Beginners guide to breastfeeding your baby

By: Julie Fletcher

You've decided to breastfeed your baby! Congratulations! Nursing your baby is one of the best things you can do to enforce a strong bond between you and your child from the very start and give your baby the very best start in life. The nutrition provided by the milk you will make is the most perfect nutrition available for your baby and it is produced by you! Though breastfeeding is the original way mothers fed their tiny infants, it isn't always as easy as it may look. If you are having problems or unsure about how well you will take to breastfeeding, don't feel as if you are the only person to have these fears or issues. It is very common to feel unsure and any problems you are having can be helped by a lot of relaxation and also by talking with your doctor or midwife.

The basics to breastfeeding for new mothers
The breasts begin to grow during pregnancy and the milk ducts begin to produce a substance called colostrum which is a clear yellowish fluid full of vital nutrients for the first few days of a baby's life. The colostrum passes on the immunities of a mother to the baby. This is the liquid that occasionally leaks from a mother's breasts before birth, particularly during a warm shower or even when sexually aroused. Colostrum will be the first thing your baby will drink for three to five days after birth until the mother's milk is produced.

Commence breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth
If possible, place your baby to the breast right after birth. Babies have a reflex to root for the breast as soon as they are born! As the baby latches on and begins to suckle, the womb will start to spasm and release the placenta faster. The contractions caused by breastfeeding also helps to close off the blood vessels in the uterus, reducing bleeding and also lowering the risk of hemorrhaging. Many doctors or midwives will place the baby on the mother's abdomen, allowing her a chance to see and cuddle the baby. As soon as the baby is cleaned and wrapped, the staff in the hospital or midwife in the mother's home will encourage the mother to breastfeed. Putting the baby on the breast quickly will calm the baby and start the bond that lasts a lifetime.

Breastfeeding successfully
As mentioned earlier, some women may have problems when it comes to breastfeeding. Successful breastfeeding is reached by being relaxed and approaching nursing confidently. You may be afraid that breastfeeding will hurt or that you are unable to position your baby properly. All of these fears can be overcome by researching breastfeeding and approaching it with an open mind. Speaking with a lactation expert in the hospital or over the phone if you gave birth at home can increase your chances of breastfeeding successfully. These experts have heard of all problems and concerns associated with breastfeeding and can offer much information and support to the newly breastfeeding mother.

Position your baby first, then breastfeed:
Position is the number one issue for mothers. Finding the most comfortable position for you and your baby to facilitate proper latching on and milk let down can take some time. Some of the common positions are the cradle hold, the cross cradle hold, the football hold, sidelying, and twin hold to name just the most popular. The cradle hold is the most common, as the baby is held with their little body along the mother's arm and their head facing inwards to mom's body. This hold allows the mother and baby to look into each other's eyes and is wonderful for bonding. The cross cradle hold is nearly the same, only with the use of the arm on the opposite side of the body to support the baby. The football hold has the baby at the side of the mother, his or her feet and body pointing to the mother's back and the head of the baby lying in one or both hands of the mom. This hold is used often by moms with twins and when used for both babies is called the twin hold as both babies are on each side of mom! Sidelying is common when the mom lies on her side to feed the baby and is used most often by mothers who co-sleep.

Has your baby latched on correctly?
You may wonder is your baby has latched on correctly. When checking to see if your baby is latched on properly, check the bottom and top lip. Both lips should be out, not folded in. If the lips are folded in, the baby is likely to get air in their tummy and have gas. Smacking noises are a clue to not being latched on correctly. If your baby's lips are flanged out and the whole nipple is on the baby's mouth, you are on the right path! Your baby will make little noises that sound like 'mm mm mm' softly, and you can see the muscles in your baby's jaw working while he or she is suckling. If your nipples are sore, you should slip your finger into the baby's mouth and disengage the nipple, then try again. The baby will open their mouth very wide for the nipple, then you should move the baby quickly onto the nipple, placing as much as possible into his or her mouth. Keep trying, you will get the hang of it!

You can use both your breasts when breastfeeding:
You can and should use both breasts when nursing. Your baby will empty one breast, then need to go to the next, but don't worry if your baby falls asleep and seems full. You can start the next feeding with the breast that the baby did not drink from. Some women use a safety pin on their bra strap to keep a track of where the baby needs to start and you can even buy little decorated 'reminders' to place on the strap of your nursing bra or tank top. If you do not feed from each breast, the unused breast may not make as much milk as the other or become engorged. Engorgement can be uncomfortable and is relieved by nursing.

Engorgement after breastfeeding
Engorgement is when the breasts are very full of milk and ready to be nursed from. The breasts may feel tight and hot to the touch, sometimes even painful. Nursing will relieve this feeling, as will expressing the milk either by hand or with a breast pump. If you are producing more milk than your baby can drink in one sitting you may express the milk and save it for later by placing it in a container designed for breast milk and keeping it in the refrigerator or freezer. If constant engorgement is a problem, placing a warm washcloth or towel over the breasts can help alleviate the soreness. A warm shower may also help.

Breast milk pumped in a bottle
Breast milk that has been pumped into a bottle is a wonderful way for other members of the family to share in the joy of feeding a breastfed baby. Pumped milk can also be used when a mother has decided to go back to work or if mom just needs some time to herself. Some mothers may feel guilty about leaving their child, but pumping milk and letting others share in the responsibility of feeding the baby is a wonderful way to stay connected and involved in the nutrition of the child. Fathers who feel a little left out will benefit from the breast milk being pumped into a bottle so they can share in the bonding with their baby.

The benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding shares the immunities of the mother with the new infant, increases the already strong bond between mother and child, and provides all of the nutrition for a growing baby. Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed can have a higher resistance to illness and disease, plus later in life have an IQ of up to ten points higher than bottle fed babies. Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to experience the baby blues, have less severe symptoms of post partum depression, and even lose weight faster after childbirth!

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