Preparing for breastfeeding
You can and should prepare for breastfeeding. Your stay at the hospital will be short, and the main focus there will be on practical matters. Information acquired in advance will help you learn and understand new things. You can prepare for breastfeeding by talking about it with your family and friends, reading the Family Support’s Breastfeeding and food section and the breastfeeding guides for mothers and families, and visiting the websites Naistalo (in Finnish) and imetys.fi.
All of these provide information on the first days of breastfeeding, proper latching, the baby’s hunger signs, hand expression and several other important topics. During pregnancy, you can also visit the City of Helsinki’s breastfeeding support group. There, you can receive tips on breastfeeding directly from other mothers.
Breastfeeding and your family’s plans on how you will be feeding your baby are natural topics to bring up at the maternity and child health clinic.
Breastfeeding instructions for expectant families
Maternity care during pregnancy provides information about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to prepare for it, as well as on the hospital’s treatment practices.
You can receive information from:
- your own maternity and child health clinic
- family coaching
- maternity hospital
The Helsinki region has a breastfeeding card in use, which each family will receive together with their maternity clinic card. The breastfeeding card can be used to monitor what kind of information a family has received on breastfeeding and which topics should be reviewed before the baby is born.
Naistalo and the City of Helsinki’s breastfeeding guides provide useful information on the subject.
Breastmilk is the most natural food for the child.
- It is always ready to use, at the right temperature, pure and designed for the baby’s needs.
- Breastmilk has the perfect content of fat, protein and carbohydrates for the baby’s digestive system as well as for the baby’s growth and development.
- Aside for vitamin D, it has sufficient amounts of all vitamins and minerals in an easily absorbed format. The baby is given vitamin D in accordance with the maternity clinic’s instructions, starting from the age of two weeks.
Even though breastmilk is the best nourishment for a newborn, some babies are breastfed only partially or not at all. In these instances, the babies will be fed either partially or completely with baby formula.
Not all mothers want to breastfeed. Closeness and interaction with a baby can be achieved in other ways, as well. A bottle-fed baby can be held and provided with ample skin contact the same as breastfed babies. Interactive, baby-led feeding is possible with the bottle, too.
The maternity and child health clinic is a natural place to discuss your feeding plans for your baby already during pregnancy.
Support is also available from the Pullonpyörittäjien opas (‘Bottle Spinner’) guide of the Family Federation of Finland (in Finnish).
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies be breastfed full-time for the first six months and partially until two years of age.
Full-time breastfeeding means providing a baby only with the necessary vitamin supplements and medication in addition to breastmilk. Full-time breastfeeding until six (6) months of age is encouraged in Finland.
Small sample portions of solid food can be offered at the age of 4–6 months at the earliest. This recommendation is based on the notion of strengthening the gastrointestinal tract. A baby’s sample portion should equal 1–2 teaspoons of solid food. You can feed this to your baby with a spoon or your fingertip after first having breastfed them. All the while, baby-led breastfeeding is continued.
With special groups, such as prematurely born babies, the recommendation may be to start them on solid foods as early as at four (4) months of age. All children will need solid food from the age of six (6) months onwards. Finger feeding is recommended, taking into account the child’s motor skills.
The recommendation is to continue breastfeeding alongside solid foods until the baby is 12 months old. A family may also choose to continue breastfeeding for longer.
Read more about baby foods and food recommendations on the Baby food page.
It is important for the well-being of the entire family that the spouse also takes part in the feeding and caring for the baby. Research shows that the partner’s support is the most important thing for a mother and has a real effect on the success of breastfeeding. Therefore, spouses should also receive information on how to feed and care for their baby.
Family coaching provides information about breastfeeding. Families can also search for information together online.
It is natural that initially breastfeeding will take up the majority of the mother’s time. Her partner then has a vital role in providing mental support. The partner may also do many concrete things to help the mother.
For example, the partner can
- bathe the baby and change the nappies
- manage the household and take care of the family’s other children
- make sure that the mother is getting enough rest, nourishment and liquids, thus allowing her to concentrate on the breastfeeding
- help the mother during the first few days of breastfeeding if she needs assistance with getting the baby in the correct position
- ensure that visits from family and friends are not too taxing for the mother. Creating a calm environment without potential disturbances to your home makes breastfeeding easier.
Friends and family can show support by bringing food and other supplies to a family with a newborn baby and by offering child sitting help with the family’s other children. A natural connection between a baby and the parents can form if the mother’s partner also participates in caring for the baby.
