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Breastfeeding Basics

What every new mom needs to know about baby's first feeding, latching on, and letting down.

Baby to Breast: Latching On continued...

Here are some tips to help ensure a proper latch -- particularly the first few times you breast feed. Place your opposite hand underneath your breast and, using your thumb, gently push up under your areola, and position more of your breast in your baby's mouth, making sure not to get your fingers inside.

Still having problems? Huotari suggests repositioning your baby's head so that he or she doesn't have to twist or turn the neck to reach your breast.

So, how do you know if your baby is properly "latched on?" First, if your baby's lips are puckered inward, or if you can see their gums, the "latch" may not be complete.

If your baby is feeding properly, you should hear only a low-pitched swallowing noise -- not a sucking or smacking noise -- and you may see the jaw motioning back and forth, a sign that a successful feeding is taking place.

"What many new mothers don't realize is that breastfeeding is really a very quiet and relaxing time. If your baby is latched on properly they eat very quietly," says Pat Sterna, IBCLC, a lactation counselor from Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

And while it's natural to feel a "tugging" sensation during feeding, if your breasts actually hurt, the latch may be insufficient as well.

If you need to start over, gently insert your finger into the corner of your baby's mouth to break the connection to your body, then reposition your breast and your baby, and try again.

"It can take several tries, particularly the first few times, for both baby and mom to find the most comfortable and correct position," Wenk tells WebMD.

In addition, if it seems as if your baby is having difficulty breathing during nursing, the nose may be too close to your breast. To relieve this problem, simply press down on the flesh of your breast closest to your baby's nose to provide more breathing space.

Breastfeeding Right After Baby's Birth

While you may be feeling more than a bit exhausted after labor and delivery, experts say it's best to begin breastfeeding your baby within 30 minutes after birth, if possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises placing baby in direct skin-to-skin contact with the mother immediately after birth to encourage breastfeeding right away. Why? Here are four key reasons:

  1. Babies are born with very little immunity -- so they need the antibodies present in your milk to gain key protection from disease. And the sooner that protection can begin, says Wenk, the better off your baby will begin.

  2. Experts at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, point out that the yellow, watery premilk (called "colostrum") produced during the first few days of feeding is packed full of protective nutrients. It can also help develop your baby's digestive system. This helps your baby avoid gas and cramping later on.

  3. Huotari says that feeding your baby shortly after birth will help keep the baby's blood sugar level stable.

  4. Babies who feed at the mother's breast soon after birth generally have an easier time adapting to the latching-on process when regular feedings begin.

If possible, experts say you should also try to position your baby to your breast yourself, rather than have a nurse or midwife do it for you. A recent survey highlighted in the British Medical Journal revealed that 71% of new mothers who put their own baby to their breast for the first time were still successfully nursing six weeks later, compared to just 38% of mothers who had someone else position their baby for them.

But if your baby is having problems latching on, or if you simply don't feel physically comfortable while trying to breastfeed, do ask a nurse or attendant for help. Professionals can help you adjust your position or that of your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises every new mother to make sure a trained caregiver observes her breastfeeding in order to offer tips.

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