Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. Breastfeeding provides many nutritional and health benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months; the Academy also supports continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods for the first year and beyond as long as mutually desired by mother and child.
Although breastfeeding is natural, it is a learned skill for both mother and baby. Be prepared to practice and have patience. A breastfeeding class will help you learn the basics and avoid many common problems. After the first 2-3 weeks, you will find that breastfeeding will become easier.
During the first several weeks, it will seem as if your baby is feeding all the time. Breast milk is quickly digested in a baby’s stomach. Therefore, baby needs to breastfeed at least 8-12 times every 24 hours during the first few weeks. Frequent feedings are needed for baby to gain weight and to stimulate your body to produce plenty of milk.
Feed your baby at the first signs of hunger. Do not wait until baby cries. Crying is often a late sign of hunger; it can make latching on harder.
Newborns can be drowsy. If your baby falls asleep after only a few minutes of active feeding, he or she may not be getting enough breast milk.
- Stroke the bottom of the baby’s foot with your finger
- Place baby in a sitting position for burping
- Loosen the baby’s clothing
- Change breastfeeding positions; baby may stay awake in a different position
- Gently squeeze and massage the breast to get the milk flowing
Baby is getting enough milk if:
- Baby is back to his or her birth weight by 10-14 days
- Baby gains weight steadily after the first week (4-7 ounces per week)
- Baby makes swallowing sounds while nursing
- Baby seems satisfied after being fed and burped
- Baby is nursing at least 8 times in 24 hours
- Your breasts feel softer after feeding
- You are changing six to eight wet diapers a day by the end of the first week
- By 5-7 days after birth, baby stools 3-6 times per day and may stool after each feeding for the first month of life
You will spend many hours feeding and soothing your baby at the breast. Your baby’s success at latching onto the breast, as well as your comfort during feedings, are important for breastfeeding success. Try holding your baby in different positions to find what works best.
The cradle hold is the most commonly used nursing position. Sit in a comfortable chair, with arm rests is possible. Place your baby on your abdomen, tummy-to-tummy. The baby’s head is in the crook of your arm and the face to your breast. The baby’s knees are underneath your other breast. The baby’s head, back and legs should all be in a straight line. If you feel your nipple starting to hurt during the feeding, check baby’s position.
Cross Cuddle Hold
Place a pillow on your lap and put the baby on top of the pillow. You will use the hand on the side as the breast to support the breast. Instead of holding the baby’s head in the bend of your elbow as in the cradle hold, hold him with the opposite arm so that your hand rests between the shoulder blades and supports the back of his neck and head. The baby lies chest to chest with the mother.
Cradle the back of your baby’s neck in your hand with the body under your breast and toward the elbow. Place a pillow under your elbow to support your baby’s bottom. Your other hand supports your breast. This position gives you control of the baby’s head and eases latch on positioning. This is a good position for mothers who have had cesareans.
Side-lying or Lying Cradle Hold
Lie on your side with one arm supporting your head. Your baby lies beside you with the head facing your breast. Pull the baby in snugly and place a pillow behind to support the baby. This is also a good position for mothers who have had a cesarean section because the baby does not put pressure on the mother’s stomach.
Establish a routine of checking your breasts and nipples regularly. Leaning how to identify, prevent, and treat conditions that can occur during breastfeeding can help you avoid problems and resolve discomfort faster.
- Wear a supportive bra, even at night. Make sure it fits well and is not too tight. Nursing bras are convenient for feeding.
- Avoid restrictive clothing and underwire bras, which can cause blocked milk ducts and increase the risk of breast infection.
- Change nursing pads whenever they become damp, wet, or soiled.
- Take a daily shower. Use only clear water on the nipples. Soap washes off the natural lubricant produced by the glands around your nipples; it can cause your nipples to become dry and cracked.
Breastfeeding should not be painful, but your nipples may feel tender for the first few days. If your nipples become sore, your baby may not be latching correctly.
Plugged Ducts and Mastitis
In a breastfeeding mother, a milk duct can become blocked and cause a hard, tender knot on the breast. Here are some tips to treat such an area:
- Apply a warm compress to the affected area before feeding.
- Allow your baby to nurse often. Offer the plugged side first if it is not too tender. If possible, position baby so that the chin or nose points to the plugged ducts. This will help drain the area more effectively.
- While nursing, massage the hardened area, moving your fingers from the chest toward the nipple.
- Use hand expression or a pump to express milk left in the plugged breast after feeding.
- Apply a cold compress after feeding to relieve pain and swelling.
- Spend more time resting, eat a healthy diet, and drink enough fluids
Pumping Breast Milk
At times, women who breastfeed need to use a pump to express their breast milk. Reasons for expressing breast milk vary. Women pump milk to relieve breast engorgement, permit another person (spouse, family member, caregiver) to feed the baby, or because they are returning to work.
Expressing milk can be done with a commercial pump or with your hands. Breast milk volume is regulated by supply and demand. Pumping is a way to keep your breasts regularly stimulated while you’re at work, on errands or if your baby is sick and has temporarily stopped feeding. It’s normal not to get milk the first few times your pump; keep trying.
Storing Breast Milk
Whether you plan to use your expressed milk the same day or later, you must store it safely. These guidelines are for healthy infants. Storage times may vary for premature or sick babies.
- Store milk in a clean bottle or disposable milk storage bag.
- Fill each bottle with enough milk for one feeding. Storing 2-4 ounces of milk per container should cut down on waste.
- Use a solid cap to create an airtight seal.
- Hold the bottle under warm running water, or place in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes, until milk reaches room temperature.
- Do not warm milk in the microwave or on a stove. Rapid heating destroys nutrients and causes hot spots that can burn baby’s mouth.
Please refer to the CDC guidelines for recommended room temperatures and proper handling and storage techniques.