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Successful breastfeeding involves understanding when your baby is ready to eat, finding a breastfeeding position that works for you, and ensuring that your baby can latch. If you have flat or inverted nipples, there are a few tips you can try as well.

Feeding Cues

When your baby wants to eat, he or she will give you cues to show you he is hungry. Watch your baby and begin breastfeeding when you see:

  • Rooting
  • Putting hands in mouth

Babies who are not fed when they show hunger will become frustrated or upset and cry hard. If your baby is upset, calm him down before trying to breast feed again. Skin-on-skin cuddling may work well to calm your baby so you can feed him. It’s best to feed your baby when he is ready to eat rather than trying to follow a set schedule.

Feeding Positions

Every mother and her baby have different needs, so you’ll want to find positions and holds that are comfortable for both of you. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Cradle. This usually works best when your baby has learned to breastfeed well. For this hold, sit upright, making sure you have good back support. Select a chair with armrests or use pillows to help raise your baby to breast height. Keep your knees even with your hips by putting a stool or pillows under your feet. Now, cradle your baby at your breast with your baby’s tummy facing yours. When looking down, there should not be any space between you and your baby. Your baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip should be in a straight line.

  • Cross-cradle. The cross-cradle hold often works well for babies who are having trouble latching on or who are very small. Position yourself comfortably with pillows behind you. Lean back slightly so that you don’t have to bend over the baby. Support the baby with your arm and place your arm on a pillow or cushion in a horizontal or semi-upright position. Hold the baby using the arm opposite from the breast you'll begin feeding from. Support the baby’s neck and head with this hand as his body extends along the length of your forearm. Use the hand on the side of the breast you are feeding from to support the breast. Position the baby’s nose at the level of your nipple, with his body on his side, facing you. When looking down, you should not see any space between you and your baby. His ear, shoulder, and hip should be in a straight line.

  • Football. Many women find the football hold helpful, in part because it seems to help babies latch on well. Especially good for large-breasted women, this position can also help protect a cesarean incision, provide you with a free hand, or allow you to breastfeed two babies at once. Begin by placing pillows at your back and side to support you as you hold the baby. Hold the baby in your arm and lay your arm on the pillow at your side. Support your baby’s neck and head with your hand and support his back with your forearm. Tuck the baby’s legs between your arm and body, as if carrying a football. If your baby is troubled by gas, adjust this hold so your baby sits slightly upright, leaving less room for air in his tummy.

  • Laid-back. Where your head, neck, and shoulders are supported and your baby is resting on your body — is a good way to begin breastfeeding with your new baby. It's very comfortable for both mom and baby and seems to help newborns take the breast in deeply. You can use this position in bed or in a couch or soft chair. Just arrange your bottom so that you can lean back into the pillows or cushions, far enough to have your baby rest completely on your body. (If you've had a C-section, have the baby lie across your body in a way that protects the incision — try different angles.) In this laid-back position, you don’t need to lift your baby up with your arms. Your baby’s weight is completely supported by your body.

  • Side-lying. For breastfeeding in bed or keeping an active baby off a cesarean incision, the side-lying hold is a good choice. Stretch out on your side with your baby facing you, tummy to tummy. Use pillows to provide you and your baby with back support. If you want to switch breasts, gather your baby close to your chest, then roll onto your back and across to the other side.

Latching On

Begin by supporting your breast with your hand. Put your thumb on top and your fingers below the breast, cupping your breast with your hand in a “C” or “U” shape. Make sure that the fingers on the underside of your breast aren’t touching the areola.

Next, position your baby’s body by bringing him in close to your side. Position your baby’s head so that his nose is in line with your nipple. Encourage your baby to open his mouth wide by tickling his upper lip with your nipple. When your baby’s mouth is wide open, bring him toward your breast, making sure that:

  • Your nipple is pointing toward the roof of your baby’s mouth.
  • When your baby connects with your breast, his chin touches first.

Support his neck and shoulder with your open hand. (Do NOT push his face into your breast.) With a proper latch, the baby’s tongue will draw in more of the breast tissue so that your baby’s chin and lower lip will be close against your breast, and his head is slightly tilted back.

Do not use your finger to create an air pocket under the baby’s nose — if it seems that your baby can’t breathe easily at your breast, pull his shoulder closer to you and let his forehead fall slightly away from your breast.

When your baby first nurses, you'll feel a tugging sensation. Listen for the sound of your baby swallowing. A clicking sound (the baby’s tongue against the roof of his mouth) may mean that your baby isn’t latched on well. Other signs of a poor latch-on are nipple pain or pinching. If you think the latch-on isn’t right, slip your finger into the side of his mouth to break the suction, then reposition and try again. It may take several tries to get the latch-on correct. LOOK, LISTEN, and FEEL for signs that the feeding is going well.

  • LOOK to see that your baby is swallowing. (His whole jaw is moving rhythmically.)
  • LISTEN for swallowing sounds, especially after your milk comes in and your baby is getting more volume. The sounds may include a little “aah” as your baby breathes between several swallows. (But clicking, slurping, or smacking sounds may indicate a poor latch.)
  • FEEL for a tugging sensation — but not pain.

Let your baby nurse well on one breast before changing to the other side. Most babies will let go of the breast when they are finished on that side. If you need to remove your baby from your breast to switch him to the other side, gently put your finger into a corner of his mouth to break the suction.

Flat or Inverted Nipples

Some women have flat or inverted nipples. Most babies can breastfeed on this kind of nipple without problems because when babies are latched on correctly, they suck on the breast, not the nipple. If needed, try these tips:

  • Roll your nipple between your fingers.
  • Avoid giving your baby bottles or pacifiers.
  • Use a breast pump at the start of a feeding to help draw your nipple out.

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