The hospital bag is packed, the classes are finished and your new little one is about to arrive. If you’ve decided to breastfeed your baby and this is your first time, congratulations!

The first few days of breastfeeding may be a whirlwind — especially for a first-time mother. But with the right preparation, knowledge and questions, you and your baby can get off to a great start.

First off, breastfeeding has several benefits for mom and baby beyond the intimacy and bonding.

For baby, health benefits include decreased rates of ear infections, respiratory infections and diarrheal illnesses, as well as a decreased risk of obesity, childhood cancer and heart disease.

For mom, health benefits include a decreased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and cardiovascular disease. It can also help a mom's uterus return to its normal size and reduce post-delivery bleeding. Other benefits include potentially losing pregnancy weight faster (breastfeeding can burn an extra 500 calories per day) and delaying the return of a new mom's period. 

What will the first few days look?

Try to feed your baby within the first hour of his or her life. This will help your uterus contract and it provides the baby with colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk your breasts produce, and it’s rich in antibodies. It’s your baby’s first defense against illness. The frequent removal of colostrum in the first hours to days after birth has been shown to help with long-term milk supply.

You may not feel like baby is getting much, but that is normal! Babies typically get around 30 milliliters — or one ounce — of colostrum in the first 24 hours of life. Your pediatrician will keep a close eye on baby’s weight gain in the first few days before your milk comes in and alert you if there are any concerns.

Don’t be afraid to ask a nurse or lactation consultant to check your baby’s position on your breast the first couple of times your baby latches. Latching may feel strange or a little uncomfortable, but it should never be painful.

Your milk will more than likely come in on the third or fourth day post-birth. You will be able to tell because your breasts will grow several cup sizes. Be sure to have well-fitting nursing bras at home, and pack one in your hospital bag as well.

The frequency of your feeding may seem intense at first. Plan to nurse eight to 12 times over a 24-hour span. Every three hours is the minimum, but most babies will feed much more frequently. Feed your baby on demand. Remember, each time you are putting your baby to breast you are helping tell your body to make more milk.

You can tell your baby is hungry if he or she moves their head side to side, opens his or her mouth, places hands or fists inside the mouth, puckers lips, as if trying to suck, nuzzles against the breast or chest, stretches out long or is showing the rooting reflex. This is characterized by moving his or her mouth in the direction of something that’s stroking or touching his or her cheek.

Crying is a late sign of hunger, so try to feed your baby before he or she is upset, as it may be more difficult to get your baby to latch correctly.

How do you hold your baby while breastfeeding?

There are a few different options for holding your little one while breastfeeding. Choosing one method doesn’t mean it has to be your go-to, either. Use the method that’s the most comfortable at the time.

• The cradle hold: Hold your baby across your chest with the arm on the same side as the nursing breast.

• The clutch or football hold: Rest your baby at your side, under your arm. This is good for moms who had a C-section, moms with large breasts or moms of twin/multiple babies.

• The cross-cradle or crossover hold: Similar to the cradle hold, hold your baby across your chest with the arm opposite the nursing breast. This position is helpful for controlling how your baby latches on.

• The side-lying position: Lie on your side facing your baby, who latches onto the breast nearest to the bed or couch. This method allows mom to get some rest while nursing.

Moms, remember: Self-care is important

It’s important for you to be comfortable while your baby is nursing. Be sure to stay hydrated while breastfeeding, and take time to find a quiet, calm space to nurse in. The quality time you get with your baby is special and unique, especially early on. Do not be afraid to ask for help from family members with other baby cares or household things.

Additionally, don't hesitate to reach out for professional lactation help, as initial struggles with breastfeeding are very common. Some issues may result in a decrease in milk supply if not addressed in a timely manner.

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Dr. Chelsie Tellman of Boys Town Pediatrics wrote this blog for momaha.com. Learn more about Dr. Tellman by clicking here.

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