10 Things to Know About Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is worth trying. So you don’t freak out when you fill up, we’ll walk you through it.

Breast milk is oh so healthy.

We don’t want to pressure everyone to nurse. We just want you to be aware of the benefits. Breast milk contains antibodies that can’t be engineered. “Breastfed babies get fewer colds and sinus and ear infections,” says Jim Sears, MD, coauthor of The Baby Book. They also have less diarrhea and constipation and a decreased chance of having allergies.

Mom, you might end up healthier too.

Over the long term, breastfeeding helps ward off breast and ovarian cancers. In the short term, the physical contact helps you bond with your baby. It forces you to sit still and focus on nurturing. As Rachael Don, a mother of three in Scottsdale, Arizona, puts it, “Nursing is the one time that your baby is totally content and there’s nothing else you should be doing.” Dr. Sears says that breastfeeding releases “mothering hormones” like prolactin, which helps keep the baby blues at bay, and oxytocin, which helps the uterus contract. Oh, and it burns calories to boot!

Nursing is tough in the beginning.

“Consider a breastfeeding class while you’re pregnant,” says Melissa Kotlen Nagin, a lactation consultant in Larchmont, New York. But also be prepared to seek help once baby arrives. “Getting baby to latch on may not feel natural,” Nagin says. “Ask for help in the hospital.”

We’re not going to lie. Those first days, you might feel what experts call extreme tenderness — and what we call pain. But once your baby is properly latched, discomfort should diminish during each nursing session and go away completely with time. Don’t ignore shooting pain; a knot in the breast accompanied by soreness and redness could be a plugged milk duct, which can lead to mastitis, a nasty infection that requires antibiotics. Ninety percent of moms who contact La Leche League are worried about either latch or supply. Fortunately, lactation consultants make house calls, hospitals host clinics, and the Web offers many resources. My daughter’s pediatrician simply showed me how to adjust my child’s chin to improve her lazy suck.

Breastfeeding saves $$$.

If you mostly nurse and use formula only in a pinch, you should be able to pocket at least an extra $400 in your baby’s first year. That’s even if you buy a breast pump!

You’re the food supply, so mother yourself.

Keep taking prenatal vitamins, get ample calcium, and drink at least 64 ounces of water a day while nursing. “A new mom needs to stay well hydrated and well fed,” says Jane Crouse, a La Leche League leader and mother of three. You’ll need an extra 300 to 500 calories daily. You’ll also need to learn to relax, however you can — stress might affect letdown (the start of your milk flow). Take a warm shower, sink into a chair, and remember to breathe as you help your squirmy baby latch on.

Breastfeeding can be blissfully convenient.

No frantic runs to the store. No futzing around at an ungodly hour to whip up a bottle. No cleanup. Many moms just roll over (especially if their baby is in a co-sleeper) and nurse in a soporific state. Breast milk is instantly available and delivered warm. Plus, feeding supplies are one less thing to shove into that bursting diaper bag.

Breast milk + formula is an option.

“For me it was the most pragmatic choice,” says Ann Sargent, of Washington, DC. She wanted to work hard at work, then get home early to nurse, so her baby drank formula during the day. Just know that when you combo-feed, your milk production will dip.

Plenty of women pump milk, and for all kinds of reasons.

First, some women pump either to encourage their milk supply or to relieve engorgement. If baby has a good night’s sleep and you wake up full of milk, you may as well bottle it for future use!

Second, there are the occasional pumpers. Fill a bottle, and Dad can do that midnight feed, or you can have a baby-free date. For this, you may need only a single manual pump.

Eventually, it’s over.

Sometimes a baby loses interest; other times Mom burns out first. Get someone else involved in feeding to ease the transition to bottle or cup. “If weaning results in a happy mom, that’s best for baby,” Dr. Sears says.

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