Breastfeeding Benefits & Tips
Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish and bond with your baby. It's a natural process, but one that may be challenging at first, until you get the hang of it. Learn about what happens when you breastfeed, the benefits for you and your baby, and all about how to breastfeed, from latching to pumping.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for My Baby?
Breastfeeding your baby gives her plenty of benefits. Breast milk comes packed with minerals and nutrients to help your little one grow. It also lowers the chances of:
Obesity in adolescence and adulthood
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Some studies also say that it enhances your baby’s brain growth.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Me?
It’s not only the baby who benefits, but also mom. Breastfeeding helps mother-baby bonding, because it stimulates the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,"" which also helps shrink the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. Breast milk is convenient, needing no preparation, and is always available. Another important advantage: breastfeeding may reduce the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding can also help you shift the baby weight. Nursing uses up some of the fat you gained during pregnancy, so you can lose weight at the right pace for your body. Don’t worry if your weight goes down slowly, because your body will need some of this fat as your baby grows and demands more milk.
How Do I Breastfeed?
Right after your baby is born, hold her directly against your bare skin. This should trigger the reflex that helps your baby latch on. Try to cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. If she yawns or opens her mouth wide, pull her close to you, and aim the nipple toward the roof of her mouth. Bring your baby to your breast, not your breast to your baby.
Newborns might breastfeed for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. You might find that your baby only wants to feed from one breast, or she may want double portions. When she releases from one breast, offer the other to see if she’s still hungry. If she’s not, just plan to start feeding with the other breast next time. Feel free to try different breastfeeding positions to find the one that's most comfortable. Using items like a breastfeeding pillow or a breastfeeding cover may also help you feel more comfortable.
What Does Healthy Breast Milk Look Like?
In those first few days when you start breastfeeding, you may notice your milk is more of a thick, yellowish substance. You might wonder if that’s really what breast milk is supposed to look like, but don’t worry, it is perfectly normal. What you’re producing at this stage is called colostrum, and it’s intended to be your baby’s very first meal and first immunization against diseases. At this age, your baby’s tummy can only hold about a teaspoon of liquid, so don’t expect her to feed much at first.
Around two to five days after your baby’s birth, you will notice your milk is getting creamier. This transitional milk is produced as your breasts shift from producing colostrum to mature breast milk. Mature breast milk comes into full production at the end of the second week after your baby is born. Mature milk is thinner than transitional milk when it’s first secreted, not unlike skim milk, but it becomes creamier when fat is released later during feeding.
How Can I Tell if My Baby Is Hungry?
Timing is also important when it comes to breastfeeding. If your baby is crying, it’s a late sign of hunger, and an unhappy baby may have trouble latching on. Keep an eye out for telltale signs of hunger; for example, when your baby:
bends her arms
closes her fist
brings fingers to her mouth
makes sucking motions.
When your baby is full, she’ll close her eyes and relax her arms and legs.
How Often Should I Breastfeed?
Let your baby set her own schedule. Don’t be surprised if she wants to nurse every hour for the first couple of days. This helps stimulate a good milk supply that’s tailored to your newborn’s breastfeeding needs. As your breast milk comes in, you can expect your baby’s hunger to subside, meaning you’ll probably only nurse every 2 to 3 hours, or 8 to 12 times a day.
How Do I Know My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?
You may be wondering if your baby is getting enough milk. If you hear her swallow as she nurses, you’ll know she’s getting some milk. If she falls asleep after a meal, then she’s definitely full. You know your newborn is getting enough to eat if: She produces around six wet diapers and two to five loose stools a day until she’s 6 weeks old Her urine is a pale yellow, not a dark orange or yellow shade
Your breasts feel soft after feeding.
What Are the Dos and Don’ts of Breastfeeding?
You may be wondering what you can and can’t do while you’re lactating, or if you need to eat a special breastfeeding diet to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients she needs. While you’re nursing you’ll want to:
Get an extra 450 to 500 calories per day to make enough milk.
Eat fish or seafood two to three times a week, but avoid fish with high levels of mercury or pollutants, such as swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark.
Take a prenatal multivitamin while breastfeeding, if your healthcare provider recommends it.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Drink little to no caffeine in those first few days after your baby is born (a moderate amount, approximately 200mg per day, later on is unlikely to affect your baby).
It’s not recommended you consume alcohol while breastfeeding, but if you do choose to drink, wait at least two hours after drinking before breastfeeding and avoid drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
Ask your healthcare provider about taking medication while breastfeeding. Most medications are safe to take, but some can be passed on to your baby in low doses through breast milk.
Avoid smoking while breastfeeding, as secondhand smoke can harm infants and can also decrease your milk supply.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your options for birth control that can be used while breastfeeding.
What Do I Need to Know About Pumping Breast Milk?
Breast milk production is based on supply and demand, so the more you feed or pump, the more milk you’ll produce. Pumping can help if you’re going back to work while you’re still breastfeeding, or if you want to maintain your milk supply when your baby doesn’t want to nurse.
Here are some tips for pumping breast milk:
Relax. Stress can reduce the amount of milk you produce, so find a quiet and relaxing place to pump.
Pump often. This will keep your milk production up. You can even pump both breasts simultaneously.
Feed your baby on demand. If you notice your baby is hungry, try to breastfeed immediately. This will also mean you’ll have more milk supply when you pump.
Drink plenty of fluids.
How Long Should I Breastfeed For?
Healthcare professionals recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life. After, you can start to introduce a more varied diet, adding solid foods in addition to breast milk until she’s 1 year old. There is no set time limit for how long you can breastfeed your baby — it’s a choice that should be right for both of you. When you're ready to wean her off breastfeeding, read our advice on weaning.
Is There Anything Else That Can Help Me With Breastfeeding?
You may need a little help getting started, especially if it’s your first time nursing, and that’s perfectly normal. Here are a few tips to make breastfeeding a little easier:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The first time you breastfeed your baby, ask for help. A maternity nurse or a lactation consultant can help you find the best breastfeeding position for your newborn and help her latch on correctly.
Consider keeping her in the same room with you. For the first six months, it may be more convenient for you to keep your baby in the same room as you, in her own crib or bassinet, so you can nurse her more easily when she’s hungry.
Try not to give her a pacifier too soon. You might want to hold off on giving your baby a pacifier. Giving her one too soon may interfere with breastfeeding, as the sucking motion is different than for the nipple. Experts say to only give her a pacifier once you have breastfeeding well established, usually three or four weeks after birth.
Take care of your nipples. You can let the milk dry naturally on your nipples, which can actually soothe them, but if you don’t have the time, just pat them gently dry. Use bra pads to avoid leaking, and change them often. While bathing, try to avoid or minimize shampoo or soap contact with your nipples. If you are suffering from dry, cracked, or sore nipples, you can use purified lanolin after each feeding to soothe your nipples and help them retain moisture. Consult your healthcare provider if you see any signs or symptoms of mastitis, which include flu-like symptoms and breast soreness.
Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it can take time for both you and your baby to get into a successful routine. In fact, many moms need a little help at some point. Read more about nursing a newborn for help with those first few feeds. You can also get help from a lactation consultant who can help teach you proper breastfeeding techniques.
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