Your first few weeks of breastfeeding your baby can be challenging; you’re sleep-deprived, probably in desperate need of a shower and the last thing on your wish list is dealing with sore, cracked nipples. Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Armed with knowledge and a little help, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to breastfeed successfully, and you’ll be able to focus on nourishing and bonding with your baby.
Master the Latch
One of the most important aspects of a positive and pain-free breastfeeding experience is a proper latch. How your baby’s mouth grasps onto your nipple will determine whether she forms a tight seal and obtains an adequate amount of milk to satisfy her nutritional needs. It also helps to determine whether you have to worry about sore and cracked nipples. To encourage your baby to make a good latch, sit in a comfortable chair and bring your baby up to your nipple, instead of your nipple to your baby's mouth. Make sure her nose is facing toward your nipple. Position your nipple toward your baby's upper lip, wait for her to open her mouth wide and gently press as much of the lower areola into her mouth as comfortably possible.
Find Your Favorite Hold
While a cradle hold is a common position for breastfeeding, try a variety of holds to figure out which one works best for you. In the cradle hold, your baby lies across your abdomen, stomach against stomach, and her head rests in the crook of your elbow. A cross-cradle hold gives you more use of your hands. Your baby's head is cradled in your hand instead of the crook of your elbow, which enables you to move her to your breast with ease. Once your baby latches on, you can switch to a cradle hold for a more comfortable, long-term position. In a football hold, your baby lies along your side and your hand supports the back of her head. A side-lying position lets you lay down during breastfeeding—fine if you'd like a rest—but avoid falling asleep to prevent any suffocation risks for your baby.
One Thing at a Time
While you might be tempted to offer pacifiers to soothe your baby between feedings, and give bottles to let Dad participate in the bonding that takes place during feeding times, too, hold off on these until breastfeeding is well-established. During the first 3 to 4 weeks, your baby is learning how to latch properly and use her tongue to express milk in a particular way. Bottles and pacifiers require a different type of sucking action, which can cause nipple confusion, and your baby might have a difficult time forming a proper latch and depressing her tongue to express the milk.
Whether it’s a lactation consultant on speed dial or a comfy nursing pillow; make sure you have all the support you can get when you’re starting to breastfeed. A nursing pillow can make the experience more comfortable for you, while a lactation consultant helps guide you if you run into any difficulties with latch or if you’re concerned about your infant’s nutritional needs. Sign up with a local new mom or breastfeeding support group so you can share your concerns and experiences with others in a similar situation. While you’re looking for good support, make sure your body has some, too, with a good nursing bra designed to give your baby easy access.