10 Nursing Tips

Advice for mom and baby on how to make breastfeeding a productive and pain-free experience.

1. Make yourself comfortable before starting
Any kind of tension in the mother can inhibit her milk flow. “So whatever relaxes you, do it,” says Chalmers. This may mean having a warm shower or drinking some tea, or perhaps even a beer, beforehand. Listen to soothing music or surround yourself with friends or family members who can encourage you. And if you want to eat onions or garlic, then go right ahead. “There’s a myth that babies can’t handle certain foods,” she says. “In most cases, if the mom is comfortable eating it, then so will the baby be.”

2. Properly position the baby
Hold the child with his stomach and face toward you so that his neck and spine are arranged in a straight line. His nose should be lined up with the breast’s nipple. Hold the breast with four fingers underneath, away from the areola (pigmented area) and with your thumb on top. Bring the baby to your breast rather than vice versa. You can adopt any position you like: sitting up or lying on your side. You can even lay the baby down and lean over him. The important things are that the baby is facing you and that you are comfortable.

3. Get a good latch
Stimulate the baby’s mouth with your finger or the tip of the breast until she opens her jaw as wide as a yawn. Don’t attempt to feed her until her mouth is sufficiently open to hold most of the areola, not just the tip. “You’d be amazed. Those babies open their mouths so wide, they look as though they have flip-topped heads,” says Lisa Strauss, a Nanton, Alta., mother of three. When Baby’s mouth is open wide enough, quickly pull her toward the breast. As her tongue meets the tip, her mouth will close over the areola and seal it and her lips will roll out. The nipple will now be deep in the baby’s mouth, allowing her to suck on the full areola and draw milk. You should see the sucking motion along the jaw line, and you may also be able to hear the swallowing noises. Strauss was told to listen for the “k” sound, a “kah, kah, kah” noise that lets you know that the baby is sucking and swallowing properly.

4. Try different approaches
Move the child around, experimenting with various placements to see what works best for both of you. Dennis notes that while a good latch is essential, mother and baby are free to decide the best way to establish this. An individual infant, however, will often prefer a certain position, and a mother should stick with that as long as Baby is properly emptying the breast. “If something’s working, then why not continue with it?” Dennis says.

5. Ending a nursing session
To stop a feeding, never pull the nursing child off the breast directly. That will cause you pain. You must first break the suction (it’s amazingly strong!) by placing a finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth, then pulling him gently away.

6. Feed on demand
Infants nurse much more readily when fed on demand rather than on schedule. In fact, they can become cranky and difficult to feed if forced to follow a routine. Demand feeding will keep Baby happy and your milk supply high. Mothers should look for signs of hunger, such as salivation, sucking on the thumbs or fists or turning the head to the side as if searching for the breast. The baby will nurse every two to three hours. The duration of feedings will vary—with experience, some infants will be able to nurse fully in less than 20 minutes—but a feeding that lasts for an hour or more is too long.

7. One at a time
There are two types of breast milk, “fore” and “hind.” A truly complete meal should include both, and this is best achieved by doing a full nursing session on one breast, then doing the next on the other. This allows the baby to reap the nutritional benefits of a balanced meal and helps maintain an equal supply in both breasts. You should eat well so that you can keep up your energy and milk flow. Drink plenty of fluids during each session, as breastfeeding can be quite dehydrating.

8. Take good care of yourself
You can’t breastfeed well if you’re not up to it, so rest often during the day. Keep your breasts exposed for a few minutes after nursing and allow a little milk to dry on them to toughen them and keep them from getting fissured or infected. Don’t put soap on cracked nipples, as this will promote drying.

9. Buy a good breast pump
“Forget the emollient creams and nursing pillows—a good breast pump is the most important thing a breastfeeding mother can buy,” Dennis says. Pumping out the milk will relieve engorged and uncomfortable breasts and create a freezable supply of milk for times when Mom is unable to nurse. Dennis recommends the Medela hand pump as both easy and comfortable to use.

Ideally, breastfeeding should continue well into the second year of your child’s life, says Chalmers. But after the recommended six months of exclusive nursing, Baby’s prenatal iron stores begin to run out, so iron-fortified infant cereals should be introduced around the half-year mark. Giving Baby any other foods earlier than that will reduce her demand for breast milk and cause a corresponding drop in milk supply. “It’s a vicious cycle,” says Chalmers. “If you think your baby is not getting enough and you give a bit of formula to top her up, she’ll drink less breast milk and you’ll produce less, so you’ll give more formula. In a few days, your supply diminishes.”

10. Wait till 4 weeks to introduce the bottle
From time to time, Baby may need to be bottle-fed, but Dennis recommends waiting until he is 4 weeks old to try this. The earlier the child is given a bottle, the less inclined he’ll be to continue breastfeeding, as this takes a lot more work. But after a month, an infant can be bottle-fed periodically so that he can adjust to it. “At six months, you can’t suddenly bring on a bottle and expect him to take it,” Dennis says. Breastfeeding is very different from bottle-feeding and requires a much stronger sucking action. “The child needs to learn to cope with the easier flow from a bottle in the event that someone other than Mom has to feed her.”

The ideal person to introduce Baby to the bottle is Dad. With many babies unwilling to accept bottles from their mothers because they’re so accustomed to being nursed by them, this will create a special routine that belongs to Dad alone. Men who may have felt left out of the feeding process will now feel included. Your baby should also receive vitamin D supplements from birth onward, since this is one essential vitamin that breast milk does not supply enough of. D helps reduce a child’s risk of later developing type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and common cancers. Babies under a year should be given 200 IU of vitamin D a day, rising to 1,000 IU of vitamin D after they turn 1 year.

At the end of the day, the best way to ensure a smooth breastfeeding experience is to enter pregnancy with a strong commitment to do it. “The best advice I got from anybody,” says Strauss, “was that nursing is something you have to really want to do, because in the beginning it is no picnic. And that was absolutely true for me.” And breastfeeding is not for everyone, Chalmers warns. For some the discomfort is too much, while for others it is too inconvenient. Yet many mothers today complain that breastfeeding proponents are applying extraordinary pressure on them to nurse for as long as possible. Both Chalmers and Dennis agree that a mother should never feel psychologically coerced into nursing for a certain length of time. “Being a good mother is not made up of six to eight breastfeeding sessions a day,” says Chalmers. “It’s everything you give to your baby. It’s a lifetime of parenting that makes you a good mom.”

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