Virtually anyone is capable of breastfeeding successfully. We are capable of growing our babies in our wombs, we are also capable of continuing to sustain this baby with our milk alone! If women couldn’t breastfeed, we wouldn’t have survived as a species. That being said, why does it seem that so many women can’t breastfeed? In my practice I hear the myths and fears women hold onto on a daily basis. What are we to think when we hear the stories from our mothers, aunts, sisters and friends who were not able to breastfeed for one reason or another? Does my body not know how to do this? Is there something wrong with me too? Many women are left feeling their bodies will fail them, when in fact it is our culture failing them. Breastfeeding is not the norm in our culture anymore. The myths surrounding breastfeeding, stories of friends and family members who have failed, and the lack of knowledgeable health care providers are hindering breastfeeding further. Many women fall victim to these so called “Booby Traps” in our society. So, if we really can breastfeed, how do we do it? I would like to share with you the same advice I would give to my clients!
Here are my top ten tried and true tips for successful breastfeeding!
Obtain Education and Support
This is my #1 tip I give to everyone who is even remotely thinking about breastfeeding. Having accurate information and real support are the most important tools to make breastfeeding successful. Read books, take a breastfeeding class, browse breastfeeding specific websites, and talk to other women who were successful with breastfeeding. La Leche League’s Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is my favorite book for expecting moms. Websites like Kellymom.com, and llli.org are fantastic too! You can find breastfeeding classes through your local hospital or WIC and also community classes like this one here. Surround yourself with support too! When you need help, you won’t have to go searching for it, you will already have it in your toolbox. Experienced family members and friends, lactation consultants, breastfeeding counselors, La Leche League leaders (and meetings!), and postpartum doulas are all great people to lean on for breastfeeding advice. Avoid advice from friends and family, though well meaning as it may be, who are not experienced breastfeeders or who have attempted unsuccessfully.
Have you ever heard of “power of visualization” or “mind over matter”? You can use determination with breastfeeding too! The more you visualize nursing and bonding with your baby, the more excited you will become, and more likely you will be to do everything in your power to breastfeed. Changing the language you use when you talk about breastfeeding to, “I am going to breastfeed.” from, “I will try to breastfeed.” will set you up for breastfeeding success. Saying you will do something puts you in the mindset that you will succeed, while saying you will try means you are also ok with failing. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
The way you birth matters, not just for mom and baby’s overall health, but also for breastfeeding. Whether you choose to birth au-natural, plan to have an epidural or cesarean, or if things don’t go as planned and you end up with a procedure you didn’t visualize in labor. It is important to understand how these different outcomes may affect breastfeeding. A baby who is born naturally and without complication is awake, alert and ready to breastfeed. Having pain medications during your labor or cesarean section can make your baby sleepy, and get breastfeeding off to a rocky start. Using vacuum suction or forceps in labor may bruise baby’s head or face and make initial breastfeeding painful for them. Babies who are routinely bulb suctioned with a vaginal birth, or who need emergency resuscitation may have an aversion to anything being put in or near their mouths. It is important you understand how these may affect you and your baby so that in these instances you know to turn to your breastfeeding support team for immediate help.
Breastfeed within the First Hour
Did you know that babies are born ready to breastfeed? Breastfeeding is the expected outcome of birth. When baby is born, he should be placed on your chest. Soon after, baby will begin to bob his head, and “crawl” toward the breast. You can help him find it or let him crawl to the breast and self attach, this is called the breast crawl. (Yes! Babies can do this!!) Once baby has initiated breastfeeding, and done so successfully, he may fall into a deep sleep for a few hours. This sleep phase is natural, and part of the reason that breastfeeding within the first hour is crucial. It is very difficult to wake a baby during this sleep phase which can delay breastfeeding.
Follow Baby’s Lead
This is a simple concept, but one that is most often pushed aside. Milk production is dependant on a process of supply and demand. In other words, the more baby nurses, the more milk your body will make. When you try to feed a baby according to a schedule, or restrict the amount of time at the breast, baby’s weight gain and your milk supply will suffer. Babies are excellent at regulating their own intake; they will tell you when they are finished nursing. When they are done, they will spit the nipple out, and often be sleeping. Baby’s tummies are also very efficient at digesting breastmilk, and often, babies will be hungry again a short time after nursing. Newborn babies, especially, nurse frequently. Newborn baby’s stomachs are the size of a marble and can only hold about a teaspoon of milk at a time. It takes about a month for baby’s belly to reach it’s maximum capacity, about 2.5-3oz per feeding session. No two babies are alike or will nurse for the same amount of time. So, pay attention to your baby’s early hunger cues and nurse until baby is done!
