Breastfeeding can be a beautiful and natural bonding experience between a mother and child. The benefits of breastfeeding are endless, both for you and your baby.

Mothers who breastfeed have experienced decreased postpartum bleeding, decreased chance of breast and ovarian cancers and usually return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner. Babies who are breastfed are more protected from certain diseases and conditions, like diarrhea, childhood obesity and respiratory tract infections. 

If you’re a new or expecting mom looking for breastfeeding advice, consider these tips.

Get help early on

Before your baby arrives, it’s important to establish a support system. Breastfeeding can be difficult and tiring, so having a team of people to confide in helps. A lactation consultant can be a part of your team, providing you with solutions to any feeding obstacles, such as latching problems, pain while nursing, and milk production.

Proper positioning 

Positioning is important when breastfeeding a baby. Aiming your nipple towards the roof of your baby’s mouth is important to get a deep latch and should be more comfortable. Your baby should have your areola (dark area around the nipple) in their mouth.

Take care of yourself

When nursing regularly, it’s easy for a mother’s skin to become irritated. To prevent chapped and cracked skin, it’s important not to scrub or use soaps (especially the scented variety) directly on the nipple or areola. Keeping breasts dry after feeding can help. There’s also many serums and creams on the market that can soothe irritated nipples and skin, though occasionally women have experienced allergic reactions to these products. Expressing some breast milk on irritated skin is another soothing option.

Avoid becoming engorged

Engorgement is when breast tissue becomes overfilled with milk, blood and other fluids. This can be very painful and make breastfeeding difficult. Nursing as much as possible can help reduce the chances of becoming engorged. “My motto to prevent engorgement is ‘early and often’. It is also important to make sure that the baby transfers the milk, so listening for swallowing during feeding is important,” said Pamela D. Berens, MD, obstetrician with UT Physicians and Fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Breastfeed right after birth

Breastfeeding as soon as possible, or within the first hour of delivery, can get you and your baby off to a good start. During this feeding time, babies will receive the mother’s colostrum (the first milk) that provides them with antibodies against infection and disease. “Babies are often alert right after birth, so this is a good time for the baby to learn how to latch on. The small volume of colostrum present at birth is ideal for the baby to learn how to suck, swallow and breath,” said Berens.

The right formula

When it comes to feeding a child, the mantra “whatever works” should be considered. Breastfeeding is not right for every mother. Formula is a healthy option for those who choose not to breastfeed, or who are in situations where a baby has a health concern (loss of weight, jaundice, etc.). In the later situation, some breast milk in addition to formula continues to provide benefits for you and your baby. Speak with your health care provider and a lactation consultant should you have any questions or concerns.