Breastfeeding Your Baby

Experts agree that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. It creates a bond between you and your baby and provides the best nutrition for your infant. Breastfeeding also protects your baby against many illnesses.

Breast milk is nature’s perfect baby food. Your milk has just the right nutrients, in just the right amounts, to nourish your baby fully. It also helps your baby’s mind and body grow. Breastfeeding (also called nursing) is a good choice for both the baby and the mother.

Why Breastfeeding is Good for Your Baby
There are many reasons why breastfeeding is best for your baby:

  1. The colostrum—a yellow, watery pre-milk—that your breasts make for the first few days after birth helps your newborn’s digestive system grow and function.
  2. Breast milk has antibodies that help your baby’s immune system fight off sickness. Babies who are breastfed also have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, allergies, and colic.
  3. The protein and fat in breast milk are better used by the baby’s body than the protein and fat in formula.
  4. Babies who are breastfed have less gas, fewer feeding problems, and often less constipation than those given formulas.
  5. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Why Breastfeeding is Good for You
Breastfeeding is not just good for babies. It is good for mothers, too. Breastfeeding has these benefits:

  1. It is convenient—the baby’s food is always available and at the right temperature.
  2. Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes the uterus contract and helps it return to its normal size more quickly.
  3. This also reduces bleeding after delivery.
  4. It may decrease your risk of some forms of cancer and other illnesses.
  5. It may help you lose pounds gained during pregnancy faster than you would if you were bottle-feeding.
  6. It is cheaper than bottle-feeding.
  7. It creates a special bond between you and your baby.

Facts About Breastfeeding
During pregnancy, your nipples may start to drip a little colostrum. After you give birth, your body sends a signal to your breasts to start making milk. Within a few days, colostrum is replaced by milk.

Once feeding is established, the first milk that flows out of your breasts is watery and sweet. This quenches the baby’s thirst and provides sugar, proteins, minerals and fluid. As the feeding goes on, the milk becomes thick and creamy. This milk will give your baby the nutrients he or she needs to grow.

If possible, consider breastfeeding without supplementation for at least the first 6 months of your baby’s life. You can breastfeed longer if both you and your baby are willing. Any amount of breastfeeding, even a few days, is good for the baby.

How to Breastfeed
Although breastfeeding is a natural process, it may take some practice and patience to master. Mothers and babies have to learn together.

Getting Started
To help give you a good start, during pregnancy tell your health care provider that you plan to breastfeed. During labor, remind your health care team members that you plan to breastfeed. They can help you get started right after delivery. If possible, nurse in the first hour after your baby is born.

Babies are born with the instincts they need to nurse, such as the rooting reflex.
Cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. The baby will open his or her mouth wide (like a yawn). Quickly center your nipple in the baby’s mouth, making sure the tongue is down, and pull the baby close to you. Bring your baby to your breast — not your breast to your baby.

Let your baby set his or her own nursing pattern. Many newborns nurse for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast.

Nurse on demand. When babies are hungry, they will nuzzle against your breast, make sucking motions, or put their hands to their mouth. Crying is a late sign of hunger.

When your baby empties one breast, offer the other. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t continue to nurse, though.

When you are pregnant, your body stores extra nutrients and fat to prepare you for breastfeeding. Once your baby is born, you need more food and nutrients than normal to provide fuel for milk production. When you are nursing:

  1. Eat a well-balanced diet. During breastfeeding you need about 500 calories a day more than you did before you became pregnant or about 2,500 calories a day for most women.
  2. Make sure you get 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Your health care provider may suggest that you keep taking a daily vitamin.
  3. Avoid foods that bother the baby. If your baby acts fussy or gets a rash, diarrhea, or congestion after nursing, let your baby’s doctor know. This can signal a food allergy.
  4. Drink at least eight glasses of liquid a day.

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?
For the first few weeks, check for these signals to tell if your baby is well-nourished:

  1. My baby nurses often. A newborn should nurse at least 8-12 times in 24 hours (every 2 hours or so). Your baby may spend about 10-15 minutes on each breast.
  2. My baby is drowsy and content after nursing.
  3. My breasts feel full and firm before feedings. After, they are less full and feel softer.
  4. My baby wets at least 6 diapers a day. His or her urine should be nearly clear. During the first month, your baby should have at least 3 bowel movements a day. The stool should be soft and yellow.
  5. My newborn baby is gaining weight. Most newborns lose a little weight at first. After 2 weeks, most babies are back up to their birth weight. Newborns should gain weight after the first week.

If you are worried that your baby is not getting enough milk, tell the doctor right away and have the baby’s weight checked.

Sex and Birth Control
Before you resume having sex, think about birth control. You have several options. Talk with your health care provider about what form of birth control is right for you. What you were using before pregnancy might not be a good choice now.

Barrier methods such as latex condoms or a copper intrauterine device (IUD) are good options because they do not affect your milk supply. Good choices for hormonal birth control are the progestin-only pill, implants, or injections. These options rely on the hormone progestin and do not contain estrogen.

Many mothers keep nursing their babies after they return to work. If you want to breastfeed when you go back to work, you may want to look into buying or renting a breast pump.

Any breast milk is better than no breast milk. Try to breastfeed without supplementation for at least the first 6 months of your baby’s life if you can.
Breast Health

As they start to breastfeed, some women may have a few minor problems. Problems that may occur include:

  1. Engorgement
  2. Sore nipples
  3. Blocked ducts
  4. Mastitis (an infection of the breast caused by bacteria in the milk ducts)

Most often problems are easy to treat. If you have any of these signs of a problem, contact your doctor:

  1. Fever
  2. Pain
  3. Bleeding
  4. Rash
  5. Lumps
  6. Redness

To keep your breasts healthy and to increase the chances of breastfeeding success, try these tips:

  1. Learn proper nursing technique.
  2. Use your finger to break the suction before you remove your breast from your baby’s mouth.
  3. Gently pat your nipples dry with a clean cloth after feedings.
  4. Use only cotton bra pads.
  5. Apply 100 percent pure lanolin to your nipples after feeding.
  6. Don’t wash your nipples with harsh soaps or use perfumed creams.
  7. If one nipple is tender, offer the other breast first.

Finally …
Breastfeeding is a special gift of love and health only you can give your baby. Breastfeeding is natural, but it takes practice. You and your baby can learn together.

Copyright © March 2010 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists