Breastfeeding 101: What you need to know about nursing

Breastfeeding is considered one of the best sources of nutrition for a newborn baby. Additionally, it can reduce the potential for health conditions for both parent and baby, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While many new parents choose to breastfeed, some can’t for reasons such as prior breast surgeries, health issues or low milk production. Others simply choose not to for their own reasons. Fortunately, there are alternative feeding options available through expressed breast milk, infant formula or a combination of both. 

Every parent’s situation is different, and deciding whether to breastfeed is a personal choice in which many factors about both baby and parent are taken into account. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to start your breastfeeding journey, here’s what you need to know about the basics.

What is breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the process of feeding your baby directly from your breast or by expelling breast milk through a breast pump and then bottle-feeding the milk to your baby.  

How does my baby feed/latch?

Latching is how a baby attaches its mouth to its mother’s breast for feeding. While getting your baby to latch can be a tricky process at first, there are some basic tips to make it easier. According to WebMD, skin-to-skin contact with your baby right after birth triggers reflexes that help them attach or “latch” onto your breast. 

While cupping your breast in your hand, tickle your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. That will hopefully get your baby to open their mouth wide as if they’re yawning. Then pull your baby closer to you and aim your nipple toward the roof of the baby’s mouth. 

What is colostrum?

The first milk your body produces is called colostrum. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, colostrum develops in the breasts mid-pregnancy or around 12-18 weeks. Your breasts will still supply colostrum in the first couple of days after giving birth. 

Rich in carbohydrates, protein and antibodies, colostrum has laxative-like properties that help pass meconium (your baby’s first poop) and fight jaundice

When does your breast milk come in?

According to La Leche League, the change from colostrum to transitional milk occurs two to five days after birth. Around 10-14 days after birth, breast milk will change into “mature milk,” which is divided into foremilk (comes out first) and hindmilk (comes out last). If this isn’t your first baby, your breast milk may come in sooner than when you breastfed your previous child

What are the benefits and potential issues of breastfeeding/nursing?

Breast milk provides an infant with calories and nutrients essential for growth and development. It also contains antibodies that protect against certain illnesses, respiratory problems and allergies. 

Breastfeeding can also help lower a parent’s risk of high blood pressure, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

While the benefits are extensive, breastfeeding can cause sore nipples, blocked ducts, breast infection or mastitis

The good news is you probably only have to make a few minor adjustments to alleviate the pain and get you and your baby back on track. Be sure to rest and drink plenty of fluids. After a feeding, try rubbing some breast milk onto your nipples and allow them to air dry. This will help prevent and reduce soreness and inflammation. 

You can also ask your healthcare provider about nipple shields, which are placed over the areola and nipple during a feeding to protect sore or cracked nipples. Experts also recommend avoiding soap, which can have a drying effect, causing irritation.

According to La Leche League, if the pain is coming from a blocked duct, applying heat compresses for 10 minutes three times a day is advised. Massaging your breasts in a warm shower can help unclog blocked ducts and help with milk flow.

Breastfeeding is just one of the many ways to bond with your baby. Whether you choose to breastfeed or bottle-feed, it’s your choice for what works best for you and your baby.

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