Getting started

Starting to breast-feed requires patience and practice. It's a natural process, but that doesn't mean it comes easily to all mothers. It's a new skill for both you and your baby. It may take a few attempts — even a few weeks — before you and your baby get the hang of it. Breast-feeding may go smoothly with one baby but not so with your next child.

For many reasons, it's a good idea to take a class on breast-feeding. Often, information on breast-feeding is offered as part of childbirth classes. Or you may need to sign up for an extra class. Most hospitals and birthing centers offer classes on feeding a newborn, which are open to both mothers and fathers.

The time to begin breast-feeding is right after the baby is born. If feasible, put the baby to your breast in the delivery room. After that, you can arrange for your baby to room with you at the hospital or birthing center to facilitate nursing. To help your baby learn how to breast-feed, request that, if possible, he or she not be given any supplementary bottles of water or formula, and preferably no pacifier, until breast-feeding is well established.

As you begin to breast-feed, it's a good idea to seek out expert help and advice. Ask your midwife, nurse or lactation consultant to assist you during your first days of feedings. These experts can provide hands-on instruction and helpful hints. After you leave the hospital or birthing center, you may arrange for a public health nurse who is knowledgeable about infant feeding to visit you at home for additional one-on-one instruction. You can always call a lactation consultant, your health care provider or the baby's provider for advice.

You can also find support and information by calling a chapter of La Leche League, a national organization that promotes breast-feeding. In addition, many books, other literature and Web sites on the subject are available. For example, the La Leche League International can be found at www.lalecheleague.org, and the National Women's Health Information Center has information on breastfeeding at www.4women.gov/breastfeeding.

Of course, women such as your mother, sister or a well-intentioned friend may offer lots of advice. It's also a good idea to have an expert observe your technique and redirect you if you and your baby aren't yet in sync.

The best advice is to stick with it. If it goes easily for you right from the first feeding, that's wonderful. If not, be patient with yourself. With time, and the support of a lactation consultant or nurse or your health care provider, you may soon be the one giving advice on breast-feeding.

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