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Answers to Breastfeeding Questions

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When you first start to breastfeed, adequate exposure of the breasts will make it easier for your baby to latch on correctly. You'll have plenty of time later to learn to nurse discreetly. It helps in the beginning to wear a gown that opens in the front. Those lovely nursing gowns with the slits for exposing your breasts will serve you well once breastfeeding is going smoothly. In the beginning, however, clothing often gets in the way of your baby's efforts to latch on. It's best to forgo modesty in favor of technique. Pull the curtain around your bed or ask the nurse to put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door if you are concerned that someone might enter your room unannounced while your breasts are exposed. You are not expected to nurse in the presence of anyone who makes you uncomfortable. During the learning stage, feel free to ask anyone to step out of the room if you feel awkward in their presence. Eventually, most women become comfortable nursing almost anywhere without feeling self-conscious, but you probably won't want an audience when you and your baby are still figuring things out.

Drink a Beverage While You Nurse
Another good habit you will want to start before you leave the hospital is making sure you have something available to drink each time you breastfeed your baby. Milk production requires extra fluids, and nursing mothers get thirsty often. Let your friends and relatives help out by getting you a glass of water or juice. Placing a straw in the glass will make it easy for you to take a drink when the glass is offered, since at first both your hands will be occupied during nursings. Many breastfeeding mothers find that the habitual practice of drinking a beverage as they prepare to nurse also helps to trigger their let-down reflex.

Night Feedings
Don't make the mistake of bypassing night nursings so you can get extra sleep in the hospital. Night nursings are important to your baby and to you. No one gets much sleep in a hospital whether or not they feed their baby at night. The best way to assure that you get the maximum possible sleep in the long run at home is to leave the hospital knowing how to feed your baby. A breastfed baby who is kept in the nursery and bottle-fed by the nurses at night may not nurse as well when the mother desires to resume breastfeeding in the morning. Today, hospital stays are so short that mothers can't afford to miss even one opportunity to practice their breastfeeding technique before they go home. Don't view night nursings as an inconvenient interruption. Doing the feedings yourself at night ultimately benefits you and your baby.

Learn All You Can in the Hospital
During your brief hospital stay, there's so much to learn about baby care that it's hard to take it all in. Still exhausted from labor and delivery, you may be tempted, indeed encouraged, to delegate as much care as possible to the nurses. But remember, although the nurses may give expert care for the moment, they're not coming home with you! Your top priority in the hospital is to transfer as much of the nurses' expertise as possible to yourself and your partner before you take your baby home. Let the nurses know that you want to do much or all of your baby's care so you will be prepared to "go it alone" after discharge. Don't be afraid to ask even the most basic questions. Plenty of mothers have asked the same thing before you!

Closed-Circuit TV
Many hospitals have educational programming for new parents on closed-circuit TV. Such programming ranges from in-house productions aired at specific times to continuous commercial programming aimed at new parents. I am amazed how often the TV is on when I enter a patient's room. We certainly are a visually oriented society, and TV viewing is an integral part of daily life. Instead of watching your favorite soaps, talk shows, sitcoms, or drama features, vow to use the TV for educational purposes until you are comfortable in your new parent role. Baby care and breastfeeding videos won't substitute for one-on-one guidance from an experienced nurse, but the information you gain from watching these programs will make your interactions with the nurses even more worthwhile.

Many hospitals offer group instruction, such as bathing demonstrations or infant-feeding classes before discharge. Make every effort to take advantage of such instruction before you go home. Some hospitals offer classes a few days after discharge, when parents often are even more receptive now that they are "flying solo."

One-on-one Instruction
Reading materials and videos are valuable resources, but when it comes to latching your baby on, it really helps to have an experienced professional at your side. While you are in the hospital, ask for personal, expert assistance as often as you need it. Before you are discharged, ask a knowledgeable nurse to observe your breastfeeding technique to make certain you can correctly position, latch, and nurse your baby on your own at home.

Breastfeeding Specialists
Many hospitals that offer maternity services have a breastfeeding specialist or lactation consultant on their staff. Sometimes this individual is able to meet and assist every breastfeeding mother on the ward. In other hospitals, she might be called upon to help only those women having difficulties. Ask whether your hospital has a lactation consultant and don't leave without getting her phone number! If you are having any difficulties, ask to be seen by the specialist. Often, these experts are able to continue to help women on an outpatient basis after they are discharged.

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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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