Preparing to breastfeed

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Before you bring your baby to your breast, find a quiet location. Have a drink of water, milk or juice at hand for yourself because it's common to feel thirsty when your milk lets down. Put the phone nearby or turn it off. Place a book, magazine or the TV remote control within reach, if you wish.

Next, get into a position to nurse that's comfortable for you and your baby. Whether in your hospital bed or a chair, sit up straight. Put a pillow behind the small of your back for support. If you opt for a chair, choose one with low arm rests or place a pillow under your arms for support. Put your feet up, too, if possible.

When you're comfortable, move your baby across your body so that he or she faces your breast, with his or her mouth near your nipple. Make sure your baby's whole body is facing you — tummy to tummy — with ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line. You don't want your baby's head turned to the side; rather, it should be straight in line with his or her body. Your baby's arms should be on either side of the nursing breast.

Bring your free hand up under your breast to support it for breast-feeding. Place the palm of that hand under your breast with the thumb on top of the breast, behind the areola. All fingers should be well behind the areola. Support the weight of your breast in your hand while squeezing lightly to point the nipple straight forward.

If your baby's mouth doesn't open immediately to accept your breast, touch the nipple to your baby's mouth or cheek. If your baby is hungry and interested in nursing, his or her mouth should open. As soon as your baby's mouth is opened wide — like a yawn — move his or her mouth onto your breast. You want your baby to receive as much nipple and areola as possible.

Let your baby take the initiative; don't push the nipple in an unwilling mouth. It might take a couple of attempts before your baby opens his or her mouth wide enough to latch on properly. You can also express some milk, which may encourage the baby to latch on.

As your baby starts suckling and your nipple is being stretched in your baby's mouth, you may feel some surging sensations. After a few suckles, those sensations should relax a bit. If they don't, sandwich the breast more and draw the baby's head in more closely. If that doesn't produce comfort, gently remove the baby from your breast, taking care to release the suction first. To break the suction, gently insert the tip of your finger into the corner of your baby's mouth. Push your finger slowly between your baby's gums until you feel the release. Repeat this procedure until your baby has latched on properly.

You want your baby to latch on well and create a firm bond of suction. You'll know that milk is flowing and your baby is swallowing if there's a

strong, steady, rhythmic motion visible in your baby's cheek. If your breast is blocking your baby's nose, lightly depress the breast with your thumb. Elevating your baby slightly or angling the baby's head back and in also may help provide a little breathing room.

Once nursing begins, you can relax the supporting arm and pull your baby's lower body closer to you. If your baby can comfortably remain attached, you may be able to stop supporting your breast with the other hand.

Offer your baby both breasts at each feeding. Allow your baby to end the feeding on the first side. Then, after burping your baby, offer the other side. Alternate starting sides to equalize the stimulation each breast receives.

Some babies have no trouble figuring out what they're supposed to be doing at the breast. Simply bringing the baby up to your breast and allowing him or her to nuzzle into it may be sufficient, especially after your baby has had some practice.

If your baby attaches and sucks correctly — even if the arrangement feels awkward at first — the position is correct. Your baby's mouth must be comfortably near your nipple. Don't bend over to link the baby with the breast. Instead, bring the baby to the breast.

In general, let your baby nurse as long as he or she wants. The length of feedings may vary considerably. However, on average, most babies nurse for about half an hour, usually divided between both breasts. Ideally, you want the baby to finish one breast at each feeding before switching to the other side. Why? The milk that comes first from your breast, called the foremilk, is rich in protein for growth. But the longer your baby sucks, the more he or she gets the hindmilk, which is rich in calories and fat and therefore helps your baby gain weight and grow. So wait until your baby seems ready to quit before offering him or her your other breast.

Because breast milk is easily digested, breast-fed babies usually are hungry every few hours at first. During those early days, it may seem to you that all you do is breast-feed! But a baby's need for frequent feeding isn't a sign that the baby isn't getting enough; it reflects the easy digestibility of breast milk. If your baby is satisfied after feeding and is growing well, you can be confident that you're doing well.

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