For mother and baby alike, nursing is an acquired skill

November 26, 1991|By Gerri Kobren

Most people think breast-feeding is instinctive, says Susan Will, lactation consultant at Sinai Hospital. "But I always tell a mother that parts of it are instinctual: The baby has an instinct to suck, and the mother's milk will come in. Putting the two together is a learned skill."

In the old days, it was a skill mothers passed on to daughters. But mothers in this generation were in large part raised on formula themselves -- even their own mothers can't show them how.

And it's harder than one might think. For example, new mothers might let the baby nurse at the nipple, which works fine when bottle feeding, but not when breast-feeding. "The baby's mouth should be open wide on the breast; you want the gums, the jaw, to be suckling. That tells the breast to make more milk," advises Ms. Vogelhut.

New mothers might also be trying to operate on a four-hour schedule; that's wrong, too: "You have to do it frequently. We encourage mothers to do it every two to three hours, or eight to 12 times a day, for the first two weeks," says Mrs. Newmark.

Or, some moms alternate breast and bottle. "If you supplement before the milk supply is well established and the baby has learned how to nurse, it won't work," says Ms. Vogelhut. "Babies have to learn a lot of things when they're brand new; suckling at the breast is different from taking milk from a bottle, and it's hard to learn two ways of doing something."

After about a month of breast-feeding, she adds, the baby can learn to use a bottle, too.

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