This is World Breastfeeding Week, which is meant to bring awareness to the benefits of breastfeeding. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby. Breast milk is easier to digest than is commercial formula, and the antibodies in breast milk boost your baby’s immune system. Still, breastfeeding can be challenging. Here are some suggestions to get off to a good start.
Ask for help right away
Reading about breastfeeding is one thing. Doing it on your own is something else. The first time you breastfeed your baby — preferably within the first hour after delivery — ask for help. The maternity nurses or a hospital lactation consultant can offer breastfeeding tips, starting with how to position the baby and make sure he or she is latching on correctly. Your doctor might offer breastfeeding tips, too.
Let your baby set the pace
For the first few weeks, most newborns breastfeed every two to three hours round-the-clock. Watch for early signs of hunger, such as stirring, restlessness, sucking motions and lip movements. Let your baby nurse from the first breast thoroughly, until your breast feels soft — typically about 15 to 20 minutes. Keep in mind, however, that there is no set time. Then try burping the baby. After that, offer the second breast. If your baby’s still hungry, he or she will latch on. If not, simply start the next breast-feeding session with the second breast.
Hold off on a pacifier
Some babies are happiest when they’re sucking on something. Enter pacifiers — but there’s a caveat. Giving your baby a pacifier too soon might interfere with breast-feeding, since sucking on a breast is different from sucking on a pacifier. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce a pacifier until breast-feeding is well-established, usually three to four weeks after birth. Once you’ve settled into a breastfeeding routine, keep in mind that sucking on a pacifier at naptime or bedtime might reduce the risk of SIDS.
Take care of your nipples
After each feeding, it’s OK to let the milk dry naturally on your nipple. The milk can soothe your nipples. If you’re in a hurry, gently pat your nipple dry. If your breasts leak between feedings, use bra pads — and change them often. When you bathe, minimize the amount of soap, shampoo and other cleansers that might contact your nipples. If your nipples are dry or cracked, use purified lanolin after each feeding.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
Your lifestyle choices are just as important when you’re breastfeeding as they were when you were pregnant. For example:
• Eat a healthy diet. To keep up your energy, stick to healthy eating basics, such as choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
• Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice and milk can help you stay hydrated. Moderate amounts of caffeine are generally considered OK as well — but scale back if you suspect that too much caffeine is interfering with your baby’s sleep.
• Rest as much as possible. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps.
• Don’t smoke. Smoking during breastfeeding exposes babies to nicotine, which can interfere with your baby’s sleep. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as respiratory illnesses.
• Be cautious with medication. Many medications are safe to take while you’re breastfeeding. Still, it’s best to get your health care provider’s OK first. If you have a chronic health condition, ask your health care provider if it’s OK to breast-feed your baby.
Give it time
If breastfeeding is tougher than you expected, try not to get discouraged. Feeding a newborn every few hours can be tiring, and it’s OK to have a slow start. Just remember that the more often you breastfeed your baby, the more milk your breasts will produce — and the more natural breast-feeding is likely to feel.