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By Tracy Hampton, PhD
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent

The experience of breastfeeding is special for many reasons: it provides proven health benefits for your baby, it gives you a chance to bond with your baby, and it saves money.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services all recommend that babies get breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life, breast milk plus solid foods for the rest of their first year, and supplemental breast milk as long after that as the mother and baby desire.

So why don't all moms breastfeed their infants? It's not always easy.

"The mom makes milk and the baby knows how to coordinate the suck-swallow-breathe process and they feed according to their reflexes, but it takes time for mom and baby to figure out how to put it all together and feel comfortable breastfeeding," says Sarah Massey, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Massey offers a few tips to begin successful breastfeeding. First, it's important to understand how breastfeeding works: the more you put your baby to your breast, the more milk you'll make. The baby's stomach size coincides with the mom's milk supply during the first week: the first 24 to 36 hours, babies get colostrum (the first milk that is loaded with protein and antibodies) and only needs about 5 to 7 mL per feed; by day two or three, the stomach grows and needs 15 mL (a tablespoonful), which coincides with the mom's transitional milk; then, by day three to five, the stomach grows and needs at least 30 mL, which coincides to the mom's mature milk.

Massey stresses that just after birth, mom and baby should be skin to skin.

"Many things happen with skin to skin; for example, babies will seek out the breast with skin to skin, mom's body temperature goes up or down in order to keep the baby at the right temperature, the baby digests food better, and the baby's vital signs are more stable," she says.

Another tip: be prepared for nighttime cluster feeding. Newborn babies feed best from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. because that's when the mom makes the most milk. Babies usually feed often throughout the night until the mother's mature milk comes in and the amount is established. Then, the baby can generally sleep for a four-hour stretch during the night.

Massey recommends that parents watch the baby, not the clock (unless the baby has gone too long between feeds) because babies do not tell time; they feed by the cues from their stomachs. It's a good idea to avoid pacifiers during the first couple of weeks to avoid missing early feeding cues.

Finally, ask for help early on.

"Breastfeeding is on-the-job training," says Massey. "Get assistance from the nurses in the hospital, go to any class held at the hospital, and then continue to have lactation support once you get home."

Ask your pediatrician if there is a lactation consultant in the office, or find a lactation consultant at .

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted September 2012

Contact Information

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
East Campus
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215