Breastfeeding is a natural, beautiful experience to share with your child, but it can also be full of challenges for many new mothers. Some women struggle to get their baby to latch, some mothers have work schedules that make nursing difficult, and others struggle with milk production. You may also decide that breastfeeding isn’t for you and your family; the important thing to remember throughout your journey is that fed is best.
If you are about to be a new parent and have questions about breastfeeding, this article is your one-stop guide on breastfeeding basics. This article covers breastfeeding from start to finish with tips, concerns, challenges, and products to make the process smoother both for mom and baby. Let’s go!
Given that mammals are biologically designed for breastfeeding you’d think it would be as simple as one, two, three! However, for many moms and babies, breastfeeding presents a myriad of challenges to overcome.
When you become pregnant, your brain begins signaling to your body that it needs to prepare for your baby’s arrival. As you approach your due date, you may notice that your breasts begin leaking a thick, yellow liquid; this is called colostrum and is what your baby will drink the first few days of life. Colostrum is nicknamed “liquid gold” because it is packed with essential nutrients and antibodies your newborn needs.
Your areolas may become darker, your nipples will become larger and more prominent, and you will likely experience breast tenderness and a feeling of fullness as your milk ducts prepare for your baby’s arrival.
A few days after your baby’s birth, your milk will come in and will naturally adjust its supply based on your baby’s needs. You are recommended to nurse your baby within the first hour of birth. When your baby nurses, the action of suckling sends the message to your brain that it is time for the milk to come!
Most experts advise that breastfeeding is a great option; however, some parents are unable to breastfeed for medical, personal, or biological reasons. No matter your situation, remember that fed is best.
Whether you nurse exclusively for six months, continue nursing past the first year, or choose to use formula from day one, providing your baby with the nutrients it needs to thrive and grow is what’s important.
Benefits of breastfeeding
There is no doubt that breastfeeding is an excellent choice for both mother and baby. But, as a new mother or parent-to-be, you may not realize all the fantastic benefits breastfeeding offers.
Benefits for the Baby
- Breast milk provides all the required nutrients your baby needs the first six months of life.
- Breastfed babies have lower rates of allergies, asthma, and respiratory issues.
- Breastfeeding supports a healthy immune system.
- Breastfed babies have a lower risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Benefits for the Mom
- Breastfeeding helps new moms build a secure attachment with their babies.
- Even if you are not nursing, create opportunities for skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Your partner can do the same!
- Women who breastfeed have lower cervical, ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer rates.
- Breastfeeding can help you shed pregnancy weight.
- Breastfeeding helps your uterus shrink back to its normal size.
- Breastfeeding may delay the return of your menstrual cycle.
Not Everyone Can Breastfeed
For some parents, breastfeeding is not an option. Whether there is a medical condition or a prescribed medication that prevents breastfeeding, you’re an adoptive parent, or you simply decide it is not the right fit for you, there is no shame in not breastfeeding your child.
Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, or use a combination of the two, the most important thing is to ensure your baby receives proper nutrition and care.
Despite breastfeeding being something humans are designed to do, it can come with complications and challenges. Breastfeeding is a process, and it can take some time for both mom and baby to figure it out; keep trying and reach out to the hospital’s lactation consultant or use the resources on the La Leche League website.
Good nutrition for the mom is good nutrition for the baby
The food you eat directly impacts your baby and the nutrients they receive. In addition, being a new parent is exhausting so keep yourself fueled with healthy, nutritious foods that provide your body with energy.
There is a direct link between hydration and milk supply. Hydration in equals hydration out; you should drink enough water that you’re not thirsty plus a bit more. It’s a good idea to keep a water bottle or refillable cup with you wherever you go, so you always have something to drink. A good rule of thumb is a 6-8 ounce glass of water per hour.
Avoid filling up on sugary drinks or drinks high in caffeine. You should drink alcohol in moderation since it can be passed via breast milk to your baby.
Find a comfortable position
Comfort is key. Breastfeeding a newborn can take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. A supportive nursing pillow and a comfortable place to sit are essential in making your nursing sessions go smoothly. The Nuture& Gliders provide comfort and support, plus a relaxing place to sit while cuddling your little one.
