The Basics of Breastfeeding

Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Baby being breastfed by mother: The Basics of Breastefeding
What are basics of breastfeeding?. Sri Maiava Rusden/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Just like pregnancy and childbirth, you may have heard other women's stories about their experiences with breastfeeding. It worked out beautifully for one woman and went horribly wrong for the other. You can certainly end up feeling overwhelmed by all of the information (or misinformation!) you're getting. So, let's demystify the process by understanding the basics of breastfeeding. Here's what you need to know.

The Preparation of Your Breasts During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the milk-making glands in your breasts begin to grow and develop. Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin play a major role in this breast development.

As your pregnancy goes on, your breasts will get bigger, and your areola, the circular area surrounding your nipple, will become darker. These are good signs that the hormones are doing their jobs, and your body is preparing to produce breast milk for your baby.

The Production and Stages of Breast Milk

Breast milk is produced based on supply and demand. Basically, the more frequently and effectively your baby breastfeeds, the more breast milk you'll make. 

During the first few days of breastfeeding, you'll make colostrum. Colostrum is the first breast milk. It has a yellow or orange tint, and it is thick, rich and filled with essential nutrients and immunoglobulins. You won't make a lot of colostrum, only about a teaspoon worth.

During these first few days, your baby will breastfeed very often, but this is normal and will it help you to establish a good milk supply. Don't worry that the colostrum isn't enough. Your baby's stomach is tiny, and that's all your little one needs at this stage. As the days go on you'll make more breast milk and your baby's breastfeeding pattern will tell your body how much breast milk to make. Your milk supply will eventually adjust to his or her demands.

Your breast milk will increase in amount or "come in," around the third or fourth day. At this time, your breasts will feel much fuller and heavier as your breast milk changes from colostrum to transitional milk (a crossover between colostrum and mature milk) to mature milk.

Breastfeeding and the Let-Down Reflex

When it's time to breastfeed, you may feel your breasts filling up. Then, a few minutes into the feeding, you may feel a release. This release of breast milk is called the let-down reflex or milk ejection. The let-down reflex is also responsible for your leaking breasts when your baby cries, or it's close to feeding time. It's a normal physiologic response.

If you experience leaking, you can wear nursing pads in your nursing bra.

Keep in mind, however, that many women do not leak at all, and that's OK as long as you're mindful of your milk supply, and your baby is gaining weight well and having enough wet diapers. 

When Should You Start Breastfeeding?

You should start breastfeeding as soon as possible after your baby is born. Newborns are often ready and eager to breastfeed right after delivery. Ideally, you should try to breastfeed for the first time within the first hour after birth. By breastfeeding as soon as you can, it helps to get the whole process off to a great beginning. Most babies are very alert and interested in nursing for the first 2 hours of life, so this is the perfect time to start. 

Breastfeeding Your Newborn

You may have a lot of concerns about breastfeeding your newborn. Here are some of the most common questions.

Breastfeeding and Latching On

The way your baby latches on to your breast to breastfeed is very important. A good breastfeeding latch means your baby will be able to remove the breast milk from your breasts well. The efficient removal of the breast milk allows your baby to get enough to grow healthy and strong, and it also signals your body to continue making milk.

On the other hand, a poor latch can prevent your baby from getting enough breast milk. It's also one of the common causes of a low breast milk supply and sore nipples.

Breastfeeding Positions

A good breastfeeding position encourages a good breastfeeding latch. You can choose to breastfeed in any position that you feel comfortable. You can learn the common breastfeeding positions or find your own. However, it's a good idea to try a few different positions so that you can alternate them. By changing your positions from feeding to feeding your baby can drain the breast milk from different areas of your breast. 

What Supplies Do You Need to Breastfeed?

One of the great things about breastfeeding is that you already have everything you need to breastfeed successfully: your breasts and your baby. You don't have to buy any additional supplies, unless, of course, you want to. There are certainly a variety of helpful breastfeeding products available

What About Pumping?

Many breastfeeding women use a breast pump. Some women occasionally pump to relieve breast engorgement or to give their baby an occasional bottle while others regularly pump because they have to return to work, or they decide to pump exclusively. 

What if You Need a Cesarean Section?

Whether it's planned or an unexpected emergency, c-sections happen. But, even if you have to deliver by c-section, you can still breastfeed. Getting started may take a little more time and it may be more challenging, but you can do it. Try to breastfeed as soon as you and your baby can do it safely. Many women can breastfeed once they're settled in the recovery room.

How Can You Tell if Your Baby Is Getting Enough Breast Milk?

While it's a very common concern for many first-time moms, it's rare that a woman will not be able to make enough breast milk for her baby. If your baby is latching on correctly, and breastfeeding every 2 to 3 hours, your body should make enough breast milk. To be sure, you can keep an eye out for the signs that your baby is getting enough milk which include:

Taking Care of Yourself

Recovering from childbirth, breastfeeding, and taking care of a new baby can be exhausting. If you have other children, even more so. It's essential that you take the time to heal and rest during this time. I know it may sound impossible, but you need to eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough rest.

The Stages of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding changes as your baby grows. From the frequent every 2-hour nursing sessions during the newborn stage to breastfeeding along with solid foods at about six months to the occasional nursing sessions of a toddler or weaning child here are some of the stages of breastfeeding

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby.
  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. (2014). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning.