While breastfeeding is considered to be the most natural, nutritious way to feed your baby, you may wonder just how to get started. Here are a few tips to help:
Breastfeed early and often
The best time to start is soon after your baby is born. You can start nursing in the delivery room, if you like, as babies are alert shortly after birth, then often sleep for up to 24 hours. Babies are born with the instinct and need to suckle, so place your baby on your breast and with a little encouragement those reflexes will kick in. Feed often during the early days to encourage milk production.
For the first few days, your body produces a nutrient-rich milk known as colostrum. The highly concentrated milk contains antibodies that help protect your baby against infection and keep your baby from losing too much weight before your regular breastmilk comes in.
Babies want to nurse often during the first few days, sometimes between one and three hours. A newborn’s stomach is small so it can’t hold very much milk at a time. Within a few days you will start producing breast milk that is thinner and contains more water and sugar.
Most women experience a tingling sensation, known as the let-down reflex, when their regular milk comes in. The let down reflex can be triggered by the baby’s sucking, hearing a baby cry, or even waiting too long between feedings. A new mother may also feel cramps when her milk lets down, which is a sign that the uterus is contracting. Not everyone experiences the let down, so don’t worry if you don’t.
Make sure the baby latches on.
One of the keys to breastfeeding success—having a satisfied baby and avoiding sore nipples— is to help the baby latch on properly. To latch on, the baby must tightly seal her mouth around the nipple. There are a few ways you can encourage this.
- First, get comfortable. Make sure you are in a comfortable spot with plenty of back support as nursing can take a while. Turn the baby toward you and touch the baby’s upper lip to your nipple. When the baby opens her mouth, bring her closer to your breast, holding the breast for support. Place your thumb on top of the areola, the darker area surrounding the nipple, and place your fingers at the bottom, so that when the baby latches on her mouth covers the areola. You can tell if your baby is swallowing milk by the movement of her jaw or the sounds she makes.
- If your child does not seem to latch on properly, ask a lactation expert or nurse for advice. Read up on the various nursing positions. If one position does not work well, another might. Some mothers prefer to use a nursing pillow to help support the baby.
Crying is not the only sign of hunger.
Babies will nuzzle against their mothers’ breasts when they are hungry, pucker their lips or move their heads from side to side. They may not cry until they are very hungry and then it might be difficult to calm them down. The more time you spend with your baby, the easier it will be to pick up on such subtle cues. There’s no need to wait until a baby is crying or upset and it can be counter productive to feed your baby according to a schedule during the early months.
Don’t worry about breastfeeding too often.
You can’t really breastfeed a baby too often as babies will self-regulate, that is they will stop nursing when they are full. The production of breastmilk is also regulated to a baby’s need. If a baby nurses a lot, production speeds up. When babies are experiencing a growth spurt, they may nurse more often, boosting milk production. As babies begin to eat solid foods and lose some interest in nursing, breast milk production will slow down.
Wait a while before introducing the bottle
If possible, wait to introduce your baby to the bottle until breastfeeding is well established. While it’s nice to have the option of someone else occasionally feeding the baby, introducing the bottle early on could sabotage your efforts to breastfeed. Some babies can easily move from the breast to the bottle and back, but sometimes babies who get a bottle early on may prefer it, since drinking from a bottle requires much less effort.
How long should you breastfeed?
Breastfeeding for six months or longer offers many health benefits for both mother and infant. Breastfeeding protects babies against common childhood infections, including ear and respiratory infections, plus reduces the risk of asthma and obesity in childhood. Breastfeeding can help reduce the risk for postpartum depression, help a new mother lose pregnancy weight and lower her risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you experience problems with nursing, don’t hesitate to ask a professional breastfeeding specialist, known as a lactation consultant, for advice. Contact them if your nipples hurt after nursing, if you think you’re not producing enough milk, or if your child is refusing to nurse. Some hospitals and birthing centers have a lactation consultant visit a new mother shortly after she gives birth to offer tips and discuss any related issues.
A relaxed approach to breastfeeding will make success more likely, but never be afraid to ask questions or speak to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider about any concerns.