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Breastfeeding Basics: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
How do I begin breastfeeding?
While you're still in the hospital, a nurse or lactation consultant should help you put your baby to your breast as soon as possible, help your baby latch onto your nipple, and show you when you're doing it right. She'll guide your baby toward your breast until the entire nipple is in baby's mouth. Many new mothers report that first feedings can be uncomfortable, but a lactation consultant can teach you ways to make it better. For instance, you'll learn how to splay baby's lips open wider, express milk before nursing to draw the nipple out and massage your breasts after feeding.

What if I run into trouble leaving the hospital?
If you need help after you go home, ask the staff at the hospital whether they can recommend any resources. You may need assistance from a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding advocate, such as a representative of La Leche League. Don't hesitate to seek help; start with your OB-GYN or the pediatrician if you're not sure who else to turn to.

How long does each feeding last?
Feedings will last about 20 to 30 minutes, and then you'll need to burp your infant. So, yes, it's possible that during the first months you'll spend a quarter of your days and nights feeding your newborn, but remember: the two of you are bonding and getting to know one another all the while.

How do I alleviate the discomfort of sore breasts?
You can relieve engorged breasts by letting your baby nurse. You can also express some breast milk for your baby to drink from a bottle. Standing in a warm shower can help relieve engorgement pain, too. If you've got the opposite problem—you worry that your body's not making enough milk—nature's solution is the same: get baby nursing. Your body will meet the demand with a greater supply.

Should I pump?
If you're away from your baby during the day—or if you want to relieve engorged breasts—you'll need to express milk. This is easiest with a pump. A manual pump is less expensive than an electric one and perfectly fine if you're only going to be pumping occasionally to relieve engorgement, or if you need a spare for work. But if you plan to pump regularly, consider an electric model, which does most of the work for you. If you're not breastfeeding frequently, pumping is important; your body makes milk on a supply-and-demand basis, and if you're not pumping or feeding consistently, your body will begin shutting down the milk supply. If your child is born prematurely, you can pump milk even if you can't be with your newborn yet, and this will ensure sufficient milk later on. Working mothers pump breast milk that can then be bottlefed to baby.

What kind of diet should I maintain while breastfeeding?
Your body will need extra calories to burn, so try not to drop a lot of weight by cutting back on food. Continue with the same balanced and healthy diet you ate during pregnancy (including eight glasses of water a day), and continue taking prenatal vitamins as long as you breastfeed. You might also want to watch your caffeine and alcohol intake (if you use either more than occasionally, discuss it with your doctor). The only thing you should consider absolutely forbidden without your doctor's permission is any drug or medication. Some have the ability to pass through breast milk and harm your baby, so be sure to get your doctor's OK.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education