First few days

Learning to breastfeed

The staff in the unit where you give birth should ensure that you are offered help with the first breastfeed following the birth. This will be made easier for both you and your baby if you can spend some time in skin-to-skin contact.

Click here to watch a video of a first breastfeed.

A mother holds her baby in skin-to-skin contact.

You should also be offered further help within six hours of the birth or the next time you breastfeed if you leave hospital before this time. It is better to make sure you get all the help you can at this early stage so that you and your baby can learn and gain confidence, helping to avoid some of the problems that are associated with poor feeding technique.

It is important that you are given lots of support and information about how to hold your baby and attach him to the breast so that he can feed well from the breast, and also that you are given information about how to tell if he is well attached and feeding effectively.

Click here to watch a baby breastfeeding effectively.

Even if you have breastfed before, staff should make sure that you are confident about breastfeeding. Often, new babies behave differently and skills may need to be re-learnt.

For many mothers these first days are quite straightforward, however others will describe problems such as pain when breastfeeding, sore nipples, hard tender breasts, or a frustrated baby who wants to feed frequently, and doesn’t put weight on. All of these can be linked to poor attachment. To help you avoid these problems the hospital should make sure you receive skilled help from trained staff before you return home. They should ensure that you are fully aware of how to recognise when your baby is attached and feeding well so that you can seek help if you do not think this is happening. Click here to find out what you should look for to check that your baby is taking milk effectively.

Before you leave the hospital you should be made aware of where you can get further help from local staff, breastfeeding groups, or national helplines. Your community midwife will make sure you receive any additional help you need when she sees you for the first time at home.

FAQs

I had sore nipples last time – how can I prevent it happening again?

Pain while feeding and painful nipples are not part of normal breastfeeding, even though we often hear that it is something to be expected. Learning as much as possible about how to hold and attach your baby and how to recognise when he's not attched effectively should help prevent painful feeding. Many areas run antenatal classes which help teach these skills, whether this is your first baby or not. Once your baby is born, a period of skin contact which results in your baby finding the breast and feeding can be really helpful as babies learn very well during this initial "alert" stage and are less likely to have problems later.

Any mother who experiences painful breastfeeding, or notices that her nipples are misshapen or damaged after feeding should seek help from a health professional, local support group or national helpline.