You know the benefits of breast-feeding. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby. Breast milk is easier to digest than is commercial formula, and the antibodies in breast milk boost your baby's immune system. Breast-feeding might even help you lose weight after the baby is born. Still, breast-feeding can be challenging. Use these breast-feeding tips to get off to a good start.
Ask for help right away
Reading about breast-feeding is one thing. Doing it on your own is something else. The first time you breast-feed your baby — preferably within the first hour after delivery — ask for help. The maternity nurses or a hospital lactation consultant can offer breast-feeding tips, starting with how to position the baby and make sure he or she is latching on correctly. Your doctor or your baby's doctor might offer breast-feeding tips, too.
Start by getting comfortable. Support yourself with pillows if needed. Then cradle your baby close to your breast — rather than bending over or learning forward to bring your breast to your baby. Support the baby's head with one hand and support your breast with the other hand. Tickle your baby's lower lip with your nipple. Encourage your baby's mouth to open wide, and he or she will take in part of the darker area around the nipple (areola). Your nipple will be far back in the baby's mouth, and the baby's tongue will be cupped under your breast. Look and 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 set the pace
For the first few weeks, most newborns breast-feed every two to three hours round-the-clock. Watch for early signs of hunger, such as stirring, restlessness, sucking motions and lip movements.
Let your baby nurse from the first breast thoroughly, until your breast feels soft — typically about 20 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.
Hold off on a pacifier
Some babies are happiest when they're sucking on something. Enter pacifiers — but there's a caveat. Giving your baby a pacifier too soon might interfere with breast-feeding, since sucking on a breast is different from sucking on a pacifier. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce a pacifier until breast-feeding is well established, usually three to four weeks after birth. Avoiding pacifiers shortly after birth can help protect your milk supply as well as promote healthy weight gain for your baby.
Gauge your success
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 might feel firm or full before the feeding, and softer or emptier afterward. Look for your baby to gain weight steadily, produce at least six 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. The milk can soothe your nipples. If you're in a hurry, gently pat your nipple dry. If your breasts leak between feedings, use bra pads — and change them often. When you bathe, minimize the amount of soap, shampoo and other cleansers that might contact your nipples. If your nipples are dry or cracked, use purified lanolin (such as Lansinoh or Tender Care Lanolin) or a hydrogel dressing (such as Curasol or Gentell) after each feeding. These products are available without a prescription in most pharmacies. Both can soothe cracked nipples, as well as help your nipples retain moisture.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
Your lifestyle choices are just as important when you're breast-feeding as they were when you were pregnant. For example:
- Eat a healthy diet. Stick to healthy-eating basics, such as choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Your health care provider might recommend taking a daily multivitamin — or continuing to take prenatal vitamins — as well.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice and milk can help you stay hydrated. Moderate amounts of caffeine are generally considered OK as well — but scale back if you suspect that too much caffeine is leading to irritability or interfering with your baby's sleep. If you choose to have an occasional alcoholic drink, avoid breast-feeding for two hours afterward.
- Rest as much as possible. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps.
- Don't smoke. Smoking can reduce your milk supply, as well as change the taste of your milk and interfere with your baby's sleep. Secondhand smoke also is a concern. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as childhood asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and middle ear infections (otitis media).
- Be cautious with medication. Many medications are safe to take while you're breast-feeding. Still, it's best to get your health care provider's OK first.
Also ask your baby's doctor about vitamin D supplements for the baby, especially if you're exclusively breast-feeding. Breast milk might not provide enough vitamin D, which helps your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.
Give it time
If breast-feeding is tougher than you expected, try not to get discouraged. Feeding a newborn every few hours is exhausting, and it's OK to have a slow start. Just remember that the more often you breast-feed your baby, the more milk your breasts will produce — and the more natural breast-feeding is likely to feel.
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 might 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.