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Breastfeeding and baby basics

Understanding how your body and your newborn baby work together is helpful in two ways. Before you have your baby, this information might help you make the decision to breastfeed. During those first few days and weeks after labor and delivery when you are learning to breastfeed, remembering these basics can help get you through any rough patches. Here is what every mom-to-be needs to know about the mom-baby connection.

 

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Your baby was born to breastfeed.

Within a few minutes of being born, babies will automatically look to get milk from their mother's breast. Babies don't need to learn how to latch. The challenge as a new mom is learning how to tell the difference between a baby who is hungry and one who is tired or just uncomfortable. Breastfeeding on cue will help you recognize some of your baby's hunger signs, such as lip smacking and fist gnawing. When in doubt, always offer the breast. A baby who isn't hungry won't eat. Think of breastfeeding like a dance and let your baby lead. Be patient. Keep trying. You will get it.

Your baby's tummy is tiny.

At birth, your baby’s tummy can hold only about one or two teaspoons. At 1 week old, your baby’s stomach grows to hold about 2 ounces — the size of an almond. Newborns usually lose a little weight in the first few days after being born. Three to five days after coming home from the hospital, you’ll take your baby back to the doctor’s office to make sure everything is on track. Meanwhile, keep a record of your baby’s dirty diapers and feedings, so you can tell whether your baby is eating enough.

Do not give cereal to babies less than 6 months old, and don’t add formula to what your baby eats without checking with your baby’s doctor. A baby’s digestive system is still undeveloped, and breastmilk is easier to digest than formula.

Your breastmilk is unique.

Unlike formula, your breastmilk adjusts according to your baby's needs and is easy to digest. In the first few days of life, your colostrum (the thick golden liquid that your breasts produce) provides all the nutrients your baby needs. Then, when your "milk comes in" three to five days after birth, you'll be able to feed your baby with only breastmilk for the next six months. Even if you get sick, your body will make antibodies that go into your breastmilk. The antibodies will help your baby fight off any colds or infections.

And the amount of your breastmilk grows along with your baby in the following weeks and months. It's very rare that a mom doesn't make enough milk to feed her baby, so trust your body. (Read more about making plenty of milk.)

Your baby likes your skin on his or her skin.

In those first few weeks, newborns need skin-to-skin contact. Babies who get a lot of skin-to-skin contact are healthier and may not cry as much.  It’s good to get your partner involved. For example, ask your partner to hold the undressed baby on his or her bare chest, maybe even right after a feeding. There’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn, so hold your baby as often as you like.

Your baby likes to be snug.

Hold your baby close to your body when breastfeeding, with your baby's belly button facing toward you, not toward the ceiling. For large-breasted women, if your baby has trouble reaching your nipple when placed against your chest, try the football hold or side-lying positions until you find a position that's comfortable for both of you. Read more about breastfeeding holds.

Your baby will cry.

Crying is how babies communicate. But babies don't cry just because they're hungry. They also cry when they're sleepy, gassy, or sick; have a dirty diaper; or just need to be held. Crying out of hunger is the last straw for a baby, who is just letting you know that Mom is late for a meal.

It’s always harder to nurse a baby who is crying and wound up, but you’ll soon figure out your baby’s hunger cues. Then you can breastfeed your baby before he or she starts crying, keeping those hunger tears in check. (If your baby is crying excessively, to the point of vomiting and weight loss, it could be colic. As always, talk to your baby's doctor or nurse about this.)

Your baby needs sleep — and so do you!

Babies can’t tell time. In the first few weeks, there’s no such thing as a baby “sleeping pattern” or “sleep training.” Instead, new babies go through many little bursts of being awake and asleep throughout the day and night. Often, there are just a few long stretches of sleep. During those first weeks, most of your baby’s awake time is spent feeding.

So, as long as your baby is peeing and pooping enough for at least 6 dirty diapers a day, you only need to wake your baby to feed if it’s been longer than four hours since the last feeding. If your breasts get very full, especially at night, try expressing some milk either by hand or with a breast pump. And remember to sleep when the baby sleeps. Your sleep is important too!