Try to nurse soon after delivery, if possible. Babies are usually awake during their first hour — and are naturally primed to breastfeed then.
Ask a birth attendant to help hold and bring your baby to your breast. Remove any blankets or clothing separating you and your newborn — this skin-to-skin method has the advantage of stimulating your baby to nurse, as well as encouraging bonding.
Best Breastfeeding Position
Positioning is key when it comes to successful breastfeeding, but there is no one position that works best for all mom-baby pairs. Choose a position that’s comfortable for you, allows you to support your baby and also keeps one hand free to hold your breast — so you can control both your baby’s head and your breast. A nursing pillow and a supportive chair and footrest can also be helpful.
What Proper Latching Looks Like
Once you are in a comfortable position, encourage proper latching (when your baby first takes your breast into her mouth) by bringing your nipple and your baby’s nose together. This will encourage your baby to open her mouth, and, in general, the more open her mouth, the better she will latch properly.
The goal is for your baby to take most of the areola (the dark skin surrounding the nipple) into her mouth before she begins to suck. Your baby’s lips should be wide apart and rolled out when she is sucking, and you may see her tongue sticking out over her lower lip.
Timing: How Long, How Often
Nurse your baby for a minimum of 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours at first, and more if she seems ready to feed. This will help your milk to come in as fast as possible. Some babies tend to fall asleep while nursing, but will wake up to suck efficiently as long as you keep stimulating them enough.
Consider investing in nursing gear, including supportive nursing bras, pads, clothing and covers. Use a nursing app on your phone to keep track of feedings. Set up a “breastfeeding station” at home with a water bottle, snacks and some good magazines next to a quiet, comfortable rocking chair and pillow.
Nursing Concerns Addressed
Sometimes, breastfeeding may take a bit of practice. Simple solutions for common breastfeeding problems follow.
Issue: Delayed or poor milk production
Solution: Nurse your baby early and often, and consider pumping to help bring milk in faster.
Issue: Nipple pain
Solution: Use nipple cream and nursing gels for relief. If the pain lasts beyond the initial latch, consult a professional, who may detect problems such as tongue-tie.
Issue: Poor latch
Solution: Coaching from a professional — who may recommend nipple shields and latch training — can be very helpful.
Solution: This occurs when breasts are extremely full. Taking a hot shower before feeding or placing cold gels or cabbage leaves on breasts after feeding can relieve discomfort. Pumping or expressing a small amount of milk before a feed may prevent latching or feeding problems related to engorgement.
It’s common to be frustrated early on, so don’t judge yourself too harshly. Ask for help from professionals. Postpartum nurses are trained in helping to establish breastfeeding, and many hospitals employ lactation consultants. With time and patience, you will breastfeed successfully.
Pediatrician Elizabeth Shashaty, MD, is on staff at Children’s National Medical Center and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, both in Washington, DC. She is also the mother of three young children.