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How to Breastfeed Your Baby

Kara Murphy
July 22, 2015

Breastfeeding can be difficult, especially at first. Here's a refresher on everything you need to know.

You've always intended to feed your baby breast milk, and you know about all the many benefits. But now the time has come and it's hard! You even start to wonder if formula would be easier. But don't give up -- you and your baby can figure this out together.

Here are some tips for how to breastfeed successfully:

  • Expect Challenges
    Amanda Cole, the owner of the Yummy Mummy store in New York City that specializes in "all things breastfeeding," has seen hundreds of mothers who are breastfeeding for the first time. "Everyone's breasts are different," she says. "There's no right or wrong." That means what worked for your sister or friend might very well not work for you, and you'll have to find your own rhythm with your baby.

    "Mom should just remember the first two weeks are the most difficult," says Angie Kirkwood, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. "Those first two weeks are by far the most challenging. Usually by the third week the fog lifts and mom and baby settle into the new roles," she says.
  • Ask for Help
    Support systems are vital to a nursing mother's success, Kirkwood says. Most hospitals have lactation specialists that will help mothers, and once you head home, look for breastfeeding support groups or a La Leche group in nearby towns. The baby's father, a family member or friend that supports your breastfeeding goals can also help you at home. "You need to remember that it takes considerable time in the first two weeks especially to learn to breastfeed," Kirkwood says. "You're feeding baby 10 to 12 times a day, and it's really tiring for mom. She needs someone there that can help and support her."
  • Invest In a Few Must-Have Items
    You don't need a ton and you'll spend a lot less than you would if your baby was formula-fed. But a few good nursing bras and a pump will go a long way to making nursing a better experience for you and your baby, Cole says. (Check with your health insurance carrier to see what's covered.)
  • Go Back to Basics
    If you feel like you just can't do it right, go back to the breastfeeding basics. But remember, even the "basics" can differ from person to person, Kirkwood says. That's why a support system -- someone who will be patient with you and work with you until you find what works for you and your newborn -- is so important, she explains, and recommends reading the book The Nursing Mothers Companion.

How to Breastfeed
As for those basics -- La Leche League International outlines the following steps:

  • Get Yourself Comfortable
    If you're not comfortable, the process won't be comfortable. So find a good chair, elevate your feet and position pillows until you are nested the way that feels best to you. There are a number of positions that mothers use to nurse.
  • Get Your Baby In Position
    Once you're comfortable, ask a helper to hand you the baby, then position the baby with her mouth and nose facing your nipple.
  • Hold Your Breast
    You want to support your breast with one hand to help guide the nipple into your baby's mouth.
  • Help the Baby Latch
    Hold your baby close and support his back and neck so that his chin "drives" into your breast and his nose is touching your breast. If your baby doesn't nuzzle in on his own, use your nipple to tickle his bottom lip, which will encourage him to open his mouth wide. Then aim your nipple toward the roof of his mouth by bringing him closer to you. When latched, his lips will be fully around the base of your nipple.
  • Wait for the Milk
    You'll know your baby is receiving milk because you can see her jaw working. You might even hear her swallowing.

Now relax and enjoy that little bundle of love. You are breastfeeding!

Want more tips? Check out these 10 Tips for Breastfeeding Newborn Babies.

Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pennsylvania, who successfully breastfed her two children with the full support of her husband, who helped her through the difficult first weeks.

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