Hesperian Health Guides

Breastfeeding the baby

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 12: Caring for your baby > Breastfeeding the baby

a woman breastfeeding a baby.
Breast is best!

If possible, breastfeed your baby. Colostrum, the first yellow-colored milk that comes out of the breasts for the first 2 or 3 days after birth, is the best possible food for the baby. It is good for the baby’s stomach, has all the nutrition a new baby needs, and protects against disease. Babies who breastfeed as often as they want do not need herbs or teas or sugar water. If possible, give your baby nothing but breast milk for the first 6 months. If it is too difficult to breastfeed your baby, remove the milk from your breasts by hand so it can be fed to the baby by another method.

Feeding a baby breast milk is important because:

  • breast milk is the perfect food to help a baby grow healthy and strong.
  • breastfeeding helps the mother’s womb stop bleeding after birth.
  • breast milk passes on to the baby the mother’s defenses against illnesses such as diabetes and cancer, and infections like diarrhea and pneumonia.
  • breastfeeding helps the mother and baby feel close and secure.
  • breastfeeding can prevent some women from becoming pregnant again during the first 6 months.
  • breast milk is free.

Most women with disabilities can breastfeed their babies. Some disabled women need help holding the baby in a good position. Others may not produce enough milk. Some disabilities make women feel too weak and tired. You must decide for yourself whether or not you can breastfeed your baby.

How to breastfeed

Most babies are born knowing how to suck. But they may need help getting enough of the nipple in the mouth. The baby should have a big mouthful of the breast with the nipple deep inside.

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This baby has a good mouthful of breast.
This baby does not have enough breast in its mouth.

How to hold the baby

a breastfeeding woman leaning against pillows on a bed, holding her baby on a folded blanket next to her.
Some women find breastfeeding easier if they sit in a chair or bed where they can lean back a little and also support their arms. It also helps to rest your feet on something. Make sure the baby is well supported too.

Breastfeeding can be painful at first. But if the baby is in the right position, you will get used to the baby’s sucking and the pain should go away. If it does not, try changing your position or the baby’s position. Make sure the baby has a good mouthful of the breast. If breastfeeding is still painful, talk with a health worker. There could be another problem.

Most women learn to breastfeed their babies by watching other women in the family and community. If another woman in the community has your disability and is already a mother, ask her for advice.

Many disabled women can breastfeed their babies if they find a comfortable position.

a woman in a wheelchair breastfeeding a baby.
Use pillows or some rolled-up cloth under the baby.

If you have good use of your arms and upper body, you should be able to breastfeed the baby with no problems. Make sure the baby, especially the baby’s head, is well supported and that you sit or lie in a position that is comfortable for you.
If you have limited use of your arms and upper body, try to find at least one comfortable position for breastfeeding. Ask someone to help you if necessary. Here are some suggestions:

a woman with only 1 leg lies down to breastfeed her baby.
Many women find it easier to lie on their sides with their babies beside them supported by pillows or rolled-up cloth.
a man holding a baby to a woman's breast as she lies in bed.

If you cannot use your arms and upper body, you can breastfeed with help from family members or friends. Explain to them how to position the baby so that you can breastfeed. If necessary, ask them to hold the baby in position, especially the baby’s head. Even though you are not holding the baby in your arms, the baby will still be able to see your face and feel the warmth and familiar smell of your body.

a breastfeeding woman with her breasts supported by cloth tied around her body.

If it is difficult for you to hold your breast, wear a bra (brassiere)with a wide hole cut around the entire nipple. You may be able to buy a ‘nursing bra’ made to support the breasts and with a way to cover and uncover the nipple for breastfeeding. Or you can wrap some cloth around your chest and across your breast with a hole cut out to expose the nipple. You can also tie a length of rolled-up cloth around your upper body under your breasts.