While breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, babies are not born knowing how to nurse, although some do get the hang of it sooner than others. The art of breastfeeding in something you learn by doing, and it gets easier with practice. Certified Lactation Consultant Anne Smith offers some advice to get you started off on the right foot.
One thing is for sure: childbirth and breastfeeding are two experiences that no amount of reading, attending classes or watching videos can really prepare you for. What they mostly do is tell you about what the "average" birth experience or the "average" breastfeeding experience will be like. You need to remember that your baby hasn't read those books or taken those classes," and he doesn't have a clue that he is supposed to behave like the "average" baby.
In fact, there is no such thing as an "average" baby. Each baby is unique, and so each nursing experience will be different. Often the mothers who have done the most intensive prenatal preparation are the ones who have problems adapting when things don't go 'right by the book.'
There are some basic things you can do from the beginning to help get breastfeeding off to a good start.
If you are separated from your baby after birth, or if he doesn't nurse well, use a hospital or professional grade pump to stimulate and maintain your milk supply.
Nurse for comfort as well as nourishment
While everyone wants to hold the baby and give you a break, the most helpful thing they can do at this stage while you're resting and building your milk supply is to cook, clean, run errands, entertain older children, etc. There will be plenty of opportunities later on for them to play with the baby.
Set up a "nursing station" in the living room and the bedroom
Don't limit the time he spends at the breast. Let him nurse as long as he seems interested. He needs to nurse long enough to get the high calorie hindmilk that comes later in the feeding, after the milk lets down. Especially in the early days of nursing, it may take several minutes for the let down reflex to "kick in."
Offer both breasts at a feeding
Don't be surprised if your baby "cluster feeds." This means that he may nurse constantly for several hours, then conk out and sleep so soundly you can't wake him up for four or five hours. It really doesn't matter, as long as he is getting enough to eat. For most babies, this means nursing at least eight times in 24 hours.
However, if your baby has regained his birth weight by day three, there is no reason to set your alarm and wake him up every two hours to nurse. As long as you keep track of his urine and stool output and his weight gain, it really doesn't matter whether he nurses every one and a half hours or every four hours, whether he took both breasts or one, or whether he nursed for five minutes or 30. Remember that the mythical "average" baby doesn't really exist.