And 5 more simple, surprising ways to become a lactation maven.
In case you haven't heard, breastfeeding is a pretty rockin' way to feed your baby. It's cheap (no need to buy formula); it's easy (no mixing or warming necessary); it's "green" (no formula containers in the landfill); and it's good for his body and mind (a lower incidence of short- and long-term health threats like diarrhea and leukemia, plus an IQ boost). It's even good for you, conferring a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. But it can also be challenging.
So how can you make it work, especially in those all-important first days? Read on for our experts' best tips.
1. Get yourself—and your partner—educated: If you haven't signed up for a breastfeeding class, do it now. "It's essential that you take a class while pregnant," says Shari Criso, a registered nurse, board-certified lactation consultant and certified nurse-midwife in Denville, N.J. "And make sure it's a class that includes partners."
Not only will the class help ensure buy-in from your spouse—and studies show that lack of such support is one of the biggest reasons that women quit breastfeeding—but it will also teach him how to help you. "Your partner may be the only one home with you, and he needs to be trained to be your lactation consultant," Criso explains. "For instance, he has a different perspective than you when the baby's nursing and can see if he's latched on properly."
He'll also be there if the going gets tough. "When you're exhausted and can't think straight, he'll be the one with the clear head who will encourage you to continue," she adds. "Someone needs to support you, whether it's a spouse, family member or friend—it can be hard to do alone."
2. Line up help before you need it: Yes, breastfeeding is one of the most natural acts in the world, but it can be difficult—especially in the early days, when you are learning the ropes. A mom who has breastfed successfully may be able to help in a pinch, but if you have real problems such as difficulty latching or sore nipples, you may need a lactation consultant. To find one near you, ask your OB or midwife or call the hospital where you'll be delivering. You can also find a list, by location at the International Lactation Consultant Association website.
3. Prepare to get bare: Your baby is more likely to latch on and begin breastfeeding well if he's put on your chest, skin to skin, immediately after birth; wait too long and he may be too sleepy. "The baby gets 'clued in' faster if he's placed on your chest right away," says pediatrician Marianne Neifert, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, Denver, and author of Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding (Sterling). "Having no clothes in between you helps calm him after birth and triggers his natural reflexes."
Many hospitals realize the importance of this and encourage it; others, not so much. So be sure to tell your labor and delivery nurses that you want to be skin-to-skin with your baby as soon as he's born. Most will accommodate your request and hold off on weighing, measuring or cleaning until after the baby has had a chance to snuggle and suck.
4. Nurse whenever he wants: We can't emphasize this enough: It's really important to nurse your baby as often as he wants—at least eight times a day, including at night. Doing so not only ensures your baby is well fed and helps your body establish a good milk supply, but it also keeps your baby in sync with your morphing breasts. "Feeding frequently helps your baby keep latching well as your breasts change in those early days after birth," Neifert says. Though this may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, Criso suggests limiting the length of your baby's feedings for the first three days, until your full milk comes in and your nipples become more accustomed to nursing. "Babies suck to eat, and also suck to soothe," she explains. "This is fine, but until your nipples are used to it, this can set you up for cracked or bleeding nipples, especially if your latch is not perfect."
Here's a brief overview of the plan Criso recommends; for more detailed information, watch her Simply Breastfeeding DVD, available at mybabyexperts.com.
Day 1: Nurse the baby whenever and as often as he wants, but limit each session to five minutes on each breast (a total of 10 minutes of active sucking). If the baby still wants to suck after those 10 minutes have passed, let him use your finger.
Day 2: Increase the time to seven minutes on each breast (a total of 14 minutes), as often as the baby wants.
Day 3: Nurse 10 minutes per side (a total of 20 minutes of active sucking) as often as he wants.
Day 4 and beyond: Continue to nurse your baby whenever and as often as he wants, but do not put any limits on the length of time. "Allowing your baby to nurse as often as he wants, and for as long as he wants, helps to establish and maintain an ample milk supply," Criso explains. "Once your full milk comes in, the baby will fill up fairly quickly and won't continue to suck if he's not hungry."
5. Have a sleepover: Having your baby stay in your hospital room with you, rather than in the nursery, lets you breastfeed often; it also allows you to get to know his feeding cues. "You want to be able to recognize when your baby is ready to nurse so he doesn't have to resort to crying," Neifert explains. "If he gets too hungry and frantic, that could make for a very difficult feeding session." Plus, you want to nurse as much as possible while still in the hospital, where help is available. "Before you leave the hospital, the baby needs to be able to latch on and breastfeed well," she adds. "That comes from multiple opportunities to get it right."
6. Be a switch hitter: It's important to nurse from each breast at every feeding so both get adequate stimulation and drainage. "Plus, babies take more milk when they nurse on both sides," Neifert says. But how do you know when to switch? "The best way to know is when the rhythmic sucking and swallowing slows down, or the baby releases the breast," Neifert says. "That indicates that the rate of milk flow is diminishing and it's time to move to the other side." Remove your baby by inserting a finger in his mouth to release the suction, burp him, then offer the other breast. Try alternating the first breast at each feeding.
Our No. 1 tip Getting the right latch is the most important part of breastfeeding. To see step-by-step photos and instructions, visit fitpregnancy.com/breastfeeding/latch.