Breastfeeding was not intuitive for me and I struggled. After birth, mother and baby are often very sleepy, and establishing a consistent breast-feeding routine can be difficult. The lack of frequency or consistency in feeding can lead to difficulty with breastfeeding. What I found particularly difficult in the first 2 weeks postpartum, was learning to breastfeed on demand. Breastfeeding on demand is when the mother is able to breastfeed her infant in response to the infant showing signs of hunger. If you are finding some challenges learning how to breastfeed, here are some breastfeeding tips that provide to my patients.
The first few weeks postpartum are key to establishing a successful breastfeeding routine
After birth, infants will typically feed every 1-4 hours. It is typically recommended not waiting more than 4 hours for a feed. New mothers should expect to breastfeed their infants 8 to 12 times per day, including overnight periods, until breastfeeding is well established and you are able to breastfeed on demand.
The best breastfeeding tips I received postpartum was learning the signs of infant hunger and satiety
It is important for first time parents to learn the cues of infant hunger and satiety when learning how to breastfeed. This will help you establish your breastfeeding routine, and begin to learn to breastfeed on demand. Early signs of infant hunger is suggested when:
- Moving hands toward the mouth, or sucking on fists
- Smacking or puckering lips
- Opening and closing mouth repeatedly
- Rooting on the chest of whomever is carrying them looking for a breast
Late hunger cues may not be seen in some infants
Late hunger cues may not bee seen in premature infants, or infants with an underlying neurological or muscular condition (as they may lack the strength or coordination). Late hunger cues include:
- Acting irritable or restless
- Flailing the extremities
Feeding your infant in response to the early signs of hunger is the best for both mother and baby.
It is easier to initiate a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your baby if you are both calm (I definitely struggled staying calm during the first few weeks of breastfeeding!). This allows for better practice of latching and honing skills.
Once a baby becomes very hungry and is crying and agitated, getting a proper latch becomes more difficult (and heightens anxiety for mom and baby).
Signs your infant is satiated during or following a feed include:
- Turning their head away from the breast or bottle
- Relaxing the face muscles, relaxing and removing the hands from the breast
- Empty looking cheeks
- Stop sucking
- Closing their lips
- Falling asleep
Establish a consistent and frequent breastfeeding routine
One breastfeeding tip I give to expectant mothers who want to learn how to breastfeed, is to anticipate having to integrate breastfeeding into your routine before you give birth! After birth, mother and baby are often very sleepy, and establishing a consistent breast-feeding routine can be difficult. The lack of frequency or consistency in feeding can lead to difficulty with breastfeeding, or difficulty with breastfeeding on demand.
The average woman will breastfeed 8 to 12 times per day in the first 2 weeks postpartum.
Breastfeeding on demand, frequently and fully emptying the breasts with each feed or pump, will likely increase milk supply.
Poor and inconsistent feeding routines in the early postpartum period are the most common cause of difficulty with how to breastfeed. It may be tempting to stretch out feeds to 4 hours, or give your baby a pacifier to prolong the time between feedings. Milk is produced when the breasts are empty, so the more frequently the breasts are emptied, the more milk will be produced.
Offer both breasts at each feeding, but alternate breasts
The first breast that should be offered during a given feed should be alternated at each feeding. Offer both breasts at each feeding, starting with the breast you did not use first at the last feeding.
- Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 2012; 129:e827.
- Implementation guidance: Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services: the revised Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative 2018. https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/bfhi-implementation/en/