Although it's a natural process, breastfeeding requires time and effort from both baby and mother in order to get the hang of it. And if not done properly, breastfeeding can be painful and frustrating. It also requires a heavy time commitment from mom, because breastfed babies feed often and because mom is the only one with the equipment needed to provide the food (although a breast pump can help once breastfeeding is well established). Here are some tips for nursing mothers to keep in mind.
The first time you breastfeed will likely be in a hospital bed with a kindly (we hope) lactation consultant guiding baby's mouth to the right spot. At that point, ambiance is the least of your concerns. But once you're on your own at home, you'll want to find a quiet place where you and baby can relax. Think low lights and limited noise. Not only does the right environment put baby in the mood, but it also sends your body the signal that it's time to let the milk flow. Of course, this isn't always possible. If you nurse long enough, you will inevitably find yourself in the backseat of your car (parked, of course), fumbling with your nursing bra, trying to calm a hungry infant and doing your best not to flash the guy parking the Explorer next to you. Setting the mood isn't so important then, but that's the exception rather than the rule.
Once you get baby latched on and happily sucking away, the last thing you want to do is disturb her just to keep your arm from falling asleep. Think ahead and grab something to support your arm as you hold baby. Try a nice firm pillow or one of those C-shaped nursing pillows on the market.
You may find that the minute baby starts nursing you're suddenly very thirsty. It's as if that little parasite is sucking you dry. Wait, he is, which would certainly explain your thirst. For this reason, it's not a bad idea to have a bottle of water on hand at all times. You can even stash an extra near your favorite comfy chair for those times you forget to bring one with you and your spouse — and resident drink fetcher — is conveniently nowhere to be found.
Baby may not get it right away. This is annoying, but true, apparently, for many moms. If you have trouble at first, don't give up until you've tried it for at least a couple of weeks, unless you are truly miserable or baby is showing signs of failing to thrive, in which case a switch to formula might be in order. Either way, it's probably a good idea to check with your doctor before you do anything drastic.
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If you're feeling frustrated or have questions about anything even remotely breastfeeding-related (other than true medical emergencies), a quick call to your local lactation consultant might solve your problems. Most hospitals have a lactation hot line (or warm line, where calls are returned within a day). You can also try La Leche League, which offers advice to breastfeeding moms. Lactation consultants are usually very pro-breastfeeding — some militantly so — and will not only answer questions but also will probably convince you to keep at it if you're feeling a bit discouraged.
This is a good time to lean on baby's other parent. Not that breastfeeding is unpleasant (quite the contrary), but there may be times when you are feeling tired, and, well, you want your body back. This is a good time for hubby to chime in with lots of positive talk about what a great thing you are doing for baby. If he doesn't think of this himself, you might have to prod him along (with a sharp object or a few well-chosen words).
You need extra calories — about 500 per day — to fuel the milk factory. They have to be healthy calories, too, which means you should probably hold off on buying that crate of Ho Hos until baby is weaned. Following the same health-conscious diet you followed when pregnant is a good idea, with a particular focus on calcium and protein. Keep taking those prenatal vitamins, too.
Because you don't have a dipstick or any other handy gauge to tell you how full your breasts are, it's normal to worry that baby isn't getting enough milk. The best way to reassure yourself is to keep a dirty diaper diary — a log of how many diapers your child dirties in a 24-hour period. Once your milk comes in, and for the first six weeks of life, baby should have five or six wet diapers a day and two to five bowel movements per day, according to La Leche League. Also, your baby should average eight to 12 feedings per 24-hour period, says La Leche League.
Pick a philosophy and stick with it. There are a couple of schools of thought on when to feed baby (i.e., every time he cries, every three hours or somewhere in between). Each school seems equally adamant that theirs is the right philosophy. What matters most is that you choose a philosophy that you are comfortable with and that you feel is best for your baby. Once you've picked one, be ready for other well-meaning mothers to advise you on how to do it right. Listen, but stick to your guns when it comes to doing what you think is best.
Christina Breda Antoniades is a freelance writer and mother of 9-month-old Vasili. She has written extensively for Discovery.com, including the Travel Channel Online and Discovery Health Online. In her nine months as a new mommy, Christina has come to learn the joys and pains of parenthood.
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