Learning About Starting to Breastfeed

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Planning ahead

Breastfeeding in the football and cradle positions

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 or midwife about breastfeeding.
  • Learn the basics before your baby is born. The staff at hospitals and birthing centres can help you find a lactation specialist. This person is often a nurse who has been trained to teach and advise women about breastfeeding. Or you can take a breastfeeding class.
  • Plan ahead for times when you will need help after your baby is born. Many women get help from friends and family. Some join a support group to talk to other moms 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 without your permission. 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 he or she is 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 nurse for at least 15 minutes. 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, or lactation specialist 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 few days, be prepared to breastfeed every 1 to 3 hours. That often works out to about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Wake a sleeping baby to feed, if you need to. 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 or nurse call line, midwife, or lactation specialist 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.

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?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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