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Breastfeeding Basics

What every new mom needs to know about baby's first feeding, latching on, and letting down.
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The answer, she says, is simply a lack of exposure to the process itself. "A generation or two ago, little girls watched their mother's breastfeed, sisters watched each other -- and women generally had a support system as well as role models they could emulate," says Wenk.

Today, she says, many women don't have any experience on which to draw -- so it's not uncommon for some to feel awkward or even uncomfortable.

The good news is that with just a little bit of knowledge and a tiny bit of patience, you can quickly and easily master the art of breastfeeding, while increasing your comfort level at the same time.

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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