Find a good nursing bra
A nursing bra can be your best friend while breastfeeding, especially if you will be nursing or pumping on the go or at your workplace. Your breasts will weigh more because of your milk supply, so find one that’s comfortable and supportive. Nursing bras can be expensive but investing in three or four nice ones is a smart investment.
Have a distraction
While bonding with your baby is a lovely experience, you may sometimes find your brain needs some additional stimuli during lengthy nursing sessions. For example, you can read a book or watch TV; however, keep the TV low so the sound doesn’t distract your baby from feeding. You could also listen to music or an audiobook, call a friend or browse online.
Take care of your nipples and breasts
Cracked nipples, engorgement, and mastitis are all possible negative side effects when nursing, especially if you fail to care for your nipples and breasts properly. While sore nipples are inevitable, especially during the first few weeks, cracked nipples can lead to an infection or pain so intense it is impossible to nurse.
Use lanolin before and after each nursing session to help soften and soothe your nipples. It is safe for your baby, so it does not need to be wiped off. The way your baby latches and the position of the baby’s lips and mouth can affect milk flow and how sore your nipples become.
Engage your partner in the process
Even if you nurse full time, your partner can still become involved. For example, you can use a breast pump to produce extra milk for bottle feeding. Bottle feeding not only gives you a break, but it also provides a chance for other family members to bond with the baby.
You can ask your partner to get you a cold drink or smoothie to drink while nursing. Your partner could burp the baby after you’ve finished or bring the baby to you beforehand.
You could also have your partner give you an occasional foot massage or just ask them to sit with you and talk. New parents often have difficulty finding time for one another, so why not chat during a 30-minute feeding!
Ask for help
Learning how to breastfeed your baby can be a challenging process. While it is natural for babies to breastfeed, finding the right position for your baby’s head or your baby’s mouth might not come naturally. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when needed! Many hospitals and pediatricians have lactation consultants that you can reach out to.
Remember that Fed is Best
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mother’s exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life; however, not all parents can do so. If your health or medications prevent you from breastfeeding, you struggle with low milk supply, or you have any other reason that breastfeeding is not an option, speak with your pediatrician about alternatives or supplementing. The most important thing is that your child is healthy and receiving proper nutrition.
The Fed is Best campaign aims to support parents from all walks of life and ease pressure from the belief breastfeeding is the only option. While breast milk and breastfeeding offer numerous benefits to your baby, it’s ok if you can’t or don’t breastfeed as formula alternatives can provide the same amount of nourishment.
The Best Breastfeeding Positions
You may not realize that there are different nursing positions and holds. Depending on your comfort, whether you had a c-section or vaginal birth, and the size of your baby, you may find different positions work better for you than others.
Laid-back nursing is one that many parents find comfortable and natural. It encourages skin-to-skin contact and is hands-free so your arms won’t get tired.
To engage in laid-back nursing, support your head, back, and shoulders with pillows and either lay on a bed or recline in a chair; the Nurture& Glider Plus has power recline, power lumbar support, and an adjustable headrest, making finding the perfect nursing position simple.
Lay your baby on their belly so their mouth can latch onto your breast; make any adjustments as needed for comfort. An added benefit of this position is that you can do it while in bed and get some crucial rest time.
The cradle position requires you to use your arm to support your baby’s head and neck; while mothers can use this position with a newborn, it is better for older babies. You will need a comfortable place to sit and a nursing pillow to support your baby and your arm.
The base of your baby’s head should be in the crook of your arm with their lower arm tucked under their body. Your baby’s tummy should be touching yours, and their legs and knees should be facing you. For proper latch, your baby should have the entire nipple and most of the areola in their mouth.
The side-lying position is typically used on the bed or couch. To achieve this position, lie on your side with your head and back supported by pillows. If you purchased a pregnancy pillow, this is an excellent way to repurpose it.
Lie your baby next to you, so your baby’s skin is touching yours; they will feed on the breast touching the mattress. You can place an additional pillow behind your baby to prevent them from rolling away. Allow your baby to latch on and support their head with your arm.
The side-lying position works well for mothers who had a c-section or for the middle of the night feedings when you want to relax. Just remember to never fall asleep with your baby on you, as that can be dangerous.
