Breastfeeding 101: How to breastfeed

We look at how to breastfeed and provide some practical tips to help make breastfeeding a little easier.

Breastfeeding is when a mum feeds her baby breast milk to meet her child's nutritional needs for healthy growth and development.

Your body will usually begin to prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy. Your breasts are likely to grow in size as your milk ducts and milk-producing cells develop.

After giving birth, your baby suckling on your breast can help stimulate the release of hormones called prolactin and oxytocin into your bloodstream. Prolactin enables milk to be produced, and oxytocin is important for your breasts to secrete the milk (which is called 'let-down').

You can breastfeed whatever the size and shape of your breasts and nipples.  

How to breast feed

Find a comfortable position where your arms and back and your baby's head are supported. It's important that your baby latches on to your breast correctly. If your baby just takes your nipple in his or her mouth, this may give you sore nipples and may mean your baby is not taking in sufficient milk. 

Your midwife, a lactation consultant, or an Australian Breastfeeding Association breastfeeding counsellor can explain how to breastfeed and check your baby is feeding the right way.

How often should I breastfeed my baby?

Newborn babies usually need to feed little and often. The World Health Organization recommends that you feed 'on demand' – as often as your baby wants.

How long should I breastfeed my baby each time?

The World Health Organization recommends unrestricted feeding, so feed your baby for as long as he or she wants to be fed. As a rough guide, each feed may be 10 to 20 minutes per breast. 
Keep in mind every baby is different so it may be shorter or longer for your baby. Your baby may also want to feed more often than every one to one and half hours. This could be because he or she is not attaching properly to the breast. A midwife or health visitor can advise you on this.

How long should I breastfeed for?

Breast milk ideally contains all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months. After this time, you can gradually begin to introduce solid food while continuing to breastfeed or introduce bottle-feeds. You can continue breastfeeding for as long as you want to. When you stop breastfeeding is a personal decision. For more information on introducing your baby to solids read our Baby’s first food: a guide here.
Baby being bottle feed

Do I need to breastfeed?

It’s up to you whether you breastfeed your baby. However, breastfeeding can be good for you and your baby.

Good for you

There can be a number of advantages for you including:

  • reduced bleeding after giving birth and faster return of the uterus to pre-pregnancy size
  • reduced risk of postnatal depression
  • weight loss – producing breast milk uses up energy (calories or kilojoules)
  • lower risk of breast cancer
  • lower risk of ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding can may also delay the return of your periods. Talk to your doctor or family planning consultant for more information about how this affects your fertility and whether you need other forms of birth control.

Good for your baby

There can  also be a number of advantages for your baby including those listed below.

  • Good nutrition. Breast milk is likely to meet your growing baby’s needs, and is easy to digest.
  • Better health. Breast milk contains antibodies that can help protect your baby against many common health problems such as stomach upsets.
  • Help lower risk of health issues such as severe eczema, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes as a child and being overweight.

There are certain things you may wish to consider when making a decision on breastfeeding.

  • Breastfeeding can make it difficult for you to have a break, and your partner may feel excluded. 
  • You can express breast milk so that your partner (or another carer) can feed your baby from a bottle. Using an artificial teat or a dummy can make it harder to establish breastfeeding in the early days, so it’s best to wait for a few weeks until breastfeeding is well established. For more information on how to express and pick a breast pump, read our article on expressing breast milk here.
  • Your breasts may feel heavy and uncomfortable. Ideally, you won’t experience any breast pain, but your breasts may feel over-full (engorged) at times and your nipples may become sore and leak milk. Check your baby is properly attached for feeding to prevent nipple pain. To help prevent engorgement feed as often as your baby wants, or express some milk, and try breast massage.
  • It’s important to remember that breastfeeding is natural and beneficial for your baby. If you need a quiet area in public, look for a mother and baby room where you may be able to feed your baby without being disturbed.

Breastfeeding may not come easily and naturally for some mums and bubs. If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, it’s important not to feel like a ‘failure’ or a ‘bad’ mum and to ask for help through different support options for you and your bub. To read more about how to seek help if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, read our article Breastfeeding: not as easy as one, two, three here. 

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