This post is written and sponsored by HCA Midwest Health.
Every mother’s breastfeeding journey is different, and one of the first decisions most new parents make is how to feed their child. There’s a lot to learn about the basics of breastfeeding a baby. Here, you’ll find facts about breastfeeding and practical tips on how to help make breastfeeding work for you.
1. Relax and get comfortable.
You’ll be in this position for a while so it is worth it to get comfortable. Choose a calm, quiet environment. Maybe spend a few minutes before nursing to give yourself a pep talk. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Visualize your happy place. This is supposed to be an enjoyable time of bonding with your new baby.
You’re going to be spending a significant amount of time holding your baby to your breast while they feed. We recommend a few positions for comfortable breastfeeding:
- Lie on your side with your baby facing you.
- Sit in a reclined position with your baby lying in your arms.
- A bed or a large couch with plenty of pillows to support your back and arms make these positions ideal for breastfeeding.
- If your baby needs more assistance with latching, cross cradle and football hold work well.
2. Help your baby find the right position.
Through the course of breastfeeding, your baby will likely find the position that’s best for them. Pay attention to this position so that you can make it easier to get into quickly.
- Your baby should be positioned so that their mouth is level with your nipple.
- They should not have to turn their head much, if at all. Their body faces the breast.
- Their head should be tilted backward slightly.
- If possible, they should latch onto an inch around mouthful of the areola, not just the nipple.
- Their chin should be right up against your breast so that their nose is clear. The baby can breathe, you do not need to pull your breast away from the baby’s nose if baby is positioned well.
3. Anticipate your baby’s desires.
Rather than waiting for your baby to cry, you can anticipate their needs by watching for a few tell-tale signs. If you see your baby making these moves, offer your breast right away:
- Turn or raise their head repeatedly
- Open and close their mouth
- Stick out their tongue
- Suck on whatever is near
4. With correct latching your skin should stay intact.
If you have injury, like cracking, bleeding or blistering, get the help of a lactation consultant to correct the latch. You can pump if needed to let your nipples heal. Expect tenderness for a week. If you feel dryness or chapping try the following precautions:
- Don’t over wash. One shower a day with a gentle cleanser is plenty.
- After a feeding, pat your breasts dry with a soft cloth.
- Let your breasts air out periodically to avoid irritation for constant wetness.
- After feeding, apply a healing product labeled for use when breastfeeding.
5. Have the right nursing equipment.
Some items make breastfeeding more convenient for you and comfortable for baby. These could include:
- Nursing pads
- Breast pump
- Storage bags
- Nursing pillow
- Nursing bra
6. Ask for help.
Reading and taking a class about breastfeeding is one thing — actually breastfeeding on your own is a different story. Ask for help within that first hour after birth when you’ll want to start breastfeeding your little one. After birth, a nurse will check on you and your baby while breastfeeding. She may even offer some advice and help you. But if you’re still having trouble, the lactation consultant can help further, but you have to ask. Otherwise, they won’t know your needs. While you’re still in the hospital, the lactation consultant can come in to see for herself how your baby is latching on. She’ll be able to give you guidance and advice on how to position your baby and your body.
The lactation consultant is more than happy to help you and guide you in your breastfeeding journey. HCA Midwest Health offers in person and online breastfeeding support after you leave the hospital. Find a class.
7. You’re going to leak.
In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, it’s common for milk to leak from your breasts. Don’t be alarmed; this is completely natural. It can happen when you hear another baby cry, when your baby hasn’t nursed for several hours, when you think about your baby or even when you feel a strong emotion. This leaking will eventually lessen or disappear completely as your baby continues to nurse. In the meantime, simply place a nursing pad in your bra to absorb the leaks.
8. You’re going to be engorged.
Engorgement, a feeling of heavy fullness in the breasts, is common and usually starts 2-5 days after delivery and lasts 24-48 hours. Caused by increased blood flow to the breasts, as well as the start of milk production, engorgement causes your breasts to become larger, fuller and tender. Frequent nursing will help prevent your breasts from becoming overly full. These steps can provide some relief:
- Wear a supportive bra.
- Apply a cold compress before and after your baby nurses. Chipped ice in a dishtowel or a bag of frozen vegetables are tried-and-true helpers.
9. Stay hydrated.
After all, you’re still eating and drinking for two! Water replenishes the body, so a good rule of thumb is to drink an 8-ounce glass of water whenever you breastfeed. Keep your water glass handy and drink to thirst.
If you aren’t breastfeeding, that’s OK, too.
Many women choose to feed formula to their babies in bottles instead of breastfeeding. A small percentage of women are unable to breastfeed due to a health condition.
While formula does contain vitamins and nutrients, it provides none of the antibodies passed naturally through breast milk to infants, protecting them from allergies, infection and a variety of illnesses while their immune systems mature. When breastfeeding is not possible or you choose not to breastfeed, you can still gain many of its benefits:
- Breastfed babies are held, often skin-to-skin, and make eye contact with their mothers while nursing. A formula-fed baby can also be held during feeding, receiving the same close contact and socialization.
- Breastfed babies eat according to their appetite, rather than on a schedule. Doing so may have long-term benefits in controlling appetite and preventing obesity. You can also feed your formula-fed baby when they are hungry and only as much as they want, rather than pushing them to finish a bottle of formula after they’re already full. Learning to eat according to individual appetite, rather than beyond a full feeling, may help develop healthy eating habits.
If you do feed formula to your baby, don’t worry that you didn’t breastfeed. The vast majority of babies, formula-fed and breastfed, grow up healthy.
Beverly Rush RN, BSN, IBCLC, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
HCA Midwest Health offers in person and online breastfeeding support as well as childbirth classes. Find a class near you.
For labor and delivery expertise, more moms in Kansas City choose an HCA Midwest Health hospital. Our OB/GYN teams at our delivering hospitals – Centerpoint Medical Center, Menorah Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Research Medical Center – ensure every woman has access to top-quality maternity care, including specialized services for women with high-risk pregnancies. By delivering more babies than anyone else in the region, our maternity hospitals deliver experience and safety. Learn more at hcamidwest.com/delivers.