Breastfeeding: Top 8 Mistakes to Avoid

My guest article on “Breastfeeding: Top 8 Mistakes to Avoid” for Today’s Motherhood has been published! View the write-up below or in theΒ Apr/May 2010 issue, pages 12-13.

Read these reviews on some of our favourite breastfeeding ‘tools’:

If you are a Mummy-to-be, what are your concerns regarding breastfeeding?
If you are a breastfeeding Mummy, how did you overcome the obstacles to breastfeeding in the early days?


On my son’s first birthday recently, we also celebrated the first anniversary of our breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits – healthy for mother and baby, saves money, saves time, is convenient during travels and more. Despite these, many mothers end up supplementing their newborn babies’ diet with formula milk or completely give up breastfeeding in the early days post-partum.

From personal observation, below are the top 8 mistakes that prevent mothers from breastfeeding successfully.

Mistake #1: Not Well-Informed

Are you able to answer these:

  • What does the perfect latch-on look like?
  • What are a baby’s hunger cues?
  • How could you to prevent nipple confusion?

If you are clueless about the above, it is time to read up!

During pregnancy, attend a pre-natal class (preferably with your partner) conducted by a qualified lactation consultant. Learn all you can about breastfeeding and practise various breastfeeding positions. Talk to mothers who successfully breastfed and learn from their experiences. You may also join a breastfeeding support group.

Mistake #2: Not Latching On Directly and Pumping Instead

Breastfeeding baby directly provides the best stimulation for milk production, which is especially important in the first 4 to 6 weeks. During this period, it is not necessary to express the milk to see how much you are producing and determining if it is sufficient. The amount expressed is not indicative of the amount of milk that your body is able to produce.

My boy is able to suckle until the breasts are empty and if he needs more milk, he would continue suckling until milk is produced on the spot. The pump has never been able to do that for me.

Mistake #3: Not Feeding on Demand

Feeding on demand is the most important way to ensure that the milk supply is quickly established in the early days. Your newborn baby needs to be breastfed at least 8 to 12 times round the clock. Do not try to schedule her feeds or watch the clock when she is feeding. Simply latch her on once you notice her early hunger cues, and feed her until she is satisfied.

A newborn who is not crying hysterically finds it easier to learn latching on properly and wait for the let-down reflex. It is also easier to learn cradling her in the correct position.

Mistake #4: Buying a Tin of Formula Milk (Just in case)

Having a tin of formula milk on standby means you are more likely to use it upon facing obstacles or discouragement. People around you are also likely to ‘push’ you into supplementing when they see that your milk has yet to come in. Or worse, they could feed your baby supplement milk without your consent!

A full-term baby has body reserves to survive without any supplement in the first few days. In my case, my milk came in on day 4 and my boy survived well on colostrum before that.

Mistake #5: Feeding Water

A full-term newborn does not need water or any other drink unless medically-necessary. Foremilk (the first part of breastmilk) is thirst-quenching and much more nutritious than water. Water fills your newborn baby’s tiny tummy, she suckles at your breasts less and this leads to less stimulation for milk supply.

Mistake #6: Using Artificial Teats

Babies are very smart and know that it is much easier to get milk from a bottle teat than breastfeed directly. Feeding your newborn with expressed breastmilk (EBM) or water using a bottle teat could lead to nipple confusion and rejection of the real nipple. With less suckling at the breasts, there is less stimulation and less milk supply. If necessary, feed your newborn with a cup, spoon or syringe instead.

Mistake #7: Lack Family, Confinement and Professional Support

Delivery is a tiring process and it is important to have sufficient support to breastfeed successfully. You need a supportive partner who is well-informed about the do’s and don’ts of breastfeeding and help you fend off obstacles.

I personally find it important to also have a pro-breastfeeding obstetrician-gynaecologist, confinement helper, paediatrician and deliver in a pro-breastfeeding hospital.

Mistake #8: Lack Confidence and Determination

Without determination, you would find it hard to continue breastfeeding for long and waver easily when others doubt your ability to supply enough milk for your baby. My friends and I who have successfully breastfed stuck to the belief that we could produce sufficient milk and were determined to breastfeed our babies successfully, whatever it takes.

In short, focus on breastfeeding your newborn directly on demand (at least 8-12 times a day) round the clock, ignore discouragement, and seek advice from a lactation consultant if you need help. Enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding!

