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Breast-feeding basics

Interested in breast-feeding? There are many good reasons to breast-feed your baby:

  • It can help protect your baby from infections and allergies.
  • It may help prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • It may enhance your baby's brain development.
  • It's easy on your baby's digestive system.
  • It helps you bond with your baby.
  • It can help you lose weight after pregnancy.
  • It lowers your risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers.

To help you get started, here are the basics:

How to get a good latch

A good latch is important for successful breast-feeding.

To get a good latch, tickle your baby's bottom lip with your nipple and wait for her to open her mouth wide. When she does, bring her towards you, chin first, as you aim your nipple towards the roof of her mouth.

You can tell if your baby is latched on well if her nose is almost touching your breast and her lips are rolled out. At least half an inch (about 1 cm) of your breast (near the nipple base) should be in your baby's mouth. The latch should not be uncomfortable for you. If it is, detach your baby by putting your finger gently between her gums.

How long (and how often) to feed

Let your baby be your guide. Shortly after birth, your baby will probably want to feed every 2 to 3 hours. Allow your baby to keep feeding from each breast for as long as he wants. To make sure both breasts are making a good milk supply, start each feeding with a different breast.

How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk

Signs that your baby is getting enough to eat:

  • feeding 8 to 12 times in 24 hours (about 10 to 20 minutes or longer per feeding)
  • making 6 to 8 wet diapers every 24 hours
  • making stools once or more per day for the first month and every 2 to 7 days after that
  • gaining weight normally (usually 4 to 7 ounces, or 0.1 kg to 0.2 kg, per week)
  • making swallowing sounds while feeding
  • appearing healthy, alert, and active

If you're concerned about whether your baby is getting enough milk, contact your doctor or lactation consultant.

How to make sure your milk supply is safe and healthy

If you smoke, quit – or at least cut back. Any amount of smoking can harm your health and your baby's health. Smoking more than 10 cigarettes per day can decrease your milk production. It can also make your baby irritable or slow to gain weight.

Keep your alcohol intake to 2 drinks or less per day – or avoid it completely. If you have a drink, wait at least 1 to 2 hours before breast-feeding. Limit your caffeine consumption to a maximum of 1 to 2 cups per day.

Eat a well-balanced diet, and if you are a vegan, ask your doctor whether you should take nutritional supplements.

Many medications are fine to take during breast-feeding, but some, such as certain cancer and headache medications, could affect your baby. Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any medications, including non-prescription and herbal remedies.

How long to continue breast-feeding

Both Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend breast-feeding as the best way to nourish your baby during the first 6 months of life.

After 6 months, babies can no longer get everything they need from breast milk, so it's recommended that you start introducing solid foods.

Even after your baby starts solids, you can continue breast-feeding until the age of 2 years and beyond.

How to handle common breast-feeding problems:

Breast-feeding shouldn't hurt. But some women suffer from breast problems and pain when they breast-feed. Here's what you can do to manage some common causes of breast pain and discomfort:

  • Mastitis (blocked and infected milk duct): breast-feed frequently to help relieve the blockage in the milk duct, get some rest, apply a heating pad to the affected area, soak the breast in warm water for 10 minutes three times a day, and gently massage the breast. If things don't get better within a day, contact your doctor.
  • Breast engorgement (breasts uncomfortably full of milk): breast-feed often (at least every 2 to 3 hours during the day and at least every 4 hours at night), wait until your baby falls asleep or comes off the breast before switching sides, briefly apply a warm compress and then express some milk before feedings, use cold compresses between feedings, gently massage your breasts, and don't miss feedings (use a breast pump if you're unable to breast-feed).
  • Sore or cracked nipples: rub some breast milk on the sore areas and see your doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant to check if your baby is latching properly and whether you have a nipple infection (which may require medications).

Giving your baby vitamin D

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends vitamin D supplements for all exclusively breast-fed babies. The usual dose is 400 IU daily for the first year of life or until the baby's diet includes this amount of vitamin D.



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