Being able to breastfeed your baby is an important goal for many moms. Here are the best breastfeeding tips to help you succeed at breastfeeding your baby – spoken from real life experience.
Whether breastfeeding has been a breeze for you or you’ve had a rocky start, breastfeeding can be hard work. That said, it is often one of the most nurturing and memorable experiences of early motherhood. After nursing two boys for over two years each, here are my top breastfeeding tips to help you create and sustain a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
Some of the most important tips for a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby begin at birth and during your first few days in the hospital while others incorporate more of a trial-and-error strategy once you’re at home.
1. Breastfeed within the first hour of giving birth
Belive it or not, one of the best breastfeeding tips begins right at birth.
During the first hour after birth, your baby should be awake and ready to breastfeed. If possible, it’s best to breastfeed immediately after birth and delay other tasks such as measuring and weighing the baby.
Current research indicates that breastfeeding within the first two hours of birth increases the chances of exclusive breastfeeding as well as increases the duration of breastfeeding. This is also important if you have a c-section.
Most hospitals now offer a “golden hour” where mother-child bonding is encouraged. (If your hospital doesn’t offer this, I would encourage you to find a baby-friendly hospital that does.) In addition to breastfeeding immediately following birth, evidence also suggests that skin-to-skin contact with the baby on your chest has several benefits— one of which is encouraging your baby to breastfeed.
Spend time holding your baby doing skin-to-skin after birth and for the first few weeks. Try doing so in a reclined position so your baby can feel his tummy against your body. This encourages his natural instincts and feeding reflexes to self-latch correctly.
2. Work with a lactation consultant
Almost every new mama needs a lactation consultant in her corner. A lactation consultant is a trained breastfeeding specialist, who can help you with all your breastfeeding questions and challenges.
Most hospitals will have a lactation consultant on duty during regular hours, so be sure to ask to see one after your baby is born. After you bring your baby home, you may need continued lactation support so it is a good idea to research some IBCLC lactation consultants near you. Your pediatrician’s office may also have a lactation consultant on staff. And finally, La Leche League is another great resource for breastfeeding advice. I recommend going to their free meetings for breastfeeding support (and to meet other new moms); in fact, many women attend these meetings while they are still pregnant and this is a great way to mentally prepare for breastfeeding.
My hospital also offered free breastfeeding support groups led by IBCLC lactation consultants. Check with yours to see if they offer a service like this.
3. Commit to your breastfeeding goals
At times, breastfeeding can seem like a roller coaster ride. At first, it can be challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable or even painful. There were days where I cried while my baby nursed. But once you and your baby get the hang of it, breastfeeding can become such a special part of motherhood.
With the ups and downs, and the learning curve that comes with breastfeeding, it’s important to have the right mindset. If breastfeeding is important to you, take a moment and really commit to it. Visualize yourself and your baby nursing at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. If you believe in yourself and you commit to your plan of nursing, you can overcome bumpy beginnings.
Once you truly commit to your plan of breastfeeding, you’ll be able to power through difficult days, cluster feeding, cracked nipples, and clogged ducts. You can do it, mama.
Related: The Best Breastfeeding Hack, Ever
4. Ask for support from your inner circle
Support can also make or break your breastfeeding relationship. When it gets hard, you will need to rely on support, especially from your partner. Another one of my top breastfeeding tips is to go over your breastfeeding plan with your partner before your baby arrives so that you are on the same page. For some couples, this conversation may need extend to in-laws, parents, and siblings, too. Let me just say this: when you are in a moment of struggle, you won’t want your significant other (and/or extended family members) to be pushing you to “just give the baby formula already”.
The conversation could go something like this:
- Breastfeeding is really important to me because…
- I may struggle with it at times, but when I do please…
- Please don’t suggest formula feeding during difficult times because… I’d rather…
- What I will need from you the most is…
Make sure they know your plan to breastfeed, and explain how they can best support you. Maybe that means your husband is on dinner duty for a couple of weeks, or that you just need someone to vent to or a shoulder to cry on.
Or if you do need to supplement with formula, maybe your husband can run out and pick some up for you from the store. Have these conversations and communicate your plans and needs, as early as possible.
5. Use organic creams to soothe sore nipples
With a proper latch, your nipples shouldn’t crack or bleed, but they’ll probably be sore, especially if it is your first time breastfeeding. I suggest always having some nipple creams on hand for relief.
In my quest to avoid lanolin (made from sheep’s wool and often contaminated with feces), I found two great organic nipple salves. I love this Organic Nipple Butter. It smells like cocoa butter, and you don’t have to wipe it off when your baby nurses. This was a life-saver to me after my second baby was born.
Another option is the Motherlove Nipple Cream, which also does not need to be rinsed off before nursing your baby. What I like about this cream is that it’s made with calendula–this has amazing restorative and healing properties. For more great options, check out my full guide to the best organic nipple creams.
If you are not a fan of nipple cream, a warm washcloth or even a hot shower can also help soothe your breasts. Please just note that heat usually stimulates milk production, so it’s best to use it cautiously during the first month while your body establishes your milk supply. Overusing heat can cause engorgement, which can be extremely painful.
