Beginning Breastfeeding Basics

breastfeeding basicsIt's instinctual for a newborn to attach to the breast. Studies have shown that a baby placed skin-to-skin on his mother's chest rightafter birth can crawl to the breast and latch on. If you hold your baby in the traditional cradle position, he'll be able to latch on properly when his head is level with your breast, aligned with his body, and he is facing you. You should not have to lean toward him, and he should not have to reach toward you to attach. Wait for your baby to open his mouth wide so that he attaches to the areola, not just the nipple.

Another option is the football hold, where your baby is tucked by your side. Hold him on his side, his nose to your nipple. Place your arm along his back, supporting his shoulders and neck with your fingers and thumb behind his ears. Don't hold the back of his head; he will instinctively throw it back as he latches on. Be patient and let your baby lead you; don't rush him or pressure yourself. Remember, he knows how to do this.

As he sucks, watch and listen for his swallowing. This is the ultimate assurance that he is getting milk. Your baby will let you know when he is finished by unlatching or falling asleep; he may not want to nurse on the other breast. If he doesn't, it will feel full when he is ready to nurse again, so start with that side.

If you pay attention to your baby's feeding cues, nurse him often and allow him to nurse until he is finished, you can be sure he is getting enough milk. Look for these signs:

  • You will notice the change in his sucking: bursts of sucking will be followed by a pause as he swallows. You can also see the neck muscles move as he swallows milk.
  • The color of his stool will change from the dark meconium to mustard yellow by day four if he's getting enough milk. By day six, your baby should have at least six wet diapers and three or more bowel movements in a 24-hour period.
  • Your baby should be gaining weight, although it may take 2 to 3 weeks for him to regain his birth weight.

Some babies take a few days or even weeks to breastfeed effortlessly. If yours is not nursing frequently, you are unable to identify swallowing or he is not producing enough wet diapers and bowel movements, contact your health-care provider or lactation consultant immediately. Also, keep in mind that it's common to experience some discomfort during the first few minutes of breastfeeding. However, your nipples shouldn't hurt throughout the entire feeding. If they do, it's likely that your baby isn't latching on properly. If your baby is latched correctly and you're still experiencing pain after a few minutes, you should seek help. Most breastfeeding problems have simple solutions, but it's important to get help sooner rather than later. Many pediatricians and hospitals have lactation consultants on staff  and may conduct regular breastfeeding classes. Your local department of health may also have a referral service. You may also contact your local La Leche League group. For more parenting resources, visit the "New Parents" section of the Lamaze website.

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