Of all the choices and stresses of bringing baby into this world, breastfeeding can be overwhelming to many new mothers. The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous but sometimes the support and knowledge that parents need isn’t available.  Having realistic expectations can help families better manage the various challenges they might encounter along the journey. Ideally, breastfeeding should be initiated as soon as possible after birth, preferably within the first hour. This early initiation promotes skin-to-skin contact, which helps stimulate the baby’s natural reflexes and facilitates breastfeeding. Newborns are alert and ready to nurse during this period, often called the golden hour.

Understanding the cues and signals that indicate a baby’s readiness to breastfeed is important. Common cues include rooting (turning their head toward the breast), sucking on hands or fingers, or making smacking noises. Crying is usually a late sign of hunger, so it’s beneficial to start breastfeeding before the baby becomes overly hungry or agitated.

Once you know baby is hungry, achieving a correct latch is the next important step. A good latch ensures the baby can access sufficient milk and helps prevent nipple soreness or damage. To achieve a proper latch, ensure the baby’s mouth covers most of the areola (the darker area surrounding the nipple) and their lips are flanged outward. See this article for a step by step walkthrough of positioning baby and your breast to nurse comfortably. If you are feeling pain or having issues latching seeking assistance from a lactation consultant or a knowledgeable healthcare provider can be very helpful!

During the first few days after birth, mothers produce colostrum, a thick and highly nutritious substance. Colostrum is rich in antibodies, proteins, and essential nutrients, providing newborns with a concentrated dose of immune protection and promoting healthy digestion. Although the volume is small, colostrum is all the baby needs during the initial days. Newborns have small stomachs and need frequent feedings, usually every 2-3 hours or 8-12 times within a 24-hour period. This round the clock need can often feel overwhelming for new mothers but it makes sense when you understand the size of a newborns stomach as shown in the infographic below.

Newborns often experience growth spurts, typically around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, and 6 weeks of age.  Knowing that during these periods, babies may nurse more frequently and seem fussier can help set expectations and prevent discouragement. These growth spurts are normal and help increase milk supply to meet the baby’s increasing demands. It’s important to stay patient, respond to the baby’s cues, and allow for more frequent feedings during these times. Sometimes babies cluster feed, or have a series of frequent feedings that occur within a shorter timeframe. Babies may cluster feed in the evenings, nursing more frequently before settling down for a longer stretch of sleep. Cluster feedings can help meet the baby’s nutritional needs, provide comfort, and promote a consistent milk supply.

Burping the baby during and after breastfeeding helps release any swallowed air and prevents discomfort from gas. Different breastfeeding positions, such as the cradle hold, cross-cradle hold, or football hold, can be explored to find the most comfortable and effective position for both the mother and baby.

Breastfeeding can come with its own set of challenges, including sore nipples, engorgement, or difficulties with milk supply. It’s essential to seek support from healthcare professionals, lactation consultants, or local breastfeeding support groups if faced with any difficulties. They can provide guidance, reassurance, and practical tips to overcome challenges and ensure a positive breastfeeding experience. Holistic Moms Network and La Leche League are two great non-profit organizations to seek out local support from others on a similar path and to help find like minded practitioners for more challenging problems.  Other great resources to help you find answers to simple questions and professional help quickly include KellyMom, Breastfeeding.support and ZipMilk. Remember, each breastfeeding journey is unique, and it takes time for both the mother and baby to establish a rhythm. Patience, persistence, and support are key in navigating any challenges and creating a fulfilling breastfeeding experience for both mother and child.