2018.


Page reference: 55822

Review key: HIBRF-24381