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 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 a natural way to feed a baby, new moms need information and support to be successful. Here are some steps to set you up 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 Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, 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.
  • Prepare your home. Find a comfortable chair with good arm and back support. If you are comfortable and well supported, it will be easier to hold and nurse your baby.
  • 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 latching and help mom build up a good milk supply.

  • Start nursing as soon after delivery as possible. The best time to start is within 20 to 30 minutes after your baby is born, perhaps right in the delivery room. The first feeding will be short, about 10 minutes.
  • Room-in. Having your baby with you, instead of in the nursery, allows you to respond to your baby's hunger cues immediately and can make your first days of nursing more successful.
  • Nurse on demand. Signs such as increased alertness or activity, rooting toward your breast or mouthing all are signs that your baby is hungry. Typically, crying is a late signal of hunger. The more milk your baby removes from your breasts, the more milk you will make. As reassurance, you can't "spoil" your baby by feeding on demand.
  • 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 likely will 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 few weeks — about eight to 12 times every 24 hours. That's because a newborn's stomach is small and because nutrient needs are exceptional during rapid growth and development. Frequent nursing helps establish your milk supply and keeps your breasts from becoming hard and swollen.

  • Relax and make yourself comfortable. Find a comfortable position in a supportive chair and you won't feel much tension in your neck, back and shoulders. Or lie down with pillows strategically positioned to help you support your baby.
  • 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 out 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.

While breast-feeding is nature's way of providing ideal nutrition for infants, the "art" of breast-feeding might not come as naturally. Like learning any new skill, the keys to success are knowledge, practice and the support of family, friends, and perhaps coworkers and employers.

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