Breastfeeding your baby feels like a natural process, but for many first-time mothers, it might not come as naturally or easy. Knowing this, I did a ton of research on breastfeeding prior to giving birth. Like most moms, I wanted to be well prepared, and to hopefully get it right the first time. Here’s sharing everything I know with you in our Ultimate Breastfeeding Guide!
Breast milk is king! That is the common consensus among healthcare professionals and experts. Breast milk undoubtedly is the best form of nutrition for your newborn – it has all the vitamins, antibodies and nutrients your baby needs, and in the right amounts too. WHO (World Health Org) and HPB (Health Promotion Board) highly recommends mothers to exclusively breastfeed the baby for at least the first 6 months. You are even encouraged to do so up to 12 months and some moms even go beyond that! This might lead to mums feeling stressed about it… I know I was! There may be times where you feel challenged and uncertain, but with patience and support, the good news is that most parents can succeed. Here is our complete breastfeeding guide taking you through all you need to know about breastfeeding.
The Ultimate Breastfeeding Guide
Should I breastfeed my baby?
The short answer is, yes!
Breast milk is the perfect blend of nutrition, vitamins, proteins, fat and antibodies – everything that your baby needs to grow and develop a healthy immune system. This nature’s blend is hard to engineer or replicate in infant formula. Breast milk is also easier to digest.
Studies show that exclusively breastfed babies have fewer illnesses and infections compared to their counterparts. Breastfeeding has also shown to bump up your baby’s IQ, reduce asthma risk, reduce stomach upsets, ear infections, allergies, eczema, among many more. While uncertain of the connection, breastfeeding infants have shown to have a lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
The benefits are not just limited to babies, but also mothers! Studies have shown breastfeeding to not only help reduce your pregnancy weight in a healthy way, but it also helps your uterus to shrink back to pre-pregnancy size. On top of helping with body recovery, breastfeeding may help to lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis.
Breastfeeding helps to create a physical bond and closeness with your baby that is quite hard to replicate.
What are the alternatives to breastfeeding?
While direct breastfeeding is still the recommended approach, as the baby suckling action helps to stimulate and maintain your breast milk flow, there are alternatives (breast pumping and infant formula) that you can opt for if you are facing any difficulties or discomfort with breastfeeding. Ultimately, it is your individual choice. Do not feel pressured to succumb to “social standards” if it does not fit your situation, as it can be stressful and counterproductive.
Some mums will choose to express their milk with a breast pump and feed it via bottle. Breast pumping is the next best option as your baby will still get to enjoy the nutrients and antibodies that breast milk brings. There are also some benefits to breast pumping.
- Breast pumping is also easier for working mums or if you have a busy schedule, as you can pump in advance, store it, and heat it up during feeds.
- Breast pumping can also give more clarity as to how much you are giving your baby each feed, as you can measure out the milk amount.
If you are breast pumping, be sure to invest in a good breast pump. There are medical-grade breast pumps like the Medela Symphony, that can simulate the “sucking” action that babies do very well, and this helps a lot with your milk production.
Check out our recommended breast pumps here. You can choose a manual, electric or suction type of breast pump, whichever is suited for your needs.
|Recommended: The Spectra S1+ Double Electric Breast Pump is known to be a really good and affordable hospital-grade pump. Alternatively, you can consider the Medela Freestyle Pump or the more expensive Medela Symphony.|
Tip: When you use a breast pump, make sure to clean and sterilise the equipment properly before use. Check out these recommended sterilisers. When breast pumping, do express regularly (every 3 hours), and also alternate using the pump and your hand – this helps to maintain regular milk flow and also avoid lumpiness.
Can I feed my child infant formula?
While widespread consensus by healthcare experts is to feed your baby breast milk for the first 6-12 months, in reality not every mother can breastfeed or pump successfully. It is common for moms to face issues like difficulty/ discomfort with latching, or low milk supply. While it is possible to boost your milk supply by taking lactation cookies or supplements, it might not be an immediate effect and might work to a limited extent.
If you have a good milk supply, it is likely that you will choose to only switch over to milk formula (Stage 2 onwards) after 6 months or 1 year.
When should I start breastfeeding?
