Breast milk is a great gift from nature and a universal aspect of motherhood. Not only does it provide adequate and personalized nutrition for your little one, but it’s also a great way to form emotional bonds. It has so many benefits that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, and many other organizations consistently recommended breastfeeding as the best choice for feeding infants, exclusively, for the first 6 months of life, and then until 24 months of age along with complementary foods.
Giving your baby breast milk involves learning a new skill, and that requires patience and practice. You might even need to wait a few days before milk production is established. So don’t worry if your milk does not come out at first, once your ‘let down’ reflex kicks in, your supply will increase.
What should I do to start?
Begin by taking in a deep breath and get your body as relaxed and comfortable possible. Try to let things emerge spontaneously, as that promotes relaxation and helps your baby feel calm too. Choose whichever position you desire to breastfeed. You can be sitting in a comfortable chair or lying down, as long as you and your baby are comfortable.
There are many different ways you can hold your baby, such as: the cradle hold (sit down comfortably, hold your baby’s head in the crook of your arm and have her whole body face you), the cross-cradle hold (hold your with the arm opposite to the breast with which you will feed her and place her in front of you), football hold (carry your baby as if you were carrying a football, tuck her under your arm and support her head with your hand), or lying sideways (lie down and use your upper or lower arm to cradle your baby’s head to your breast). Whatever position you choose just make sure that your baby’s whole body is facing yours.
Steps to breastfeed successfully
- Settle into your favorite position making sure you have good support on your back, arms, and feet. Lean back slightly so your body helps you carry your baby and her weight is not placed solely in your forearm.
- Get your baby close to your breast and place her parallel to the orientation of your areola (dark skin around the nipple) so that your baby is completely facing your breast.
- Ensure that your baby’s nose and chin are placed in front of your areola. If you desire, squeeze your breast to make it easier for your baby latch on to your areola. Likewise, it is advisable to hold your breast with your free hand in order to give it extra support and prevent your baby from pulling it down.
- When your baby opens her mouth, help her get near your breast so she can find her way to your areola. If she does not open her mouth, gently touch her lips or cheek with your finger or nipple to awaken her sucking reflex. It is important make sure your baby latches on properly to prevent dry and cracked nipples. To make sure her latch is correct, verify that your baby’s mouth closes around the entire areola and the nipple is pointed towards the roof of his mouth.
- When your baby latches on to your breast, she will begin to suck. Initially it can take 60 to 90 seconds of suction until your milk begins to flow. At this moment you might feel some pain since a baby’s suction is surprisingly strong. However, the initial pain should subside after the first few minutes. If you feel sharp pain as the sucking continues, stop the suction and reposition your baby. To separate your baby from your breast, wait until the sucking stops and then slide your ring finger between her lips and gums. Be sure not to separate your baby from your breast without stopping the suction, as it is very strong and can hurt you!
- As soon as your baby starts receiving your milk her feeding begins. Make sure you offer both breasts at each feeding but let her eat all she wants before offering your other breast. This way you ensure that she drinks both the foremilk and hindmilk (which has more fat and calories). When you see that her suction has decreased and your breast feels softer, remove your baby from your breast, burp her and offer her your other breast. Don’t worry if she no longer wants to eat, babies have an amazing ability to recognize their hunger and satiety signals. Just remember to alternate your breasts at each feeding to ensure both are stimulated.
If you managed to have a successful feeding, congratulations! If not, remember that it takes practice before you master the art of breastfeeding. Do not feel bad if you have not yet succeeded, next time, try out different positions to see which makes you feel more comfortable. If you find that you continue to struggle even after trying different positions and practicing, do not hesitate to contact your doctor or lactation consultant. Sometimes an expert’s personal support is required.
To learn more, make sure to check out the following books:
- Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton
- Your Child’s Health by Barton D. Schmitt
- Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year
- The Womanly Art of Breast Feeding by La Leche League International
- Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 by American Academy of Pediatrics