The football hold is ideal for moms who have had a c-section or have fast-let down, large breasts, or in order to nurse twins. The football hold is typically only used for newborns until they have learned to latch on properly.
To position your baby in the football hold, make sure you are seated in a comfortable position with your back supported and place a nursing pillow under your baby. Use the length of your arm to support their back and support their head using your hand with your thumb and index finger behind their ears.
Tuck your baby along the same side they will be nursing on in the same way a football player would hold the ball to run.
Most Common Concerns About Breastfeeding
It’s natural to have questions about breastfeeding, especially if this is your first baby, but even veteran moms may have concerns. Below we have answers to some of the most common questions and concerns parents have about breastfeeding.
What if I can't breastfeed? What if it is too hard, or I don't have enough milk?
You can always reach out to a lactation consultant to help you get in the swing of breastfeeding if you’re having trouble in the beginning. If you think you are experiencing low milk supply, there are several ways to increase your milk:
- Empty your breasts at each feeding.
- Pump or hand express between feedings.
- Offer both breasts at each feeding.
- Ensure your baby is latching on properly.
- Take deep breaths and relax and massage your breasts while holding your baby before nursing.
- Avoid using pacifiers for the first few weeks until your baby has learned to latch correctly.
Will breastfeeding hurt?
Breastfeeding should not be painful, although, during the initial weeks, your nipples may feel sore and tender. If your baby is not latching on correctly, it could lead to sore, cracked nipples which can be extremely painful. If it is painful to nurse, speak with a lactation consultant or physician for help.
Will breastfeeding ruin my breasts?
The idea that your breasts will be ruined by breastfeeding is an old wives’ tale. There is no scientific evidence that points to breastfeeding and sagging breasts. Breasts naturally increase in size during pregnancy.
When you lose your baby weight, and your breasts become smaller, the stretched-out glands cause the sagging. So whether you breastfeed or not, you may experience a slight sag in your breasts during the postnatal period.
Do I need to have a breastfeeding schedule?
Experts say you should feed your baby on demand for the first several weeks but a minimum of 8-12 times per 24-hours; when you nurse your baby, your body signals your breasts to produce more milk.
After about 6-8 weeks, your baby will naturally fall into a relatively predictable rhythm of eating and sleeping. You can use a journal to keep track of feedings and naps so you can look for a pattern.
- Your baby should have 2-3 wet diapers and 2 bowel movements in the first few days.
- During days 4-6, look for 5+ wet diapers and 2 bowel movements.
- Weeks 2-6 your baby should have 6+ wet diapers in 24 hours and 2 bowel movements.
Do not try to force a newborn onto a feeding schedule that fits your lifestyle; newborns need to eat and eat often. In addition, research has shown that putting newborns on a feeding schedule leads to slow weight gain.
Instead, watch your baby for signs of hunger:
- Crying, whimpering, squeaking
- Turning their head from side to side as if looking for the breast.
- Mouth movements, putting their hands in the mouth, licking their lips.
- Increased alertness, heavy breathing
- Sucking on fingers or toys.
How do you manage breastfeeding twins or triplets?
There are specific positions recommended for breastfeeding multiples, for example, the football hold, which makes it possible to feed two babies at once. There are also specially designed nursing pillows made for twins.
You don’t need to worry that your body won’t make enough milk because the action of nursing signals your body to make milk. The more you nurse, the more milk your body will produce.
You can also pump additional milk so that your partner or mother’s helper can bottle feed one baby while you nurse the other child.
Be sure to rotate breasts so that the same baby isn’t always feeding on the same side. If one baby eats more than the other, your breasts will continue to produce an equal supply of milk.
How do I mix breastfeeding and bottle feeding?
Lactation consultants advise that you wait until your baby has learned to latch properly and your milk supply has fully come in before introducing bottles. Offering a bottle too early can cause nipple confusion, and it is possible your baby may begin to reject the breast.
It is also not advised to wait too long because the opposite could happen, and your baby could refuse to drink from a bottle. The sweet spot is somewhere between three to six weeks. You may need to try different nipple types and bottles, and your baby may only drink a few ounces at a time until they get used to the bottle.
