If you’re expecting your first child and find the idea of breastfeeding intimidating, you’re not alone. While breastfeeding is a natural and instinctive process, most newbie moms will require a bit of trial and error to find a system that works well for both them and their babies. However, knowing as much as you can about the process before you start nursing can help you approach it with more confidence. This quick rundown of breastfeeding basics will ensure that you’re well-prepared to tackle one of motherhood’s greatest responsibilities.
Managing Breastfeeding Pain
Most mothers can expect to experience some pain or discomfort while breastfeeding, especially for the first few weeks after delivery. Luckily, most issues that cause breastfeeding pain are easily treatable. The following are some of the most common causes of pain during breastfeeding:
Nipple pain is common in the early days of breastfeeding, when a new mom and baby are still working on the perfect latch. If you experience long-running pain or damage to the skin around your nipple, such as bruising, cracking or bleeding, these are sure signs of a latch issue.
A new mom care package that includes nipple cream is a great way to relieve the pain.
In a later section, we’ll cover some tips for helping your baby achieve a good latch. You might also want to ask your hospital or healthcare provider for breastfeeding resources. They may be able to connect you to breastfeeding support groups, consultants and even classes that can help you with your breastfeeding technique for little to no cost.
Clogged Milk Ducts
If you notice a strange breast lump while breastfeeding, it’s possible that one of the milk ducts inside your breast is clogged. These clogs can form for many reasons, but latch issues, missed feedings and tight, restrictive clothing are the most common causes.
The best way to clear a clogged duct is to keep breastfeeding. Massaging your breast gently or applying a warm compress before or during feeds can also help. If the lump in your breast simply won’t go away, it’s best to call your doctor, as they may want to perform some tests to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Your body will naturally increase its milk production a few days after your baby is born. At this time, the influx of milk and increased blood flow in your breasts may make them feel swollen, hard and heavy. Engorgement usually only lasts for a day or two, but the pain and discomfort it causes can occasionally be severe.
Warm showers or compresses can help alleviate engorgement pain. You can also try expressing excess milk by hand or using a breast pump to ease some of the pressure on your breasts between feeds. If all else fails, pain medications that are confirmed safe for breastfeeding should give you some relief.
Tips for a Successful Latch
An improper latch is the most common cause of breastfeeding pain or discomfort, so it’s essential for new moms to know what a successful latch looks like. Your baby’s mouth should completely cover both your nipple and your areola, as this is the optimal way for your baby to massage milk out of your breast’s milk glands. The following tips should make it easier for you and your baby to achieve a good latch:
- Hold your baby firmly and supportively on the same level as your breast. Use pillows to raise them to the required height if needed.
- Turn your baby towards your breast. Ideally, your belly and your baby’s belly should be facing each other during breastfeeding. Your baby shouldn’t have to turn their head to the side in order to feed.
- With your free hand, squeeze your breast gently in a C-shape. This will help your baby take more of your breast into their mouth instead of sucking on just the nipple.
- Bring your baby toward your breast chin-first. Make sure their head is tipped back away from their chest. Don’t push your breast into their face but rather allow them to take the initiative.
- Aim your nipple at the roof of your baby’s mouth rather than straight on. You’ll know your baby has latched on successfully when their lips are flared, their chin is pressed close to your breast, and their nose is free.
How Long and How Often Should You Breastfeed?
It’s healthiest to feed babies when they’re hungry instead of on a schedule. However, do note that newborns typically won’t have as much of an appetite until the third day or so after birth. For the first few weeks, it’s usually good for a newborn to feed 8 to 12 times every 24 hours, even if they don’t seem that hungry yet. This means that you can expect to nurse your baby every 2-3 hours. Every baby is different, however, so don’t be alarmed if you end up having to feed more or less often.
Don’t wait for your baby to start crying before feeding, as by then they’ll probably already be uncomfortably hungry. There are many more subtle ways babies make their needs known, such as:
- Sucking on their hands, your arm, or the fabric of your shirt
- Opening their mouths
- Nuzzling your breasts
- Opening their mouths
- Smacking their lips
A breastfeeding session will last around 20-30 minutes on average, but your baby may take more or less time depending on their appetite. As long as your little one seems happy and content after each feeding, it’s safe to assume that they’re getting as much milk as they need from you.
Though breastfeeding can be intimidating, it’s also one of the most rewarding bonding experiences a new mom and her child can share. Be patient with yourself and your child and seek help when you need it. Before you know it, you’ll find a method that works for both of you.
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