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The First Time You Breastfeed
The position that you use to breastfeed the first few times will depend on whether you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean delivery. The nurse at the hospital can help you determine which position works best for you.
Once you are ready to begin, follow these steps from the American Academy of Family Physicians:
- Wash your hands.
- With your free hand, put your thumb on top of the breast you will feed with first. Place your fingers below the breast. Do not touch the areola or nipple; your baby’s mouth will cover this area.
- Lightly tickle your baby’s mouth with your breast, which will cause your baby’s mouth to open wide.
- Gently place your nipple all the way in your baby’s mouth and pull your baby’s body close to you.
- If your baby is latched on properly, both lips should pout out and take in nearly all of the areola. Your baby should make low-pitched swallowing noises.
- Your baby's nose may touch your breast. This is okay, since your baby will still be able to breathe. If you are concerned, you can press down gently on your breast near the nose to allow air flow.
- If you feel pain while nursing, your baby may not be latched on correctly. Gently slide your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the seal. Reposition your baby and try again. It may take several tries. If you continue to feel pain while breastfeeding, talk with your doctor or lactation consultant.
Important Tips for Breastfeeding
Before you give birth, try to learn as much about breastfeeding as possible. Here are some tips for successful breastfeeding:
- Have direct skin-to-skin contact with your infant immediately after birth. This has been shown to increase the rate and duration of breast-feeding.
- Start nursing as early as possible. In most cases, nursing can begin 30 minutes to an hour after delivery. For the first few days, your body produces colostrum—a thick, creamy substance that provides your baby with antibodies and essential nutrients. Usually, your milk will begin to flow between the second and fourth day.
- Use both breasts at each feeding. It is important to feed from both breasts because the composition of the milk differs from the beginning of the feeding session to the end. Also, alternate the breast with which you start the feeding. Some women put a safety pin or ribbon on their bra strap to help them remember which breast to start with.
- Let your nipples air dry. This will help prevent them from getting dry and cracking. If the nipples do get dry and cracked, you can coat them with breast milk or other natural moisturizers, like vitamin E or lanolin, to help them heal. Make sure to clean these substances off before feeding. In addition, avoid bra pads lined with plastic. Do not use soap or lotions with alcohol on your nipples.
- Expect some soreness. For the first week or two, while your nipples are getting used to feeding, you can expect a little soreness.
- Expect engorgement. A new mother usually produces a lot of milk, which can cause engorgement. Frequent feedings will help relieve this engorgement. Your body will adjust to the amount of milk your baby needs. Warm compresses and warm baths may help relieve the discomfort.
- Watch for signs of infection. Symptoms of infection include fever, painful lumps, and redness in the breasts. These require immediate medical attention.
- Talk to your doctor before taking prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and supplements. Some medications can pass through the breast milk to your baby and may not be safe. Drugs can also interfere with how much milk you produce.
Learning When to Breastfeed Your Baby
Human milk is more easily digested than formula. You can feed your baby as much as your baby wants.
Your baby may feed 8-12 times a day or more. Many newborns nurse as often as every 2 hours, regardless of whether it is day or night. Let your baby feed on demand—not on a strict schedule. Later, your baby will be able to hold more milk and go for longer times between feedings, settling into a more predictable pattern.
Signs That Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, signs that your baby is getting enough milk include:
- Your baby acts satisfied after each feeding.
- Your baby gains weight constantly after the first 3-7 days after birth. There may be some weight loss the first week after being born.
- Your baby has 6-8 wet diapers a day.
- Your baby has 2-5 or more stools a day at first and then may have 2 or less a day. At first, stools will be runny.
Eating for Two
Most importantly, a breastfeeding mom needs to eat a well-balanced diet. You need to be eating fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, meats or beans, and milk and dairy foods.
It is essential that you get plenty of calcium. For a woman who is breastfeeding, the calcium recommendations are:
- Age 19-50: 1,000 mg of calcium per day
- Age 14-18: 1,300 mg of calcium per day
You will need to increase your overall calories—about 500 calories a day more than you usually consume. And it is important that you drink plenty of fluids while you breastfeed.
Generally speaking, anything you eat should be fine for your baby. If you do eat something that you think may be bothering your baby (foods cited by some mothers includedairy, garlic, onion, citrus, peanuts), simply remove it from your diet.
Caffeine and alcohol can get into your milk. It is a good idea to limit how much of these you consume. In addition, smoking cigarettes has been shown to cause a decrease in milk production for the mother. It also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well as respiratory and ear infections in the baby.
And Last, But Not Least...
A nursing mother needs rest. Let the people around you help with the day-to-day activities so that you can have some down time. Try to get as much sleep as possible. Although it may seem like your new baby will never sleep through my night, it will eventually happen.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Women's Health—Department of Health and Human Services
Women's Health Matters
Breastfeeding. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115517/Breastfeeding. Updated October 19, 2016. Accessed October 24, 2016.
Breastfeeding: Hints to help you get off to a good start. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/pregnancy-newborns/caring-for-newborns/breastfeeding-formula/breastfeeding-hints-to-help-you-get-off-to-a-good-start.html. Updated November 2014. Accessed October 24, 2016.
Calcium intake and supplementation. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113817/Calcium-intake-and-supplementation. Updated November 4, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016.
Medicine while breastfeeding. Love Your Baby website. Available at: http://www.loveyourbaby.com/medicine-while-breastfeeding.html. Accessed October 24, 2016.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2016
- Update Date: 11/25/2014