It cannot be emphasized enough that breast milk is the best source of nutrition you can give to your baby. A complete food source specially formulated for your baby, breast milk contains all the nutrients (there is at least 400), hormones and antibodies your baby needs for optimal development. Despite many attempts to mimic breast milk, no formula has ever succeeded to replicate all the benefits that breast milk provides.
As your baby grows, your breast milk will change to suit whichever stage of development your baby is at. Your breast milk is tailored for your baby and your baby alone - no formula can boast such claims. Aside from the brain building, infection fighting benefits of breast milk, breastfeeding also helps to nurture a special bond between you and your baby. The skin-to-skin contact, cuddling and holding involved during breastfeeding is an important part of a baby's development that is not only beneficial to baby but to you as well.
Okay, so we know that breastfeeding is beneficial to you and your baby, but how does one get started?
Ideally, you should begin breastfeeding your baby as soon as possible after delivery. Let your doctor know about your decision to breastfeed your baby and ample opportunity can be arranged for you to nurse your baby while you are still in the delivery room. This first nursing session is one of the most important sessions because a baby's root reflex (the urge to suckle) is strongest right at birth and begins to diminish the longer you wait.
At this stage, your breasts are producing a substance known as colostrum that contains important antibodies that help protect your baby from infections and to line your baby's intestines to prepare them to receive full milk. Colostrum will continue to be produced for the first 3-5 days after delivery before the breast begins to produce mature milk.
Breastfeeding for the first time can be quite a challenge and it is important to get as much support as possible. If you aren't sure how to go about it, get help from the hospital's lactation consultant, or a good friend or family member who has breastfed a baby before. Having the right support can sometimes make the different between mothers who persist with breastfeeding and those that eventually give up. Remember that breastfeeding is an art that will require a lot of patience and practice.
If your baby has trouble finding or staying on your nipple, don't panic. Remember that there are two inexperienced individuals in the picture - you and your baby - and you both need time to adjust to one another and develop a nursing relationship. It is important to learn how to get a correct latch, position yourself comfortably and to break the suction when you need to. Make sure you have learned these three things before you leave the hospital.
A proper latch at the start should not be painful. However, nursing during the early days can cause your nipples to feel raw. This sensitivity will eventually subside - but be prepared for it to last a couple of weeks. Applying a barrier cream like Bepanthen after each nursing can help to lessen the sensitivity. Because of this initial tenderness, it can be difficult to tell if the pain is from an improper latch. If you aren't sure, check with the lactation consultant. With a proper latch, the baby's mouth should cover most of the areola (the darkened skin).
If your baby hasn't gotten a proper latch, break the suction and start again. It is important to ensure that your baby learns how to latch properly and not to continue nursing if your baby has latched on poorly. If allowed to continue, your baby will develop a bad habit of latching on poorly which is not only painful for you in the long run but makes feeding time more inefficient for your baby.
During the first few days, you should nurse frequently because the more often you nurse, the more quickly your mature milk will come in and the more milk you will produce. A good practice to adopt is to breastfeed for 10-15 minutes per breast at least 8 - 10 times a day. If for, any reason, you are not able to nurse your baby, you can help encourage your breasts to produce more milk by applying a breast pump to it. One recommendation is to use an electric pump on the lowest setting for as long as you would otherwise nurse your baby.
Crying during the early days is often a sign of hunger and it is important to feed your baby before he or she starts crying. Sometimes this may mean waking up your baby to begin breastfeeding. You may also find that your baby falls asleep easily during feeding. Jaundiced babies, especially, tend to be very lethargic and often don't wake up for feeds. They especially need to be woken up to feed because breast milk helps them to excrete bilirubin (which is the breakdown product of red blood cells that causes jaundice). A good guide to follow is to wake your baby up if it has been four hours since the last feed.
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Shen-Li is a stay-at-home-mum dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in parenting. She has a formal educational background and former work experience in healthcare. If you enjoyed this article, visit her blog Babylicious and follow her as she learns how to raise a happy, confident and successful person.
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