The Basics to Breastfeeding Your Baby

Now that you've made all the preparations for that new baby who's waiting for his first meal, it's time to put a few breastfeeding basics to use. Remember to relax, ask for help and focus on the bigger picture — enjoying your new baby!

Basic Breastfeeding Positions

It's good to have a few different breastfeeding positions in your repertoire. Switching it up from time to time has been proven to prevent clogged milk ducts — it also may help prevent sore muscles that are not used to holding a nursing baby.

The cradle hold is one of the most popular breastfeeding holds. In this position, the baby lies across your body, facing you, with his head in the crook of your right or left arm depending on which side he is nursing on. His body is supported by your forearm and hand. With your other hand, cup your breast and bring his body close to the nipple. This position may be difficult if you've had a cesarean or your baby is premature.

Another breastfeeding position is the football or clutch hold, where the baby is tucked under your armpit on your side, so that his legs come out behind you. The baby rests her body on a pillow, and you hold her head with the hand that is on the side she is nursing on. This position does provide more control in guiding the baby to the nipple — it is helpful if the baby doesn't cooperate well in nursing. This position is also good for a mother recovering from a c-section, as the baby isn't resting on a sore stomach.

The reclining position for breastfeeding is helpful for nursing in bed. The mother lies on her side, and the baby lies alongside her. You can put your arm under the baby for more support, but it's best if the baby is a seasoned nurser.

Latching On

This is the trickiest part of nursing. Many a mother with cracked nipples can attest that teaching a baby (and a new mother) the proper way to latch on is not as easy as one would think. The most important thing to remember is that breastfeeding should never be painful! Improper technique and latching on can result in a sore nipples and a frustrated baby.

The baby's mouth should completely cover the part of the areola on the underside of the nipple. If properly latched on, nearly the entire nipple will be in the baby's mouth. If the latch is painful, break the suction by putting your finger in between the baby's mouth and the nipple. If the baby shows no interest in latching on, try to encourage the built in rooting reflex by stroking his chin or cheek.

Frequency and Duration

During the early weeks, you should nurse your baby on demand — when he's hungry. This can be every one to four hours. Just remember that your milk supply is dependent upon how much you nurse — so nurse often to establish a good supply. You should be nursing on average from 8 to 12 times a day, for about 10-15 minutes per side. Some babies will be happy nursing at one side more frequently, while others may nurse on both sides but can go longer between feedings.

Nursing Diet

It's best to eat a healthy, balanced diet while nursing. While the common thought was that nursing moms needed an additional 400-500 calories every day, recent research has shown that it's not necessary. Remember to take your vitamins and limit the amount of caffeine you consume. Alcohol does make it into breastmilk, so it's best to stay away from it. Always check with your physician before taking medicine, over the counter and prescribed when breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Problems

Most moms will face a minor breastfeeding problem at some point. Engorgement happens to nearly every mom when their breasts are extremely full of milk. A hot shower or cool compress can help if you aren't able to nurse your baby right away. Sore, irritated nipples can be treated with Lansinoh™ cream — don't use harsh soaps or creams on your nipples while breastfeeding. Mastitis is an infection of the milk ducts and presents as breasts that are swollen, hard, painful and hot to the touch. It is usually treated with moist heat and antibiotics. Another breastfeeding problem is thrush, which is a fungal infection that is complicated to get rid of because mother and child will often pass it back and forth.

If you find breastfeeding challenging, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor or pediatrician. There are many resources online and in your community to help you find a lactation consultant. National organizations with local chapters, such as La Leche League, are excellent resources for getting advice and support for one of the most important things you can do for your baby.

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