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The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding Your Baby

Breastfeeding is a great way to feed your baby, and it provides many benefits for you and your baby! In this guide, we’ll discuss the health benefits of breastfeeding, how to decide if it’s the right option for you, different breastfeeding techniques, common challenges, and much more.

Mother Breastfeeding on couch
The benefits of breastfeeding

Breast milk is a very healthy way to feed your baby! There are significant health benefits to breastfeeding:

  • Optimal nourishment and growth: Breast milk is specifically tailored to meet a baby's developmental needs, with the perfect balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. It is easily digestible and adapts to the baby's changing requirements as they grow.

  • Natural antibodies and protection from illnesses: Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that recognize and neutralize harmful bacteria and viruses to protect the body from infections and diseases. Breast milk provides infants with important antibodies and immune-boosting substances that help keep them healthy.

  • Lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: Because breast milk contains the ideal blend of nutrients for infants, it helps regulate their appetite, feelings of fullness, and metabolism. Breastfeeding also promotes a healthy gut, which helps with digestion. All of these factors lead to healthier eating habits as infants grow older, reducing the likelihood of developing obesity and related health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

  • Helps speed up postpartum recovery for the mother: Breastfeeding encourages the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which helps the uterus contract and return to its prepregnancy size more quickly, reducing the risk of postpartum bleeding. Nursing mothers tend to lose weight at a healthier pace, as their bodies naturally burn calories to produce breast milk.

  • Reduced risk of certain cancers and osteoporosis: Breastfeeding also has long-term health implications for mothers, reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, as well as osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. 

  • Emotional bonding and hormonal balance: Because breastfeeding increases production of the “love hormone” oxytocin, it can help increase feelings of well-being and lower the risk of postpartum depression, while helping new mothers bond with their little one.

It’s important to remember that breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, and there are many different ways for caregivers to feed their infants.

How to decide if breastfeeding is right for you

While breastfeeding is widely recognized for its health benefits for both the baby and the mother, it's essential to consider your physical well-being, lifestyle, and support system in making this decision. Pre-existing medical conditions, certain medications, or issues with milk production and breastfeeding anatomy can impact whether breastfeeding will work for your family. If you have any questions, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to determine the best feeding options for your baby. 

Different breastfeeding techniques and holds

If you decide breastfeeding is right for you, it's recommended that mothers exclusively nurse their child for the first six months and continue to breastfeed up to a year if possible. There are several different techniques and positions you can try. Some breastfeeding women find that it takes trying various positions to figure out what works best.

  • Cradle Hold: The mother supports the baby's head in the crook of her arm and positions the baby across her chest, belly to belly. This classic hold is suitable for most feeding situations.

  • Cross-Cradle Hold: This hold is similar to the cradle hold, but the mother supports the baby's head with the opposite hand, providing a better view of the baby's mouth and more control to guide latching.

  • Football Hold (also called Clutch Hold): The mother tucks the baby under her arm like a football, with the baby's feet pointing toward her back. This position is particularly helpful for mothers who have had a C-section or those with larger breasts.

  • Side-Lying: Both mother and baby lie on their sides, facing each other. This position offers comfort during nighttime feedings or for mothers recovering from a C-section.

  • Laid-Back Breastfeeding (also called Biological Nurturing): The mother lies back, semi-upright or fully reclined, and the baby rests on her chest, allowing the baby's natural feeding instincts to guide the latch. This skin-to-skin position promotes bonding and encourages a deep latch.

  • Koala Hold (also called Upright Latching): The mother supports the baby in an upright, straddle, or seated position on her lap, and the baby latches onto the breast while facing the mother. This hold can aid in feeding babies with reflux or difficulty latching in other positions.

Common breastfeeding challenges and solutions

Breastfeeding comes with so many benefits to mothers and their infants, as well as some challenges. We’ve included the most common difficulties and recommended solutions. But if you have any questions or concerns, it’s always best to talk to your doctor or lactation consultant.

  • Sore nipples can be caused by incorrect latching, positioning, or frequent feedings. Try adjusting your positioning to help your baby latch properly. You can also apply breast milk or nipple cream to nipples after each feeding to ease the soreness.

  • Breast engorgement occurs when there's an overproduction of milk, making the breasts swollen, tender, and painful. Frequent breastfeeding or pumping can relieve pressure. You can also try applying warm compresses or doing a gentle breast massage.

  • Breast milk production may appear to be too low to support the baby's needs. Frequent nursing, ensuring proper latch and positioning, staying hydrated, and maintaining a healthy diet can boost milk supply. If the issue continues, you can supplement with formula feeding in between breastfeeding.

  • Mastitis, or an infection in the breast, can lead to flu-like symptoms, as well as warmth and redness around the infection. Do your best to continue breastfeeding to help clear the infection and apply warm or cold compresses. Contact a healthcare provider if symptoms worsen.

  • Inverted or flat nipples can make latching more difficult for the baby. Try stimulating the nipple before feeding, using a nipple shield, pumping to draw out the nipple, or experimenting with different breastfeeding positions to help improve latching.

  • A plugged milk duct, or a blockage within a milk duct, can cause a small, tender lump in the breast. Apply warm compresses, continue breastfeeding or pumping to help clear the blockage, massage the affected area, and consider changing breastfeeding positions.

  • The infant may have trouble attaching to the breast to nurse effectively. To help, experiment with different breastfeeding positions and techniques to find the most comfortable latch, use breast shells or nipple shields if necessary, and consult with a lactation consultant for guidance.

  • Some babies don’t gain weight at a healthy rate, which can indicate possible breastfeeding difficulties. Monitor and track feeding sessions, ensure proper latch and positioning, or increase the frequency of breastfeeding. Most importantly, consult a healthcare professional to address any underlying issues.

Breastfeeding support and resources

There are several affordable support services for breastfeeding mothers in California. We’ve provided some options in our previous article, as well as some additional services below that provide guidance, expertise, and resources to support nursing moms throughout their breastfeeding journey:

  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): California WIC provides breastfeeding support, including counseling, breastfeeding classes, support groups, and resources. Find services in your area.

  • Breastfeeding support helplines: Many counties in California offer a free Breastfeeding Support Hotline at 1-800-514-6667. Mothers can call in to speak with trained breastfeeding counselors who can provide assistance and direct you to local resources. Search online to find a hotline available for women in your county.

  • Baby Café USA: Baby Café offers free drop-in breastfeeding support groups in multiple locations in California, providing information and guidance from trained professionals in a relaxed, cafe-like atmosphere. Find a location near you.

  • County public health departments: Many county public health departments in California offer breastfeeding support services, including peer counseling programs, classes, and consultations with lactation specialists. Visit your local health department's website for more information.

  • Hospitals and birthing centers: Many hospitals and birthing centers in California provide breastfeeding support, workshops, and lactation consultation services. These services may be free or low-cost. Reach out to the facility where you gave birth, or check nearby facilities to learn about their services.

Breastfeeding can be a very rewarding journey that provides many health benefits and bonding moments between you and your child.

QUICK TIP: Did you know your newborn can tell you if she is full or hungry? Just look at her hands! A hungry baby will have a closed fist, and a full baby will have open hands. So, the next time you are feeding your baby and wonder if she has had enough, check those tiny hands!

First 5 California
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First 5 California
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