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) after each feeding. This 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. To keep up your energy, 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 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 interfering with your baby's sleep. If you have an 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 during breast-feeding exposes babies to nicotine, which can interfere with your baby's sleep, as well as risks a cigarette burn to the baby. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as respiratory illnesses.
  • 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. If you have a chronic health condition, ask your health care provider if it's OK to breast-feed your baby.

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 can be tiring, 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.

Ask a lactation consultant or your baby's doctor for help if needed — 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.

Nov. 23, 2016 See more In-depth