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Dos & Don'ts of Breast Milk

Breastfeeding — it's the healthiest start you can give to your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that breastfeeding for the first six months of your infant's life is optimum. Taking special care to encourage milk production and avoiding habits that could diminish beneficial nutrients are good examples of what's required for successful breastfeeding. Following these and other do's and don'ts will make nursing a win-win for both you and baby.

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Producing Milk

Do: To begin establishing an adequate milk supply, you do want to start breastfeeding at once. Your body will produce colostrum, a yellowish liquid that suits your newborn baby's needs perfectly in the first couple of days of life. KidsHealth notes that colostrum contains antibacterial substances and will boost your baby's immune system. The flow of colostrum is ideal to help a baby learn how to properly suckle and swallow. Your baby's suckling will help stimulate your body's production of mature breast milk, which will come in on the third to fourth postpartum day.

Don't: To encourage the infant to suckle properly, don't offer anything — milk or water — from artificial nipples in the first few days after birth. The International Breastfeeding Centre states that babies may develop a preference for artificial nipples, which deliver a quicker flow of milk, and reject mother's nipple, which requires more work for milk flow.

Expressing Breast Milk

Do: Once your supply of breast milk is established — usually a few weeks after birth — do express breast milk to store it in the freezer. Even if you don't plan to bottle feed, it's good to have in case of emergency, such as if you need to go on medication for a few days. You can manually pump small amounts of breast milk, but if you plan to use both the breast and bottle to feed, invest in an automatic pump for convenience. Don't: If you are are engorged, don't express full feedings of breast milk — you'll just be stimulating your breasts to create more milk. The body assumes that this is the amount it must produce to satisfy breastfeeding demands; if you need to produce less milk, you want to signal the body to reduce production a bit. Just express enough to relieve the pressure and use cold compresses to bring relief. When you're not using your milk, your body will naturally slow production.

Storing Breast Milk

Do: Store your breast milk in plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting caps, or in specially designed breast milk storage bags. According to the Mayo Clinic, breast milk will keep for one day in an insulated cooler with frozen packs, for five to eight days in the back of the refrigerator, or six to 12 months in a freezer. Putting a label and date on milk when you express it will take out the guess work. If you're sending breast milk to your baby's daycare, clearly label it with her name.

Don't: To protect the integrity of breast milk, don't store it in plastic bottle liners; these were not designed for long-term storage. Never put your breast milk in a regular kitchen storage bag. Once your breast milk is frozen, don't add additional fresh milk at room temperature to it because it will partially thaw the milk. In fact, it's not a good idea to ever add fresh milk to old milk. Toss out any leftover breast milk after feeding.

Defrosting and Heating Breast Milk

Do: Ensure proper thawing by defrosting your breast milk gradually in the refrigerator over several hours, or quickly under warm — not hot — water. You don't need to make the milk very warm unless your baby demands it; some babies will be happy if you just take the chill out of it so that it's a comfortable temperature.

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Don't: Never leave breast milk to thaw at room temperature, and don't try to heat it in a microwave or on the stove. The Children's Health Network warns that overheating breast milk by placing it in hot water, in a pot of water on the stove or in the microwave can destroy its immunity properties. You may also run the risk of scalding your baby with milk that is too hot.

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