Breastfeeding Basics: What You Need to Know to Get Started

How to Breastfeed

Of course, such goodness doesn't come without a price. Initially, at least, breastfeeding takes some patience and perseverance. 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).

It's worth pointing out that for those women who can't or who choose not to breastfeed, formula is the next-best choice. And although there is often a lot of pressure on women to breastfeed, the decision is an extremely personal one and shouldn't be second-guessed. However, because it's hard to restart milk production once it starts, most doctors recommend at least trying to breastfeed if at all possible. You can always switch to formula, but it's far harder to switch from formula to breast milk.

Breastfeeding Crash Course

If you're not familiar with the ins and outs of breastfeeding, don't feel bad. Most people have no idea what goes into such a seemingly simple act, which makes a quick explanation a good idea at this point. Ideally your baby will begin to breastfeed shortly after birth (the AAP recommends starting within an hour — this is when baby is most alert). During the first few days, the breasts produce colostrum, a pre-milk substance, which is easy for baby to digest. It's low in volume, and in fat, but high in nutritional value, providing baby with plenty of carbohydrates, protein and antibodies. Colostrum also has a laxative effect on baby, which helps him pass his first stools. Frequent feeding at this stage — eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period — is important not only for baby but also for you, because it stimulates your milk production.

To breastfeed, you'll hold baby in one of four basic positions (a lactation consultant or nurse can show you these positions) so that he is squarely facing your breast, which you'll hold in one hand, with your thumb above the areola and fingers and palm below it. Then you'll bring baby's mouth toward the nipple, stoking his lip or cheek with the nipple to simulate his rooting reflex. This should get him to open his mouth wide and take in the entire areola, rather than just the nipple. The nipple will then be pressed up against the roof of the baby's mouth and he'll begin sucking. At this point, the baby is said to be "latched on" and if you're the one he's attached to and you try to pull him away, you'll understand why!