Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things a woman can do, yet most women need help getting started. Many women are unprepared for the physical and emotional rigors of first-time breastfeeding, even though they may be committed to it. Deciding to breastfeed is an undertaking that requires a certain level of commitment and determination, and it can be a difficult endeavor if you don’t have positive support from those around you, especially during the learning period. Don’t be afraid to ask for all the assistance you need during the early weeks of nursing—information, support, and practical help are the keys to success.
Because most new mothers are on their own within a few short days of giving birth, often without any help or support at all, they tend to give up in the face of even the smallest challenges. And although the physical challenges of breastfeeding may be difficult, it is often the emotional ones that prove more powerful in a woman’s decision to discontinue breastfeeding. Having a realistic idea of how intense breastfeeding can be during the first few weeks and knowing what to expect may help prepare you for an easier transition.
It is important to understand that breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice and it requires a major readjustment of expectations, especially for those women who thrive on structure and schedules. In the beginning, breastfeeding babies wake and feed more often than formula-fed infants, and their schedules can be very unpredictable. But in the long run, it is well worth the effort—the more you put in, the more you get out. Once breastfeeding is successfully established, you significantly decrease the chances of certain illnesses and medical conditions developing, and you are giving your newborn the healthiest possible beginning.
Although Mother Nature physically prepares all new mothers to breastfeed their babies, breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally. Your baby was born with a natural sucking reflex, but the effort of satisfying his own hunger is something new. Breastfeeding will be a learning experience for both of you. In order to get off to a good start, it is important to be prepared before your baby arrives. Just keep in mind that most breastfeeding difficulties occur during the first six weeks postpartum, while you and your baby are establishing your nursing pattern.
Proper positioning and latch-on are two of the most important aspects of a successful breastfeeding relationship. Once you have mastered positioning your baby correctly, and your baby has learned how to latch on properly, you’re on your way. Just remember that some babies take longer than others to learn the skill of latching-on. It’s a matter of trial and error and plenty of practice. Eventually, like riding a bicycle, you will both know when it “feels right.” It is important that you are relaxed and comfortable, and that your baby is in the mood for nursing. If your baby seems frantic or upset when he attempts to latch on your breast, calm and comfort him before trying again. If you are still having difficulty upon leaving the hospital, contact a lactation specialist to arrange for an immediate home visit.
To achieve proper latch-on, get into a comfortable position so that you and your baby are tummy to tummy, and your baby’s mouth is level with your nipple. Tickle your baby’s lips with your nipple until his mouth opens wide, as in a yawn; then quickly pull him towards you while directing your nipple and areola into his mouth. Your baby is latched on well if his lips are flanged outward over your breast creating a good seal, and he has an inch to an inch-and-a-half of breast tissue in his mouth. The tip of his nose and chin should both be gently touching your breast. As he opens wide and draws your breast into his mouth he elongates the breast tissue while positioning the nipple far back into his mouth—away from the friction of the tongue and gums. The movement of his lower jaw compresses the milk sinuses under the areola sending milk out through the tiny holes in the nipple and depositing it in the back of your baby’s mouth. You know your baby is latched-on properly if it does not hurt as your baby takes long drawing sucks and he can be heard swallowing.
When your baby does not draw enough of the areola into his mouth and sucks only on the nipple, he is not latched on properly. Your baby’s tongue or gums will continually rub the sensitive skin of the nipple while sucking, and sore nipples will result. In addition, improper latch-on makes it extremely difficult for your baby to extract enough milk from your breast to get the nourishment he needs. Reposition your baby and latch him on again.
Seek all the information you can about breastfeeding and parenting, but remember to trust your own instincts. Nobody knows better than you what feels right and what is best for you and your baby. Your experience with breastfeeding may go smoothly and be wonderful right from the start. Or it may take a few weeks for you and your baby to establish a comfortable nursing relationship. In either case, your nursing experience will be as unique as your child, and your confidence in taking care of your newborn will grow as you become familiar with what is normal for your individual baby. Just remember that the first six weeks postpartum is a critical period; it is the time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, adjust to your new role as mother, and develop a healthy nursing relationship with your baby. Be easy on yourself, eat nutritiously, rest when the opportunity arises, and take one day at a time. Most importantly, remain flexible, as your newborn’s feeding, sleeping, waking, and elimination patterns may change from day to day as he develops and grows. One of the most marvelous aspects of nursing your baby is that you will have precious memories for the rest of your life of how soft, warm, and wonderful your baby felt cradled in your arms and nestled against your breast, and how proud you felt watching your baby flourish on the nutritious milk that was created by your own body.