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Moms have breast-fed babies for centuries. So it must be easy, right? In reality, breast-feeding can be a big challenge for new moms. Here are four things to remember when deciding whether to breast- or bottle-feed your baby.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s no shame in admitting you need help. So many people assume breast-feeding is an intuitive process, but like many things, it takes some instruction. Ask your postpartum nurse or the hospital’s lactation consultant for advice. Once home, don’t be afraid to follow up with the hospital’s lactation office for either phone support or an in-person consultation. Lactation consultations, often covered by insurance, can assist in proper latch and getting into a comfortable feeding position. It’s difficult to address questions and concerns before they become problems.

Look for your baby’s cues. For the first few weeks or month, most babies feed every two to three hours. Keep an eye out for signs of hunger, like sucking on hands and rooting around. On-demand feeding is important until a schedule is set to help establish a good milk flow.

Be sure your baby empties your breast. Things can get uncomfortable when your baby doesn’t fully empty your supply. Doing so also helps your milk supply come in well. This may take 15 to 20 minutes on each side. If your baby takes only one breast, that’s OK. Just make sure to start the next feeding on the other side. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that you hold off on offering a pacifier to your baby – if you plan to offer one at all – until breast-feeding is well established. This usually takes three to four weeks.

Take care of yourself. Take gentle care of yourself. Keep clean, but use a minimal amount of soap. It’s also important to keep yourself dry, which nursing pads can certainly help with. Eat a healthy diet. Drink plenty of fluids, and keep well hydrated. Get as much rest as possible. I know it’s hard to get rest when feeding your baby 10 to 12 times daily, so the adage “Sleep when your baby sleeps” is a good one to try. Before taking any medications, reach out to your doctor and pediatrician, and of course, do not smoke.

Getting to know your newborn and feeding him or her is one of life’s great joys. Don’t make it too stressful. Enjoy this time. For more breast-feeding resources, visit mercy.net/lnbreastfeedingtips.

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

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