Breastfeeding Basics

Whether you are a first time or experienced mom, here is the basic information to know about breastfeeding.

HOW DO I START BREASTFEEDING?

The first time you hold your newborn in the delivery room is a great time to start breastfeeding. At the beginning, your body will produce small amounts colostrum, a special, thick milk that will help protect your baby from infection. (Your baby's tummy is very tiny, so she only needs these small amounts to fill up. As her tummy grows, your milk will change and you'll produce more of it.) In fact, breast milk changes from morning to night to accommodate the needs of your baby.

Turn your baby's whole body toward you, chest to chest. Touch the baby's upper lip with your nipple, and, when she opens her mouth wide, pull her onto your breast, holding your breast for support. Her mouth should cover not just the nipple but as much of the areola (the darker part surrounding it) as possible.

Your newborn may have trouble finding or staying on your nipple. Breastfeeding requires patience and lots of practice. If you have a premature baby, you may not be able to nurse right away, but you should start pumping your milk. Your baby will receive this milk through a tube or a bottle until she's strong enough to nurse.

Nursing shouldn't be painful. Pay attention to how your breasts feel when your baby latches on. Her mouth should cover a big part of the areola below the nipple, and your nipple should be far back in your baby's mouth. If it hurts when the baby latches on, break the suction (by inserting your finger between your baby's gums and your breast) and try again. Once your baby latches on properly, she'll do the rest.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I NURSE?

Frequently. The more you nurse, the more milk you'll produce. Nursing eight to 12 times every 24 hours is pretty much on target.

According to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should nurse your newborn whenever she shows early signs of hunger, such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing, or rooting around for your nipple, rather than nursing according to a rigid schedule.

During the first few days, you may have to gently wake your baby to begin nursing, and she may fall asleep again mid-feeding. (To keep her awake during feedings, you may want to unswaddle her or remove a layer of clothing.) To make sure your baby's eating often enough, wake her up if it's been four hours since your last nursing session.

WHAT SHOULD I EAT?

A normal healthy diet is all you need while you're nursing. Although you can produce milk for your baby even if your nutrition isn't up to par, eating a well-balanced diet will ensure that the quantity and quality of your milk is all it can be and will help you feel your best. Follow your hunger rather than counting calories, and drink fluids throughout the day to stay well hydrated.

PROBLEMS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER

Some women adjust to breastfeeding easily, encountering no major physical or emotional hurdles. But many new moms find it hard to learn. If you're feeling discouraged, you're not the only one. It's normal to feel overwhelmed by your baby's constant demands and exhausted from lack of sleep. And you may have questions. Even though women have nursed their babies for centuries, breastfeeding doesn't always come easily. Many women face difficulties early on. Don't suffer in silence. Call your healthcare provider or a lactation nurse if you're have any issues, if you're in pain, or if physical discomfort is getting in the way of nursing.