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Breastfeeding is a good—no, great—thing. But as the saying goes, good things don't always come easily. Marathon feeding sessions, engorged breasts and sore nipples are some of the challenges you might face, especially in the first weeks, when you and your baby learn the ropes and your milk supply is established.
We’re here to help you through this critical time. From how to position your baby at the breast to the best time for introducing a bottle, we’ll tell you what you need to know to get off on the right foot.
Newborns tend to be the most alert and responsive immediately after they’re born, making it the ideal time to introduce your baby to the breast. After a vaginal delivery, as long as you haven’t had any complications, try to breastfeed as soon as your baby is delivered. If you’ve had a Cesarean section, you’ll likely have to wait until surgery is complete and you’re out of recovery to latch your baby on—but try to do so within the first hour, if at all possible.
Once your baby is latched on to your breast and nursing contentedly, you won’t want to interrupt her because your back is hurting or your arm is tired. So take a minute or two to settle into a comfortable, relaxed position before starting to breastfeed, advises Terriann Shell, an international board-certified lactation consultant in Big Lake, Alaska.
When you’re just starting out, sit up straight in an arm-chair or your hospital bed. Lay a firm pillow across your lap, then position your baby on top of it so she is level with your breast. Prop up your elbows on the chair arms or pillows. (Or try using a breastfeeding pillow; see “Nursing” Buyer’s Guide for some ideas.) Also put a pillow behind your back for support, if needed. If you’re sitting in a chair, place your feet on a small stool to bring your baby closer.
A good latch is essential for your milk to flow properly and to keep your little piranha from making fish food of your nipples. Before you put her to the breast, place your baby on her side so the two of you are belly to belly. When she does latch on, her mouth should be opened wide, like a yawn, and take in a good amount of your areola.
Frequent and effective nursing is key to boosting your milk supply and ensuring that your newborn gets enough to eat. You should aim for at least eight to 12 feedings daily—about every two to three hours—for the first few weeks, says Jane Morton, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
At first, each nursing session could last anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes; as your milk production increases and your baby gets better at sucking, it shouldn’t take as long. The number of feedings will also decrease.