Breastfeeding can be a blissful bonding experience for you and your baby, but bumps on the road to successful breastfeeding are normal. Like most "new mom" skills, nursing your child requires practice, perseverance and heaps of patience.
Recent studies have found that breast-fed babies have stronger immune systems, are less likely to be overweight and have bigger brains. A 2009 study in the journal "Obstetrics and Gynecology" revealed that nursing mamas benefitted as well. Research found that breastfeeding mothers received multiple health perks, including a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension in later life.
Breastfeeding's worth the effort, but it can take work to master. "The baby-mother dyad needs practice to become a team; it seldom happens perfectly from the start," says Nan Perigo from La Leche League, a breastfeeding advocacy group. Perigo urges anxious moms to be patient, and not blame themselves. "The first six weeks should be focused on getting to know the baby and vice versa. Enjoy this special time in your lives...it also helps to find a support system—neighbors, a mom's group, La Leche League, your family—having other people to talk to, brag to, and commiserate with is invaluable."
Fussy, reluctant feeders and failure to latch on—and stay on—are two of the most challenging issues that new mothers face when they tackle nursing. If your baby's fussy, or having trouble latching on to the breast (what's known as a "lazy latcher") try these tips to ease the process.
- Silent and Soothing. Many newborns need time to get in a comfortable position to feed, so prepare a "nursing mecca" in a quiet area of your home, where you can experiment with different positions to find which works the best for both of you. Don't worry or stress about how long it takes—your anxiety can communicate itself to your baby, making your feeding much more difficult. Choose a time when your baby is naturally relaxed, such as before bed or a nap, so he'll be more receptive to breastfeeding.
- Proper Positioning. Make sure that your little one's body is aligned properly, with his head in a straight line with his back and hips, so that he can open his mouth wide enough to latch on. Infant's bodies are too tiny to be able to turn and swallow at the same time, so having a direct route to his tummy will be key. Make sure that you're comfortable before beginning, since you won't be able to move for a bit. Nursing pillows and specialty bras can provide more feeding options without needing to shift around the couch.
- Breast Compressions. If your baby latches on and then stops, he may not be getting enough to eat. Gently put pressure on your breast with your fingers to encourage the milk flow. If your baby reaps the reward of sucking, he'll be more likely to continue.
- Plan Ahead. Prepare for nursing by hand expressing or pumping milk before you start trying to nurse. If your milk is already flowing, your baby will get instant gratification when he latches on. Many new nursing mothers "let down" milk automatically when they hear a baby's cry. Expressing the milk ahead of time is a quick way to manually "let down" your milk so that you have plenty to start with.
- Easy Access: Don't make your baby wait to eat—when you hear his "hungry" cry, put him on your breast right away. Always wear loose fitting clothing and snap bras to provide quick access to your breast. Babies can become too tired or frustrated to nurse if they have to wait for mom to unzip or unbutton.
- Skin-to-Skin Contact. Research has shown that skin-to-skin contact soon after birth improves a baby's latching and sucking behavior. Breastfeeding skin-to-skin rather than through clothes can relax both you and your baby, stimulate latching and sucking reflexes and promote bonding. Hold baby against your naked chest while he's just wearing a diaper for maximum contact while nursing.
- No Pressure. If your baby has trouble latching on, don't pressure him. It's not just about feeding—your infant needs to get used to being in the nursing position, and associate being close to your chest with feelings of comfort, not frustration. Hold him near your breast often, rocking and comforting your baby in this position even if he's not in the mood to latch on.
- Hunger Pains. A baby can literally get too hungry and frustrated to nurse."The one thing not to do," warns Kelly Bonyata, a certified lactation consultant and educator from kellymom.com, "is to try and starve your baby into nursing." The idea that a baby will start to nurse when he is hungry enough is a dangerous and outdated old wives' tale. If you need to supplement feedings with a bottle then do it. Hold the baby in his favorite and most comfortable nursing position and bottle feed if he won't latch on right away. Let him rest on the breast when he is full and happy. Try latching on later when you are both in the mood to try again.
Use what works and don't feel guilty if you need use alternative methods of feeding to supplement nursing. Every mom and baby will settle into their own unique routine. Trust yourself and take your time for a happy, healthy breastfeeding experience.