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A Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding, Part One

April 20, 2012

Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed, or do a combination, providing all the nutrition your baby needs to help him grow rapidly during his first year of life is a tiring but rewarding task. Breastfeeding, or feeding expressed breast milk, provides additional benefits such as additional immunities against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, and a possible lowered risk of developing allergies. Plus, many mothers value the bond they develop with their infant while breastfeeding. If you do choose to breastfeed, there are numerous resources at your disposal to make the process work for you and your baby. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. The sooner the better! Breastfeeding within the first few hours after delivery is important. Newborns have an alert hour after birth and seem to enjoy breastfeeding during this time. Also, breastfeeding helps the uterus contract by releasing oxytocin and is a great benefit after childbirth. And, of course, practice makes perfect. The sooner you can introduce the breast, the more comfortable you will feel about breastfeeding your baby.
  2. Colostrum, the first milk. In the first few days of your baby’s life, you’ll feed him colostrum. What this form of milk lacks in volume, it makes up for in concentration and therefore is just what your baby needs until your mature milk comes in. Colostrum is yellow in color and full of plentiful nutrients and antibodies, while remaining easy to digest. It truly is “Liquid Gold”.
  3. Positioning is key. As soon as you’re able, you want to make yourself as comfortable as possible, with pillows to support your back and your baby’s body against yours. Ask a nurse to show you how to hold your breast and your baby so that he latches properly. Key tip: remember to hold you baby at the same height as your breast.
  4. The latch. Some mothers find the first latch easy while others need practice – and you’ll have plenty of it! You may notice a slight discomfort during the initial latch in the first few days of nursing. Fortunately, as time passes and your body becomes accustomed to breastfeeding, the initial latch begins to feel like second nature.
  5. Remember to ask for help. The postpartum nurses are trained experts in breastfeeding, and hospitals often have lactation consultants on hand to help if problems arise. Call your nurse in to observe your technique, check your latch and help you answer the million-dollar question: Is my baby getting enough milk?
  6. Getting a newborn on a schedule. Got your attention here! It is completely unrealistic to think you can get a newborn on a feeding schedule. Before your infant gets onto a schedule, offer the breast every 2-3 hours during the day to help give you a stretch at night.
  7. Growth spurts. Your baby is growing rapidly during the first few weeks (ok, the first year) of life. You cannot over feed a breastfed baby, so if your infant is giving you feeding cues, he needs to eat.
  8. Feeding Cues. Most babies will give you signs that they are hungry before the meltdown begins. Remember, crying is the last sign of hunger, so learning to spot early feeding cues will make breastfeeding much easier. Some cues you may notice when your baby is hungry include rooting, sucking on his fingers, opening and closing his mouth, restlessness, or trying to position to nurse while being held.
  9. Easting right. A diet rich in iron, vitamin C, and DHA is recommended while breastfeeding. You may find yourself even hungrier than normal, which isn’t surprising, since breastfeeding can expend hundreds of calories per day. Remember to stay hydrated and keep taking your prenatal vitamin daily. Eating healthy and drinking enough water will ward off feelings of fatigue while your body is working hard to feed your infant.
  10. Getting your Zzzz’s. Rest while your baby is resting. Remember to turn the ringer off on your home phone or your cell while you are sleeping. It’s quality, not quantity and sleeping soundly for an hour is much better than on-and-off for a few.

Utilizing the resources available to you in the hospital, and keeping up good habits at home, can pave the way for a healthy and enjoyable breastfeeding experience. But for some moms, getting started is not so easy, and some will come home from the hospital to find that breastfeeding is presenting unforeseen challenges. Stay tuned for the second part of our breastfeeding series, which will discuss these challenges and the resources at hand that will make breastfeeding easier for you and your newborn.

Photography courtesy of Flickr.

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