Child Care: Breast Feeding – Preparation and Technique

The preparation for breast-feeding starts much before delivery i.e. during pregnancy. The mother should read about breastfeeding and any anticipated problems or doubts should be clarified with her obstetrician during her regular antenatal visits. For e.g., if there are retracted nipples, daily manual traction (i.e. catching the areola and the nipple area between the thumb and fingers and gently pulling it outwards) can correct it. Such measures will not lead to feeding problems when the baby is born.

The position that the mother assumes for feeding is largely a matter of comfort and preference. She can nurse lying downon one side, or propped up with pillows underneath; or sitting comfortably in bed, chair etc. Breast-feeding can be started after delivery as soon as the mother and the baby are comfortable. Correct position and technique are necessary for optimal sucking with minimal nipple discomfort.

If the mother is sitting, the infant should be elevated to the height of the breast and turned so that he faces the mother. The mother’s arm supporting the baby should bring the baby’s mouth near to her breast. The other free arm should support the breast from below by the fingers, while the thumb and the index finger should grasp the nipple and compress it so as to make it more protractile. Ideally, the mother should touch the nipple at the corner of the baby’s mouth and not directly put it into the baby’s mouth.

When the baby feels the nipple (or any stimulus including a finger touch at the corner of his mouth), it goes for it, the avidity depending upon his hunger. The baby tries to “catch” the stimulus (in this case the nipple) in his mouth, a natural reflex called rooting. When the baby, with its mouth open finds the nipple and tries to grasp it, the mother should gently but rapidly, push as much nipple and areola as possible in the baby’s mouth.

The baby should apply rhythmic compressions on the areola (and not on the nipple, as it does in bottle-feeding) with its gums. Milk is stored in sinuses underneath the areola and these sinuses should be compressed rhythmically, so that the milk from them is squirted via the nipple into the baby’s mouth. The nipple acts like a conduit for the passage of milk.

Chewing on the nipple or rhythmic compression of the nipple by the gums is not helpful in getting the milk, because milk from the breast doesn’t come from suction on the nipples, as in the case of bottle! Proper breast-feeding technique requires that the baby compress the areola (rather than the nipples) with its gums. In fact, improper technique and positioning is chiefly responsible for soreness and cracked nipples, a common complaint of nursing mothers.

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