Ideally, it is best to start breastfeeding soon after you give birth (first hour after your baby is born). Your baby is usually quite alert and may spontaneously seek the breast and latch on when in skin-to-skin contact with you. Not only does it help to increase your confidence in breastfeeding, but your baby will also get to have colostrum (a.k.a liquid gold).
Colostrum is pre-milk, the first breastmilk that you will produce upon delivery. It is a watery and thin liquid that is packed with a lot of antibodies and white blood cells that will give your baby immunological effects, protecting him/her against infections or disease. Breastfeeding upon delivery will also help to aid your baby’s digestion. If it is not possible to breastfeed immediately due to any circumstances, try to just do so as soon as you can.
How often should I breastfeed?
Frequent feeding will help you initiate and build a regular milk supply. The more you breastfeed, the more milk your body will produce.
Newborns will tend to feed on demand so responsive feeding is a great breastfeeding method.
For the first 2 – 4 weeks, your newborn will usually feed 8 – 12 times in a 24 hours period. Babies do sleep a lot, and if your baby is sleeping, do wake your baby every 3 hours for feedings.
While some moms follow a newborn feeding schedule, you can also breastfeed upon feeding cues.
Here are some common feeding cues:
- Nuzzling towards your breast
- Opening/closing his/her mouth i.e. mouthing, rooting, suckling
- Sucking on his/her fingers
- Increased alertness or activity
Do note that crying is a late sign of hunger, and it might be hard to get your baby to latch on once he/she has started crying. Try to predict the earlier feeding cues to offer your breast.
During the beginning stages when both mom and baby are learning, it might be challenging, but patiently work through it and as your baby gets older, he is likely to feed faster and less frequently, making breastfeeding a more manageable task. Do not give your baby pacifier to lengthen the time between feedings.
Breastfeeding 101: How to breastfeed?
Breastfeeding takes trial and error, followed by tons of practice. It may take a few tries to get your baby into a good and comfortable position as well as to get a successful latch. But keep trying and as the saying goes “practice makes perfect”. (You can do it!)
Here are the steps to follow for breastfeeding:
- Wash your hands before nursing. Have any items you need ready before starting (nursing blanket, wipes etc)
- Hold your baby facing your breasts, with his/her body facing yours. Your baby’s head should be in line with the body, not turned, to allow for easier swallowing.
- Once you find a comfortable breastfeeding position for you and baby, gently guide and touch your baby’s lips to your nipple until your baby opens his/her mouth. You can try to tickle baby’s lip with your nipple to encourage him/her to open wide (like a yawn). If that doesn’t work, you can try using your free hand to squeeze some colostrum/milk onto his/her lips. If you baby turns his/her head away, try gently stroking your baby’s cheek that is nearest to you – this rooting reflex will help your baby turn his/her head towards your breast.
- Once your baby’s mouth opens, put your nipple into your baby’s mouth and pull your baby close to you. This is so that your baby will also latch onto the milk ducts under your areola (nipple). Let baby take the initiative – try not to lean over and push your breast into the mouth.
- Hold your breast with your thumb over the top and rest of the fingers below to support. Keep a firm hold on our breast until baby has a firm grasp and is sucking well.
- A proper latch is when your baby’s chin and the tip of his/her nose is touching your breast. Your baby’s lips wil be flared outwards like fish lips rather than tucked in. Ensure that your baby is not sucking on his/her own lips. You will want to watch for suckling – which is a strong suck-swallow-breath pattern, along with a rhythmic action of “swallowing”.
- If your baby is having problems latching onto your breast, you can break the suction by gently inserting a clean finger onto the corner of baby’s mouth, or by pressing on your breast near the mouth. Then begin Step 3 to try again to establish a good latch.
Tip: Learning how to hold and support your baby takes coordination and practice. It is important to find a nursing position that is comfortable for both you and baby as you will spend a lot of time breastfeeding every day. It can be helpful to use a nursing pillow to prop up your baby and give you some added support, for each session will last about 20-40 minutes.
What is let down reflex?
You may feel a letdown reflex, also known as the milk ejection reflex. It is a tingling sensation or a warm feeling that can be quite strong, though some mothers may not feel this at all. This usually happens after about 2 minutes of your baby sucking at your breast. The letdown effect may be more frequently felt after regular nursing. What causes this let down reflex is because as the baby suckles on your nipples, it triggers tiny nerves in your nipples and releases hormones (prolactin and oxytocin) to act on the milk-making tissues, and signals for your breast to release the milk.
