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Breastfeeding: The Hospital Experience

After months of preparation and anticipation, your baby has finally arrived. Exhausted and exhilarated, you are ready to begin your breastfeeding experience: your pregnancy has culminated in this special moment. After nourishing your baby in the uterus, your body is prepared to continue to provide all your baby's nutritional needs outside the womb.

Most babies are vigorous and healthy at birth and require little immediate care beyond drying them off and clearing the mouth and nasal passages. Unless you or your baby has a medical problem, the two of you ought to be able to be united right after delivery. A large number of U.S. hospitals now offer LDRs (labor-delivery-recovery rooms) that allow women to stay in the same room for labor, birthing, and immediate recovery. Instead of being whisked off to a nursery, your baby can remain with you and undergo any required assessments after birth right in the presence of his family. This practice gets breastfeeding started on the right foot.

Your First Feeding
You will want to start breastfeeding as soon as possible after delivery. Generally, earlier opportunities to nurse are linked to greater breastfeeding success. In most situations, the first nursing can take place within thirty to sixty minutes of giving birth, when a baby's sucking instinct is most intense. Try not to hold rigid expectations for this first breastfeeding experience. Instead, view it as a relaxing, intimate, get-to-know-you time. Your baby may only lick your nipple and act content to be snuggled at your breast. He may attach to your breast, suck briefly, then stop and look around. Or, he may latch-on and suck rhythmically as if he's done this many times before. Any one of these responses is perfectly normal. What's important is that the two of you remain together after delivery during a precious time of mutual exploration.

Correct Breastfeeding Technique
When beginning any new activity, whether swinging a golf club, typing at a keyboard, playing a musical instrument, or nursing a baby, it pays to learn and use proper technique from the very start. It's easier to establish and reinforce the right habits from the outset than to try to correct errors in technique once bad habits are ingrained. Many new mothers are surprised to learn that breastfeeding isn't pure instinct for them or their babies. Even though babies have innate reflexes, like rooting and sucking, that serve them well in seeking and obtaining food, the fact is that correct breastfeeding is a learned art. In most societies, the art of breastfeeding is passed from mother to daughter and sister to sister. At present in the United States, when so many contemporary grandmothers lack personal breastfeeding experience, new mothers are left to learn how to nurse their baby from a postpartum or nursery nurse. Such one-on-one instruction is essential if you are to leave the hospital confident and capable of nursing your baby on your own at home. Don't be shy about asking for extra help! You're the best judge of whether you have learned all you need to know before you are discharged.

Tips for C-Section Moms
Although a cesarean birth poses unique challenges, successful breastfeeding certainly is possible for mothers who have a C-section. Disappointment and anger over an unplanned cesarean delivery may leave you with less emotional energy to devote to breastfeeding unless you are able to safely vent any negative feelings you may have about the loss of your hoped-for birth experience. If your C-section is planned, inquire in advance about hospital policies that promote successful breastfeeding and present any special requests that you would like honored, like the avoidance of artificial nipples and ready access to your baby. Ask to have a support person stay in your room at all times to help you with your infant. Arrange to share this responsibility among several people, such as your partner, your mother, and your sister.

If you are able to have an epidural anesthetic, you can be awake for your baby's birth and can breastfeed shortly after delivery. Even if you require a general anesthetic, you can start breastfeeding with assistance as soon as you feel ready. You will want to choose one of the nursing positions that keeps the baby's weight off your incision, such as the side-lying position or the football hold. Resist suggestions to have your baby fed in the nursery, and be assertive about asking for the extra help you need at each feeding.

Although the medications you take will pass into your milk, generally the antibiotics and pain relievers prescribed after cesarean delivery are safe for breastfeeding newborns. If the effects of a drug on your infant are in question, ask whether a safer medication might be substituted. Your doctor will likely consult a drug-safety database called LactMed to ensure a medication is safe for you and your baby.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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