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When should I begin breastfeeding?

If possible, try to start nursing within an hour after the birth. This timing takes advantage of the wakefulness of your newborn after birth. Many babies will instinctively take to the breast, even their first time. After the initial period of being alert, a newborn will spend much of the next 24 hours sleeping. So, it may be more difficult to get your baby to latch on after the first few hours.

Even if your baby doesn't actually latch on, starting early helps you and your little one to practice and get used to the idea of breastfeeding.

It may take a few times before getting it right, but it's important that your baby latches with a wide-open mouth and takes as much as possible of your areola (the dark-colored area of the breast) in his or her mouth (not just the tip of the nipple). If your baby is sleeping at the breast, try to wake him or her up by tickling the feet or undressing the baby. Frequent attempts to burp and changing the diaper between breasts also can be helpful. Many babies who fall asleep at the breast are not latched on correctly. See your physician or lactation consultant if this continues.

To help both you and your baby get used to breastfeeding, try to feed about every 2-3 hours, even overnight. In many hospitals, you can ask for your baby to "room in" (or stay in the hospital room with you). For moms who want — and need — the extra shut-eye during those first couple of days after the birth, you can have your baby stay in the nursery at night and ask the staff to bring your newborn to you to feed. In many hospitals this is called a "respite nursery." However, if your baby is not rooming in, you won't learn his or her feeding cues, making feeding on demand more challenging when you return home.

Are bottles or pacifiers OK?

If you're committed to trying to exclusively breastfeed, you don't want your baby to suck on a pacifier or a bottle. In the beginning, it's important to allow your baby to practice breastfeeding without being confused by a bottle or a pacifier. Some experts feel that if you start giving bottles too early — before your baby is used to breastfeeding — your little one might have "nipple confusion" and may decide that the bottle is the quicker, better option than the breast. While some babies experience this confusion, others have no problem transitioning between a bottle and the breast.

If a pacifier is occasionally needed in the nursery (such as during a circumison, when baby boys may be given pacifiers with sugar water), it won't disrupt your nursing.

If the doctor tells you the baby requires a little supplementation with formula, it can be given with a bottle or through a nursing system in which the formula goes through a small tube that attaches to your nipple.

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