Breastfeeding Basics: What You Need to Know to Get Started

How Long Should You Breastfeed?

The AAP recommends babies breastfeed for the first year of life and as long thereafter as mutually desirable. Doctors typically recommend that at 6 months of life babies be given solid food in addition to milk. But even before you move to solid food breastfeeding doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can breastfeed and bottle feed using either expressed breast milk or formula. "It's fine to use bottles when needed as long as the baby is well established at breastfeeding," says Mann, who adds that overuse of bottles may put some infants at risk for rejecting breastfeeding altogether. Also, many experts recommend waiting to introduce a bottle until the baby is at least 1 month old to avoid confusing baby. After that, "the container that baby uses to get the milk — breast or bottle — is not as important as the content of the meal," says Mann, who advises sticking with breast milk rather than opting for formula.

Still, while breast milk is considered best, you can supplement your breastfeeding by giving baby occasional bottles of formula if you so choose. Again, this is only advisable once your milk supply is well established. Once that happens your body will adjust milk production, producing less as you breastfeed less. One warning: Cutting back on breastfeeding too quickly can lead to engorgement and could even contribute to mastitis (breast infection). So gradually slow your breastfeeding or pumping, says Mann.

What happens if you have trouble to begin with? "Many mothers are now leaving the hospital without their baby actually latching on, and moms are not being given instructions on how to do it or even how to get help if they have trouble," says Mann, who says her initial consultations with mothers last two hours, far longer than most women get in the hospital. Before you leave the hospital, get the help you need or find out where to call to get additional help. Most hospitals provide on-going lactation consulting, either on the phone or in person. At the very least, they can put you in touch with a lactation consultant.

Mann advises making sure you can get the baby properly latched on yourself (it doesn't count if the lactation consultant gets baby latched on for you) before you head home from the hospital. "Make sure you hear swallowing — not just sucking — and that the baby has produced a dirty diaper," before you go home, Mann advises. If you're unsure about your breastfeeding skills, make an appointment to see a lactation consultant before you leave the hospital. And fear not, with the right help even those who get off to a rocky start can usually succeed in breastfeeding happily for as long as they choose.

Christina Breda Antoniades is a freelance writer and mother of 9-month-old Vasili. She has written extensively for, 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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