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The mechanics are easy enough to understand: Nipple plus hungry baby equals happy baby. But when dealing with discomfort, uncertainty or a disinterested newborn, you may feel that your motherly instincts have deserted you. Breastfeeding has a learning curve. Learning what to do, what not to do and what works for you just takes time.
Do: Seek Help Early
Your baby is as new to nursing as you are. It can take some time for you both to figure out your positioning and rhythm. "Some babies need time to figure out how to breastfeed," says Caroline Kerherve of San Francisco, a certified lactation educator and counselor and postpartum doula. Working with an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant can help you perfect your latch and positioning techniques.
"In the meantime, the new mom needs to establish and protect her milk supply by hand expressing or pumping, removing milk as regularly as her baby would do if he was nursing," Kerherve says. "This way she can feed her baby with her own milk while getting IBCLC support to understand why her baby isn't latching, treat any underlying cause and make a plan."
The typical newborn needs to be fed eight to 12 times per day. You can expect feedings to become less frequent after the first month -- somewhere between six and 10 feedings is normal -- and become gradually less frequent as your baby's tummy gets bigger.
But your baby's needs are individual, and he'll eat according to his schedule, not yours. He may want to eat 14 times per day at first, or go 30 minutes between feedings in the morning and three hours between afternoon feedings. Follow his cues and offer the breast when you see hunger cues, such as opening his mouth, puckering his lips and moving his head from side to side.
A baby who is getting enough to eat will steadily gain weight, seem satisfied after feeding and produce at least six wet diapers per day.
Do: Eat Freely
If you crave scorchingly spicy salsa, don't hold off on your baby's account. "We used to think that new moms should stay away from certain foods while breastfeeding, which isn't recommended anymore," Kerherve says. Now, she says, you can eat any food you like, and "suppress a specific food only if you notice that your baby has a reaction each time she eats it," such as fussiness or gassiness.
That doesn't mean you have carte blanche to eat nothing but double cheeseburgers, though. A nursing mom needs to add only about 400 to 500 calories to her normal diet. Eat small, frequent meals of nutritious foods, and limit yourself to two servings of caffeinated drinks per day. If you drink alcohol, wait at least two hours per alcoholic beverage before nursing, or feed your baby previously expressed milk.
You may be the only one in the house with the right equipment to nurse your baby, but you're not the only one can make sure he -- and you -- are cared for. Ask your friends and family to help you stock your home with ready-to-eat meals and bring you healthy snacks and water while you nurse, Verherve suggests.
Your partner and other caregivers can also help feed the baby once your breastfeeding routine is going smoothly. Don't introduce bottles until your breastfeeding routine is smooth and your milk supply is established, which typically takes at least a few weeks after birth. Using bottles allows other caregivers to bond with the baby and gives you a break, but be mindful to not alter your baby's flow preference. If he gets used to fast-flowing milk from a bottle, he may find your slower flow frustrating. "To protect the breastfeeding relationship, the caregiver offering a bottle can make sure not to let the baby drink the milk too quickly by using a slow flow nipple and tilting the bottle down," Kerherve suggests.