Breastfeeding is not rocket science. If poodles, panthers, and porpoises can do it, so can you.
But in modern society breastfeeding is becoming a lost art. Many new mothers do not have experienced mothers of their own to ask. Even the current generation of grandmothers is ill-informed on the ins-and-outs of breastfeeding. If you have a male doctor, he may have some book-learning, but would not you rather have the low-down from a female physician who has successfully nursed four children of her own?
Here are 5 tips for successful breastfeeding.
1. Stop worrying and relax . One of the biggest mistake first-time mothers make is to worry about breastfeeding too much. Your body knows what it is doing, as does your baby. And unlike bottle-feeding, there's no preparation. Just put the baby to your breast and begin. For the most part, you'll learn as you go.
2. Nurse early and nurse often. Think about it his way: what would you do if you were a mother poodle with a litter of pups? After delivery you'd lay around, get as much rest as possible, eat whenever you're hungry, and let your pups nurse as desired. You'd probably only get up to go the bathroom, get a drink, or have a bite to eat. Perhaps human mothers should do the same. As soon as your baby is born, right after you've countered all her fingers and toes, put your child to your breast to get things going. You'll have very little milk at this point, basically just colostrum, a nutrient-rich, high-calorie liquid – the perfect first meal for your newborn. Nursing your baby will stimulate the production of a good supply of milk that will come in within a few days. It's normal for your baby to lose a little weight until your milk comes in. As long as your baby is healthy, just relax and read tip # 1 again.
3. Do not be a human pacifier. Whereas frequent nursing will encourage your body to produce a good supply of milk, if you need too often your breasts may become sore from the sucking and friction. Some babies love to suck and will keep at it forever. While it's true breastfed babies require more frequent feeding than do bottle-fed babies, every 2-3 hours is generally enough. Occidentally a baby will want to need every hour and a half, which is perfectly OK now and then, but no mother can keep this up for long. Also, it does not take an hour to empty a breast. Ten minutes a side is plenty. If you're nursing more than 20 minutes every 2-3 hours, your child is using you as a human pacifier. Only you can put a stop to it.
4. For tender breasts, try a hot shower. If your breasts are engorged and your baby's still asleep, wake her up to nurse if you'd like. (If this occurs at night, however, sometimes you'd like to count your blessings and let her sleep.) If your baby is not handy to disengorge your breasts, try standing in a hot shower. Hot water running over your breasts will often trigger a let-down reflex, similar to that which sucking stimulates. The heat will not only feel good, but as your milk runs out the pressure will be relieved (and will not even leak on your clothing). Another option is to pump your breasts and store your milk for later use, such as when you want to hire a babysitter and have an evening out with your husband.
5. If needed, combine breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. There is no harm whatever in combination breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Of course, there is the possibility that your baby may dislike baby formula, or may not tolerate it as well as breast milk (another reason to store or freeze any extra milk you may have). Some babies do not like the feel or shape of a rubber nipple – try different brands of nipples if this is a concern. It's also possible that your baby will prefer the bottle. Some babies seem to like the more rapid flow of milk from a bottle, and others probably prefer the taste of formula. Nurse your baby when you can, and otherwise do not worry if your baby must be bottle-fed while you're at work or too tired to get up every night.
Mothers often worry about their milk supply, or the size of their nipple, or the baby's ability to suck. The majority of the time, for at least 95% of mothers, these concerns are not really a problem. If you're having a problem, ask someone who has nursed her children for advice. If that fails, ask your doctor.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD
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