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Learning About Starting to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding in the cradle, cross-cradle, Australian, football, laid-back, and side-lying positions

Planning ahead

Before your baby is born, plan ahead. Learn all you can about breastfeeding. This helps make breastfeeding easier.

  • Early in your pregnancy, talk to your doctor, midwife, or public health nurse about breastfeeding.
  • Learn the basics before your baby is born. The staff at hospitals and birthing centres can help you find a lactation consultant. This person is often a nurse who has been trained to teach and advise about breastfeeding. Or you can take a breastfeeding class.
  • Plan ahead for times when you will need help after your baby is born. You may want to get help from friends and family. You can also join a support group to talk to others who breastfeed.
  • Buy the equipment you'll need. Examples are breast pads, nipple cream, extra pillows, and nursing bras. Find out about breast pumps too.

Getting help from your hospital or birthing centre

It's important to have support from the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who care for you and your baby. Before it's time for you to give birth, ask about the breastfeeding policies at your hospital or birthing centre. Look for a hospital or birthing centre that has policies for:

  • "Rooming in." This policy encourages you to have your baby in the room with you. It can allow you to breastfeed more often.
  • Supplemental feedings. Tell the staff that your baby is to get only your breast milk from birth. If staff feed your baby water, sugar solution, or formula right after birth without a medical reason, it may make it harder for you to breastfeed.
  • Pacifiers or artificial nipples. Staff should not give your newborn these items. They may interfere with breastfeeding.
  • Follow-up. Find out if your hospital can help you with breastfeeding issues after you go home. See if you can get information on support groups or other contacts. They might help if you need help setting up and staying with your breastfeeding routine.

Your first feeding

It's best to start breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth. For each feeding, you go through these basic steps:

  • Get ready for the feeding. Be calm and relaxed, and try not to be distracted. Get some water or juice for yourself. Use two or three pillows to help support your baby while nursing.
  • Find a breastfeeding position that is comfortable for you and your baby. Examples are the cradle and the football positions. Make sure the baby's head and chest are lined up straight and facing your breast. It's best to switch which breast you start with each time.
  • Get the baby latched on well. Your baby's mouth needs to be wide open, like a yawn. So you may need to gently touch the middle of your baby's lower lip. When your baby's mouth is open wide, quickly bring the baby onto your nipple and areola. The areola is the dark circle around your nipple.
  • Provide a complete feeding. Let your baby decide how long to nurse. Be sure to burp your baby after each breast.

In the first days after birth, your breasts make a thick, yellow liquid called colostrum. This liquid gives your baby nutrients and antibodies against infection. It is all that babies need at first. Your breasts will fill with milk a few days after the birth.

Talk to your doctor, midwife, public health nurse, or lactation consultant right away if you are having problems and aren't sure what to do.

How often to breastfeed

Plan to breastfeed your baby on demand rather than setting a strict schedule. For the first 2 weeks, be prepared to breastfeed at least 8 times in a 24-hour period. In the first few days, you may need to wake a sleeping baby to feed. If you breastfeed more often, it will help your breasts to produce more milk.

After you go home

After you're home, don't be afraid to call your doctor, nurse advice line, midwife, public health nurse, or lactation consultant with questions. That's true even if you don't know what's bothering you. They are used to parents of newborns calling. They can help you figure out if there is a problem, and if so, how to fix it.

Plan for times when you will be apart from your baby. Use a breast pump to collect breast milk ahead of time. You can store milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Then it's ready when someone else will be taking care of your baby. Experts recommend waiting about a month until breastfeeding is going well before offering a bottle.

Breastfeeding is a learned skill that gets easier over time. You are more likely to succeed if you plan ahead, learn the basic techniques, and know where to get help and support.

Where can you learn more?

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