When you feel this letdown, try to relax, and think about your baby instead of the sensation. You can also gently massage your breast to make yourself feel more comfortable.
How long should I breastfeed each time?
The first few nursing sessions may be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 45 minutes, due to trial and error. Once your baby has gotten a comfortable latch and nursing position, most breastfeeding sessions will last 20 – 45 minutes.
Some babies do cluster feed, which is feeding several times close to each other, then go for hours without feeding. Newborns may breastfeed every hour or several times in an hour, especially during evening and nighttime.
Do I use both breasts during nursing?
Empty one breast before moving to the other one, and alternate the side you start with for the next feeding. Some babies might feed on both breasts during each feeding, but some might be satisfied after one breast.
How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?
This is one of the most common questions for breastfeeding mums. Since you can’t see the amount of milk your body is producing, and you can’t measure the amount your baby is drinking, it might be hard to determine whether your baby is getting enough milk. Here are some signs that you can watch out for:
- Check baby’s diapers:
- What goes in must come out. Your baby’s diaper output will show you whether he’s getting enough milk. Initially, your baby will poop after almost every feeding – 5 to 12 times a day. First bowel movements for the first 3 days will be meconium (newborn’s first poop) and will be dark and sticky.
- After a few days, it will decrease to about 3 to 4 times a day (for the first 6 weeks). The poop will change to a runny, yellow stool.
- Babies older than 6 weeks may poop less often, maybe only once a week.
- If the colour and consistency is normal, there is little to worry about.
- Your baby is gaining weight:
- It is normal for your baby to lose weight (5-7% of weight)in the first 2 weeks, but after which, your baby gains weight steadily.
- Baby is swallowing:
- When your baby successfully latches on, he will suck, which helps to release the milk. Then it should follow with a deeper, slow pulling motion. You should also see his jaw drop and hear his swallowing.
- Baby is satisfied:
- When awake, your baby is alert, happy and active. If your baby is overly lethargic, restless and constantly crying for food, it may be a sign that he/she is not getting enough.
- Your breasts:
- Your breasts should feel softer and less full after feeds.
- Breastfeeding should generally feel comfortable and pain-free (there may be a letdown reflex period which you might feel slight pain/discomfort).
- Your nipples look the same shape after breastfeeding – not squashed/pinched.
If you are having trouble with breastfeeding, or if you are concerned with your milk supply or your baby’s weight loss/gain, you can approach a lactation consultant for help and advice.
Why is my milk supply low?
Many moms worry that they do not produce enough milk. But if your baby is gaining weight well, it is likely your milk supply is enough. Milk production works on a supply and demand basis. The greater the demand, the greater the supply and vice versa. This works even if you have twins.
The most common reasons are inadequate nutrition (food and fluid) intake for mom. Fatigue and stress can also affect (and lower) your milk production, so it is important for mom to feel physically, mentally and emotionally healthy as well. Feeding your baby too infrequently, or for too short periods of time can also cause milk production to be low.
How do I boost my milk supply?
Here are some ways to boost your milk supply:
- Nurse frequently. As long as your baby is hungry, nurse him. You can aim to nurse at least every 1.5-2 hours during the day and 3 hours at night.
- Responsive feeding is also a better approach than a fixed schedule as a fixed schedule might interrupt your body to produce more. Nurse your baby whenever he/she is hungry. Also, avoid feeding your baby with alternatives unless required (as this signals for your body to produce less).
- Empty one breast before moving on to the other, and alternate breasts for each feed. Offer both sides during each feeding. The idea here is to remove more milk in your breast, as it will signal for the body to produce more.
- Avoid pacifiers. All sucking action should be dedicated to the breast.
- Eat well. It is important for mom to get a nutritional, balanced diet so that your body is healthy and equipped to produce more milk. Get at least 2,500 healthy calories in your body every day. Breastfeeding will help with weight loss so do not worry about eating more (foods with the nutritional value of course, not junk food). The Bump has released this healthy breastfeeding diet article that you can check out.