Skin to Skin Contact
Promoting bonding and breastfeeding is really easy when you are holding your baby skin to skin. Strip your baby down to his diaper and lay him on your naked chest with just a thin blanket over you to keep you warm. There is no limit to how long or often you can do skin to skin. Babies respond really well to this type of contact. It keeps them warm better than any electric bassinet warmer could, regulates their heart and respiratory rates, and even helps regulate their blood sugar. Skin to skin contact is incredibly calming for your baby, and gives them easy access to the breast. It is also very beneficial for mom too! Keeping your baby against your bare skin kick starts your milk making hormones and facilitates bonding between you and your baby. This is an excellent way for dads, partners, grandmas or anyone else to bond with the baby too, without feeding the baby.
What Goes in Must Come Out
Now that you have initiated breastfeeding, how do you know that it is going well and that you have enough milk for you baby? It is really easy to tell! Check your baby’s diaper; what goes in must come out. On the first day baby should have one pee diaper and one poopy diaper. Day two you should see two pees and two poops. Day three you should see three of each, and day four you should see four of each. By day five your baby should have at least 8-10 wet and messy diapers in a day. Babies who are making messy diapers and gaining weight are getting plenty of milk.
Toss Out Formula Samples
Formula companies are fabulous marketers and have deep pockets. They spend millions of dollars annually on advertising and send representatives to our pediatricians, obstetricians, and hospital labor and delivery floors, handing out formula samples to give to their patients. They also are in partnership with all of the wonderful stores where we create our baby registries, and buy our personal information from them to send their samples to our homes. Research shows that when you are given formula samples early on, you are more likely to use it- the formula companies are very aware of this. Any time you use formula, your baby is filled up and often drinks too much which stretches his stomach. Then, your baby skips a nursing session and your milk stays in your breasts signaling your body to slow down milk production. Your milk supply will then lessen, and your baby may begin to get agitated at the breast, and resist breastfeeding in preference to the ease and flow of a bottle nipple. Then, mom gives baby a bottle and starts the cycle all over again. This is called the “Top Up Trap”. It happens all too often, and is one of the many reasons that women are not successful.
Babies have an intense need to suckle, and this is important not just for your milk supply, but also so that they are getting all of the nutrients and calories they need to gain adequate weight and grow optimally. Breastfeeding meets all of your baby’s basic needs: nourishment, comfort, and suckling. There really is no need for a pacifier. I am not saying that a breastfed baby can not or should not ever have a pacifier. However, in the first few weeks, in order to establish a healthy milk supply your baby needs to nurse frequently. (Are you noticing a pattern yet?) When a breastfed baby has a pacifier, you are more likely to miss their early feeding cues, and less likely to nurse your baby as often as they need to. When suckling on a pacifier, it gives your baby an artificial feeling of “fullness” and baby will skip a feeding.
Create a Postpartum Plan
Those first few weeks, it is overwhelming to be a new parent! Nobody knows this more than a mom who is trying to establish breastfeeding. You have to try to balance caring for a new baby, yourself, and balance all of the visitors who are wanting to come over and see the new baby! Writing a postpartum plan and making your friends and family aware of it ahead of time can save you headaches and struggles. Create the plan to cover a time period as long as you would like, I recommend at least the first two weeks. Include in this plan who you would like to delegate household duties to, who will be responsible for running errands, buying groceries and cooking meals. You could even set up a meal train. Most importantly of all, set limitations for visitors. Try to stick to 1-2 visitors a day and ask them to help around the house instead of coming to hold the baby. Let family and friends know that this is your special time to bond, focus on breastfeeding, and you would love to have them around if they plan to help. Babies don’t respond well to being passed around like a hot potato and need the safety and comfort of their mother’s breasts. It is OK to be selfish and take the first couple weeks to adjust to your new life as parents. You only get this time once in your baby’s entire life.
So, moral of the story here: Nurse your baby early and often, and follow their lead. With these tips and support from breastfeeding professionals you absolutely CAN breastfeed your baby!
Kelly Doresi is a CAPPA Certified Lactation Educator (CLE). Breastfeeding is her life! She is currently nursing her two year old and plans to tandem nurse him when his brother is born in August. She teaches breastfeeding classes in her community, runs a free breastfeeding support group bi-monthly, supports moms during pregnancy and postpartum with all breastfeeding issues, and works in a breastfeeding clinic three days a week. It’s a lot, and she loves every minute of it. Supporting breastfeeding families is her passion! Kelly is always available for breastfeeding support either in person, by phone or email. You can reach her here.
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