Gauge your success

When your baby is latched on successfully, you'll feel a gentle pulling sensation on your breast — rather than a pinching or biting sensation on your nipple. Your breasts might feel firm or full before the feeding, and softer or emptier afterward. Look for your baby to gain weight steadily, produce at least six wet diapers a day and be content between feedings. Your baby's stools will become yellow, seedy and loose.

Take care of your nipples

After each feeding, it's OK to let the milk dry naturally on your nipple. The milk can soothe your nipples. If you're in a hurry, gently pat your nipple dry. If your breasts leak between feedings, use bra pads — and change them often. When you bathe, minimize the amount of soap, shampoo and other cleansers that might contact your nipples. If your nipples are dry or cracked, use purified lanolin (such as Lansinoh or Tender Care Lanolin) or a hydrogel dressing (such as Curasol or Gentell) after each feeding. These products are available without a prescription in most pharmacies. Both can soothe cracked nipples, as well as help your nipples retain moisture.

Make healthy lifestyle choices

Your lifestyle choices are just as important when you're breast-feeding as they were when you were pregnant. For example:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Stick to healthy-eating basics, such as choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Your health care provider might recommend taking a daily multivitamin — or continuing to take prenatal vitamins — as well.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice and milk can help you stay hydrated. Moderate amounts of caffeine are generally considered OK as well — but scale back if you suspect that too much caffeine is leading to irritability or interfering with your baby's sleep. If you choose to have an occasional alcoholic drink, avoid breast-feeding for two hours afterward.
  • Rest as much as possible. If you can, sleep when the baby sleeps.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can reduce your milk supply, as well as change the taste of your milk and interfere with your baby's sleep. Secondhand smoke also is a concern. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as childhood asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and middle ear infections (otitis media).
  • Be cautious with medication. Many medications are safe to take while you're breast-feeding. Still, it's best to get your health care provider's OK first.

Also ask your baby's doctor about vitamin D supplements for the baby, especially if you're exclusively breast-feeding. Breast milk might not provide enough vitamin D, which helps your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.

Give it time

If breast-feeding is tougher than you expected, try not to get discouraged. Feeding a newborn every few hours is exhausting, and it's OK to have a slow start. Just remember that the more often you breast-feed your baby, the more milk your breasts will produce — and the more natural breast-feeding is likely to feel.

If you're struggling, ask a lactation consultant or your baby's doctor for help — especially if every feeding is painful or your baby isn't gaining weight. Although your nipples might be tender for the first few weeks, breast-feeding isn't supposed to hurt. If you haven't worked with a lactation consultant, ask your baby's doctor for a referral or check with the obstetrics department at a local hospital.

Apr. 06, 2012 See more In-depth