A Smart Start

The early days of breastfeeding are crucial. Follow these seven simple steps to success.

mother-breastfeeding-newborn-hospital-bed_700x700_corbis-42-25459521.jpg corbisimages.com

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.

1. Hop to It

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.

2. Make Sure You're Comfy

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.

3. 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, 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.

4. 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., 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.

5. 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.

Giving a bottle too early could cause your baby to reject the breast in favor of the bottle's faster, easier flow. But don't wait 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."

6. Know What's Normal

Some aspects of breastfeeding can be surprising. Here's what to expect:

Yellow "milk" Until your milk comes in (usually three to four days postpartum), you'll produce small amounts of colostrum, a thick, yellowish substance that's extra-rich in antibodies and easy to digest.

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 in a few days. In the meantime, express 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 dish towels to protect your skin.

Sore nippes Some mild tenderness is common in the first week or so and can be soothed by applying a touch of expressed breast milk or an all-natural ointment such as Simplisse Nipple Cream. But severe pain, bleeding or cracking are signs that your baby isn't latching on correctly—so get help from a lactation consultant as soon as possible.

Leaking and spraying While inconvenient, this is 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.

7. Don't Go It Alone

New moms who get plenty of support and guidance tend to breastfeed longer than those who don't. The best time to seek help? Before you need it. While you're in the hospital, spend some time with the lactation consultant on staff.

If your hospital doesn't have one, your nurse or pediatrician—even a friend who's nursed her own kids—may be able to help. After heading home, attend a breastfeeding support group (offered through some hospitals and La Leche League International: llli.org). Or contact the International Lactation Consultant Association (ilca.org) to find a certified lactation consultant in your area.

Why Should You Breastfeed?

Experts agree: Breast milk is one of the greatest gifts you can give your baby. It's brimming with nutrients and antibodies that boost your newborn's immunity, aid digestion and promote brain development—not to mention the fact that it cuts in half her risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But your baby isn't the only one who benefits: Breastfeeding reduces your lifetime risk of developing such serious conditions as diabetes, obesity, asthma and cancer—even high blood pressure and heart problems. An added bonus: Breastfeeding incinerates calories, helping you lose those pregnancy pounds faster. So make the commitment now—for both of you.

Breast Buddies

You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to successfully breastfeed your baby, but you may find it easier or more comfortable with these helpful products, recommended by certified lactation consultant Corky Harvey, R.N., co-founder of The Pump Station, a breastfeeding resource center in Santa Monica and Hollywood, Calif.

Nursing pillow: One of these specially designed pillows can help you position your baby correctly and stay comfy. For longer-waisted women, Harvey suggests the Bosom Baby Nursing Pillow (bosombaby.com), as its V-shape fits postpartum moms' waists well. If you're short-waisted, My Brest Friend (mybrestfriend.com) may be a better fit. And with its new stretch waist panel feature, Boppy (boppy.com) is still a favorite of many. Got two on the way? Moms of multiples swear by Double Blessings' EZ-2-Nurse Twins (doubleblessings.com).

Nursing bra: A good nursing bra eliminates the need to undress every time you breastfeed and provides crucial support. For the first few weeks, a soft, stretchy "transitional" bra, such as Bravado! Designs Original Nursing Bra (bravadodesigns.com), offers comfort and room to grow. After the engorgement period, a more supportive bra, like Elle Macpherson Intimates Maternelle Nursing Bra (pumpstation.com) or Medela's Seamless Maternity/Nursing Bra (medela.com), or a nursing camisole such as Glamourmom Nursing Bra Tank (glamourmom.com) is a great option. Don't wear underwire bras during the first few weeks, as they can cause plugged ducts.

Nursing pads: You never know when you'll spring a leak, so load up on these babies. Opt for disposable (like Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Padslansinoh.com) or reusable (such as Medela 100% Cotton Washable Bra Padsmedela.com).

Glycerin gel pads: For sore, cracked nipples, nothing's better than Soothies glycerin gel pads (soothies.com), which provide cooling relief and can help speed healing. Just slip them in the fridge before you start nursing, then reinsert in your bra when you're done.

Nursing coverup: If you're nervous about public displays, a chic nursing coverup like Bebe au Lait (bebeaulait.com) is for you.