6. Use hot and cold compresses for pain relief
One of the most valuable items I bought for myself was a set of soothing nursing packs. Anytime I had a clogged duct or was engorged, I would use these for hot and cold therapy. First I would heat them up and apply them to the breast right before nursing to stimulate the flow of milk. Then after I was done nursing, I would use them cold to stop milk flow.
They were life-savers – they are definitely an essential item for all breastfeeding moms!
7. Create a breastfeeding station
Have a special place set aside for you to breastfeed. Get a comfortable glider and a small side table, and stock it with your breastfeeding necessities.
Some things to include are:
- Nursing pillow
- Nipple cream
- Reading material
- Nursing pads and shields
- Hot/cold packs
- Phone charger
- Burp cloth
- Muslin blanket
8. Don’t try to nurse on a rigid schedule
Your newborn will breastfeed often and for long periods of time. During the first few days of life, your baby will suckle on your breast to send messages to your body that she is hungry. Your body then creates colostrum and a few days later, breastmilk. Your goal is to build up an appropriate supply of breast milk that meets your baby’s nutritional needs. So, it’s important to try to bring your baby to your breast as often as possible.
Despite what some parenting books and well-meaning friends and family might say, there is no need to impose any sort of feeding schedule while your baby is young. This applies especially during the first six to eight weeks as your body needs to establish your milk supply. You will want to nurse on demand as soon as you see any hunger cues.
Hunger cues can include:
- rooting (turning his head looking for a breast)
- licking his lips or opening his mouth
- putting his hands in his mouth
Once your baby is crying for milk, that is an indication that you missed the early hunger cues. (Don’t feel too bad – I did this all the time. Just work on being more attuned to your baby’s early hunger cues.)
Some days your baby might nurse every two hours. Other days, he might decide he needs to nurse every hour on the hour. A healthy breastfed newborn baby will nurse eight to twelve times in a twenty-four hour period. The best rule of thumb is to always feed your baby when he is showing signs of hunger, even if he just ate.
So, pick out a few Netflix series you want to watch and binge out. (Just keep your baby from watching, because babies shouldn’t have any screen time.) Most importantly, enjoy those precious newborn cuddles!
9. Check your breastfeeding position
When you feed your baby, position his nose to your nipple and his belly to your belly. This position ensures that your baby does not strain his head in order to latch. In fact, making sure your baby’s nose is pointed at your breast encourages your baby to lift his chin and open his mouth wider to gain a proper latch.
Similarly, you don’t want to be slouched over while nursing. Position your feet firmly on the ground or on a foot stool to give yourself a solid foundation. Try using a nursing pillow to help you position your baby close to you as well. And if you are still struggling with getting the right position and latch, work with a lactation consultant for one on one advice.
10. Avoid engorgement
If your body produces more milk than your baby is drinking, your breasts will begin to feel heavy, hard, and engorged with milk. This can happen if your baby suddenly starts sleeping through the night, and you miss a few nursing sessions. It can also happen if your baby is nursing inefficiently, has a bad latch, or a tongue/lip tie.
If you are engorged and your baby latches on to nurse, he might have a difficult time achieving a good position. He can also be overwhelmed by the amount of milk and gag or choke when he tries to nurse.
If you do find yourself a bit engorged, you can hand-express milk to extract some of the extra breastmilk. I would nurse the baby and allow him to extract as much milk as possible before turning to backup methods like pumping. You can also try to change positions while nursing and lean back a bit when you nurse so that your baby can better manage with a slower flow.
11. Identify lip and tongue ties
Lip and tongue ties are quite common, though they often go undetected. They can cause pain and latching issues during breastfeeding. With a lip and/or a tongue tie, babies can struggle to obtain a proper latch, which can mean your baby isn’t effectively able to draw out milk from your breast. This problem can lead to poor weight gain and growth.
While a lip tie or tongue tie might be first spotted in the hospital due to a poor latch, some cases are not diagnosed until months later. Many pediatricians are familiar with tongue ties and will check your baby for that especially if you’re having some pain while breastfeeding. However, lip ties are not commonly spotted until they see your baby isn’t gaining sufficient weight. My advice is to ask the pediatrician to check for both a lip and a tongue tie even if you’re not having any breastfeeding issues at the time.
If you are still concerned, you can schedule an appointment with a preferred provider who can evaluate your baby for a lip and tongue tie. In hindsight, I wish I had done this earlier with both of my babies because they both had ties that I didn’t know about. If you do decide to correct the ties, the procedure is supposed to be easier on the babies while they are younger.
12. Try not to worry about your milk supply
It’s hard not to worry about your milk supply. Unlike with formula feeding, you don’t get to see how many ounces your baby is consuming so you might find yourself worrying about whether your baby is getting enough breast milk.
The biggest indicator of a good or bad supply is how well your baby is growing. Frequent feedings, low pumping output, and breasts that don’t feel heavy are not true indicators of your milk supply. Just because your baby wants to nurse often at night doesn’t mean your supply is low either. Breastfed babies nurse often, especially at the newborn stage.
