10 Breastfeeding Basics
Like many new skills facing a first-time mother, breastfeeding is a learned art that gets much easier with practice. Here are a few time-tested tips to help make the transition easier.
Start preparing well before your due date. Start educating yourself and consider attending classes offered by your hospital or birthing center months before you'll deliver. La Leche League leader Wanda Daniels says attending an LLL meeting while pregnant answered a lot of questions and made her comfortable calling her own leader for support.
Your breasts may be initially tender, but shouldn't be consistently painful. Initial nipple tenderness may be normal, but soreness that is severe or ongoing may indicate a problem. Certified lactation consultant and pediatric nurse Lucille Harrington says most problems can be fixed quickly and moms need not be in pain when help is available via telephone to your delivering hospital/birthing center or through a consultation with your hospital's lactation consultant (usually free).
Find ways to lighten your load. Since newborns typically nurse 8 to 12 times per day and experts recommend feeding your baby on cue at any sign of hunger, the process can be initially time consuming. A nursing sling can be a great way to keep your baby close and allow you freedom, privacy and mobility. Learning to nurse lying down can also help with nighttime feedings so you and baby can quickly return to sleep.
Don't make assumptions. Many new mothers think that babies who want to nurse often aren't getting enough milk, but this is rarely true. As long as your baby is producing at least six to eight wet diapers and two to three bowel movements per day for the first six weeks after your milk comes in, he's getting enough. Frequent watery, explosive and mustard-colored bowel movements are normal and not diarrhea. Consult an expert for reassurance if something doesn't seem right.
Listen to your body's cues of hunger, thirst and fatigue. Although your body has to work hard to produce milk, eating when hungry and drinking when thirsty will likely provide your body with enough fuel. Rest while your baby rests whenever possible.
Ask for and accept help. Harrington says most new moms are uncomfortable asking for or receiving help. She urges moms to eagerly accept help with specific phrases like: "It'd be wonderful if you could fold laundry." Involve partners and family members in caring for the baby so they don't feel excluded. Rocking, bathing and singing are all activities that can teach a baby that love and comfort does not always equal food.
Surround yourself with a support system. If you ever have doubts, seek advice from those knowledgeable about and supportive of breastfeeding. Advisors who assure you they "couldn't breastfeed either" or that formula-fed babies are "easier" are not helpful when it's likely you're doing just fine.
Don't compare your experiences with others. Keep in mind that babies, like adults, are all different. If a friend's baby is emptying the breast very quickly and sleeping through the night, it doesn't mean that anything is wrong with you or your baby if your experience is different.
You can still be a nursing mom and return to work. Many moms forgo breastfeeding thinking they can't continue once they return to work. However, with planning and a hospital-grade breast pump, breastfeeding can continue to be a success. Experts caution against introducing artificial nipples until after your milk supply and nursing relationship are well-established (which usually takes about six weeks), but Harrington says it's appropriate to introduce a bottle with breast milk to established nursers between 1 and 3 months of age. This is when babies are more adaptive to a bottle. By nursing immediately before and after work and during the night if possible, you can still maintain a healthy nursing relationship.
Relax and enjoy your baby. Harrington is fond of telling moms: "The days are long, but the years are short." It may be hard to believe that the infant whose favorite place is your breast will soon be a squirming toddler not so interested in cuddling. Babies become children and adults before you know it. Enjoy this unhurried one-on-one time while it lasts.
Shannon Dean is a freelance writer who nursed two babies who are now school-aged children.
"The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" (Plume) by La Leche League International.
"The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child from Birth Through Weaning" (Little, Brown) by Martha and William Sears.
"The Nursing Woman's Companion" (Harvard Common Press) by Kathleen Huggins.
"Parenting the Fussy Baby and the High-Need Child: Everything You Need to Know-From Birth to Age Five" (Little Brown & Co) by William and Martha Sears.
Although this book is not exclusively about breastfeeding, it offers a wonderful section on nursing in a sling, night time nursing and is written in a very reassuring tone.