One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to learn how to breastfeed my baby. First of all, I was completely exhausted from giving birth, and then I had to figure out how to keep her alive using my boobs? Yeah, it was stressful and frustrating. But, when I figured out how to breastfeed, it was completely incredible. There is something so peaceful and beautiful about bringing your baby to your breast, watching her drink and grow, and creating one of the best bonds of all time.
But, seriously, how do you breastfeed? Even though it’s an image we’ve all seen a thousand times, doing it yourself for the first time can be confusing and frustrating. Before your baby is born, it’s a good idea to take a breastfeeding course—they’re often offered at the hospital you will deliver at—and we’ve put together a step-by-step guide that will also help you conquer your fears and give you the confidence you need to make breastfeeding a positive experience for you and your baby.
Step 1. Get comfortable
Especially for new moms, it is important to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible when you are breastfeeding your baby. Settle into a rocking chair or your favorite sofa, make sure you have plenty of water nearby and perhaps some reading material. Put a pillow (consider a breastfeeding pillow) in your lap to help support the baby during the feeding.
Step 2. Find the right hold
There are several ways to hold your baby, and it’s all about finding what’s most comfortable for the both of you. Common holds include:
1. Cradle hold
The traditional way people hold babies. Rest your baby’s head in the crook of your arm with her body along your forearm across your waist. Tuck her lower arm under yours, and keep her ear, shoulder, and hip in a straight line.
2. Cross-cradle hold
Just like it sounds, the cross-cradle hold is basically the cradle hold, but you use your opposite arm to support the baby’s head and neck, laying her body out along the length of that arm. Use your nursing arm (right breast, right arm), to establish a latch.
3. Side-lying hold
Get comfortable lying down on your side, preferably with a pillow under your head. With your baby lying down as well, bring her close to your body along the length of your arm. Lie on your side in a comfortable place with a pillow under your head. Bring your baby close into the crook of your lower arm, while using your upper arm to establish a latch.
4. Football hold
Especially if you’ve had a C-Section, the football hold is a good bet because it keeps the bay off your belly. With your baby’s head in your hand, facing up, rest her body down the length of your arm so that you can easily bring her mouth to the breast.
Step 3. Get a good latch
There are many different techniques for getting your baby to latch on, but what matters most is that your baby gets a big mouthful of your nipple and areola. Once you’ve established the right hold, tilt your baby’s head up, letting her chin touch your areola and her lip brush against your nipple. This tickling sensation should persuade your baby to open her mouth wide. At this point, you should be able to steer your baby onto your breast (don’t tilt forward and bring your breast to the baby). Make sure her lower jaw and tongue are on the bottom of your areola and her upper lip deeply surrounds the topside of the nipple.
Step 4. Check the latch
When your baby is latched on and breastfeeding properly, you’ll feel a tugging sensation (not biting or sharp pain), and be able to see (or hear) her swallowing.
Step 5. Unlatch
At the end of a feed—this varies, depending on your milk flow—you’ll need to unlatch the baby. Try not to pull your baby straight off the breast. Instead, use your finger, gently hooking it into your baby’s mouth. This will create an air pocket and break the suction and create a more comfortable release.
With most things baby-related, breastfeeding takes a bit of trial and error, and lots of practice. If it doesn’t come naturally for you, don’t lose heart. There are many support groups and lactation consultants out there, eager to help you learn how to breastfeed and answer any questions you may have. Good luck and happy nursing!