If you suspect your supply is low, the best thing to do is contact your pediatrician and a lactation consultant for an evaluation. If you do need help, I have a great list of natural ways to boost your milk supply.
13. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, hydration is crucial. Contrary to popular belief, increased water intake does not equate to increased milk production. According to Dr. Sears, a lactating woman’s hormones actually make her conserve water.
However, if a mother is not drinking enough water, she can feel fatigued and unable to concentrate. Simply put, hydration will help you feel good and stay healthy. If you have trouble drinking enough water throughout the day, one good rule of thumb is to drink a full 8 ounces of water during each breastfeeding session. I really love these water bottles with a straw because I drink more water than any other water bottle I’ve used!
14. Keep your baby close at night
By keeping your baby in your bedroom for nighttime sleep, it becomes exponentially easier to wake up for those little hungry cries in the wee hours of the morning. In fact, if you keep your baby in a bassinet next to your bed, you can most times just reach over, pick him up, and bring him in bed with you to breastfeed and then return him to the bassinet when he’s finished. Keeping your baby in the same room as you is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS.
15. What you do while nursing matters
Let’s file this piece of advice under “do as I say, not as I do.” Let’s be honest, nursing a newborn takes a lot of time. And nowadays everyone’s natural inclination is to multitask.
This is why many of us mamas often find ourselves pulling out our cell phones to multitask while nursing. I do a lot of online shopping, respond to texts, read emails, and reply to reader questions on Facebook while I’m nursing. It’s usually quite a productive time for me.
But there are two problems with this. The first is that multitasking usually means I’m not engaging with my baby while nursing. In fact, it means I’ve usually checked out entirely. Instead of trying to enjoy the moment and at least make occasional eye contact with my baby, I’m usually drawn to crossing items off my to do list while nursing.
So my advice to all the new mamas out there is to find balance. Of course, you’ll want to watch Netflix or scroll your Facebook feed while nursing. But promise yourself that you’ll also use your time nursing to look into your baby’s eyes and let them gaze into yours. That you’ll hold their hand while nursing and make silly faces. Breathe them in when they’re little. I know that it’s difficult and exhausting and you haven’t slept well for days. But try to do this at least 1-2 times per day.
Another thing to consider is that your cell phone shouldn’t be in close proximity to your baby. Not only is the cell signal strong but the blue light emitted from the phone can affect your baby’s melatonin production and sleep. When I do use my phone around the kids, I usually have it on airplane + WiFi mode and would encourage you to do the same if it makes sense for you.
16. Be prepared to nurse in public
Nursing in public isn’t my favorite activity. In fact, I had a pretty conservative upbringing so it didn’t come naturally to me. With my first baby, I preferred to nurse privately in the car or even in a bathroom. Yes, even me (a gentle-parenting, natural-mothering, baby-crazy mom) would prefer to nurse my baby in a private bathroom stall than in public.
You know what I say? Nurse in private if you want to! There’s nothing wrong with that and there is no shame in doing so, even if it is in a bathroom. But you can also nurse in public if you want to. In the United States, you can legally nurse your baby anywhere publicly – in all 50 states.
By the time I had my second baby, I couldn’t be bothered to go and find a bathroom to nurse in. I had no time for that, so I got a lot more comfortable with nursing in public. It was pure necessity. After two years of nursing in public, I can honestly say that I don’t really think twice about it. I just make sure to cover up to my own comfort level.
So while it’s a good idea to always nurse your baby before you leave your home, and bring a bottle if you have one, just know that at some point, your baby inevitably need to nurse while you’re out. Here are my favorite tips for doing so:
- Use the Double Shirt Method: One of my favorite tips for nursing in public is the double shirt method. I wear a tank top under my shirts and remove my breast over the top of the tank top. That way, my stomach is covered. The top shirt covers the top of my breast and very little, if anything, shows.
- Try a muslin blanket or a nursing cover: Drape a light muslin blanket over your baby’s body and your shoulder, or use a nursing cover for some privacy.
- Pick a comfortable place to nurse. I still try to find a private space but otherwise I just find a comfortable enough chair or bench and get situated. I’ve nursed on benches, in fitting rooms (one of my favorite places to nurse), at parks, in restaurants, at the doctor’s office, in line at Disneyland, and more. Over time you won’t worry so much about where you are.
- Nurse in the baby carrier. One of my favorite reasons to use a baby carrier is that you can nurse your baby easily – right in the carrier. It takes a little maneuvering, but it is easy to do and guarantees you a little more privacy than sitting down somewhere in public to nurse. Also? After a good nursing session, your baby will probably fall asleep right there on your chest in the carrier.
- Practice often: Over time, you will get more comfortable nursing in public. Years later, I don’t think twice about feeding my baby wherever and whenever I’m out. You shouldn’t either!
Breastfeeding is hard work at times, but it’s a strong bond between you and your baby. Succeeding at breastfeeding will involve trial and error, and lots of patience on your part. But I truly hope these breastfeeding tips help you out! Remember that support and talking to experienced breastfeeding moms will be one of the most important keys to success.
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