In single-parent households, the support from friends and family can play a critical role in the success of breastfeeding. Help with everyday life is also available at the maternity and child health clinic. For example, receiving home help has often proven to be a good solution in families with twins.
For more information, read The family guide to breastfeeding (pdf).
You should learn about the basics of breastfeeding already during pregnancy. Your stay at the maternity hospital will most likely be short, and the main focus there will be on learning how to breastfeed in practice. Advance information usually helps when learning new things.
Successful breastfeeding does not necessarily require anything else apart from the mother and baby, as well as support from the mother’s partner. Some additional things may, however, become useful.
You may want to invest in some flexible and well-fitting nursing bras. However, as you cannot predict the exact size of your breasts, you should not buy too many in advance.
You can bring one nursing bra with you to the maternity hospital. Underwire bras are not recommended during the first few days of breastfeeding, because these can increase the risk of a clogged duct.
As the amount of milk in your breast increases, your breasts may become swollen. This is another reason why a tight wire bra can feel very uncomfortable. That is why some mothers will initially only use nursing tops.
By trying out different options you can find the most suitable one for you.
Nursing pads or milk collection shells?
Many mothers find that one of their breasts will leak milk while they are nursing with the other. You can let the milk seep into a cloth or a nursing pad, or try out a milk collection shell. You can collect the excess milk into the shell and freeze it for possible later use. Both disposable and multi-use nursing pads are available.
Hand expression or a breast pump?
Breastfeeding mothers may experience situations where they must empty their breasts without actual breastfeeding.
Hand expression is a good option for most.
- You can read instructions on hand expression before your baby is born.
- These instructions can be found, for example, at Naistalo (in Finnish).
- Learning the practical aspects of breastfeeding should be left until after the baby is born.
If hand expression does not feel natural or you need to express milk often, a breast pump may be a better solution.
Some mothers use nipple protectors during breastfeeding, for example if they have short nipples or if the baby has trouble latching on. Nipple protectors are available from pharmacies and well-stocked supermarkets.
Only after the baby is born will the mother know what kind of equipment she needs to support her in breastfeeding.
Nursing is closeness, eye contact, skin contact, conversation, acceptance and love.
Breastfeeding protects babies from things such as
- ear infections
- respiratory infection and gastroenteritis that require hospitalisation
- sudden infant death syndrome
- atopic eczema
- severe gastroenteritis, i.e. necrotising enterocolitis
- coeliac disease
- childhood leukaemia.
Breastfeeding also provides future protection to a child against obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Nursing also has a positive effect on the mother:
- Her blood pressure decreases and heartbeat stabilises.
- Weigh loss is quicker.
- Recovery from birth is faster.
- The mother’s experience of parenthood grows stronger.
- Nursing also decreases the mother’s risk of breast cancer or ovarian cancer and osteoporosis before menopause. Read more about osteoporosis Terveyskirjasto website (in Finnish).
It helps the mother to establish lactation and breastfeed successfully if the baby is allowed ample skin contact time with both parents. The first breastfeeding session (or hand expression) should take place 1–2 hours from the birth. Another important factor is that the baby latches on properly and sucks efficiently.
It also helps if the breastfeeding approach is baby-led, i.e. the mother offers her breast when the baby signals that they are willing to start sucking. The baby signals their hunger with reaching motions, by putting their fingers to their mouth and smacking their lips. You should try to react to these hunger signals as quickly as possible before the baby starts to cry. You can soothe a crying baby by rocking them in your arms before helping them onto your breast.
Imetyksen käynnistyminen (Naistalo, in Finnish)
Ensimmäiset päivät (Imetyksen tuki ry, in Finnish)
Many mothers experience tenderness in their nipples when they first start breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is painful or the skin on your nipples cracks, you should let the maternity and child health clinic check that your baby is latching on properly.
- You can treat sore nipples with lotions specifically designed for this purpose. These lotions are available at pharmacies.
- You can squeeze out a drop of milk to protect the nipple.
- Letting your nipples air dry between feedings will soothe them.
- If your nipples are cracked, you should let the maternity and child health clinic check that your baby is latching on properly.
- You can still breastfeed your baby even if your nipples are bleeding.
- If the skin on your nipple is broken, you should not let it scar over and become cracked again the next time you are breastfeeding. You can place a milk collection shell or a gauze moistened with saline or breastmilk over a cracked nipple to keep it hydrated and prevent scarring.
- If you have cracked skin on your breasts, you need to keep your hands clean in order to prevent bacteria from causing an infection there.
- You should wear warm clothes outdoors and protect your breasts against the cold, for example with a warm scarf underneath your coat. You can change into a dry pair of nursing pads before going out.