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How to Breastfeed a Baby

The cradle hold

This is the most basic position, and the one you'll probably use the most. To put your baby to your right breast, nestle her in your right arm so that her neck rests in the crook of your elbow, her body is along your forearm, and her bottom is in your hand. Turn your baby to her side, so she is facing you, tummy to tummy. Raise baby to the level of your breasts, using a pillow on your lap or by raising your legs with a footstool, if necessary. With your left hand support your breast, fingers underneath the breast and your thumb on top, away from the areola.

The cross cradle

This is a good position if you have a small baby, or if he's having trouble latching on. It's similar to the cradle hold, except you position baby on the arm opposite of the breast being used, making it easier to control baby's head and guide his mouth to your breast. Or, put your baby to your left breast, hold your baby with your right arm, and support your breast with your left hand.

The football hold

Here's another position to try if you're having trouble getting her to latch on correctly. This is also a popular hold for women who've had a c-section, because it prevents baby's weight from resting on the mother's abdomen. Sitting up, position your baby so she's perpendicular to your body, on the same side as the breast, tucked in under your arm like a football (hence the name). Support your baby's head with your fingers, her back with your forearm. Your arm should be resting comfortably on a pillow. Her legs should be tucked between your elbow and your body.

Lying down

If you can figure out how to do this, you might be able to get some sleep during middle-of-the-night-feedings. Position your baby so that you're lying down facing each other. Your baby's mouth should be directly in front of your breast. Place the rest of his head on the bed or on your arm, whichever works best. Baby's body should be straight and parallel to yours.

Babies need help latching on correctly. Lightly brush your baby's lower lip with your nipple, and she'll open her mouth wide as if yawning. Quickly pull her toward your breast until her mouth covers the entire nipple and her chin and nose touch the breast. If her sucks feel light and fluttery during feeding, or you don't hear swallowing, she may not be latched on correctly. Slide your finger into baby's mouth, press down on your breast to gently remove her, and try again.

Engorgement

When your milk comes in, your breasts will feel like rocks. Engorged breasts are harder for baby to latch onto, making it difficult for her to get enough milk -- and keeping you engorged. Try pumping before you nurse, or cover your breasts with a cool compress or stand in a warm shower to relieve discomfort and get milk flowing. You'll need to breastfeed frequently to relieve engorgement.

Sore nipples

First, make sure baby is positioned properly -- improper latch-on is the biggest culprit. Begin with the less-sore nipple, so when baby moves to the other nipple, she'll be less hungry and suck more gently. Pat your nipples dry after nursing and keep them covered with plain petroleum jelly when you're not nursing. If the pain is so severe you can't nurse, use a breast pump until your nipples heal.

Mastitis

This breast infection is caused by bacteria within the duct system. Usually just one breast is affected. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and pain, as well as an achy flu-like feeling. Consult your doctor, who will prescribe a safe antibiotic and warm compresses. It's usually safe to nurse on the infected breast. If you choose not to nurse baby, however, you'll need to keep expressing the milk to reduce swelling.

Reviewed 11/00 by Jane Forester, MD

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.