It is recommended that someone other than the mom give the baby his or her initial bottles. Since babies can smell their mother, even when she is in a different room, you may need to leave the house for a walk or a trip to the grocery store the first few times that your baby attempts bottle feeding; they may reject the bottle if they know you’re close.
Can I breastfeed if I have a c-section?
While statistics show that women who have c-sections are less likely to breastfeed, there is no reason that you cannot. Your body goes through the same hormonal shifts regardless of the delivery type. Therefore women who have c-sections are just as able to breastfeed as those who deliver vaginally.
A c-section may make certain nursing positions uncomfortable; try the football hold, side-lying, or cradle hold until your scar heals.
Common Breastfeeding Problems and Tips
Nursing presents some challenges and common problems that many moms experience when breastfeeding. Below are the most common breastfeeding issues and tips.
Mastitis is an infection in the breast that causes the tissue to inflame. An infected breast will appear red and feel warm to the touch. You may also develop a fever. Mastitis occurs more commonly in breastfeeding women but can happen to women who are not breastfeeding and men.
Mastitis is caused by a blocked milk duct or bacteria and must be treated by a doctor
Nipple soreness and pain while nursing
Nipple soreness is a common side effect of nursing and usually goes away after the first few weeks. You can apply lanolin before and after nursing sessions to help with the tenderness.
If your nipples become cracked, bleeding, and you feel pain when nursing, you may need to see a doctor for prescription nipple cream, and you should speak to a lactation consultant to work on your baby’s latching technique.
Most babies struggle with latching correctly. Work with the lactation consultant and labor and delivery nurses to learn how to get your baby to latch on properly. You may need to alter your position or hold your breast in a specific way to achieve a solid latch.
Low milk supply
You can usually remedy low milk supply by increasing how often you breastfeed and making sure you empty your breasts after each feeding. Certain medications, alcohol, and smoking can also decrease your supply.
Offering your baby solid foods too early is another reason your milk supply may begin to drop, so it is advised your baby be a minimum of four months before you start. Breast milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs until six months of age, so there is no need to rush the solid foods; it won’t fill them up more or make them sleep through the night faster.
Blocked milk ducts
A blocked milk duct occurs when the breast can't properly drain the duct. You may feel a lump or bulge, and it could become painful. Your breasts may become sensitive, and your baby may fuss when eating from the blocked breast.
Massaging or warming your breast before nursing can help, and you should have the baby feed on the blocked side first. You may need to seek the aid of a doctor or lactation consultant if it seems to be impacting your baby’s ability to eat.
Engorgement happens when milk is not entirely removed from the breast. This may happen if you experience a sudden change in your baby’s feeding schedule. For example, if your baby is going through a growth spurt and now is eating less, or if you missed a few pumping sessions while on a trip or at work. Engorgement will also happen when you start to wean your baby.
To relieve engorgement, you can hand express a small amount of milk, take hot showers, and place ice packs on your breasts. One crazy but true tip that can relieve some of the pain is placing a head of cabbage in the freezer, peeling off two large leaves, and placing them in your bra. The cabbage leaves are rounded like the shape of your breast, and freezing them makes an instant cooling pad!
When Should I Wean My Baby?
Choosing when to stop breastfeeding is a personal decision, and the choice is entirely up to you and what feels right. Some babies begin to self-wean while others would happily nurse until the end of toddlerhood!
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding for a minimum of six months to a year. The World Health Organization suggests six months of exclusive breastfeeding and supplementing with food until two years. That said - those are generalized recommendations for ALL women - just remember that it is your (and your family’s) personal choice what to do.
Your decision on when to wean could be work or lifestyle-related, or you may simply feel that it is time. When you decide to wean, begin by removing the middle of the day and the middle of the night feedings and working outwards the first and last feedings daily. Most mothers choose to save the bedtime feeding as the last one they remove.
Breastfeeding is a personal decision that you should make based on your and your partner’s personal beliefs and prenatal discussions with your healthcare provider. There is no one size fits all answer when it comes to nursing, so only you can decide what is right for you. It is important to remember that breastfeeding does not come without challenges but that with a little help and the right aides and environment, most difficulties can be overcome.
Many people find that breastfeeding is a unique and memorable bonding experience between mother and baby. However, even if you choose not to breastfeed, there are still many special opportunities and ways to connect and bond with your baby.
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