Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby. It’s easier to digest than is commercial formula, and the antibodies in breast milk will boost your baby’s immune system. Breast-feeding may even help you lose weight after the baby is born.But breast-feeding isn’t always easy. You may need more practice — and patience — than you might have imagined. Here’s help getting off to a good start.
Reading about breast-feeding is one thing. Doing it on your own is something else. The first few times you breast-feed your baby — starting as soon after delivery as possible — ask for help. The maternity nurses or the hospital’s lactation consultant can help you position the baby and make sure he or she is latching on correctly. Your doctor, your baby’s doctor or your childbirth educator may be able to help, too. Learning correct technique from the very beginning can help you avoid trouble later on.
For the first few weeks, most newborns breast-feed every two to three hours around-the-clock. It’s intense. But frequent breast-feeding sessions help stimulate your breasts to produce milk. And the sooner you begin each feeding, the less likely you’ll need to soothe a frantic baby. Watch for early signs of hunger, such as stirring and stretching, sucking motions and lip movements. Fussing and crying are later cues.
Don’t bend over or lean forward to bring your breast to your baby. Instead, cradle your baby close to your breast. Sit in a chair that offers good arm and back support. Support yourself with pillows if needed. Or lie on your side with your baby on his or her side, facing you.
When you’re settled, tickle your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. Make sure your baby’s mouth is open wide and he or she takes in part of the darker area around the nipple (areola). Your nipple should be far back in the baby’s mouth, and the baby’s tongue should be cupped under your breast. Listen for a rhythmic sucking and swallowing pattern.
If you need to remove the baby from your breast, first release the suction by inserting your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth.
Let your baby nurse from the first breast thoroughly, until the breast feels soft — often about 15 minutes. Then try burping the baby. After that, offer the second breast. If your baby’s still hungry, he or she will latch on. If not, simply start the next breast-feeding session with the second breast. If your baby consistently nurses on only one breast at a feeding during the first few weeks, pump the other breast to relieve pressure and protect your milk supply.
If your baby pauses during breast-feeding sessions to gaze at you or look around the room, enjoy the moment. Consider it an opportunity to slow down and bond with your baby.
Some babies are happiest when they’re sucking on something. Enter pacifiers — but there’s a caveat. Giving your baby a pacifier too soon may interfere with breast-feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce a pacifier until a baby is 1 month old and breast-feeding is well established.
When your baby is latched on successfully, you’ll feel a gentle pulling sensation on your breast — rather than a pinching or biting sensation on your nipple. Your breasts may feel firm or full before the feeding, and softer or emptier afterward. Look for your baby to gain weight steadily, produce six to eight wet diapers a day and be content between feedings. Your baby’s stools will become yellow, seedy and loose.
Take care of your nipples
After each feeding, it’s OK to let the milk dry naturally on your nipple. If you’re in a hurry, gently pat your nipple dry. To keep your nipples dry between feedings, change bra pads often.
When you bathe, keep soap, shampoo and other cleansers away from your nipples. If your nipples are dry or cracked, try an ointment containing lanolin. Rubbing olive oil or expressed milk on your nipples may help, too.
Many breast-feeding moms wear loose tops that can be partially unbuttoned — from the bottom up — for feedings. You can also use a receiving blanket to cover yourself and your baby while you’re breast-feeding. If you’d like more privacy, ask someone to hold a baby blanket or stand in front of you while you get the baby settled.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
Your lifestyle choices are just as important when you’re breast-feeding as they were when you were pregnant.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Drink lots of fluids.
- Rest as much as possible.
- Only take medication with your doctor’s OK.
- Don’t smoke.
Also beware of caffeine and alcohol. Too much caffeine can make your baby irritable and interfere with your baby’s sleep. If you choose to have an occasional alcoholic drink, avoid breast-feeding for two hours afterward.
Give it time
If breast-feeding is tougher than you expected, try not to get discouraged. It’s OK to have a slow start. As you and your baby get to know each other, breast-feeding will begin to feel more natural.
If you’re struggling, ask a lactation consultant or your baby’s doctor for help — especially if every feeding is painful or your baby isn’t gaining weight. Although your nipples may be tender for the first few weeks, breast-feeding isn’t supposed to hurt. If you haven’t worked with a lactation consultant, ask your baby’s doctor for a referral or check with the obstetrics department at a local hospital. Early support is often the key to breast-feeding success.