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Breast-Feeding: Nature's Formula for Success

Technique Is Everything continued...

"Women can't see the bottom part of the areola where the lower lip is, and that's really the part that the baby needs," says Best-Macia.

Part of the problems women have stem from the fact that they're not exposed to other nursing mothers and, even if they are, the examples aren't always useful. Newborns need to be positioned differently than older babies -- they don't have the same neck stability as older babies -- and many women don't use proper technique.

"If you're just in a random group of breast-feeding mothers, the likelihood is that at least half of them aren't using proper technique," Best-Macia says. That isn't a big deal for the woman who's still able to breast-feed, but for the woman who's having problems, "it's not the best learning opportunity."

Some women may not be able to breast-feed for some medical or surgical reason, but that number is very small -- somewhere between 2% and 3%, says Dr. Gartner. Women who have a history of sexual abuse also may find it too emotionally difficult. However, immunizations and most medications are safe to take during lactation.

If you had a previous bad experience with breast-feeding, you shouldn't assume that it will happen again, experts say. Lisa Stein, of Evanston, Ill., developed a serious infection that sent her into the hospital and prevented her from breast-feeding her first child. Stein was apprehensive of a repeat performance when her second baby was born in October.

So far, the experience has been like night and day. "I had a few problems up front, mostly psychological because of the fear," she says. "I had a little cracking and bleeding, but I brought a lactation consultant in on the third day, worked with her for a week, and now it's going great."

Getting on the Right Track

The key to a successful breast-feeding experience is getting off to a good start, says Marsha Walker, a certified lactation consultant in Weston, Mass., and immediate past president of the International Lactation Consultants Association. Here are Walker's suggestions for new moms:

Set realistic expectations: Expect to breast-feed eight to 10 times in 24 hours for about 20 minutes to 30 minutes each time. Your baby will let you know when she's hungry (don't wait until she's crying), and she'll typically bunch her feedings together several times in the morning, late afternoon and evening. Eventually, by about four weeks to six weeks, a more regular pattern will emerge (breakfast, midmorning snack, lunch, midafternoon snack, dinner and nighttime snack). To avoid being overloaded, divvy up household chores and set aside some time each day for yourself.

Make sure you're stimulating an abundant milk supply: Offer frequent feedings and make sure the baby's swallowing. Since that may be hard to gauge in the early days, listen for a little puff of air from the nose when your baby exhales. Effective feeding is characterized by rhythmic sucking followed by a short pause. Supplements, including water, sugar water, formula and pacifiers, aren't recommended since they can interfere with early milk production.

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