How to Breastfeed a Baby
Breastfeeding, it’s one of the most natural things in the world. But how do you do it? Here’s our step by step breastfeeding guide including information on breastfeeding latch, positions and burping.
At a glance
There’s loads of local support available. Make the most of it if you can
Try to get yourself comfortable and check if baby is latched correctly
Feed as often, and as long, as your baby wants. This is called responsive feeding
Beg your pardon! Allow your baby to bring up any wind after each feed
There’s no better start you can give your baby than breastfeeding and with a bit of practice, you should soon settle into the routine that works best for both of you.
There’s lots of support out there: your local breastfeeding support group, healthcare professionals - doctor, midwife, public health nurse - or friends and family. And the SMA Careline® team are on hand to help too.
How to breastfeed
Wash your hands before you start and have a glass of water close by - breastfeeding can be thirsty work. Get yourself comfortable by sitting down with your back straight and your lap flat. Pop a couple of cushions behind you to support your back. Use another cushion on your knees to help bring baby closer to your breast if needed. There are several different styles of breast-feeding pillows out there.
Find the right breastfeeding position. Lay baby across your lap supporting their head, shoulders and body in a straight line. Position their nose opposite your nipple and allow their head to tilt back, supporting it with one hand. Use the other to hold them on their side.
Line up baby's nose with your nipple. Their mouth should open wide, enough to cover the nipple and the lower part of the dark areola. If it doesn’t, brush your nipple across their top lip to encourage them.
Make sure your baby has a good breastfeeding latch. They will tilt their head back and their chin will be touching your breast. They should take a large mouthful of breast and your nipple should go towards the roof of their mouth. You may need to support your breast and make sure it doesn’t obstruct baby’s breathing.
Check for swallowing. When your milk begins to flow (known as the let-down reflex), you'll hear your baby swallowing and see their jaw moving. As your flow increases, you may feel some tingly sensations in your breast — this is quite normal.
Feed on demand. To satisfy their hunger and thirst, let your baby feed for as long and as often as they want. The more your baby drinks, the more milk your breasts produce. If your baby still wants more milk, offer the other breast. When they’ve had enough, your baby will let go of your breast or fall asleep. You can learn more about this in our responsive feeding section.
Babies love breastmilk, and as well as swallowing all that goodness, they may swallow some air. Winding them helps bring this air up so the milk goes down and helps prevent painful trapped wind. The best time for burping your baby is in the middle of a feed or just after. Read more advice in our guide to burping a baby.
Of course, no two babies will feed the same way. More than 50% of all babies experience some kind of baby feeding issue in their first year. Take a look at our feeding symptoms checker to learn more about colic, constipation & reflux.
Different breastfeeding positions
Besides the ‘cradle hold’ position described above, there are other breastfeeding positions you may wish to try:
- The under arm or rugby hold position. With their head to your breast, tuck baby’s body and legs behind you through the crook of your arm. Make sure they are lying on their back, with their nose to your nipple. Use your arm and hand to support baby and use the other hand to move your breast to their mouth.
- Breastfeeding lying down. Lie on your side in the centre of your bed and lay baby on their side facing you. Use your hand on their back to gently support them, keeping them close. Be careful not to fall asleep whilst using this position.
Burping your baby
At the end of each feed (and sometimes midway through), you’ll want to burp, or wind, your baby for a few minutes to help relieve any trapped air in their tummies. If you’re not sure where to start, you can read all about how to burp a newborn.
If you’ve tried every trick in the book but baby seems distressed especially around feeds, have a look at our feeding symptoms checker If you’re worried at all contact your GP.
Newborn Tummy troubles
So, you’ve read our ‘How to breastfeed’ list and tried all the different breastfeeding positions and you’re still having problems feeding. Don’t worry, your baby may be suffering from one of the more common tummy problems. To get to the bottom of it (quite literally, perhaps) you can read all about diarrhoea, colic and constipation.
At the risk of repeating ourselves breastmilk is best for your baby. But what happens if you’re not around to breastfeed? Expressing breast milk provides baby with all the benefits even if mum’s at work or travelling.
If your baby is born prematurely, you may want to try expressing milk, since they might be too small or unwell to feed straight from the breast. At first this could be into a cup with a syringe for feeding and, as you get into the routine and produce more milk, a pump and bottle will be more effective.
Breastmilk is still the best option since it’s easier to digest and full of nutrients and hormones to promote growth. It also helps protect your baby’s gut from infections. So, hang in there with the syringe/pump, if you can. Try and keep sessions regular to keep your supply up so you can transition to feeding from the breast when you’re both ready. The HSE has lots more detailed information on breastfeeding a premature baby.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The best way to feed a baby is to breastfeed, as breast milk provides the ideal balanced diet and protection against illness for your baby and also many non-nutritional benefits for both baby and mother. We recommend that you speak to your healthcare professional when deciding on your choice of feeding your baby. Professional guidance should also be sought on the preparation for and maintenance of breastfeeding. If you do choose to breastfeed, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Infant formula is intended to replace breast milk when mothers choose not to breastfeed or if for some reason they are unable to do so. A decision not to breastfeed, or to introduce partial bottle-feeding, will reduce the supply of breast milk. If for any reason you choose not to breastfeed, do remember that such a decision can be difficult to reverse. Using infant formula also has social and financial implications which must be considered. Infant formula should always be prepared, used and stored as instructed on the label, in order to avoid risks to a baby’s health.