Your body can do some amazing things, and breastfeeding is one of them. Healthcare providers recommend breastfeeding as the healthiest feeding option for most parents and babies. Here, we’ll cover the breastfeeding basics — including how to nurse your baby — and provide you with some resources for further reading, education, and support. We want to do all we can to help you reach your breastfeeding goals, whatever they look like!
Breastfeeding has benefits for you and your baby
One reason many people choose to breastfeed is because it has major benefits for both you and your little one. So just how beneficial is breastfeeding? Very.
Breast milk provides baby with all the calories, fluids, and nutrients they need in early life and is very easy for your baby to digest. It also boosts your little one’s immunity, protects against childhood illness, and even seems to have a protective impact later in life. Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and other viral and bacterial infections. Some research suggests that further benefits include protection from obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, eczema, colitis, some allergies, and some cancers. And those who were breastfed as babies are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and some breast cancers when older.
Breastfeeding can also help your uterus return to pre-birth size more quickly, may decrease postpartum bleeding, and protects you against disease and illness — like certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes — later in life.
And breastfeeding can also help you feel particularly close to your little one, since the skin-to-skin contact triggers oxytocin, the “love” hormone, which plays a key part in early bonding.
Recommendations and your goals
All these benefits are pretty amazing. That’s why leading experts, like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for their first six months. Exclusive breastfeeding means that a baby has only breast milk and no other food, water, or formula. How often your baby should nurse will change as they grow. After six months of age, a child can start to be slowly introduced to solid foods, but they should continue to receive their main source of nourishment from breast milk. The AAP recommends continued breastfeeding, along with complementary foods, until a child reaches at least one year of age or longer, while the WHO recommends continued breastfeeding until two years of age and then longer as mutually desired by mother and child.
It can be helpful to keep these recommendations in mind as you set your own breastfeeding goals. Many nursing parents find it helpful to have their goals in mind during tough times. And if things change and you need to reassess, that’s okay. Any amount of time that a baby is breastfed has benefits — for both you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it can take a little while to get the hang of it. Following these steps can make the process a little bit smoother:
1. Be on the lookout for your little one’s hunger cues
It’s much easier to nurse your little one when they’re in the early stages of hunger. A baby in the early stage of hunger will smack or lick their lips, make sucking sounds, open and close their mouth, stick out their tongue, or bring fists or fingers to their mouth. A baby in an active stage of hunger might “root” or turn their head and open mouth to search for a breast when something brushes their cheek, squirm and try to position their body to feed, hit, breathe fast, or fuss. In the late stage of hunger — when they’re actively crying and acting frantic — you may need to soothe them and help them calm down before starting to breastfeed.
2. Position your little one to breastfeed
Get yourself comfortable wherever you’re going to nurse. You may want to use a nursing pillow for extra comfort and support. You may even want to sit down with a glass of water and a small snack.
Turn baby toward you tummy to tummy, support their shoulders and hips, and support your breast as needed. There are many different nursing positions you can choose from, so use one that works for you.
3. Get a good latch
Some babies latch easily when close to the breast in a nose-to-nipple position. A good latch is comfortable for you, and you’ll hear swallowing and not much else!
If baby isn’t opening their mouth to feed, you can brush your nipple across the top of their upper lip, almost as if you are tickling their lip. You can also hand-express a little bit of colostrum (the first milk your breasts produce before your mature milk comes in) and then take your nipple to your baby’s nose so they can smell it, and then bring your nipple toward your baby’s mouth. Hopefully, this will make your baby open their mouth wide and lift their chin, which brings you one step closer to a good latch!
If baby needs a little bit of direction, once they open their mouth, aim your nipple toward the roof of their mouth. This may help get a deeper latch. A deep latch is a good latch, and this will mean that your baby can draw more milk from the breast. It also means less nipple discomfort for you — a win-win!
As you guide your nipple into your little one’s mouth, you may want to be holding the breast they’ll feed from. As you hold your breast, your thumb and fingers should form a “C” shape around the breast to guide it, keeping your fingers well back from the nipple.
You may even want to gently squeeze the breast a bit, so that you can compress or “sandwich” your breast tissue, depending on your breast shape and size. Make sure that the compression is parallel to baby’s lips, in the same way that you would eat a sandwich. And if your breasts are on the larger side, it can be helpful to place a rolled up towel beneath them.
4. Know when your baby is full, and don’t forget to burp!
Just as a baby shows signs of hunger, there are many ways they’ll let you know when they’re full. This might include relaxing their body, slowing down their feeding or falling asleep, flutter sucking, opening up their fists, releasing your nipple, closing their mouth, and pulling or turning away from the breast.
It may help to burp your little one once they’re done eating. Many breastfed babies don’t swallow a lot of air when feeding, but inhale lots of air if they’ve been crying. Burping helps release that trapped air/gas from your baby’s stomach and helps them feel more comfortable. There are a few different positions you can burp your little one in — find the ones that they prefer and note that this could change as they grow. Some babies can burp at the end of a feeding session, some may need to take a break or two part way through to release that gas and be comfortable.
Beyond the breastfeeding basics
This may feel like just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breastfeeding and you may want more information! You might face breastfeeding challenges along the way, changes as your baby grows, or you might just want to educate yourself further or seek out a supportive community. Further support and education can be valuable tools on your breastfeeding journey.
If you want more breastfeeding resources, we’ve got you covered. But in the meantime, we hope these basics set you up with a foundation for success. Breastfeeding is hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding, and we’re here to support you on your breastfeeding journey at every step of the way. Breastfeeding is one of the greatest (and earliest) gifts you can give Baby to help them get a healthy start in life.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Breastfeeding.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, July 8 2020. Retrieved July 23 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/index.htm.
- “Your Guide to Breastfeeding.” Office of Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved July 23 2020. https://www.womenshealth.gov/files/documents/your-guide-to-breastfeeding.pdf.
- “Breastfeeding.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Retrieved July 23 2020. https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1.