Breastfeeding a newborn is ordinarily a great way to be sure they get the nutrition they need. That’s because the nutrients in a mother’s milk are exactly matched to her baby’s needs. It is considered a complete source of nutrition and suited for a newborn’s developing digestive system. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatric recommends breastfeeding, when possible, to provide the best start through baby’s first year; some experts say babies should be fed exclusively on breastmilk for the first six months, and then continue to nurse, complemented with other safe and appropriate foods—babies who are breastfed exclusively often need extra vitamin D—until age two.
However, while breastfeeding is natural, it isn’t instinctual—at least, not for the mother. The baby, born with a suckling instinct, will almost always get the idea, particularly if nursed soon after birth—within the first hour is the recommendation—but it can sometimes be a little difficult for new mothers. One thing that helps, then, is to let the baby take the lead. The baby knows when to start and when to stop; the mother needs to do little more than watch for signs of hunger and position the baby properly. That means bracing the baby’s head and neck with one hand and hips with the other, leaving room for the wriggling that is part of finding the breast. A mother who is having problems should not hesitate to seek help—most maternity facilities have lactation consultants on staff, or family, friends, or breastfeeding organizations may be able to give useful advice.
Despite all advice and assistance available, some women are unable for one reason or another to breastfeed. This isn’t a sign of failure, it’s just something that happens. It helps for the mother to eat a healthy diet, get as much rest as a newborn allows—if possible, finding or hiring someone to take care of non-infant-related tasks—and try to stay calm about the whole thing. As beneficial as breastfeeding is, not being able to do so is not the end of the world; infant formula is intended to replicate natural milk as closely as possible. Many of the non-health benefits of breastfeeding—better relationship with the parents later in life, better mental health, better cognitive function—are not well supported by research.