How to Breastfeed: Tips and Strategies for Success

Breastfeeding is a natural process, but may present challenges for new mothers unfamiliar with the proper technique or experiencing an understandable bout of nervousness.

The good news is, most new mothers can relax and stop worrying. It is estimated that only 5% of mothers are physically unable to breastfeed their babies; for the other 95%, practice and patience are all that is needed in order to successfully breastfeed their new arrivals.

Why Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is recommended by every major pediatric health care organization due to the added protection against infections it can provide to infants and the superior nutritional value of mother’s milk over other substitutes. Most pediatricians recommend that babies be given only breast milk for the first six months of their life to allow them to benefit from the added immunities of the mother; additionally, it is far less expensive than formula and is already at the perfect temperature for baby’s sensitive mouth.

When To Start

In many cases, mothers can begin breastfeeding in the delivery room as soon as the baby is born. While the main milk supply has not yet come in for most new mothers, the breasts have produced a nutritive substance called colostrum that helps to protect the baby against infections during his or her first days outside the womb. Baby’s stomach is still very small, so the amount of colostrum produced during this period is usually sufficient to relieve hunger and keep the baby fed and content. For mothers who cannot breastfeed immediately after birth, it is recommended that they begin as soon as possible in order to provide the baby with the valuable protection provided by colostrum.

How To Breastfeed

Successful breastfeeding is dependent on the baby’s ability to latch on to the breast and nipple; this is largely an instinctive behavior, but some babies may need a little help in order to get the idea the first few times breastfeeding is attempted. A number of different factors can affect the baby’s ability to latch on successfully including positioning during nursing, the shape of the mother’s breasts and the overall patience shown by both baby and mother during the process.

Proper Positioning

Mothers can choose from a variety of positions when nursing their babies. One of the most popular is the cradle carry, in which the baby is nestled snugly into the crook of the elbow with one hand supporting his or her bottom while the breast is presented to the baby’s mouth. The football carry is nearly the reverse, with the mother’s hand under the head of the baby while the baby’s body is supported in the crook of the arm; this position is especially useful when feeding twins, since both babies can be fed simultaneously with a little practice. Some mothers prefer to lie beside their baby during feeding; this position allows both mother and baby to relax during breastfeeding and can be more comfortable for long feeding sessions. Regardless of which position is chosen, mothers should ensure that the baby can latch on fully to the nipple and drink easily and that the position will be comfortable for baby and mother alike.

Shaping The Breast

In order to properly latch on, babies must open their mouths widely and take in a relatively large portion of the breast as well as the nipple. This allows them to produce the suction needed to draw milk from the nipple and helps to prevent discomfort for the mother during the process. During initial attempts to breastfeed new mothers may have to pinch or shape their breasts to fit the baby’s mouth; additionally, the baby may have to be taught to shape his or her lips and mouth correctly in order to latch on to the breast in the right way. After a few successful efforts, however, breastfeeding typically becomes a simple, instinctive process for most mothers and babies.

Frequent Feedings Are Best

Hungry babies are often impatient and fail to latch on to the breast correctly. This can lead to frustration on the part of mothers and babies and may lead to further problems with breastfeeding. Most new mothers will achieve better results by offering the breast frequently even when the baby does not seem especially hungry; this will minimize frustration and increase the likelihood of breastfeeding success.

The Father’s Role

Feeding time is typically also a time of closeness and quiet play with the new baby. Some mothers choose to pump a portion of their breast milk so that fathers can offer a bottle for one or more scheduled feedings in order to bond more closely with the new baby. Even when the mother is breastfeeding, fathers can help by staying close, talking, and helping to support the baby during the process; this can help mother, father, and baby to bond as a family by creating a warm, nurturing ritual around scheduled feeding times.

Success in breastfeeding is primarily dependent on patience and persistence. Babies who are breastfed typically are healthier than their formula-fed contemporaries, but one of the most important advantages of breastfeeding is the time it gives new parents to bond with their baby and build the warm, caring relationship that will last for all of their lives together.

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