Your decision to breastfeed your baby gives her an amazing nutritional head start. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies as it has all the critical nutrients, aids in digestion and helps to build immunity. If this is your first time, you may be wondering how to nurse and worrying about potential difficulties. Follow these key steps to help ease your mind.
- Prepare. Research breastfeeding or take a breastfeeding class before your baby is born. This will teach you the essentials of breastfeeding such as the benefits, breastfeeding basics, proper techniques and common issues.
Practice. It may sound silly, but practice what you learn in class or in your own research using a doll or even a pillow. This will help you gain comfort with the different holds and your positioning.
Determine the hold. There are four main ways to hold your baby while nursing:
Latch. This is the most important step. Without a proper latch your baby will not get the milk she needs. Once the baby's mouth is open, pull her towards you, allowing her mouth to almost cover the entire areola. If it is painful to you, the baby is likely not latched on correctly. Break the latch by inserting your finger between your breast and the baby's lip and try again.
Common issues. You will likely experience one or more of the following while breastfeeding, but don't worry, it shouldn't be a show stopper!
- Cross-cradle hold - Cradle your baby in one arm and using the opposite hand, support her head and neck and turn her towards you. Pull the baby against your body and place the baby's mouth over the nipple.
- Side-lying - Lie down and hold/support the baby using the same-side arm that you are feeding from. Lie stomach to stomach with the baby. Placing pillows between your knees can help to maintain a comfortable position.
- Cradle - Support the baby's head and back with the same-side hand and forearm you're a feeding from. Place the baby on his side towards you. Pull the baby against your body and place the baby's mouth over the nipple.
- Football clutch hold - Use the same hand as the breast you are feeding from to support the baby's head, tuck her legs and body under the arm on the same side your are nursing from so they are behind you. Use your opposite hand to adjust and support her head. A pillow (Boppy pillows work well) can be used to bring the baby to the proper height for latching and nursing.
Feed as soon as possible after birth. This will help your baby adapt more quickly to breastfeeding. Most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff to help you adjust before you take the baby home. Make sure you room with your baby so you can immediately feed her when she is ready.
Nurse on both sides. Use both breasts at each feeding. When your baby slows down at the first breast, offer the second breast. Then at the next feeding, start with the breast you ended with the last time. This will help your baby get the most milk and keep your supply up and balanced.
Recognize feeding cues. Your baby will let you know when she is hungry. You can look for feeding cues such as restlessness or squawking noises. Try not to wait for your baby to cry before you feed her as it could make breastfeeding more difficult if she is upset.
Feed on demand. Feed your baby on demand for her first few weeks. After this time, you and your baby will develop a schedule. Newborns will typically eat 8-12 times every 24 hours and have 6-8 wet diapers a day.
Avoid bottles and pacifiers! Do not provide a bottle or pacifier until breastfeeding is effectively established. Younger babies have a hard time switching between the nipples.
Take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water (6-8 glasses per day), try to eat nutritious meals and snacks and catch up on rest whenever possible.
Returning to work. If you have to return to work, you can still keep up a good breastfeeding schedule by pumping at work. Try to pump at least three times per day to keep up your supply.
Find support. If you are facing breastfeeding issues, don't give up too easily or let it be a stressful experience. Contact a lactation consultant, your local La Leche League or an experienced friend or family member for tips on everything from easing stress, perfecting the latch and determining the best hold for your baby.
- Engorgement - If your breasts become hard and swollen, relieve the pressure by applying cold compresses, gel packs or cold cabbage leafs to your breasts.
- Sore or chapped nipples - This typically occurs during improper latching. Feed the baby on the less sore side first. If it is painful, readjust the baby's latch. Use some lanolin cream for protection and to help aid in healing.
- Leaking breasts - This happens most often during the first months of feeding while your supply is adjusting, but can happen for the duration. Insert breast pads into your bra. You can purchase washable pads for re-use or disposable pads.