Breastfeeding can bewilder even experienced moms.
Here are five questions moms frequently ask – plus answers to help you understand why breastfeeding is important and information to make it the best experience possible.
1. What makes breast milk important?
Breast milk is a perfect baby food. It contains the right amount of nutrients, provides infection-fighting antibodies and is gentle on a developing stomach, intestines and other body systems. If you are formula feeding or supplementing with formula, even a small amount of breastmilk can provide your baby with these benefits, as well.
2. How do I get started breastfeeding?
Healthy full-term babies are ready to begin breastfeeding in the first couple hours after birth. They then go through a sleepy phase, which should not be confused with them not wanting to breastfeed. Babies will still show feeding cues, even while sleepy.
Lactation consultants and nurses can help new moms identify these first, subtle feeding cues. Skin-to-skin contact in the first few days can help with mom’s milk production and baby’s latch.
3. What should I expect during the first week of breastfeeding?
A baby will eat at least eight to 12 times a day, and often not at regular intervals or times. Feedings may last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes and some may be grouped together in cluster feedings. These cluster feedings are normal. They help to establish the mom’s milk supply and provide the baby with small amounts of antibody-rich first milk, called colostrum.
Breast milk production increases dramatically about four days after birth. This is what people refer to as their milk coming in. It’s important when milk first comes in to remove it from the breasts often by breastfeeding on demand. This tells the body how much milk it will need to make to nourish the baby.
4. How can I help my baby latch on?
The best start to a good latch is immediate skin-to-skin contact after delivery and breastfeeding during that first hour. Latching at the first signs of hunger will also help a baby do well. A good latch takes practice by both mom and baby. Knowing the signs of a good latch is important to help meet breastfeeding goals. A lactation consultant can help evaluate a baby’s latch.
If a baby gets too hungry, latching can be difficult. Early signs of hunger include eyes batting in sleep, being awake, licking lips, rooting and hand-to-mouth activity. Crying is a late sign of hunger.
When breasts feel engorged, or full, the areola and nipple may become tight, making it harder for a baby to latch on. It can help to massage the breasts, manually express some milk, or use a breast pump for a few minutes before nursing.
5. How long should a baby nurse?
It’s best to let the baby set the pace. The number of feedings each baby needs will vary. Trying to force a breastfed baby to fit a particular schedule can lead to poor weight gain and decreased milk supply. A baby should suckle until releasing on their own. Self-detachment increases the amount of higher fat milk a baby gets.
Babies who suck nonstop may self-detach in 10 minutes, while other babies may take more than 30 minutes to finish with one breast. A baby will often breastfeed for a shorter time at the second breast or not want it at all. Mothers should switch between which breast is offered first.
Sanford Health offers support for every mom, whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping or formula feeding. Learn more about lactation services.
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