How to breastfeed your baby – advice from the experts

A breastfeeding pig

Why breastfeed?

When we first went to birthing classes a few months before Will was born we were amazed at how dogmatic the midwife was about breastfeeding. The hospital didn’t just condone the practice, it was verging on religion. Here is an actual conversation from one class:

Bec: “So, if I’m really tired, can I expel some milk into a bottle so Matt can feed the baby if he wakes in the middle of the night?”

Nurse: *Frown*

Bec: Maybe?

Nurse: Maybe. As an absolute last resort. But we wouldn’t recommend it. Husbands are good for other things. Like calming. And changing nappies.

We felt like we’d have received a more enthusiastic response if we’d asked if Matt could try out some amateur gynaecology tricks on the rest of the class. We didn’t dare ask about formula.

The reason for her staunch stanch against bottle feeding was well-founded though. It is pretty much universally-recognised by the medical profession that breastfeeding is better for both baby and mother than bottle feeding. Which is interesting, because for much of the 20th Century, in the Western world (and in America in particular) bottle feeding was the norm. In fact, by 1970 only 8% of mothers were still breastfeeding beyond three months. You can read Marilyn Coleman’s fascinating social history of breastfeeding in America if you’re interested in the background, but basically we can blame marketing by supplement companies and a lack of workplace empathy on that. Either way, what we know about breastfeeding could fill an encyclopaedia (or the Internet).

Here’s a quick summary, according to the World Health Organisation.

What we know about breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding

  • Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide
  • Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98% protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.
  • Mothers should should begin breastfeeding within one hour of birth
  • Breastfeeding should be on demand, as often as the child wants day and night
  • Bottles or pacifiers should be avoided
  • Infant formula should be avoided as it does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk
  • Children should be breast fed exclusively for the first six months of life
  • Nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary foods should be introduced after six months together with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
  • Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-2 diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.

Source: World Health Organisation.

Want even more reasons? Here’s 101 of them, with academic citations, so you know the author isn’t making them up. Convinced? The medical profession is. That’s not to say you’re a failure if you can’t breastfeed, just that if you can, you should. There’s the why, now, on to the how.

How to breastfeed your baby correctly

Most mothers will be able to breastfeed their children naturally, without any pain and minimal discomfort. Your midwife or healthcare professional should provide guidance and advice on how to breastfeed soon after delivery, but if you didn’t cross that bridge (or are reading ahead), this brochure from the Mater Hospital provides an excellent overview on how to breastfeed, including advice for partners who are wondering how to help.

Attachment techniques

Basically, what you’re trying to do is this:

How to breastfeed


Here’s the video version:

Image and video credits: The Raising Children Network

General information on bow to breastfeed

This video from Adonai Hospital in the UK is a good general guide.

The following words of advice are from a World Health Organisation training course for healthcare professionals on breastfeeding and we found them quite useful:

Signs that a baby is breastfeeding effectively

If a baby is well attached, she or he is probably breastfeeding well and getting breast milk during the feed. Signs that a baby is getting breast milk easily are:

  • The baby takes slow, deep sucks, sometimes pausing for a short time.
  • You can see or hear the baby swallowing.
  • The baby’s cheeks are full and not drawn inward during a feed.
  • The baby finishes the feed and releases the breast by himself or herself and looks contented.
  • These signs tell you that a baby is “drinking in” the milk, and this is effective suckling.

Signs that a baby is NOT breastfeeding effectively

If a baby;

  • makes only rapid sucks;
  • makes smacking or clicking sounds;
  • has cheeks drawn in;
  • fusses or appears unsettled at the breast, and comes on and off the breast;
  • feeds very frequently – more often than every hour or so EVERY day (with the very important exception of cluster feeding, which is perfectly normal)
  • feeds for a very long time – for more than an hour at EVERY feed, unless low birth weight;
  • is not contented at the end of a feed.

These are signs that suckling is ineffective, and the baby is not getting the milk easily.

Recommended breastfeeding reading

In this article