Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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Learn The Correct Latch
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, make sure your baby is on her side so you and she are belly to belly, Shell advises. When she does latch on, her mouth should be opened wide, like a yawn, and take in a good portion of your areola. (For detailed instructions and photos, visit .)
Let Your Baby Graze 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., director of the breastfeeding medicine program at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital 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 suckling, it shouldn't take as long. The number of feedings will also decrease.
In the first weeks, when your baby is more sleepy than hungry, you may have to initiate many of these feedings—even if it means waking her in the wee hours. If she falls asleep within minutes of latching on, you can try rousing her by changing her diaper or undressing her. But if she seems to be gaining weight appropriately, you don't need to.
Hold Off On Bottles
While you may love the idea of pumping some extra milk and letting your partner take over one of those middle-of-the-night feedings, hold off on introducing a bottle (or a pacifier, for that matter) for a month or so, until breastfeeding is well established, Morton advises. Since it's easier to extract milk from an artificial nipple, giving a bottle too early could cause your baby to reject the breast in favor of the bottle's faster flow. But don't make the mistake of waiting too long, either. "Babies tend to be open-minded at about 4 weeks of age," Morton says. "If you wait much longer, you may have trouble getting her to take a bottle."
Know What's Normal
Having the right information will keep you from worrying unnecessarily—and if you do have a problem, you can nip it in the bud. Here's what to expect:
Yellow "milk" Until your milk comes in (usually three to four days postpartum), you'll be producing small amounts of colostrum, a thick, yellowish substance that's extra-rich in antibodies and easy to digest—the perfect food for a newborn. Because it's brimming with protective nutrients, your baby doesn't need much—only about a teaspoon per feeding.
Engorged breasts Just when you thought your boobs couldn't get any bigger, your milk kicks in, causing them to swell to porn-star proportions. If you're nursing frequently and effectively, this engorgement—along with any tenderness—should subside within a few days (though you may become engorged at any time if your baby goes longer than usual between feedings).
In the meantime, try expressing some milk by hand or with a pump; or apply a warm compress before nursing to make it easier for your baby to latch on. After nursing, insert ice packs or bags of frozen peas in your bra to minimize swelling (wrap them in damp paper towels or thin dishtowels to protect your skin). Or try cold cabbage leaves, an ancient Chinese remedy that relieves engorgement in some women. But only use them briefly before nursing to get your milk flowing, Shell advises.
Sore nipples Some mild soreness is common in the first week or so and can be soothed by applying a touch of expressed breast milk, medical-grade lanolin (unless you have a wool allergy) or an all-natural ointment such as Motherlove Nipple Cream. But severe pain, bleeding or cracking are signs your baby isn't latching on correctly—so get help from a lactation consultant ASAP.
Leaking and spraying It may take several weeks for your milk-production system to regulate itself. Until then, you may feel like Old Faithful—leaking, spraying and dripping breast milk at inopportune times. Though inconvenient, it's perfectly normal and indicates that you're producing plenty of milk. To avoid stains, wear disposable or washable cotton nursing pads and change them often. Avoid plastic breast shields and plastic-lined pads, which collect moisture rather than absorb it.