How do I breastfeed?

The basics

Breastfeeding is something you and your baby learn to do together. So, even if things don’t go well at first or it seems difficult there’s no need to feel as if you are failing or that it’s not worth the effort. Most issues can be resolved fairly easily with good advice and professional help.

Once you’re past the learning stage you may find that there are emotional or practical worries to deal with as well, like how to manage breastfeeding in front of people or in public places or how you will manage when you return to work.

In Scotland your right to breastfeed your baby is legally protected so you should never feel that you are unable to feed your baby. If you are embarrassed in any way, expressing milk can be a practical way to still feed breastmilk without needing to breastfeed publicly.

Your body

As soon as you become pregnant your milk-producing cells and milk-collecting ducts get ready to produce milk. Blood supply to your breasts increases and this 'activity' can make the breasts feel extra sensitive.

You may notice small raised 'spots' on the dark area surrounding the nipple and need to buy a larger bra. Getting a proper bra fitting will help keep you comfortable. More about the changes your body goes through during pregnancy can be found on ReadySteadyBaby!.

From the middle of your pregnancy, your breasts make concentrated milk (colostrum), which is highly valuable, rich in antibodies and designed to meet your baby's nutritional needs for the first few days after birth. Some women leak a little bit of colostrum in pregnancy – if this happens to you, just wash off your nipples with plain water when you notice it.

After the birth

Every woman makes breastmilk at first, whether or not her baby ever breastfeeds. The delivery of the placenta sets up a hormonal response in your body, acting on the breasts, and 'telling' them to make milk.

At some time between day two and day five after the birth, your baby will be ready for more milk and you produce more breastmilk in response. Your breasts will be fuller and heavier than usual, due to the increase in the amount of blood and fluid going to your breasts. Any discomfort you feel will pass in a couple of days, so stick with it.

How you continue to make milk

You continue producing milk only if it is used up. Normally this happens as a result of the baby breastfeeding, so when your baby is feeding effectively you make milk in response. You can also encourage milk production by expressing your milk. You may need to do this if your baby is very sleepy and reluctant to feed in the early days, or if he is unable to breastfeed directly, perhaps because he is pre-term or ill. If you don't breastfeed, or express, your milk production gradually stops. It's possible, even so, to start producing milk again if you express, or put your baby to the breast often enough.

When your baby is born, the midwife will give him to you to hold. It is best if you hold him, undressed, directly next to your skin. Even if you have a caesarean section, you can still have skin-to-skin contact with your baby, either straightaway or after you leave the operating theatre.

After a period of time the baby will begin to show signs of being ready to feed (feeding cues) and the midwife will offer to help you to attach the baby at the breast for the first feed.

Positioning and attachment

The way your baby is positioned and attached to your breast can make the difference between a happy, comfortable and successful feed and one that is painful for you and frustrating for your baby.