If you're planning on breastfeeding, you might not think you need to read up on the process beforehand. It is, after all, a natural process that has stood the test of time, in terms of nourishing newborns. But breastfeeding, natural as it is, doesn't always come easily or instinctively, especially if you don't know anyone who has breastfed or have never seen someone breastfeed. Knowing the basics will increase your chances of successful breastfeeding starting right after birth.
Initiate breastfeeding soon after giving birth. Shortly after birth, your baby is usually alert and receptive, unless you were given pain medication that affects his alertness, such as narcotics, within two hours of his birth.
Realize that your first few breastfeeding sessions are practice sessions -- for both of you. Breastfeeding success or failure isn't determined in the first few feedings. The goal in the first few sessions is to familiarize you both to the process and to stimulate the breasts to begin the milk-production process.
Breastfeed often. This is easiest if you keep the baby in your room, day and night, so you see the cues that indicate he's ready to nurse. Don't wait for the baby to cry to try to breastfeed; crying is a late sign of hunger. When he starts stirring, turns his head from side to side and opens his mouth like he's looking for the nipple, he's ready to eat. Newborn babies nurse as frequently as every two to three hours, explains healthychildren.org, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Hold your baby close to the breast, but don't try to direct his mouth by holding both his cheeks. He will turn instinctively toward something that touches his cheek; when you touch both cheeks at the same time, you confuse and frustrate him. Many moms use the cradle hold for nursing. Cradle your baby so that his head rests on your forearm. Turn his whole body, not just his head, to face your body, so that you're belly to belly. If you've had a cesarean section, the clutch (or football) position might be more comfortable. Hold baby by your side and have him lie on his back and support his head with your hand on the same side. His body will be tucked almost under your arm.
Make sure he takes the entire areola, the brown area around the nipple, into his mouth. If he just sucks on the nipple, you will experience sore nipples and he won't get the nutrition he needs. If he has a good latch, his nose should nearly touch your breast and his lips will flange out. If you're uncomfortable, take him off the breast by inserting your finger into the corner of his mouth to break the suction and then reposition him.
Listen for the sound of active swallowing while your baby nurses. If he gulps and chokes at the beginning of the feeding, express a little milk before he begins nursing to slow the flow.
Offer the second breast after he nurses 15 to 20 minutes on the first. Nursing for at least this long allows him to empty the first breast. This ensures that he gets the hindmilk, which has a higher fat content and will keep him content longer.
Expect your baby to lose weight in the first week of life. This doesn't mean you should stop breastfeeding or that you don't have enough milk. Babies lose an average of 5 to 7 percent of their body weight in the first week and regain the weight within two weeks, according to certified lactation consultant Anne Smith. If he's producing six wet diapers and having three bowel movements per day at one week, he's getting enough breast milk.