Sometimes the natural way of feeding your baby doesn’t come naturally at all. Many new mothers are surprised at how hard nursing can be at first. When the baby books say breast is best, getting it right can be frustrating, and mothers who struggle to breastfeed may feel they are failing their baby.
What the books may not say is that not all babies adapt easily to nursing. Some babies are fussy and others won’t latch on. With patience and persistence, new mothers and babies can learn about nursing together. If mothers follow a few basic tips, nursing can be the intimate, soothing experience we all have read about.
Find a comfortable, serene place to sit and feed your baby. The room doesn’t need to be silent. Every baby must become accustomed to the sounds around the house. However, the early days of nursing should take place in a spot where the mother can relax. Try lying in bed so you can rest while the baby nurses. If you sit in a chair, use a pillow to prop the arm where the baby will rest. This way, you won’t tire as easily or strain yourself trying to hold your arm at the right level. Take deep breaths. Drink a cup of chamomile tea. Sometimes stress can inhibit milk flow and relaxing can help your milk let down.
Position the baby so her entire body faces your body and the baby’s head rests in the crook of your arm near your breast. If the baby is lying on your lap face up and needs to turn her head to nurse, she may not be able to latch on correctly. If you hold her head in your hand instead of letting it rest on your arm, she may react to the pressure of your hand and push her head back, instead of relaxing toward the breast.
Lift the breast and hold it toward the baby’s mouth to help her latch on. She will likely “root” around until she lands on the nipple. Make sure the baby takes the whole areola in her mouth. If she catches just the nipple, it will be painful for you and difficult for her to nurse. If a pinching pain occurs when she begins to suckle, don’t yank her off the breast. This can make the pain much worse. Take your pinky finger and put it in the corner of her mouth to break the suction. Back her off the breast and try to reposition her onto the nipple. If she is in the correct position, there should be no pain. Instead, your milk should release and the pressure of your full breast should be relieved.
After two to five minutes, switch the baby to the other breast. Nursing from both breasts will encourage milk supply and help avoid engorgement and clogged milk ducts. As your baby becomes a better nurser and your breasts become less sensitive, you can leave the baby longer on each breast.
Some new mothers may experience cracked or bleeding nipples in the first few weeks of nursing. This usually occurs because the baby is not positioned correctly while nursing or has had trouble latching on. To soothe cracked nipples, try these simple, inexpensive remedies: apply warm tea bags or compresses before and after nursing; smooth lanolin over the sore area; take a mild pain reliever about a half hour before nursing to ease the pain; change breast pads often to keep nipples dry. If problems with pain or bleeding persist, consult your doctor or lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding is not always as automatic or easy as it looks. But with determination and a little inside information, every mother can offer her baby the strongest possible start.
By Mary Helen Berg, a freelance writer who has spent four years of her life breastfeeding her three children.