Skip to main content

Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Breastfeeding Basics

By Shannon Dean

Like many new skills facing first-time mothers, breastfeeding is a learned ability that gets much easier with practice. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1–7, here are a few time-tested tips to make the transition easier.

1 Start preparing well before your due date. Educate yourself and consider attending classes offered by your hospital or birthing center. La Leche League (LLL) leader Wanda Daniels says attending a LLL meeting while pregnant answered many important questions and made her comfortable calling her own leader for support.

2 Some discomfort is normal, but help is available. While your breasts may initially feel tender, they shouldn’t be consistently painful. Initial nipple discomfort is usually normal, but severe, ongoing soreness may indicate a problem. Certified lactation consultant and pediatric nurse Lucille Harrington says most problems can be fixed quickly, so moms needn’t endure pain. Many hospitals and birthing centers offer telephone counseling or an in-person consultation with a lactation consultant. This service is usually free.

3 Find ways to lighten your load. Newborns typically nurse 8–12 times per day. Plus, experts recommend feeding your baby on cue at any sign of hunger. A nursing sling can be a great way to keep your baby close and allow you freedom, privacy, and mobility. Learning to nurse lying down can also help with nighttime feedings so you and baby can quickly return to sleep.

4 Avoid assumptions. Many new mothers think that babies who want to nurse often aren’t getting enough milk, but this is rarely true. As long as your baby is producing at least six to eight wet diapers and two to three daily bowel movements for the first few weeks after your milk comes in, she or he is likely getting the nutrients she or he needs. Babies nurse for comfort as well as hunger. Frequent, watery, mustard-colored bowel movements are normal and are not considered diarrhea. Consult an expert for reassurance if something doesn’t feel right.

5 Listen to your body’s cues of hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Although your body has to work hard to produce milk, eating when hungry and drinking when thirsty will likely provide your body with enough fuel. Rest while your baby rests whenever possible.

6 Accept help. Although many new moms are uncomfortable asking for or receiving help, Harrington urges parents to overcome these reservations. Don’t be shy about addressing needs with specific requests such as, “It would be wonderful if you could fold laundry.” Involving partners and family members in your baby’s care makes them feel included. When loved ones rock, bathe, and sing to your baby, this teaches him or her that love and comfort do not always come from food.

7 Seek out reassurance from supportive experts. If you ever have doubts, seek advice from those knowledgeable about (and supportive of) breastfeeding. Advisors who assure you they “couldn’t breastfeed either” or that formula-fed babies are “easier” are not helpful, especially when it’s likely you’re doing just fine.

8 Don’t compare your experiences to others. Keep in mind that babies, like adults, are all different. If a friend’s baby is emptying the breast very quickly and sleeping through the night, this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you or your baby if your experience is different.

9 Know that you can continue nursing when you return to work. Many moms avoid breastfeeding because they assume that they must stop once maternity leave ends. However, with planning and a hospital-grade breast pump, there is no need to stop. It helps to delay the introduction of artificial nipples until after your milk supply and nursing relationship are well established. Harrington says moms can introduce a bottle with breast milk to established nursers between one and three months of age, which is when babies are more adaptive to a bottle. By using a breast pump and nursing outside of business hours, you can still maintain a healthy nursing relationship.

10 Relax and enjoy your baby. Harrington is fond of telling moms, “The days are long, but the years are short.” It may be hard to believe that the infant whose favorite place is your breast will soon be a squirming toddler with less interest in cuddling. Babies become children and adults before you know it. Enjoy this unhurried one-on-one time while it lasts. 

Lactation 411
Kathleen Huggins, The Nursing Woman‘s Companion (Harvard Common Press, 2017).

Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers (New Harbinger Publications, 2010).

Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Teresa Pitman, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (Ballantine Books, 2010).

American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy on Breastfeeding
This page details the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding and outlines pediatric recommendations for both healthy and high-risk infants.

Breastfeeding Basics
Maintained by a board-certified lactation consultant, this site offers informative breastfeeding articles and shares mothers’ breastfeeding stories and experiences.

La Leche League International
One of the best places to start with questions on breastfeeding. You can also find information on your local LLL chapter.

US Department of Health and Human Services
Offers an extensive FAQ section as well as tips and how-to articles.

Shannon Dean is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about families.