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Breastfeeding Basics

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

Breastfeeding and Your Body: What to Expect

Beginning right from your baby's very first feeding and each time you breastfeed, your body will have a natural reaction called the "let down" reflex -- the process that starts your milk flowing.

For the first few feedings, "let down" can actually take a few minutes. But after a day or two, the process should go much faster. Sometimes only seconds are needed before your baby can begin to feed.

During your first week of breastfeeding, the "let down" reflex might also cause you to feel some cramping or contractions in your uterus, similar to light menstrual pains. Sterna says this is because nursing involves the natural release of oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates the contraction of cells inside the breast that in turn help push your milk from the ducts into your nipples. But oxytocin has another effect: it can cause uterine contractions, which may initially cause some cramping.

The comforting news here: "Not only is the cramping normal, it's a sign that your uterus is beginning to shrink down to its prepregnancy shape and size, which means you're on your way to a flatter tummy," says Sterna.

All breastfeeding-related cramping should diminish in about a week or 10 days. If it doesn't, talk to your doctor.

To help make "let down" faster, particularly during your first week of breastfeeding, experts from La Leche League International offer these tips:

  • Choose a comfortable chair with good back and arm support for each nursing session. Many women report a rocking chair works well.
  • Make certain that your baby is well positioned on your breast for optimum milk flow.
  • If you are feeling tense or nervous, put on some relaxing background music while you nurse, or sip a nutritious drink, such as a fruit smoothie or yogurt shake while baby eats.
  • Make certain not to smoke, drink alcohol, or use recreational drugs while nursing. All can interfere with milk production and make "let down" more difficult.
  • Invest in a nursing bra and, if possible, some nursing tops with flaps that snap open and make positioning your baby easier.
  • Think about nursing. Sometimes just the thought of feeding and nurturing your baby will help stimulate milk to flow.

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