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Getting started on breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is natural. But it isn't always problem-free. Learning about some common concerns ahead of time can help make your breastfeeding experience easier.

When your baby arrives, there will be a lot of firsts. There's your baby's first bath, the first diaper change and your first attempt at breastfeeding.

While it may seem awkward at first, breastfeeding is well worth the time and effort. And if you are aware of some common troubles that new moms have, you'll be ready to deal with them.

Simply the best

Breastfeeding has many benefits for both moms and babies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

For infants, it may reduce the risk of health problems such as:

  • Ear infections.
  • Allergies.
  • Vomiting.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Meningitis.

Breast milk is also easier for babies to digest, adds the AAP.

Moms benefit from breastfeeding too. Among other things, it helps them burn calories, reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps build strong bones.

Things to watch for

In spite of these benefits, breastfeeding doesn't always come easily. It takes practice.

Below are some common problems new moms have and tips for dealing with them:

Trouble with baby latching on. Your baby is latched on correctly when the lips are pouted out and covering most of the areola (the dark skin around the nipple), not just the nipple itself. You can encourage this by tickling your baby's lip with your nipple until your baby's mouth opens very wide. Then bring the baby toward your breast. Place the nipple deep in your baby's mouth.

This takes some practice to get right, but it's a very important first step to master. So keep trying if you have trouble. A nurse or lactation consultant can help.

Sore nipples. If it hurts when your baby is trying to nurse, he or she may not be latched on properly. Break the suction with your finger. Then, reposition your baby and try again.

If you think the latch-on is correct but your nipples still hurt during breastfeeding, talk to your child's doctor or a lactation consultant for advice.

Concerns about your milk supply. Moms often wonder if their baby is getting enough milk. And they may worry that their milk supply isn't enough.

If your baby is having six or more wet diapers each day, and gaining enough weight, he or she is likely getting enough milk, notes the AAP. A baby's urine should be pale yellow.

During the first week of life your baby should have two to four bowel movements a day. For the rest of that first month, your baby may have a bowel movement each time he or she eats.

To ensure good milk supply, feed your baby whenever he or she is hungry. That's usually every one to three hours at first. You should also drink plenty of liquids and eat healthy foods.

Engorgement. Too much milk can make the breasts feel uncomfortable. You can help prevent this by feeding your baby whenever he or she is hungry. If your breasts become engorged, you can ease the discomfort by pumping or manually expressing breast milk before you breastfeed. To ease swelling, apply warm, moist cloths to your breasts. The AAP says using clean, refrigerated cabbage leaves may help ease pain and swelling. Simply place the leaves against your breast then replace with fresh ones when they wilt. Use until swelling and pain are gone.

Mastitis. Blocked milk ducts can become infected. This problem is called mastitis. You can keep breastfeeding if you have mastitis. And frequent nursing will help treat the infection and prevent it from spreading, says the AAP. Warm compresses and antibiotics can help treat the condition.

Plan ahead

Before you start breastfeeding it might help to read some books or watch videos on the subject. You might also want to talk to a healthcare professional. He or she may be able to refer you to breastfeeding classes or other resources you can use.

Reviewed 2/11/2023

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