Breastfeeding has benefits for both you and your baby. Breast milk contains the perfect combination of nutrients that your baby needs to grow—water, fat, sugar, and protein. It is easy for your baby to digest and contains antibodies that help protect against diseases.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, breastfeeding has been shown to lower the risk of type 1 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). (DHHS)
If you are a new mother, breastfeeding your baby also has benefits for you. When you breastfeed, you lower your risk of developing post-partum depression, type 2 diabetes, and breast and ovarian cancer. It can also help you to develop a bond with your baby. Natural feeding is also more cost-effective than formula—together with the feeding supplies, formula can cost over $1,500 dollars a year.
Breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learned. If you are pregnant for the first time, you may want to take a breastfeeding class prior to giving birth. This can help teach you how to breastfeed. If you are having difficulties with breastfeeding after your baby is born, a lactation consultant can answer any questions you might have, such as how to get your baby to latch onto the breast.
It is best to breastfeed your baby shortly after giving birth. If possible, you should try to breastfeed within an hour of his or her birth. A baby’s suckling instinct is very strong at first, so feeding your child early can help teach both of you how to breastfeed.
It is best to continue to breastfeed your baby while you are in the hospital. You may ask for him or her to be kept in your room, or a nurse can bring the baby in for feedings.
It can take a while for your baby to learn how to latch onto your breast. During this time, you should avoid pacifiers to prevent nipple confusion. As long as it is not medically necessary, your nurse should avoid giving your baby formula in a bottle. This allows your baby to focus on learning how to feed from the breast.
Remember, it can take practice for both you and your baby to learn how to breastfeed. The experience is unique to everyone—some infants can breastfeed right away, while others need more time and encouragement.
The first step is latching on. Begin by laying your baby—wearing only a diaper—across your bare chest. Your baby may begin rooting for your nipple. Hold your baby at the hips and at the shoulder, and gently let his or her head lean backwards slightly. This moves the baby’s tongue down, which makes it easier to suck. Move your baby’s head so that the chin hits your breast first.
You should try to place the baby’s lower lip as far down beneath your nipple as possible. This allows your baby to take the entire nipple into his or her mouth. Your baby may open his or her mouth once your nipple brushes his or her check, or you may need to gently touch the baby’s lips to encourage him to open his mouth.
Once your baby is latched on, avoid holding onto his or her head so the baby can find a comfortable position on his or her own. Instead, support your baby’s back and shoulders. Remember, he or she can still breathe through the nose while feeding.
When your baby is latched properly, you should see little or no areola and the baby’s lips should be pressed out like a fish. You will hear your baby swallow and the position should feel comfortable for you.
Aim to feed your baby every 90 minutes to two and a half hours during the first month and every two to three hours afterward.
In the cradle hold position, you will be cradling your baby and his or her head will rest on your forearm. Your baby’s body should be facing you and his or her knees should be under the breast you are not using. Your baby’s body will be in a straight line.
This position is good for premature babies or babies who have a weak sucking reflex. This is similar to the cradle hold, except you use the arm opposite your baby’s head to cradle their head. This provides more head support than the cradle hold.
The football hold is a good position for mothers who have had a Caesarean section or have larger breasts or inverted nipples. In this position, you cradle the baby’s head with your hand and place his or her body along your side—similar to way a player would hold a football. A pillow should be placed under your elbow to support your baby’s body. You can use your free hand to adjust your breast.
This position is good for a mother who has had a caesarean section or for night feedings. In the side-lying position, you will lie down on your side with your baby facing you. Use a pillow to support your baby’s body, pulling him or her snugly against your own.
You may develop problems like cracked nipples and breast engorgement or hard and painful breasts when breastfeeding. Other common effects of breastfeeding are tenderness, warmth, throbbing, or redness.
Most of these problems can be treated with simple self-care techniques. Try to:
- dry your nipples to protect them from cracking and infection
- avoid harsh soaps that can cause dryness and cracking
- apply 100 percent lanolin cream after feeding to treat cracking
- feed more frequently or pump breast milk if breasts become engorged
- offer your baby a cold, wet cloth to chew on before feeding to prevent him or her from biting your nipple
- use massage, warm compresses, and cold compresses to relieve breast engorgement
Engorgement can lead to fever, plugged milk ducts, or an infection if it does not go away naturally. Contact your lactation consultant or doctor if you are concerned about engorgement or another problem that is not responding to home treatment.