Breastfeeding Basics for First 6 Months

Breastfeeding Made Simple

Whether you are a first time mother or holding your second or third child, you are likely to have a mixture of excitement and anxiety about the days and weeks ahead with your precious bundle of new life.

You want to give your son or daughter the best possible start in life, and choosing to breastfeed your newborn is one of the first big decisions you will make. Breast milk is completely natural and the medical community agree it is the absolute best food for human babies. In fact The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that only breastmilk is given to babies under 6 months old.

But is breast really best? Most mothers agree that breast is best for babies. More than 80% of American mothers start motherhood by suckling their baby, and over 50% are still breastfeeding after 6 months. The nutritional content of your milk changes as your baby grows, to give him a perfectly balanced diet for his age and size. Suckling increases production, and as your baby gets hungrier your body will produce more of what he needs. You will never have to worry about preparing a feed, or washing and sterilizing bottles and teats. You carry it with you all the time, warm and fresh and safe.

Here are some facts and figures on the benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby.

 

Breastfeeding Facts and Tips

– 4 out of 5 infants are breastfed in the US

– Colostrum provides antibodies and other protective nutrients that manufactured milks cannot

Breastfed babies catch fewer infections and those they do catch are milder

– Suckling makes your body produce oxytocin which helps you bond emotionally with your child

– Oxytocin causes your uterus to contract and helps your baby bump disappear

– Breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by up to 20%

– Studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS by 50%

 

So breastfeeding is not just best for babies, it is really good for Mom’s health too.

Breastfeeding uses up a lot of calories and can help you to lose weight after the birth. However, do remember to eat well, because your baby is relying on you for nutrition. You will also be more thirsty than usual, so remember to drink plenty of water and not too many caffeine drinks such as coffee, tea or cola. Before you sit or lie down to feed remember to have a healthy drink within reach, as you may get a strong thirst when your milk begins to flow.

 

Breastfeeding First Day of Life

Even experienced mothers can find nursing a new baby tricky. Everyone is different. Not just every mother, but every baby too. Be prepared and remember not to worry.

Cuddle your baby as soon as possible after birth.  Although he won’t be hungry he will be able to feel your warmth and hear your heartbeat, as he has done inside you for the past several months. This comforts him and is the beginning of bonding with your child.

 

Colostrum

He can also smell and taste your first milk, called colostrum, a yellowish watery liquid which you make for about 2 weeks after giving birth. You may even have noticed it leaking a little from your nipples for a few days or weeks already. Colostrum is rich in easily digested protein and low in fat. It is filled with antibodies to protect your baby from infections. It also coats the digestive tract to protect from tummy upsets. You won’t produce very much, just 7.4 teaspoons per day on average. These tiny amounts of colostrum make a huge difference to your baby.

 

Latching on first time

If possible have your baby placed on your bare tummy as soon as he is born, just below your breast. Let him scoot his own way up to your nipple and latch on of his own accord. This can happen naturally in the first hour or so after birth. If this is not possible, perhaps because you have had a cesarean section, or your baby is sleepy from pain relief drugs administered during the birth, you will have to help him to latch on.

Find a comfortable position. This may be sitting up with a pillow on your lap, or lying on your side. One of the best positions for early suckling is the under arm football hold, especially if you have a cesarean wound. Sit up comfortably with your back supported. Tuck your baby’s feet behind you with his head cradled in your hand on the side you want to feed him. Touch his nose and upper lip with your nipple and wait for him to open his mouth wide.

When he opens really wide put the bottom of your areola (the dark skin round your nipple) inside his lower jaw and allow your nipple to slip in at the top. He should have a big mouthful of breast below the nipple so that he can suck properly. Otherwise you will get painful nipples and he will swallow air with your milk. If you need to re-position him, slip a finger into the side of his mouth to release the suction, and try again.

Many new mothers want help establishing a good latch. Your hospital or medical center will have midwives, nurses or lactation consultants with a wealth of tips and experience who are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask. It is what they are there for.

 

Managing milk supply

Your baby may want to suckle 12 or more times a day at first. Remember his stomach is about the size of a marble, and also that suckling is for bonding and comfort as well as feeding. By nursing whenever he wants, your body will adapt to his needs.

Alternate your breasts. If you fed from your left breast first remember to feed with your right breast the next time. Some Moms like to tie a small ribbon on their bra strap to help them remember which side they used last. If you forget, one of your breasts may become uncomfortably full, but it will not harm your baby, and is easily fixed at the next feed.

 

How to burp your baby

Although breastfed babies swallow less air than bottle fed babies, they may still need help bringing up wind, especially after night feeds. One of the most popular ways to burp a baby is to place him on your shoulder with his tummy pressing on your shoulder and then pat or rub his back. It’s wise to drape a cloth or towel down your back first, as often a little milk comes up with the air.

 

The First 6 Months

The First Month

Between the 3rd and 5th day a mother’s milk comes in. Suddenly you go from producing tiny amounts of colostrum to having breasts so full of milk that they hurt. There is still colostrum in the mix, but most mothers will have more milk than their baby could possibly drink.

It is hard to believe, but the best remedy for painfully engorged breasts is to slip savoy cabbage leaves in your bra cups. Keep the cabbage in the fridge and put in fresh leaves every time the pain increases.

At this stage your milk might flow or even spurt out every time your baby feeds or simply cries. Prepare by buying absorbent breast pads to wear inside your bra. After a few days your supply will adjust to your baby’s appetite, so just keep breastfeeding on demand.

Beyond First Month

By 1-2 months old your baby will be feeding less often, perhaps 8 times in 24 hours, and will take more milk at each feed. At this point you may want to breastfeed from both breasts at each feed. Be sure to alternate the starting breast and let it be emptied all the way so that your baby gets the satisfying fat rich hind milk after the thinner thirst quenching foremilk. It may help to burp him or change his diaper before offering the second breast to wake him a little and ensure he takes a full feed.

Although you are the sole provider of food for your baby, you don’t have to go it alone. You could try expressing milk, particularly if you are returning to work, or if you want someone else to be able to take turns at feeding. There are many breast pumps on the market, some manual and others electric. By using a pump you will continue to stimulate production according to your baby’s needs, and can take some time out and allow other family members to enjoy the experience of feeding the baby.

 

If you have any concerns at all, never be afraid to consult your pediatrician or lactation consultant. They are there to help and support you in feeding your baby. Remember to also check out our recent post on the Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding 6 Months and Beyond.

 

Anna C

Anna is the main author of this website. Like many of you, she is a mother who is continuously searching for the best parenting tips in order to learn more about child development.

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