As a new mom, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your newborn is to breastfeed. And nothing is more natural to your baby than breastfeeding.
In fact, babies are born to do it. They have a rooting reflex that helps them know to turn towards their mother’s nipple, open their mouth, and suck.
While breastfeeding may be the most natural way to nourish your child, it may also take some practice and patience for you to master. Below are some basic tips to get your started.
Find a comfortable position to sit or lie with your baby. This may vary depending on the size of your breasts or how large your baby is.
There are several positions you may want to try out:
- Cradle hold: Sit up and cradle your baby in the crook of your arm. Your baby’s belly should be against yours, her head should be in the bend of your elbow, and she should be facing your breast. Both of your hands should support her bottom.
- Side-lying position: Lie on your side with your baby facing next to you. Lift your breast up to your baby’s mouth with your fingers. This position works well for night feeding and for women who are recovering from cesarean delivery.
- Cross-cradle hold: Similar to the cradle hold, the difference is your baby’s bottom rests in the crook of your arm while your other hand supports your baby’s head and neck. This position helps you guide your baby’s head and is useful for an infant who has trouble nursing.
- Football hold: Tuck your baby under your arm like a football, with her head at your breast and her feet behind you. Sit her up, level with your waist and support her back with your upper arm and her head with your hand. This position is good for women with twins or women who are recovering from cesarean delivery.
Once you’ve found a comfortable position, cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s upper lip in a downward motion with your nipple. When your baby opens her mouth, keeping your nipple pointing at her nose, pull her close onto the underside of the breast.
When your baby “latches on” both lips should cover nearly all of your lower areola, the brown skin around your nipple. If you feel pain, she probably has not latched on correctly.
The trick is bringing your baby to your breast, not your breast to your baby. Be sure your baby’s whole body is turned towards you, not just her face. If you need to, use pillows to make your baby level with your breast.
Your newborn should nurse eight to 12 times a day in the first weeks of life. Breastfeeding should be "on demand," when your baby is hungry. Newborns should not go more than about four hours without feeding, even overnight.
Crying is a late sign of hunger. Before she gets hungry, look for cues that your baby is ready to eat:
- Placing her hands and fists to her mouth
- Puckering her lips as if to suck
- Nuzzling against your breast
- Showing the rooting reflex (moving her mouth in the direction of you stroking or touching her cheek)
You’ll know your baby is getting enough to eat if she is drowsy and content after nursing, she wets at least six diapers and has three bowel movements a day, and she is gaining weight after the first week.
How long your baby nurses depends in part on her age. Most newborns nurse for 10-15 minutes on each breast. As babies get older, they become more efficient, so they may take half as much time.
Be sure to call your doctor if you're concerned about the length of your baby's feedings because they seem either too short or too long. A feeding that takes too long may signal that your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
To keep up your milk supply in both breasts and prevent painful engorgement, it's important to alternate breasts and try to give each one the same amount of nursing time throughout the day.
Some experts recommend nursing on one breast per feeding and switching breasts from one feed to the next. This allows your baby to get more of the hind-milk, which has more fat than the milk she gets at the beginning. Fat is critical to the development or your baby’s vision, brain, and nervous system.
Whether your baby prefers both breasts with each feeding or likes to nurse on just one, it's important for you to do whatever works and is most comfortable for both of you.
It’s important for you to eat a well-balanced diet made up of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein, and a little bit of fat to make sure you produce enough milk and to give yourself and your baby the nutrients you need.
When you’re breastfeeding you should eat about 500 calories more a day than you did before you became pregnant. You should also be sure to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium and to drink at least eight glasses of non-caffeinated liquid daily.
If your baby gets fussy, develops a rash, diarrhea, or congestion after nursing, talk to your pediatrician — she may have a food allergy.
Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume and don’t take medicine without talking to your doctor first since these substances can get into your milk. If you smoke, quit. Cigarettes decrease the amount of milk you produce and have chemicals that can get into it and harm your baby.