Summary: Breastfeeding Success Checklist

  1. Read up and be well-informed
  2. Latch on directly for the initial days and weeks, until supply is established
  3. Feed on demand (at least 8-12 times a day)
  4. Believe you can supply enough milk for baby (No need for formula milk as back-up)
  5. Breastmilk contains lots of water plus nutrition. Breastfed babies don’t need water, unless medically necessary
  6. When feeding supplementary or expressed milk, use spoon, syringe or cup to avoid nipple confusion
  7. Get as much family, confinement and professional support as possible
  8. Have confidence in yourself

16 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: Top 8 Mistakes to Avoid”

  1. Nice article.

    For mummies-to-be, one thing that wasn’t provided much information for in baby care classes, was how to stay calm and deal with a breast that’s so full of milk. It’s almost a mistake to wait for the baby to demand a feed to relieve a swelling breast, because by then, the mother would already be in loads of pain in the initial days. It is still advisable to stand by a breast pump to pump out some of the breast milk that can kick in around day 3 or so in case the baby sleeps for a longer than expected period. I know mine did when I brought her home from the hospital and it was a shock dealing with the pain while she is too sound asleep to be fed. You need to set different expectations for different situations.

    I do think it’s still okay to have a schedule of expected feeding times, so that the mother is prepared to deal with a feeding, however short the initial interval is to bring on the supply. Some babies do take a long time to feed and I’m not a follower of limiting my baby to a fixed period of feeding per breast, just feed till the breast seems empty. Therefore some things preached in classes like giving 20mins per breast doesn’t seem relevant at all if the purpose is to bring in demand and is counteractive if the brain doesn’t get signals of the breast being empty. As for scheduled feeding, I feel it helps the mother to get ample liquids and rest for the feedings.

    1. You are a lucky Mummy to get lots of milk in the initial days! πŸ™‚ I was a bit panicky when there was still no whitish milk on Day 3, and kept telling myself that the milk would come. Indeed, it came shortly after. Of course, when engorgement strikes, it is necessary to pump out the excess milk until the breasts are soft. When the occasional engorgement occurs for me, my boy is better at relieving it than the pump. πŸ™‚

      For sleepy babies in the first few weeks, I was advised to wake the baby up to feed after about 3 hours. However, Vee was as precise as clockwork and woke up every 2-3 hours for a feed. He developed his own feeding schedule and I simply followed his cues. Fortunately, my confinement helper was very reliable and I rested sufficiently in the first month.

      Same as you, I allowed my baby to feed on one breast until he was satisfied, then offered the other. Most of the time, he fed on one side for 30 to 45 minutes, a very slow-drinker in the early months. I took the time to rest, read or surf the Net. It was only at 4 to 5 months old that he suckled much faster.

  2. Breastfeeding my firstborn was a lot harder than I expected. Although I did a lot of research while pregnant and knew for a fact that I would breastfeed despite the pressure to “buy a tin of formula just in case”, etc., I was unprepared for how challenging it would be. I’d read that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt and if it did it meant that your baby is not latching on properly. I got help from the nursing consultants and they told me my son was latching correctly but I was still in pain every time I nursed. Whenever my son would want to feed, all I could think was, “Already?” In those early days, I dreaded having to nurse him because it hurt so much.

    I also had one partially inverted nipple which made it difficult for my son to latch on. I dreaded every time he had to nurse on that side. It was hard to get him latched and he would fall off the nipple so easily and cry because he was still hungry. The flow on that side was also very fast and he would choke because he couldn’t cope with it.

    One piece of advice given to me from a friend who was breastfeeding was: “Tell yourself ‘just one more day'”. So each day, I would tell myself, “Just one more day.” I kept telling myself that until one day, it didn’t hurt any more. And, as my son grew older and became more experienced with nursing, he developed a new preference for the breast with the partially inverted nipple!

    Oh yes, I also couldn’t live without Bepanthen which I applied to my nipples after every feed in the early days. It helped make it slightly more bearable.

    1. The initial days were tough indeed, as Vee didn’t latch on properly and I have yet to master the technique, so the nipples were a bit sore and cracked. It hurt, yet I persisted (like you) until it healed and didn’t hurt anymore. πŸ™‚

    2. Hi Shen-Li,

      In the earlier days (as in the first 2 mths), we used Bepanthen for our son’s butt (early prevention of nappy rash). We applied it to our boy’s butt after every diaper change and we never had any incident of nappy rash since day 1. Yes, you can use it to apply to your nipples for sore/cracked nipple but for me, in the earlier days, after feeding, I use my fingers to express out some BM, and I rub it back to my nipples using my BM. Helps! πŸ˜€

      And do you know how powerful our BM is? Feel free to drop by and read my post on it ( I actually used my BM when I cut myself (while cooking/preparing food for my boy)

  3. Very well written article! I think for Malaysia (especially Chinese) most common mistake is when the old folks (or confinement ladies) starts telling you that baby is crying because of hunger, better go prep up the formula milk (which is also a mistake) bla bla bla…

    For us, while I was still pregnant, hubby and I already decided we must breastfeed no matter what. So, no formula milk at all (so that we are forced to breastfeed and old folks cannot tell us to prepare formula milk) and as of today, even though my boy is already 13mths old, I’m still breastfeeding him and yes, not a speck of formula milk in our house at all since day 1.

