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Breastfeeding Basics
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

Experts agree that breast-feeding is the ideal way to feed your newborn. Breast milk has the perfect mix of nutritients; it's always fresh, clean and the right temperature; it contains antibodies that will protect your baby from infections; and it's easy for the baby to digest.

Given that breast-feeding is so natural, you might think that every mother and infant would get the hang of it instantly. But, in fact, it's a learned skill.

"Expectant moms can prepare for breast-feeding early in their pregnancy by learning about it through their doctor, books or classes," said Suzan Anderson, lactation consultant at UTMB. "Such preparation can increase the chance of nursing successfully."

In the first days after delivery, your breasts produce colostrum, a precursor to mature milk. After three to four days, with the stimulation of your baby's suckling, your breasts will start to make mature milk.

The first weeks of a baby's life are the most crucial to establishing breast-feeding. You and your baby need to learn this skill together. It's important for him or her to have at least six feedings every 24 hours. According to Anderson, the baby should nurse every three to two hours, though the infant may have one four- to five-hour stretch of sleep at night. "The time interval between feedings is measured from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next," she said. "Frequent nursing will ensure that your baby won't get too hungry, and your breasts will get enough stimulation to produce an adequate amount of milk."

Nursing sessions should last 15 to 20 minutes per breast. This may be difficult at first as newborns tend to fall asleep but stick with it. Keep in mind that it may take some time for your baby and you to get into the routine.

"Many nursing mothers worry that their baby isn't getting enough milk, since they can't tell how many ounces are being consumed," said Anderson, who is board certified in breast-feeding education. "We always tell the moms 'what must go in must come out.'" In other words, your baby should be wetting six diapers a day and having three to four loose bowel movements a day. By five to six weeks, as your baby's digestive system matures, the number of bowel movements may decrease.

"Remember, it may take a little work to establish a solid nursing relationship, but when you do, both you and your baby will reap the rewards," said Anderson.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu

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