There are dozens of reasons to breastfeed your newborn, the most important being that breastfed babies are healthier in infancy and later in life than those who are formula-fed. “Breast milk protects against a range of diseases, from respiratory and urinary tract infections to ear infections and diarrhea,” says Richard Schanler, M.D., a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) section on breastfeeding and chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. Studies also link breastfeeding to a lower incidence of juvenile diabetes, leukemia, heart disease, obesity and infant mortality. In addition, breastfed babies perform slightly better on cognitive tests, and they seem to be at lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfeeding also benefits moms: Women who nurse have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and they tend to lose their baby weight sooner than those who don’t. Convinced? Here are five ways to get off to a good start:
1. Nurse ASAP: “Breastfeeding seems to go more smoothly for women who nurse within an hour of delivery,” says Wendy Haldeman, R.N., C.L.C., co-owner of The Pump Station in Santa Monica and Hollywood, Calif. If you can’t nurse immediately—if you had a Cesarean section, for instance, and are too sore or groggy to try—ask your nurse to bring your baby to you as soon as you’re ready.
2. Know the right latch: “Getting your baby on the breast with a ‘deep latch’ will help prevent sore and damaged nipples and ensure that your baby gets enough milk,” Haldeman says. Make sure he takes the entire nipple and a good portion of the areola in his mouth. (For photos and instructions, click here.)
3. Nurse often: Breastfeeding is a game of demand and supply: If your baby demands milk, your breasts will make it. “During the first six weeks, it’s essential to let your baby breastfeed whenever he wants,” Haldeman says, “even if it’s every hour.”
4. Get comfortable: Breast milk flows better from a relaxed mom. At home, set up a “nursing nest,” complete with a comfortable chair; an ottoman or stool to put your feet up on and take stress off your back; pillows to help position your baby properly at the breast; and a bottle of water and healthful snacks.
5. Take care of yourself: Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day; eat nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day; and get as much sleep as you can. (If your baby is up for much of the night, grab some Z’s during the day by sleeping when your baby does.) “Ignoring your own health can affect milk production,” Haldeman notes.