Everyone thinks that breastfeeding comes naturally. But for infants born prematurely or who are ill at birth, that often isn’t the case. Some babies, even healthy ones, just plain struggle with the mechanics of suckling, becoming more frantic by the hour as their anxious moms try desperately to feed them. That’s why it’s good to learn as much about breastfeeding as you can before the baby gets here.

One way is to take a class at your hospital or birth center or visit the Web sites of groups that advocate breastfeeding and also offer educational tools. The more information you have before you begin, the more confident you’ll feel about breastfeeding once you start. Remember that comfort and relaxation are two keys to successful breastfeeding.

What does a “good latch” mean?

Getting your baby to latch on properly is one of the most important things you can do during the early days of breastfeeding. It’s essential for at least two reasons: It will help prevent sore nipples, and it will ensure that your baby gets enough milk.

Here’s how to do it:

Hold your breast with your free hand, with your thumb above and the rest of your fingers below your nipple and just behind the areola (your thumb and index finger should form a “C” around your nipple). Gently touch your baby’s lips with your nipple. When she opens her mouth, center your nipple in her mouth and draw her closer to you. Hold your breast until you’re sure she’s latched on — she should have your entire nipple and an inch of your areola in her mouth.

What is the best position for breastfeeding?

There’s no one position that works for everyone. You may spend several hours each day nursing your baby during the early months, so you’ll want to experiment until you find the position or positions — that work best for you. Here are a few of the most common:

The cradle hold. Sit in a chair with armrests or stack several pillows under your arms. To take the pressure off your lower back, rest your feet on a footstool or ottoman. Hold your baby on your lap so she’s lying on her side, with her face and tummy facing you. Tuck her bottom arm under your arm and gently move her so she’s resting on your forearm. Your hand should support her back and bottom. Line her nose and mouth up with your nipple. Encourage your baby to latch on as described above.

The football hold. This position works well if you had a cesarean section. Sit in bed (or a comfortable armchair) and wedge a pillow behind your back; place another on your lap. Position your baby next to you on the side you are nursing from, cupping the back of her neck in the same hand. Position her legs so they are tucked between your arm and your side, toward the back of the bed.

Side-lying hold. This is an ideal position for nursing in bed, either during nighttime feedings, or if you’ve had a cesarean or episiotomy and sitting up is uncomfortable. Place one or two pillows under your head. Place your baby on her side so she faces you, cradle her in your arm, and position her so her mouth is directly in front of your nipple. Pull baby in close to you and follow the latch-on technique.

Where can I get breastfeeding information?

Talk to other nursing moms. Attend a La Leche League International meeting (LLLI) to meet women who are committed to breastfeeding and can talk about its joys and difficulties. La Leche League’s members include both lactation experts and experienced nursing moms. It’s a great place to make new friends. There’s a LLLI chapter in virtually every city in the United States, and the monthly meetings are free.

Check out online resources. The Nursing Mothers Counsel (NMC) has one of the most comprehensive Web sites. An index includes links to dozens of breastfeeding sites, from personal Web pages to the World Health Organization site. The latter includes the latest research about the benefits of breastfeeding.

Talk to a lactation expert. A board-certified lactation consultant is part health care professional and part friend. Lactation consultants provide you with the practical advice and techniques that you need to breastfeed successfully. If you have a premature baby or one with special needs, their help may be invaluable. Many health insurance companies pay for one or more consultations, or your local hospital may offer a free consultation a lactation expert or a free class.

Further Resources

La Leche League International. Check out www.laleche.org or look in your white pages to find out where local meetings are held, or call the helpline at (800) 525-3243.

The Nursing Mothers Counsel: http://www.nursingmothers.org/index.html to find a local chapter.

To find a lactation consultant in your area, ask your midwife or doctor for a referral, or visit the International Lactation Consultant Association’s site at http://www.ilca.org.


Last Updated: March 11, 2015

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