Planning to breastfeed
Breastfeeding information during pregnancy
Providing appropriate information during pregnancy can help mothers and families to initiate and continue breastfeeding. Health professionals should discuss breastfeeding options with mothers and families during pregnancy, and provide them with evidence-based information.
Parents and families planning to breastfeed should be encouraged to:
- Discuss feeding options with health care providers early in pregnancy (including beliefs, expectations and knowledge)
- Attend classes or information sessions during pregnancy
- Develop a personal breastfeeding plan during pregnancy
- Learn about basic breastfeeding skills including the importance of early undisturbed skin-to-skin contact, signs baby is hungry, and where to get help
- Contact a breastfeeding-trained health professional and attend a meeting before the baby is born.
Nipple preparation is not required in pregnancy.
For more information, parents can also be referred to:
- Breastfeeding-trained health professionals through associations including the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) and Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ).
- Birthing classes
What is skin-to-skin contact?
Skin-to-skin contact is when the baby is placed directly from birth onto the mother’s chest or abdomen. The newborn’s skin touches the mother’s skin. A blanket or towel can be placed over the baby’s back for warmth if required.
Mother and baby should be allowed to continue undisturbed skin-to-skin contact until the first breastfeed is finished. Routine procedures such as bathing and weighing should wait until after the first feed.
In some medical circumstances, mother and baby may need to be supervised or observed during skin-to-skin contact.
Why is skin-to-skin contact important?
Babies who are placed straight into skin-to-skin contact with their mothers interact more, stay warmer and cry less. For mothers, the oxytocin (hormone) that is released makes her feel more affectionate and less anxious and assists in milk let-down.
Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for all mothers and babies and is an important component for successful breastfeeding initiation and duration.
How babies usually behave when placed in skin-to-skin contact:
- Lie quietly for a time after the birth, then
- Open eyes, quietly searching around for the mother's nipple
- Uncurl fists and make grasping movements
- Start protruding their tongue, with small licking movements
- Rooting behaviour – open mouth, turn head towards nipple
- May attach to the breast without help, or need some gentle guidance by the mother.
Midwives may need to provide some verbal assistance to mothers, or further help if required.
What about caesarean sections?
Mothers who have had caesarean sections can still experience skin-to-skin contact with their babies. Hospitals incorporate this into their routine practice either in the operating theatre or the recovery area. The ability of a hospital to provide skin-to-skin contact after a caesarean birth will depend on the reason for the caesarean, the medical condition of the mother and the baby, and local circumstances at that time.
How do parents and families arrange for skin-to-skin contact at birth?
Parents and families can check if skin-to-skin contact after birth is routine at the expected place of birth. If not:
- Parents can talk with their health care team about arranging undisturbed skin-to-skin contact after the birth.
- Parents may request that no routine procedures (e.g. weighing or bathing) are done until after the first breastfeed, however, ensure parents understand this may not be possible in some circumstances.
- Parents should ensure support people are aware of the request for the baby to remain in undisturbed skin-to-skin contact until after the first breastfeed.
- Child and Youth Health Practice Manual, Queensland Government (PDF, 3.6MB)
National guidelines and strategies
- Infant Feeding Guidelines: Summary (PDF, 825kB)
- Infant Feeding Guidelines: Information for health workers
- Australian Dietary Guidelines (Refer to section 4: Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding)
- Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015 (PDF, 4MB)