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Expert advice from your bosom buddy Clare Byam-Cook, a trained nurse and experienced midwife. Here are her top tips on getting started.

We all know that “Breast is Best” but it isn’t always as easy as everyone makes out. Just because it is natural, doesn’t mean that your baby will automatically know what to do and the reality is that many babies struggle to latch on and/or don’t suck very well. They haven’t read the books that tell them that they must open their mouths wide, tilt their heads backwards and latch on to the breast – so they don’t do it! And some mothers have such a large breasts that they would need to give birth to a mini alligator for breastfeeding to work!

How to get started

I have devised a method that makes latching on easy for mother and baby. Rather than expecting the baby to open his mouth wide, I teach the mother to make her breast smaller – this involves gently squeezing her breast so that it fits better into his mouth. The principle is the same as trying to post a large parcel into a small letterbox – you need to make the parcel smaller rather than expecting the letter box to become larger.

This is how you do it:

  • Sit in a chair that is comfortable and supports your back
  • place one or two pillows onto your lap so that you can lay your baby on the top pillow at the level of your breasts – I find that ordinary bed pillows are much better for this than specialist breastfeeding pillows
  • lay your baby on his side on the top pillow with his mouth (not his nose) directly in front of your nipple
  • slide your hand underneath your breast and place the balls of your thumb and third finger level with your nipple and on the outside of your areola
  • gently squeeze your breast until your nipple protrudes
  • Brush your nipple against your baby’s lips until he opens his mouth, then move him swiftly to your breast so that you get as much nipple and areola as possible into his mouth before he closes it. To do this you need to hold him in such a way that you have good control of his head.
  • Once your baby has latched on, you can gradually let go of your breast and remove your hand
  • If he is latched on correctly, it won’t hurt and he will settle into doing deep rhythmic sucking
  • If it does hurt, and/or he is not sucking well, you need to take him off and start again

I always teach mothers to start off breastfeeding using pillows as described above, as I find this works best in the early days. But as soon as you feel confident about latching your baby on, you can dispense with the pillows and cradle him in your arms in the traditional way. This will make breastfeeding much easier when you are out and about without your pillows to hand.

Your baby is latched on correctly if...
  • he has all your nipple and most of the areola in his mouth
  • his mouth is wide open and his lips are curled back
  • his nose and chin are gently pressed against your breast
  • his head is in a straight line along with the rest of his body – if his head is curled in or extended too far back it will hurt you and he will find it difficult to get the milk
  • you see and feel no pulling of the breast as he sucks. Make sure that you bring your baby to the breast, rather than pushing your breast towards the baby
Breastfeeding in bed

I am generally not in favour of breastfeeding lying down in bed as I think it can make it harder for the baby to latch on correctly and both of you will often fall asleep in mid feed which means he may end up having a snack rather than a full meal. There is also the safety issue to be considered and the current advice recommends that it is safer not to have your baby sleeping in bed with you.

The football hold

This involves holding your baby under your arm rather than laying him across your body. Mothers are often recommended to do this if they are getting sore nipples or having problems latching the baby on, but I think both of these problems can be resolved more easily just using my shape and shove’ method. It does however work very well for twins when you want to feed them simultaneously.

How long should a feed last

There is no quick answer to this question as it all depends on how much milk you have, how quickly it flows and how well your baby sucks – and all mothers and babies are different. For example, if you have plenty of milk that flows very quickly, your baby might be able to get a full feed in as little as 10 to 20 minutes. Whereas another mother who has a very slow flow of milk may need to feed her baby for up to an hour before he gets enough. You need to learn by trial and error, by timing feeds until you see a pattern emerge. If you notice that your baby usually sleeps better after a 40 minute feed than he does after a 30 minute feed, you will quickly realise that it’s up to you to make sure that your baby stays awake and feeds for at least 40 minutes.

How can I tell if he is getting enough milk?

Your baby is getting enough milk if:

  • he does deep rhythmic sucks at the breast
  • he stays asleep when you put him in his own bed
  • his feeds last him roughly 3 to 4 hours
  • he has a wet nappy at least six times a day
  • he is gaining the right amount of weight

Your baby is not getting enough milk if:

  • he falls asleep at the breast but then cries every time you try to put him down
  • he wants to feed far more frequently than every 3 to 4 hours
  • he does not have lots of wet nappies
  • his weight gain is poor
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