More than 20 years of research has shown numerous ]]>benefits of breastfeeding]]> for both mother and her infant. According to the experts, it is one of the best things you can do for your baby. If you decide to breastfeed, here are some helpful tips to get you off to a good start.

The First Time You Breastfeed

After you deliver, your baby should be placed on your chest or abdomen. The position that you use to breastfeed 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Important Tips for Breastfeeding

Before you give birth, try to learn as much about breastfeeding as possible. Follow these tips for successful breastfeeding:

  • 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. And don’t 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. To help relieve this engorgement, feed the baby frequently. Your body will adjust to the amount of milk your baby needs. Also, warm compresses and warm baths may help relieve the pain.
  • 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 medicine, as well as herbs and supplements. Some medicines 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

Feed your baby as often as he or she wants to be fed. Breastfed babies usually feed more often than formula-fed babies. This is because human milk is more easily digested than formula.

Your baby may feed 8 to 12 times a day or more. Many newborns nurse as often as every two hours, regardless of whether it is day or night. Let your baby feed on demand—not on a strict schedule. Later, the baby will be able to hold more milk and go for longer times between feedings, settling into a more predictable pattern.

Do not let your baby sleep through feedings until your milk supply has been developed. This usually takes about two to three weeks.

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:

  • Baby acts satisfied after each feeding
  • Gains weight constantly after the first 3 to 7 days after birth. Your baby may lose a little weight during the first week after being born.
  • Has about 6 to 8 wet diapers a day.
  • Has about 2 to 5 or more stools a day at first and then may have 2 or less a day. Stools will be runny at first.

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 a lot of fluids while you breastfeed—at least six to eight glasses a day.

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 include 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.