Breastfeeding is associated with a multitude of benefits for both baby and mother. For babies, breast milk contains antibodies that can ward off bacteria and viruses, and is rich in vitamins, proteins, and fat — all of which can contribute to your baby’s healthy growth. For mothers, the act of breastfeeding releases hormones that help the uterus repair itself after pregnancy, and also helps burn calories to accelerate weight loss.
Additional benefits associated with breastfeeding include bonding between baby and mother, better outcome for baby’s health later in life, lower risk for cancer in mother, and savings on money and time normally spent on buying and preparing baby formula.
In the days after giving birth, your breasts will produce colostrum, which is breast milk thick and yellow in texture that will help develop and prepare your infant’s digestive tract for future feedings. As your baby begins to grow, your breasts will naturally begin to produce the amount of milk your baby needs to nurse consistently and stay healthy. Most healthcare providers will recommend that you breastfeed your infant exclusively for as long as six months.
The best breastfeeding position for you and your baby will be the position that makes you both feel the most comfortable. Most mothers prefer the cradle position, in which your baby’s head rests in the crook of your elbow while his body faces you and rests lengthwise against your stomach. For nighttime feedings, or for mothers who need recovery time in bed, the side-lying position allows both mother and baby to lie facing each other in bed during feedings. No matter which breastfeeding position you choose, it’s important to make sure you can support your baby’s neck and head during nursing to prevent straining and twisting.
Helping your baby latch on during breastfeeding
When you begin breastfeeding, your baby will already instinctively know how to latch on to your nipple, but may need some extra guidance in the process. With your baby against your breast, gently stroke your baby’s lips with your nipple, which will cause her to reflexively open her mouth wide for feeding. As your hand supports your infant’s neck, gently guide your baby toward your nipple until your nipple is centered in her mouth.
When your baby is properly latched on to your nipple, you will feel a slight tugging or tingling sensation. If you are uncomfortable and feel that your baby is not latched on properly, you may nudge your pinky finger between your nipple and the baby’s mouth to break the suction, and try again with the latching process.
Common breastfeeding challenges
Although breastfeeding is a healthy and natural way to bond with and nurture your baby, there are some common challenges you may face along the way. Sore nipples is one of the most common challenges, but can be prevented by making sure your baby latches on properly at every feeding, and by nursing fully with both breasts until the milk ducts are empty.
Dry and cracked nipples can occur if you apply soaps, lotions, or creams to your breasts that contain alcohol. To prevent dryness or cracking, apply lanolin to the nipples after feedings, then wash off before your next breastfeeding session.
Breast fullness is healthy and normal, but sometimes breasts can become overly engorged as a result of congested blood vessels. Expressing the milk from your breast with your hand or a breast pump can relieve breast congestion, as well as alternating ice packs and hot showers.
Consult with your healthcare provider if you have questions about breastfeeding, or are facing certain challenges with breastfeeding. The Mommy & Me Boutique at Shawnee Mission Medical Center is dedicated to providing the healthiest experience for both mother and baby, and will guide you through every step of becoming a new mother.