November 29, 2023

Breastfeeding & Responsive Feeding – What Is It?

Health Visitor Claire Cripps

By Health Visitor Claire Cripps

A dual-qualified nurse, midwife & health visitor with three beautiful children of her own.  Currently working as a health visitor, Claire loves working with families. Supporting them and their babies through the good and the hard times.


Breastfeeding can lead to some of the most magical and peaceful experiences with your newborn. Giving you those precious moments to bond and enjoy first cuddles together. It can also be a great way to get your baby’s brain ticking.  On the other side, it can be stressful, very upsetting and disheartening when things don’t work out the way you wanted them to.  This is just a little reminder that FED is best and no matter how your baby gets fed, as long as they have that loving relationship with you it will all work out in the end. 

If you do want to breastfeed, there are lots of support groups and advice out there, but to begin with, your midwife and health visitor will be your first port of call. The midwife at the birth will support you with initial positioning and attachment. This may be overwhelming at first but as they say “practice makes perfect”. Breastfeeding will take longer than overnight to get the hang of it. But as they say: Rome wasn’t built in a day and the best things come to those who wait.  So have patience with yourself and you and your baby will learn the skill together.

My Experiences

I’m a mum of three and I became a midwife and a health visitor after having my children. I wish that I knew then what I know now, as maybe my experiences would have been a little bit different. I breastfeed my two younger children and formula-fed my first.  It was a roller coaster for me and I wasn’t a natural, but I wanted to try and by the third baby I got the hang of it. It’s important that even though the first few months seem to be really tough, once your little one starts school no one will ask if you breastfed your baby. Decisions that seem like the most important now, will soon change as your little one grows. So please be assured, Fed is Best and whatever decisions you make are the correct ones, because they’re right for you at the time.

What Are The Benefits Of All This Hard Work?

As a health visitor, I get to meet lots of new parents; and their experiences are never the same.  I see first-hand the highs and the lows of feeding babies. Breastfeeding is a new skill that needs to be learnt and practised by both you and your baby.  The first few weeks can be tricky but once you get the hang of it you will (hopefully) learn to love every minute of it and treasure those special moments together.  Breastfeeding once established will build a strong bond physically and emotionally between you and your baby.

Here are a few benefits of breastfeeding:
  • It uses up an extra 500 calories a day and this enhances weight loss.
  • Breastmilk contains antibodies that will protect your baby from infections and diseases.
  • It lowers the risk of getting breast and ovarian cancers for you, the mother.   
  • Breast milk is all your baby will need in their first 6 months of life.
  • It is made for your baby and will change to suit theirneeds every step of the way.
  • Best of all its free.

I find that some mothers do not understand what to expect in those first few days and weeks after having their baby.  All parents have the right to make informed choices. As a Health Visitor, my job is to share my knowledge and experience. Helping support mothers and families in making the decision that is best for them and their baby.

The First Few Days Turn Into Weeks..

Everyone’s birth experience is different. What happens during your labour and how your baby comes into the world can determine when your mature milk supply comes in. If you have a vaginal birth the mature milk tends to come in within a few days. If you have a caesarean section the mature milk can take up to 5 days for your body to make. 

In the meantime, your body should produce a golden sticky substance called colostrum, which is also known as “liquid gold”.  The colostrum milk is filled with a high concentration of carbohydrates, protein and antibodies and is low in fat. Colustrum can enhance your baby’s immune system and help them to fight off infections, by coating the gut to protect it from germs. It can also help to reduce their risk of developing allergies as the grow.

Adjusting Milk Supply

It is very common for a newborn baby to lose weight in the first 5 days but don’t fret, they should regain this by around two weeks old (if this is not the case, please speak to your midwife or health visitor). As a newborn, your baby will drink milk in small quantities and will feed frequently, until your mature milk is produced.  I often find mothers at this point start to worry that they’re not producing enough milk. This frequent feeding helps stimulate your mature milk supply, that will come in a few days later.  This stage only lasts a few days and can be the toughest. It’s the time when not only are you still learning how to breastfeed but also adjusting to a lack of sleep.  

The breast will become fuller and the amount of milk supply you have will depend on your baby’s needs.  The milk will change colour and become creamier and this is the change from colostrum to the mature milk supply.

Breastfeeding - skin to skin

Is It Going Well? Trust Your Gut Instincts

You will know things are going well when your baby is feeding regularly; having 6 wet and 2 dirty nappies a day; your baby will rest after feeds; and can sleep around 1.5 hours to 3 hours in-between. That’s the ideal scenario, but the reality is often very different. Especially in the early days, you may find your baby is sleepy and you need to wake them up every 2 to 3 hours for feeding or your baby may want to be fed every ten minutes. 

Remember, your baby will have different needs to Mrs Jones’ baby down the road. Every baby is different so don’t worry about all the advice given around you, follow your gut instinct. If you feel that it is not going the way you thought it would, for either baby or yourself, it is important to reach out and call your midwife or your health visitor. If you struggle with sore boobs, please don’t suffer in silence, talk to you midwife or health visitor. Breastfeeding is a journey like learning to ride a bike. It can take a while, you may hit a few kerbs on the way but once you’ve both got the hang of it, it should get a lot easier.

Responsiveness Is The Way To Go

So the simplest way to establish breastfeeding in the early days is to be responsive. Your newborn baby should feed a minimum of 8-12 times in 24 hours; but responsive feeding is when you go with the flow and you don’t worry too much about clocks and routines.  When you feel engorged you feed. When your baby is looking for food you feed. It doesn’t matter if your baby feeds every three hours or every ten minutes at first.  We all have different appetites and this applies to your baby too.  A usual feed will last from 5 minutes to 40 minutes, so don’t worry about how long your baby feeds for, they will tell you when they are full by falling asleep and being content.

Sometimes in the day, your baby may feed more regularly and this is classed as cluster feeding. This is a very normal and natural thing for your baby to do, as they are encouraging your milk supply. 

Love, Care and Relax

Responsive feeding is so much more than just nutritional milk sharing. Bonding is an important part of becoming a parent and breastfeeding can enhance that feeling of love and comfort. 

Think about when you are hungry or thirsty; the portion size you want can depend on the weather, how busy you are and what you are doing. Your baby will be going through the exact same feelings.  When your baby is awake they are using up all their energy, so will often want to be fed earlier/more often than if they were asleep. 

You cannot spoil a newborn baby, their brain development hasn’t reached that stage yet. So cuddle your baby and pick them up as often as you want. Don’t feel guilty, so long as they are happy and gaining weight; you can just enjoy the time you have with your baby. It will fly quicker than you realise and soon enough you will be dropping them off at those school gates.

The Important Bit

Stop worrying about what is next and enjoy the now.  Just think that breastfeeding is the most natural thing you can experience with your baby and if it works for you, every time becomes a special moment for you and your baby.  Never be worried about asking for help, that is what the professionals are there for.  Always remember that cuddling, feeding, talking and caring for your baby is the best thing you can do for them. 

MAM nipple shields

MAM Nipple Shields

The MAM Nipple Shields offer short-term support during breastfeeding. They make it very easy for babies to drink because they feel so familiar thanks to their silky smooth SkinSoftTM surface and their natural shape. MAM Nipple Shields are designed to be used when you have sore or cracked nipples; they protect nipples during breastfeeding and allow you to breastfeed for longer. Made from extremely soft, extra-thin, flexible silicone and with a ‘breast-like’ feel, they are specially shaped to allow your baby to have skin contact with you while breastfeeding. This allows baby to feel and smell you and therefore continue to stimulate your milk supply while suckling. Your baby will easily return to your breast once your nipples are healed