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Breastfeeding your baby

Advice on breastfeeding your baby, with useful information on breastfeeding positions, benefits and problems and on expressing breast milk.
While breastfeeding your baby can seem like the most natural thing in the world, for many mothers it does not come naturally at all. However, with a little help, support and practice, many find they learn to love the closeness that breastfeeding brings.

The benefits of breast milk for your baby are numerous; after all, nourishing your baby is what it's designed for. It provides your baby with all the nutrients, antibodies and hormones that she needs to develop healthily. Breastfeeding also has maternal benefits - it provides a fantastic way for a mother to bond with a new baby, burns calories (up to 500 a day) to help you loose your pregnancy weight, lowers the incidence of certain cancers and, of course, its free and always on tap.

While most new mothers are shown how to breastfeed in hospital, it can be difficult to know whether you're dong it right one you are home and out of the guiding eye of your midwife. Try to persevere and ask your health visitor or GP for guidance if you are experiencing any problems, discomfort or concerns.

Positioning

It is part of a baby's innate behaviour to suckle at the breast, but learning to position your baby correctly is half the battle.

Before you begin you should sit upright with your back and arms supported, a nursing pillow can help to make this more comfortable. Position your baby on your stomach with their head tilted back a little and nose in line with the nipple. This will make it easier for your baby to latch on and will help ensure your baby's nostrils remain clear of the breast to allow for comfortable breathing.

If your baby doesn't automatically look to feed, try stroking her lips and the cheek nearest the feeding breast. This will help to stimulate her rooting and sucking reflexes which, in turn, stimulate her to turn her head and open her mouth ready for a feed.

The key to successful breastfeeding is getting your baby to open her mouth as wide as possible. When feeding your baby's mouth should encircle both the nipple and the surrounding areola. This no only enables her to latch and feed properly as she creates a vacuum between her tongue, upper mouth and the breast, stimulating milk release, but will also be more comfortable for the mother and help prevent sore nipples.

When your baby feeds, her whole jaw should move, not just her cheeks. If you notice that she is sucking her cheeks in dramatically during a feed she may not be latched on correctly so it is best to take her off the breast and start again. To release your baby from the breast you should gently place the tip of your finger in the corner of her mouth. This will help to break the vacuum and make the release more comfortable.

How much?

One of the concerns that many breastfeeding mothers have is whether their baby is getting enough milk as unlike bottle feeding there is no objective way of measuring the amount of milk consumed.

As a rough guide, many breastfed babies need to be fed every 2 to 3 hours which is slightly more often than bottle fed babies as breast milk is more easily digested. Your baby will tend to release from the breast when she is sufficiently nourished, but you could always offer the other breast if you wish.

A mother's milk production works on a supply and demand basis with more milk being produced every time baby feeds. If you are feeding or expressing regularly, you will more than likely produce enough milk to satiate your baby's needs. Your baby is likely to go through 6 - 8 nappies a day and put on weight at a steady rate if she is feeding properly. So, if you take her to all of her scheduled health checks and weigh ins you should have little reason to be concerned.

Difficulties

While it is advisable to try breastfeeding, it is not for everyone and while breast milk is good for your baby, having a happy, healthy mother is more important. Many women find breastfeeding so painful and stressful that it severely impacts their wellbeing . Problems such as engorged breasts, cracked nipples, blocked ducts and mastitis can all make breastfeeding an uncomfortable experience. While expressing or using breastfeeding aids such as nipple creams or gel packs can help relieve some of the discomfort, sometimes it can be too much to bear, especially if other factors are contributing to the mother's distress.

If you feel this way then it may be better to try bottle feeding your baby. You can discuss your options with your doctor who will be able to provide you with all the information and support you need.

Breastfeeding your baby is a good thing only if you are happy and comfortable with it; you should never feel pressurised into breastfeeding just because it seems like the right thing to do. Just remember that whatever you decide there is a plenitude of help and support available to you.

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