    I wish all mother-to-be and new mothers (and their spouse & family members) are educated enough to know of such common mistakes. A lot of new mothers gave up breastfeeding because they are not persistent enough and they get bad advice from other ppl (you don’t produce enough milk, you don’t have milk, etc etc) and some are not doing the techniques correctly.

    I’ve also written a post in my blog on how I make my breastfeeding successful, feel free to read it when you got the spare time πŸ™‚

  4. determination and perseverance is the KEY.
    i soldiered on with sore nipples when i breastfed my firstborn. my confinement lady & MIL also kept on insisting that i give formula milk but i knew that it was unnecessary.
    my son was exclusively breastfed for 6mths, and i continued breastfeeding him until he self-weaned at 2.5 years.
    with my 2nd child, there were totally no issues, not even sore nipples! no one pressured me to supplement with formula. my daughter was also exclusively breastfed for 6 mths and now at 22 mths, she’s still not showing any signs of weaning.

    1. Hi Hui-Wearn, thank you for sharing your success stories. Hope that I won’t get sore nipples with baby #2 in future too. Most likely sore nipples were due to incorrect latching on in the initial days, when new Mums and babies are learning. πŸ™‚

  5. Working mother

    It’s a luxury to be able to feed the baby directly and not rely on artificial teats… For working mothers we need to rely on pumps, how do we avoid nipple confusion? Is it better to switch completely to bottle feed a few weeks before going back to work?

    1. Ideally, I was advised to introduce any artificial teat after 6-8 weeks, especially after the 6-week growth spurt. If baby loves the bottle, once every 2 days. If baby doesn’t really like it, then once a day is fine. When baby is used to drinking from a bottle, it is easy to transit to more bottle feeds when Mummy plans to return to work.

      It is common for working mums to latch on directly for the morning feed (before leaving for work), night feed before sleep, and also weekends. The direct stimulation from baby tends to keep the milk supply up. Of course, there are also lucky mums with plentiful milk supply without any latching on.

      Many breastfed babies don’t like the bottle and may prefer to drink from a cup. (Somehow, even newborns can do it.) In this case, simply use a cup such as the Medela one reviewed here.

  6. Hi there! Thanks for dropping by my blog. I have to say that I partially disagree with Mistakes 4, 5 & 6. For all my 3 boys, I supplemented with formula (for nights when I was too tired to wake up to bf), fed them water especially during the first 1-2 weeks to flush out excess birubilin and I’d also mixed up boobs with bottles from the start, knowing that I have to return to work and they HAVE to take the bottle. I had no problems breastfeeding nor with the supply. My personal opinion is that there is TOO much pressure on a new mother to breastfeed, and from all the books and articles that I’ve read, it doesn’t tell you or prepare you for how hard it would be. Breastfeeding is one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life. Because of this, new mothers’ expectations are not managed and hence, many, and I emphasise, MANY new mothers fall into post natal depression because they feel like a failure for being unable to breastfeed for whatever reason. My friend’s sister committed suicide due to this (she left a note) and that is why i feel so strongly about giving new mothers a CHOICE to breastfeed or not. It’s not the end of the world if a mother doesn’t.

    1. Hi Paik Ling, you are a very fortunate mum to breastfeed successfully even with supplementing, water & bottle teats. Many mums I know do what you did and end up with dwindling milk supply, which is very hard to raise again. From observation, it seems that mums with plentiful milk supply are the few lucky ones while most of us need to treasure every drop of liquid gold we can produce. The most efficient & reliable way for mums (like me) is to breastfeed directly and exclusively for the first few weeks, especially at the mega 6-week growth spurt, which is a REAL test of breastfeeding mums’ determination.

      After week 6, I introduced the bottle once every 1-2 days until I got lazy for a month and Vee rejected the bottle. Even then, it has been easy to feed him with an open cup, such as the Medela one reviewed here. My friend’s daughter rejected the bottle too and was cup-fed with EBM while Mummy worked. Another baby chose to be spoon-fed since a newborn.

      Nowadays, many mums recognise the benefits of breastfeeding and want to do it, yet there are obstacles at certain hospitals, clinics, at home and at work. Having sufficient information and the correct expectations would help more mums off to a good start and prevent depression. Yes, I agree with you that few of us are prepared for the initial tough days, so reading widely about the topic and finding out from other mums are important. (That is one reason I read so many Mummy blogs! πŸ™‚ )

      By the way, my boy had high jaundice level too, which was resolved with phototherapy. “Early, frequent, unrestricted breastfeeding helps to eliminate bilirubin from baby’s body. Bilirubin exits the body in the infant’s stools, and because breastmilk has a laxative effect, frequent breastfeeders tend to have lots of soiled diapers and thus, lower bilirubin levels.” (Source:

      Thank you for your sharing! πŸ™‚

  7. Pingback: Breastfeeding and Jaundice |

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