In these pages you can read about the benefits of breastfeeding for mums and babies, how to get off to a good start, and where to get help should you need it.
Breastmilk is the perfect food for babies – no other food is able to adapt to your baby’s changing needs or contains the ingredients needed to protect your baby from illness. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to suffer from:
- Ear, chest or tummy infections which require admission to hospital
- Obesity and diabetes later in life
- Asthma and eczema
Mums who breastfeed have benefits too:
- Less chance of developing breast or ovarian cancers
- Less chance of osteoporosis (brittle bones) in later life
- Breastfeeding uses about 500 calories a day, so you may find your pregnancy weight is lost more easily
- Breastmilk is always available – with no need for sterilising, boiling kettles and making up feeds frequently during the day and night.
Babies receive the most benefit from exclusive breastfeeding in their first few months, but any amount of breastmilk that you can give your baby will be beneficial so it’s worth giving it a go!
What to expect
In the beginning you and your baby are getting to know each other and becoming confident with breastfeeding can take some time. Your midwife and Infant Feeding Team will help you to get breastfeeding off to a good start.
Preparing for breastfeeding
It is helpful to find out as much as you can about breastfeeding before your baby is born. Your midwife can give you more information, and you can attend one of the antenatal sessions run regularly at the hospital. You can find out more and book on to a session by contacting the community midwives office on tel: 01204 390023.
Breastfeeding in the first few days
When your baby is born we encourage you to spend time in skin to skin contact. This is a lovely way for you to welcome your new baby and to calm you both. It helps to form close bonds and helps to get feeding off to a good start. You can keep your baby in skin to skin contact for as long as you want to – this should be at least an hour or until the baby has had their first feed. If you are unable to have your baby in skin contact straight after birth we will encourage you to do this as soon as you are both able.
The first milk you produce is called colostrum, and is very valuable to babies. Because it is concentrated, your baby only needs a very small amount at a time, but may want to feed very frequently at first. These frequent feeds are important as they encourage your body to set up a good milk supply for the future. Once your milk supply increases after the first couple of days you may find that your baby’s feeds become more spaced out. However, it is normal for a baby to feed at least 8 – 12 times every 24 hours. Some babies are a little reluctant to feed initially. Your midwife will help you to overcome any difficulties you may have, and may encourage you to express some milk by hand for your baby.
Visit the Unicef website to watch a video for help with learning how to hand express:
How do I know when to feed my baby?
Babies do not feed at set times of the day or night. You may find that your baby has several feeds in a short space of time before having a sleep. Signs that a baby wants to feed include:
- Waking and moving about
- Moving their head around
- Sucking fingers
- Making murmuring noises
It is a good idea to put your baby to the breast when they show these signs, rather than waiting until they cry.
Babies sometimes want to breastfeed for comfort and this can be a really good way to calm a baby who is upset.
If your breasts feel full, or you just want to rest and relax, it is fine to put your baby to the breast for a feed even if they do not seem hungry.
You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby.
Building your milk supply
Allowing your baby to feed as often and for as long as they want will build up a good milk supply. Each time you feed your baby, your body knows to make milk for the next feed. Once your baby has come off the first breast, offer a feed on the other side.
It is really important to breastfeed during the night as this is when you produce the most hormone (prolactin) to make more milk.
Healthy term babies do not need anything other than breastmilk for the first six months.
How do I know if breastfeeding is going well?
If your breasts feel comfortable and feeding is not painful, your baby is feeding at least 8-12 times a day, settling after most feeds, having plenty of wet and dirty nappies, and growing normally it is likely that breastfeeding is going well.
The checklist below is a guide to help you. Speak to your midwife or see the Help and Support section if you have any concerns.
Mother’s breastfeeding checklist [199kb] PDF
How do I know if my baby is feeding and attached correctly?
Having your baby attached correctly at the breast should ensure that feeding is comfortable and that your baby gets a good supply of milk.
The Best Beginnings website has a helpful video on how breastfeeding works: “From Bump to Breastfeeding“.
If your baby is well attached you should notice the following:
- Your baby’s chin will be touching the breast
- Your baby’s mouth will be wide open
- You might not be able to see the areola (the darker area around the nipple) at all, or there will be more showing above the baby’s top lip
- You might be able to see that the baby’s lower lip is curled back, although if your baby’s well positioned you might not be able to see
- Your baby’s cheeks will be round and full and shouldn’t look sucked in or dimpled at all.
At first your baby’s suck might be quite fast but this will change to rhythmic sucking and swallowing as you feed.
- You should feel quite a strong, drawing sensation, which might be a bit uncomfortable at first but it should be painless after a few seconds.
- When your baby’s full, they should come off the breast feeling sleepy and satisfied.
Signs that your baby isn’t well attached
- Your baby’s cheeks are drawn in and dimpled
- Experiencing pain while you are feeding
- Your baby’s sucking rhythm doesn’t change and remains quick throughout the feed
- Your baby is restless and keeps coming away from your breast before finishing a feed
If you are concerned that your baby is not attached or feeding well, ask for help. See the information in the Help and Support section.
Dads and Breastfeeding
Research shows that when mothers have a partner who is supportive of breastfeeding she is more likely to be successful, and to breastfeed for as long as she wants to.
