You’ve read the books. You’ve watched the videos. You’ve attended the classes. You’ve anticipated and wondered: “Will I be able to breastfeed?” “Will it be painful?” “Will I make enough milk?” “What will I do if I can’t breastfeed?”
Truthfully, it’s hard to find a mother who isn’t concerned about her ability to breastfeed. That fact alone makes getting off to a good start all the more important. Making milk is the easy part (although some moms, despite their best efforts, do struggle with low milk supply); the hard part is getting the milk out of your breasts and into your baby.
Here’s what you need to know before you start:
- Place your baby skin-to-skin between your breasts. Babies are born with senses and reflexes that enable them to smell, lick, latch on, and breastfeed. (Click here to learn about the Breast Crawl.) Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t nurse right away. These early attempts are a learning experience for you and your baby, so relax and enjoy this time together.
- Keep your baby with you day and night. When you and your baby are together in the same room, there are more opportunities to breastfeed. Plus, help is readily available should you need it. Resist the temptation to put your baby in the hospital nursery at night. Studies show that moms who room-share actually get as much sleep, or more, than moms who put their baby in the nursery.
- Delay unnecessary tasks. Outdated routine hospital care is sometimes hard to change, but the fact is diapering, bathing, and even weighing your baby can wait. Holding your baby skin-to-skin for at least the first hour after birth gives you and your baby a chance to get to know one another. Many doctors now recommend delaying baby's first bath 8-24 hours or longer.
- Choose a comfortable position. The best breastfeeding positions are the ones that work for you and your baby. Check out some of the more common ones here.
- Support and shape your breast. Place your thumb and fingers opposite one another outside the areola (the darker part of the breast around the nipple). Gently compressing or shaping the breast (like a sandwich) can make it easier for your baby to latch on. Click here for illustrations showing correct and incorrect latch.
- Express a few drops of milk. Babies are more likely to latch on and breastfeed if they know that milk is readily available. Learn how to hand express here.
- Tickle your baby’s nose with your nipple. Wait for your baby to open his mouth wide, as if he is yawning, then place him quickly but gently on your breast. Do not lean forward; bring your baby to you instead. This will make it easier for you and your baby to maintain a good latch. If necessary, support your baby’s shoulders and back with your hand and forearm. Place your thumb and fingers below his ears and around the back of his neck for optimal support.
- Check your baby’s position and latch. His head, chest, and knees should face your breast. Think about how you position yourself at a table for meals and position your baby the same way. When your baby is positioned well, his tongue should be over his lower gum, between his lower lip and the breast. His lips should curl out, like the lips of a fish, and lie flat against your breast. While his nose and cheeks may lightly touch the breast, his chin should press firmly into the breast.
- Check your breast. When your baby is positioned well, you may see little or none of the areola—it all depends on the size of your areola and the size of your baby’s mouth. Typically, you will see more areola on the top, above your baby’s lip, and less on the bottom.
- Check your nipple. When your baby breastfeeds, your nipple will elongate or stretch out, but the shape of the nipple should be the same. If your nipple is misshapen (creased or pinched) or if breastfeeding is painful for more than a few seconds at the start of the feeding, your baby may be poorly latched.
- Look and listen. Some moms see milk dripping from the opposite breast when their baby breastfeeds. Even if you don’t notice leaking (not all moms leak), you will know that your baby is getting milk when you hear him suck, swallow, and breathe in a rhythmic pattern.
- Watch your baby, not the clock. Your baby will let you know when he is full. When he stops sucking and swallowing or falls asleep at the first breast, break the suction (slide your finger into your baby’s mouth), burp him, and offer the second breast. One breast can provide a full meal, so if your baby if full after breastfeeding on the first breast, you may need to hand express or pump the opposite breast to relieve fullness and prevent engorgement.
- Be patient and persistent. Some babies seem to know how to breastfeed right away, but most need to learn. It may be several days or several weeks before you and your baby know just what to do.
- Be proud. You are giving your baby a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Check out our slideshow on the top 10 tips for getting off to a good start!