Breastfeeding, also referred to as nursing, has benefits for both you and your baby. It creates a special bond between you and your newborn, provides great natural nutrition, and protects your baby against many illnesses. Breast milk is nature’s perfect baby food. It has just the right nutrients, in just the right amounts, to nourish your baby fully.
If you cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed your baby, do not feel guilty. Today’s infant formulas provide bottle-fed babies with all the nutrients they need to thrive.
Breastfeeding is good for your baby for many reasons:
• The colostrum that your breasts produce for the first few days after delivery helps your newborn’s digestive system grow and function.
• Breast milk has antibiotics that help your baby’s immune system fight off sickness. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, allergies, and colic.
• The protein and fat in breast milk are absorbed better by your baby’s body than those found in formula.
• Babies who are breastfed often have less gas, fewer feeding problems, and often less constipation.
Breastfeeding also provides benefits for you:
• Breastfeeding is convenient – breast milk is always available and is always at the right temperature.
• Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes your uterus contract, helping it return to its normal size and reducing bleeding after delivery.
• Producing breast milk requires calories so it may help you lose the pounds you gained during pregnancy.
Even though you may not have menstrual periods while you are breastfeeding, you can still get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about the appropriate form of birth control to use while you are nursing.
While breastfeeding is a natural process, it may take some practice for both you and your baby. Your doctor and the nurses in the hospital will be able to help you get started. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help if you need it.
When you are ready to nurse, find a position that is comfortable for you and your baby. Cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. The baby will open his or her mouth wide like a yawn. Quickly center your nipple in the baby’s mouth, making sure the baby’s tongue is down. Pull the baby close to you to begin nursing.
Often, the best time to start breastfeeding your baby is right after delivery. This is when your baby is most alert and ready to suck.
After a few minutes, check your baby’s technique. If your baby is not latched on well, start over. To break the suction, insert a clean finger between your breast and your baby’s gums. When you hear a soft pop, pull your nipple out of the baby’s mouth and begin the process again.
Let your baby set his or her own nursing schedule. You will know when your baby is ready to nurse because he or she will nuzzle against your breast, make sucking motions, or put their hands to their mouth. Follow the signals your baby gives you, rather than trying to set a nursing schedule. You may nurse very often (8-12 times in 24 hours) in the baby’s first weeks of life.
Many newborns nurse for 10-15 minutes on each breast. When your baby empties one breast, offer the other. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t continue to nurse. You don’t have to nurse at both breasts in one feeding. At the next feeding, offer the other breast first.
When you are pregnant, your body stores extra nutrients and fat to prepare you for breastfeeding. Once your baby is born, you need more food and nutrients than normal to provide fuel for milk production. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
Most women need about 2,500 calories a day while breastfeeding.
• Eat a well-balanced diet. While breastfeeding, you need about 500 calories a day more than you did before you became pregnant.
• Make sure you get 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Your doctor may suggest that you take a multivitamin.
• Avoid foods that bother your baby. If your baby acts fussy or gets a rash, diarrhea, or congestion after nursing, let your baby’s doctor know. This can signal a food allergy.
• Drink at least eight glasses of liquid a day.
Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?
For the first few weeks of nursing, it is important to make sure that your baby is getting enough milk. Here are some signs that your baby is getting adequate milk during breastfeeding:
• My baby nurses often. A newborn should nurse at least 8-12 times in 24 hours, every 2 hours or so.
• My baby is drowsy and content after nursing.
• My breasts feel full and firm before feedings. After, they are less full and feel softer.
• My baby wets at least 6 diapers a day and the urine is clear or nearly clear. During the first month, your baby should have at least 3 bowel movements a day. The stool should be soft and yellow.
• My newborn baby is gaining weight. Most newborns lose a little weight at first. After two weeks, most babies are back up to their birth weight. Newborns should gain weight after the first week.
If you are worried that you baby is not getting enough milk, tell your baby’s doctor right away.
If your newborn baby wants to nurse for a very long time (such as 30 minutes on each side) he or she may be having trouble getting enough milk.
When you first begin to breastfeed, you may experience some minor problems. Usually, these problems are easy to treat, but you should call your doctor if you experience:
Try to breastfeed without supplementation for at least the first six months of your baby’s life. This will give your baby important natural nutrients.
To keep your breasts healthy and to increase the chances of breastfeeding success, try these tips:
• Learn proper nursing technique. Your doctor can help you with this.
• Use your finger to break the suction before you remove your breast from your baby’s mouth.
• Gently pat your nipples dry with a clean cloth after feedings.
• Use only cotton bra pads. Change them as soon as they get wet.
• Apply 100% pure lanolin to your nipples after feeding.
• Don’t wash your nipples with harsh soaps or use perfumed creams.
• If one nipple is tender, offer the other breast first.