Dads are welcome at our antenatal breastfeeding classes, and learning about breastfeeding before your baby is born means you will be able to offer support and advice to your partner.
Some dads worry that they will feel left out as they are unable to take part in feeding their baby. However, breastfeeding is only one aspect of caring for your baby. Your partner will appreciate your help with changing and bathing, cuddling, winding, or helping to soothe and settle your baby after a feed, as well as ensuring that she is provided with food and drink if she doesn’t have time to do this for herself.
Breastfeeding a baby on the Neonatal Unit
Breast milk is extremely important for a baby who is born ill or premature. Your milk is one of the best things your baby can receive to help with growth and recovery. Babies needing special care on the neonatal unit are especially vulnerable to infection; your breast milk contains vital antibodies to help fight this. As it is specially designed for human babies, it is easier to digest than formula, and means that your baby is less likely to develop a serious gut problem.
You will be encouraged to express your breastmilk until your baby is strong enough to breastfeed. This may be several weeks if your baby is born very prematurely. The doctors and nurses on the unit will discuss this with you.
It is important to start expressing your milk as soon as possible after your baby is born, and then to continue doing this frequently. Your milk supply will be better if you express 8 – 10 times per 24 hours and avoid any long gaps between expressing; staff will encourage you to start expressing within the first few hours, and help you develop the skills needed to build a good milk supply.
You will be encouraged to express by hand at first as only very small amounts of the first milk, colostrums, are produced. Unicef have produced a useful video which guides mothers on how to express milk by hand:
Video on how to hand express your milk (link to external website)
Once the quantities of milk start to increase staff will show you how to use an electric pump. These are available for use on the postnatal ward and the neonatal unit, and you can loan one free of charge for use at home whilst your baby is on the unit.
Establishing a milk supply can take some time, particularly for mothers of premature babies. Frequent expressing is very important to help this process. Neonatal staff or a member of the infant feeding team can provide help and advice if you are experiencing problems with your milk supply.
One of the most important things a mother can do is to provide breast milk for her baby. For this reason it will be particularly useful for you to watch the ‘Expressing and Breastfeeding’ film within the first 48 hours after birth, as it will help you to establish a good milk supply for your baby.
You will be provided with a copy of the DVD Small Wonders when your baby is born. There is some useful information about providing breastmilk and caring for your premature baby. For further details about Small Wonders, please ask your nurse or visit the Best Beginnings website using the link below:
The following links provide more information for parents of babies on neonatal units:
Bliss Family Handbook (link to external website)
What if I want to combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding?
Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby. If you decide not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding, it is possible to restart. If you feel that you need to start giving your baby formula because you are worried about your milk supply speak to your midwife or health visitor, or contact the Infant Feeding Specialist Team on tel: 01204 390423 for advice.
Giving infant formula to a breastfed baby will reduce your milk supply. Many mothers find that their milk supply is reduced once they introduce bottles. Whilst some babies happily switch between breast and bottle feeding, some develop a preference for the faster flow of milk from a bottle and refuse the breast once they start receiving bottles.
Any amount of breast milk that you can give your baby is beneficial. Exclusive breastfeeding gives the most benefits, but if you choose to combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding, following the advice for sterilising and making up feeds will ensure that this is done as safely as possible.
If you do decide to combine breast and bottle feeding it is a good idea before introducing bottles and teats to ensure that you and your baby are confident with breastfeeding, and that you have a good milk supply. This can take two to four weeks. Breastfeeding during the night is particularly important for a good milk supply as this is when the hormones that help you to make milk are at their highest level.
Help and Support
Breastfeeding should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Some mothers and babies need a little more help. There is a wide support system in place both in hospital and at home should you encounter challenges.
Midwives are the main health professionals who will help you to establish feeding, build your milk supply, and help you feel comfortable and confident.
There are several groups in the local area offering support for breastfeeding mums. They are friendly and informal and are a good way for new mums to meet each other and share experiences. There is usually a health professional or peer supporter who has received training to provide breastfeeding support present.
Bolton breastfeeding support groups Oct 2018 [147kb] PDF
Bury breastfeeding cafe flyer April 2019 [301kb] PDF
Salford Breastfeeding Support Feb 2019 [65kb] MS Word
Talk to the breastfeeding friend from Start4Life on Google Assistant Amazon Alexa and Facebook Messenger for more NHS approved advice and tips. For lots more helpful information visit: www.nhs.uk/start4life
Infant feeding workers cover the postnatal wards and in some areas can visit at home to support you and ensure that breastfeeding is going well.
The infant feeding specialists are happy to help you with more complex problems where further input is needed. You can arrange to be seen by a specialist or receive telephone advice by contacting 01204 390423. Alternatively you can attend a Lactation Clinic without an appointment at some local children’s centres.
National Support Organisations
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – Charity run by mothers experienced in breastfeeding counselling
Breastfeeding Network – Source of independent support and information for breastfeeding women
La Leche League – International charity giving mother to mother support for breastfeeding
Lactation Consultants of Great Britain – Professional Association for International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, who provide support for complex breastfeeding challenges
The Department of Health has produced a leaflet which contains some useful information about getting breastfeeding off to a good start, correct position and attachment, and how to recognise if breastfeeding is going well.
Off to the Best Start Leaflet