Breast-feeding Basics for Healthy Babies

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
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It's no secret breast-feeding is best for baby and best for mom. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends babies be fed exclusively with breast milk for the first six months. Breast milk's unique antibodies help protect infants from numerous illnesses and diseases. Breast-feeding also helps reduce a nursing mother's risk of diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers and post-partum depression.

Breast-feeding has both environmental and economic benefits, since it eliminates the costs and wastes associated with formula production and plastic bottles. Depending on the formula brand, breast-feeding can save your family $1,000 to $4,000 per year.

While breast-feeding is the most natural way to feed a baby, new moms need information and support to be successful. Here are some steps for breast-feeding success.

Before Your Baby Arrives

The third trimester of pregnancy is a great time to learn about breast-feeding, so you can be informed and confident when the baby comes.

  • Take a breast-feeding class. Check availability at your hospital, doctor's office or WIC clinic. Learn about community resources such as lactation consultants so you'll know whom to call with questions or concerns.
  • Read about it. Check out books and pamphlets from the clinic, hospital or library. The more you know, the more relaxed you'll be in your new role as a breast-feeding mom.
  • Tell everyone about your plans to breast-feed. Let your family, friends, doctor, hospital nurses, pediatrician and employer know you plan to give only breast milk to your baby and you'll need their support.

At the Hospital

Healthy newborns know how to find the breast and how to suckle. They just need plenty of snuggle time with mom to practice and build up a good milk supply.

  • Room-in and feed frequently. Having your baby with you allows you to respond to his or her hunger cues immediately. The more milk your baby removes from the breasts, the more milk you will make. Formula feeding will disrupt this natural process.
  • Ask for help. Most hospitals have a lactation specialist who can help you find solutions if you're experiencing difficulties with early breast-feeding.

During the First Year and Beyond

Your breasts will easily make enough milk in response to your baby's growing needs. Most infants will need several feedings through the day and night, especially during the first weeks and growth spurts. Allow your baby to develop his or her own feeding schedule.

  • Take care of yourself. Breast-feeding moms need plenty of nutrient-rich foods and fluids to maintain their stamina while producing milk. Make sure to get enough rest. Many moms take a nap while their babies sleep.
  • Turn to resources for support. If you need help figuring how to breast-feed while working or going to school, or if you have an infant with special needs, check with your pediatrician, lactation specialist or a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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