The Breastfeeding Basics

The Breastfeeding Basics

{Sasha is writing this post a breastfeeding counselor in training as well as a mama who has breastfed her firstborn for 18 months and is currently breastfeeding her second daughter} 

Let's face it, there are a million books out there to read about breastfeeding and truth be told it can all get a little overwhelming. Some books are long and intimidating and classes at hospitals aren't always available to us or in coordination with our schedules. Learning about breastfeeding is just plain overwhelming!

What are just the basic, must have tips for breastfeeding?

What are the things that you really must do in order for success?

Well today I am going to try my best to make things simple and easy for you. There's still so much to learn and many things that are not included in this post. But in general, this is breastfeeding in a nutshell for you. We'll talk about a few common problems, the first few weeks and more. Hopefully this can be a starting tool for you to prepare yourself to begin the most wonderful bonding experience ever.

The Breastfeeding Basics

There Are Two Milks.

There is fore milk that comes out first (much more watery) and it is followed by the hind milk (much more fatty). Hind milk is the good stuff that you want your baby to get to keep their bellies nice and full.

Alternate Sides.

Alternate your starting side each feeding. Whichever side you fed with last at your last feeding, will be the side you start with for the next feeding. This helps ensure that baby gets the good, fatty hind milk and it helps to empty the breast.

It's All About Supply and Demand.

 The more you bring baby to breast, the more milk you make. Your body will try and match baby's demand -- that's the science behind it ALL.

Don't Watch the Clock.

This can be tricky because ideally you want to nurse every 2-3 hours those first few weeks. However, don't watch the clock during the feedings. Let baby nurse as they please whether it is 10 minutes on a breast or 30 minutes. And let them nurse when they want...2-3 hours is just an estimate. It can be every hour or even every 40 minutes; every baby is different and there is no "textbook" perfect breastfeeding baby schedule.

Wake Baby to Eat.

For those first few weeks you do want to wake baby from naps when the three hour mark is approaching in order to build your supply up. Your supply is based off of baby's demand, and in those first few weeks you want to make sure you're feeding baby enough to ensure a good supply. Most newborns will typically wake up on their own every 2-3 hours to eat.

Don't Rigidly Schedule.

Nursing on demand is much more optimal, at least in the beginning. You can work on a schedule when baby is older and over major growth spurts and cluster feeding.

Know the Growth Spurts.

There are three main growth spurts where baby will almost never leave your breast -- 3, 6 and 12 weeks. Feed baby as often as they wish as this is their way of once again building your supply. There are still growth spurts along the way, so when baby wants to nurse more just let them!

Cluster feedings are real.

Cluster feedings generally happen in the evenings and can even happen on your first or second night in the hospital. Baby will want to nurse frequently and while it is exhausting, it is necessary. Don't panic that you're not satisfying them, cluster feedings are normal and good! This is baby's way of bringing your milk in during those first few days and their way of increasing your supply for you.

Avoid Artificial Nipples.

Starting pacifiers and bottles too soon can cause nipple confusion that can result in baby refusing the breast. Aim for attempting baby's first bottle around 4-6 weeks and if baby seems to need a pacifier (perhaps they want to pacify on you a lot), introduce the pacifier no earlier than two(ish) weeks. Make sure successful breastfeeding and latching has and is currently taking place. Some people are successful at giving bottles and pacis soon, it is really based on when you think baby will do okay with it.

They have sensitive guts.

Their bellies are quite sensitive in the beginning which can be a headache for breastfeeding mamas. Trying to figure out what foods you should and shouldn't eat isn't fun. Generally you'll want to stay away from known gassy foods in the beginning (beans, green veggies, etc...) and you'll want to limit things like caffeine. It helps if you know what foods make you gassy and try to eliminate those from your diet. Generally it'll be a trial and error period of finding out what irritates your baby, but just know that eventually they'll likely be able to tolerate it.

It WILL hurt.

In the beginning there will likely be lots of pain. You may experience cracked and sore nipples and you may have breasts that are so engorged that they will feel like two giant, lumpy rocks. This will all pass after the first 6-8 weeks. Massage your breasts during feedings to work lumps out, use hot compresses before feedings to help plugged ducts and pump a little for relief before feedings to help baby latch on to full, hard breasts. There are things like mastitis and thrush where you'll possibly have an infection or have to take an antibiotic, but it's still generally safe (and best) for baby to nurse!

There WILL be problems.

You will likely run into a problem or two (or three) in the beginning and you WILL have questions. Breastfeeding is not easy, especially for a new mama. While it is natural, it does not always come natural. Babies sometimes need help with latching or mamas have to work out the kinks and plugged ducts, just to name a few issues. There is almost always an answer to whatever problem you have and successful breastfeeding can likely continue!

You DO have enough milk.

Just because your baby wants to eat every thirty minutes one day or just because you breasts suddenly feel deflated or just because your baby doesn't sleep as much as your friend's baby, does not mean anything that should stress you out. Many mamas stop breastfeeding because they feel they are not satisfying their baby when in fact they are. It just takes understanding to know that they will nurse frequently, especially in the beginning. Enjoy the bond and don't stress (and don't supplement).

There are ways to increase your supply.

If by chance you truly have a low supply (this wouldn't really be known until past 8 weeks or so), then there are natural remedies to try. Supplements like fenugrek or Mother's Milk Plus will naturally increase supply. There are foods that can help such as oatmeal, almonds, lactation cookies and more. Bringing baby to breast more frequently and adding more pump sessions is the way to go as well!

Pumping is NOT always proof of what you're making.

In the beginning many mamas are pumping excessive amounts of milk because the body is trying to regulate. Eventually you'll see dips in those pump sessions and often times mamas panic. Remember that eventually you won't be making as much milk when your body regulates to match baby's demand. The key thing to remember is that a pump does NOT retrieve as much milk out as your baby does. Also, pumping throughout the day when you've been nursing does not give you an accurate idea of what you have in there. If you nursed even two hours before you pumped, you won't pump as much. It's just the science behind the boob!

Breast milk is a bad mama jama.

Do you have the flu? Have a cold? Worried about nursing your baby while you're sick? Don't be. Babies can be nursed while mama is sick; as by the time you show symptoms of being sick, you've already passed immunity on to baby through your milk. Have milk with a little blood in it? It's perfectly safe for baby as well. The only time to consider whether or not your milk is safe is when you are on particular antibiotics, drugs or if you have consumed alcohol. Baby has a dairy allergy? Breast milk is still the best for them, it just takes a dairy free diet for mama! Baby has reflux? Well, there are multiple positions to try and tactics (and medicines) to try to control the reflux.

Breast milk is STILL what is best!

Have support, hope and optimism.

It takes a support group on Facebook, a lactation consultant, or a supportive husband or a wonderful text book to get you through the tough days. It takes hope to make it past those first few tiring and painful weeks. And it takes optimism to know that you CAN do this, you were made to do this and the journey ahead will be a beautiful, bonding and unforgettable journey.

Just remember, it gets easier and it gets better! 

Email your breastfeeding questions to and check out our breastfeeding posts for support