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Breast-Feeding: Nature's Formula for Success

Technique Is Everything

Despite the benefits of breast-feeding, only a relative few mothers stick with it for the time recommended by experts. About 60% of women start breast-feeding in the hospital, but the number drops to 20% by the time the baby is 6 months old.

One of the biggest reasons women abandon nursing is the gamut of difficulties they may experience getting started, such as inadequate milk supply or sore nipples. But many of these difficulties, often the result of improper positioning and latching technique, could be avoided if women had the support and instruction they need to get off to the right start.

"I think mothers should be patient with themselves. They're learning a new skill," says Best-Macia. "A baby that's positioned and latched well right from the beginning will avoid a lot of the difficulties you hear about," she says.

For example, in one study Best-Macia did at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York, the breast-feeding problems among women who were discharged from the hospital dropped by half after labor and delivery nurses learned how to teach proper breast-feeding techniques.

An easy way to learn breast-feeding is by holding the baby in the so-called football or clutch position.

Find a comfortable position with back support and with your knees higher than your hips. Place your baby on his side on pillows at breast level, with his nose to your nipple and his neck straight. For feeding on the left breast, place your left arm along your baby's back and support your baby's head with your left arm.

Place your fingertips behind his ears and the heel of your hand across his shoulder blades. Supporting your breast in your free hand, lightly tickle your baby's lips with your nipple until he opens wide, aim your baby's lower lip toward the areola so he takes in more breast near the lower lip, and push with the heel of your other hand across your baby's shoulder blades to bring him onto the breast quickly and deeply.

Let your baby nurse at the first breast for as long as he likes, then put him on the other side until he stops nursing by himself. At each new feeding, alternate the breast you begin with, Best-Macia says.

Don't force a newborn to switch sides during feedings, she says. The fat content changes as the breast is drained. So, if you switch too early, your baby may not get the higher-fat milk that comes at the end. Your milk supply will adjust to the baby's needs.

Some common mistakes include improperly aligning the baby so that only the head is turned sideways, pushing the breast into the baby's mouth instead of bringing the baby onto the breast and latching the baby too high.

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