Why do women have to learn how to nurse their babies?
You would think that breastfeeding would be easy because it’s natural. But it’s actually one of the hardest things that most moms will ever do. This isn’t intended to discourage you, instead the goal is to give you the information you need to know how to nurse your new baby successfully from one mom to another.
This post contains affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more information.
How do you successfully breastfeed?
Breastfeeding isn’t one of those things that you can just figure out on your own. You can try, but chances are you won’t get very far. I have a friend that went that route, and let’s just say she made major mistakes that ruined her breastfeeding chances.
To be successful at breastfeeding, you need to learn how to do it and have the necessary provisions. It’s best to learn before your baby is born but all isn’t lost if you have to learn to breastfeed after your baby arrives.
Where to learn about breastfeeding?
There are several well written books on breastfeeding for first time moms. You may even have a copy of the most popular one. Personally, when learning a new skill I prefer to see it rather than read about it.
I am a huge fan of classes and think taking a breastfeeding class is a must!
I wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed for the past 22 months and counting (I’m stopping in 2 months) without it.
Your local hospital should offer a breastfeeding class and for the most part they tend to be very helpful. But, you do have to leave your house to take it. They can be a little boring too unless you do like I did and take it with a friend.
The best bang for your buck and time is to take a breastfeeding class online. This way you can take it at your leisure and always have it as a reference if you run into any problems later. It’s also a good way for dad and other family members to learn about the process so they can support you on your journey.
Trust me, everyone will have an opinion on how to best take care of your newborn. But, it’s less stressful for you if they are getting the same information as you.
There are two virtual breastfeeding classes that I recommend: The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class and Breast Prep, by a Nurse Practitioner with 10 years of experience working in labor and delivery and obstetrics and gynecology.
What do I need for breastfeeding?
- Breastfeeding Pillow
You can breastfeed without a nursing pillow. It just makes the process easier for both you and baby.
- Nursing Cover
You will learn that it’s important to breastfeed your baby as often as possible immediately after birth. This is also a time where you may have a lot of visitors. In order to preserve your privacy and not prevent you from feeding the baby, a nursing cover can be very beneficial. It will also be useful later if you decide to breastfeed in public or when you have guests at your home.
A nursing cover is also optional but again, very helpful. I didn’t think to bring one with me to the hospital and it was weird trying to breastfeed with my dad in the room. He kept having to leave while everyone else was able to stay and it left me feeling very awkward.
- Feeding Tracker
After giving birth to your baby, you’ll be tired and won’t feel like thinking much. You’ll need to know which side baby nursed from last so you can put him or her on the opposite side for the next feeding. This is where a feeding tracker becomes very handy. There are mobile versions as well as printable versions.
You can grab one below as a part of our Ultimate New Mom’s Bundle of Checklists.
- Nursing Pads
Your breasts are going to leak whether you choose to breastfeed or not. By using nursing pads you’ll be able to protect your clothes and avoid embarrassment. Nursing pads come in both disposable and reusable forms. I recommend the disposable ones because you don’t want to add anything extra to your growing laundry list.
- Nursing Bra
You may have already purchased new bras during your pregnancy. If they aren’t nursing bras, you’ll need to buy more. You don’t want to use just any type of bra because it could cause you issues later. For example, you should avoid wearing bras that have underwire. It can cause you to end with a painful blocked milk duct. Trust me on this one!
- Nipple Cream
This should have been number one on the list because it’s the most important! You will want to make sure you have a lanolin based nippled cream. This doesn’t mean you still won’t experience nipple discomfort, it just won’t be as bad and the healing process will be faster.
Related: Pumping Essentials
Breastfeeding at the hospital
The hospital is full of resources that you should take full advantage of. You will have your nurse and a lactation consultant that can support you.
The nurses have seen a lot and have a lot of experience. They will help you as much as they can but their time is limited as they do have other patients.
For this reason, I highly advise that you request to see a lactation consultant. The services are free and the support you’ll receive is invaluable. They will be able to help you with latching, positioning, and other breastfeeding issues that may arise.
If breastfeeding is important to you, make that known upfront!
Facilities can be deemed “breastfeeding friendly” but at the end of the day their number one concern is making sure that your baby is eating (which is your concern too). Sometimes this may result in them initiating things that can be detrimental to your breastfeeding success.
This is another reason why a lactation consultant is so important. She will be your advocate and your baby’s advocate. Your lactation consultant will know how to make sure baby is consuming enough calories without derailing your plans to breastfeed.
I’ve seen hospitals push formulas on moms (there’s nothing wrong with formula) without telling them how to initiate and maintain their own milk production. Or, how to prevent the baby from preferring the bottle to the breast.
Again, this is why I strongly advise taking a breastfeeding class. You won’t be dependent on others to tell you what to do. You’ll know for yourself and your loved ones will be able to have your back as well.
How do I breastfeed my baby for the first time?
There are a couple of things to know when nursing your baby for the first time.
1. You want to make sure you are relaxed and comfortable. If you are stressed, you’ll make baby stressed and that won’t be good for either of you.
2. You want baby to be ready to feed. Can you imagine someone trying to put food in your mouth when you didn’t ask them to? That’s how your baby will feel too. Although they can’t talk to you, they are very good at communicating when they are hungry:
- Rooting (they will open their mouth and start bobbing their heads like little chickens trying to find a something to suck)
- They will put their hands in their mouth or suck on their fists
- You may see your baby sucking on their lips
- They will wake up and be alert
- Your baby will cry. Keep in mind that this is a late sign and the goal is to recognize that they are hungry before this point.