- Stay hydrated. It is important to drink plenty of water. While drinking water does not help increase supply (it is a myth!), the opposite is true. If you are dehydrated, your body can’t produce milk efficiently, and you will have a lower supply.
- Be well-rested. Get as much shuteye/sleep as you can in between nursing sessions. Even short nap sessions will help you to be recharged. Breastfeeding can actually help you to get better rest as oxytocin is produced which has a calming effect.
- Consider adding in pumping sessions between nursing sessions, especially busy moms with erratic/working schedules. Pumping can speed up the removing of more milk from your breast to increase production.
- Do note that your milk output from breast pumping alone is not an accurate way of determining your milk production. A baby with a healthy suck is more efficient than pumps. The type and quality of breast pump you purchase can also affect your milk output. It is better to get a medical-grade breast pump (like the Spectra S1+ or the Medela Freestyle) that mimics a baby’s suckling action well. Check out the best breast pumps in Singapore.
- Even extracting a bit more from each breast will help speed up the production process, you do not have to stress about fully emptying out your breast.
- Consider lactation cookies made with galactagogues. They can help to increase your milk supply. When consuming any herb or supplement, do check the ingredients list, and also with your doctor to ensure that it is safe.
- If needed, do not be afraid to seek professional advice from a lactation consultant / doctor. Your doctor may prescribe some additional supplements to aid your production.
Common breastfeeding questions
Can I breastfeed my baby when I am sick?
Most common illnesses, like the flu, are caused by viruses that are contagious even before you show symptoms (coughing, fever), and so your baby would have already been exposed to those germs. If you breastfeed your baby, it will help to transfer the antibodies that your body has produced to fight the infection to you baby, and allow your baby to develop a better resistance and immunity to it. Breastfeeding can also help you to feel more relaxed (thanks to hormone oxytocin that is released), and more well-rested, aiding in a better recovery.
But if you are suffering from HIV, ebola, or some other serious illnesses, then it is advised to not breastfeed your baby.
Can I drink alcohol when breastfeeding?
The safest option is to abstain from alcohol when breastfeeding. That said, the rules around drinking when breastfeeding is less strict than when pregnant.
Drinking in moderation (up to 1 standard drink per day or no more than 0.5g of alcohol per kg of your body weight) is not known to harm an infant, but wait at least 3 hours before nursing. Alcohol can be found in breastmilk and the levels are the highest 30 to 60 minutes after consuming it and can be detected even 2 hours after consumption.
Do note that expressing or pumping out your milk and throwing it away does not reduce the alcohol levels present in your milk. Alcohol levels in your breastmilk are similar to being in your bloodstream. Your alcohol level will only be reduced with time as your body processes it.
Alcohol exposure above moderate levels can negatively impact your baby’s development, growth and sleep patterns. Hence, to err on the safe side, avoid alcohol if you are breastfeeding.
Can I breastfeed in public?
It is legal to breastfeed in public in Singapore, even without a nursing cover.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful act of a loving mother nourishing her baby and should not be perceived as an outrage of modesty. You should not feel embarrassed to breastfeed in public. It is your individual preference and comfort level on how discrete or public you may want to be when it comes to nursing.
Some babies do feel uncomfortable and fussy under nursing covers. While some malls have nursing facilities, they are often not sufficient. Some places may not even be clean.
If you need to breastfeed in public, know that in no way should you feel ashamed, no matter what others say or react. Read how these moms stand up for breastfeeding in public.
Common breastfeeding problems
Here is a list of common breastfeeding issues that mothers face. I will share the solutions and how to overcome these breastfeeding problems in a separate article!
- Painful latching
- Cracked nipples
- Breast engorgement
- Clogged ducts
- Low milk supply
- Baby falling asleep at the breast
- Inverted nipples
- Painful letdown
Breastfeeding & Mother support groups Singapore
- Breastfeeding Mothers Support Group (Join their Facebook group here)
- Mother & Child Singapore
- SNS Working Mums
- East Coast Mums Support Group
- Baby Wearing SG
- New Mothers Support Group (has a membership fee of $35 for 12 months)
I hope that our Ultimate Breastfeeding Guide for First-Time Moms has helped you! If you find it useful, please do share it with your family and friends. Thank you!