3. Baby should be in proper position meaning you should be bringing your baby to your breast and not bringing your breasts to the baby.
4. Decide which breastfeeding hold you want to try. There are 5 common newborn breastfeeding positions:
- Cradle Hold
- Crossover hold
- Football hold
- Laid-back position
- Side-lying position
- Baby sitting
My favorite nursing position was the football hold and it worked great with my breastfeeding pillow.
5. Make sure baby is latched on properly. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Yes, your nipples will be sore from the friction caused by baby’s sucking but the act itself shouldn’t be painful.
When breastfeeding hurts that’s normally an indicator of incorrect latching. According to the American Pregnancy Association, you know you have a good latch when:
- You aren’t experiencing pain
- Tongue is seen when the bottom lip is pulled down
- You can hear swallowing
- Your baby’s chin touches your breast
- Baby’s mouth opens wide around your breast and not just the nipple
- The baby’s ears move slightly
How do I get my baby to latch on properly?
1. Decide which breastfeeding hold you want to attempt.
2. Use your breastfeeding pillow to properly position your baby.
3. Bring your baby to your breast and wait for them to open their mouth wide. If they aren’t opening their mouth on their own, you can tickle baby’s lip with your nipple.
This should cause them to open their mouth. When they do bring baby to your breast and make sure that your baby’s mouth covers both your nipple and areola.
What to Expect suggests also making sure that your breasts aren’t blocking your baby’s ability to breath. You may have to take one of your hands and push down on the top of your breast so you aren’t blocking your baby’s nostrils.
You should be able to hear baby swallowing and their cheeks should see their cheeks moving.
When all of these things happen, you have a good latch.
Breastfeeding Latching Problems
Some babies are born with a lip tie or tongue tie. Both can make getting a proper latch challenging.
With a lip tie, the top lip is unable to move freely. This could potentially prevent the baby from latching properly during breastfeeding or it may not have an impact at all.
Mayo Clinic describes a tongue tie as a band of tissue that tethers the bottom of the tongue’s tip to the roof of the mouth. Not only is this problematic for breastfeeding (baby isn’t able to keep their tongue in the right position to get milk from the nipple) but it can also cause issues with speech and eating as the child grows.
How does it feel to breastfeed for the first time?
The first time you nurse your baby you will be full of different thoughts and emotions. You’ll wonder if it’s going to hurt, are you doing it right, is baby getting milk, can you do this.
More than likely the first time will not hurt unless baby isn’t latched properly. I had mentally prepared myself to feel pain, but it wasn’t there. In fact, with the first latch I didn’t really feel anything at all.
If your first latch is painful, let your nurse or lactation consultant know immediately. They can help you reposition so that you and baby are both comfortable.
As you continue to breastfeed your baby, you will experience periods of discomfort as your nipples adjust to the vigorous sucking. After your nipples “toughen up” you won’t feel much of anything when baby is latched on.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s ok if you need assistance while nursing in the hospital. Remember your nurse and lactation consultant are there to support you.
If you’re still needing support once you are discharged home, reach out to your local La Leche League.
Related: Breastfeeding Journey
How do I know if my baby is full when breastfeeding?
When your baby is finished feeding one of two things will happen, they will “pop-off” the breast and go to sleep or they will just relax.
I used to say my baby was milk drunk when she’d “pop-off” and be knocked out. You’ll see what I’m talking about!
If your newborn falls asleep with your nipple still in their mouth, chances are they weren’t finished feeding. Breastfeeding exerts a lot of energy and can wear a baby out. Sometimes you have to stimulate them so they’ll stay awake long enough to complete their feeding.
You can stimulate them by:
- Removing their clothes
- Opening their diaper
- Tickling their feet
- Rubbing a wet washcloth on their face
You’ll also know that baby is getting enough milk because they will be producing the appropriate amount of wet and poopy diapers. If you’re concerned, alert your baby’s healthcare professional.
How long should baby nurse on each breast?
There isn’t a certain length of time that baby should be latched on but according to Kids Health the average newborn nurses for up to 20 minutes per breast.
To make sure that your baby is getting the most from their nursing sessions, keep them from falling asleep while breastfeeding and listen to hear them swallow.
Don’t worry, as your baby gets older, their nursing sessions won’t last as long. For now, find a great Netflix series to get into and enjoy the snuggles.
Will breastfeeding get easier?
Over time, breastfeeding should get easier. Your nipples will stop being raw. You will figure out which nursing positions works best for you. Recognizing feeding cues will become second nature. Baby will become a pro at latching and you’ll come to love the bond you’re forming through your nursing sessions.
Ok so I may be exaggerating a little bit but it really should get easier with time. Remember you have several resources you can use should you have any hiccups or just need additional support. As you continue on your breastfeeding journey, the learning will never stop. For each stage of your baby’s development you’ll learn additional information about how to breastfeed.
Still have more breastfeeding questions? Join our Facebook Group and connect with other breastfeeding moms.
Don’t forget to grab the New Mom’s Printable with Breastfeeding tracker, pumping bag checklist, breastfeeding station checklist, and so much more!