I have been a Certified Lactation Counselor for twelve years. During that time I have enjoyed helping thousands of mothers and babies meet their breastfeeding goals. Between my two children, I have 6 and a half years of personal nursing experience, and although it wasn’t always easy, I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments. It has helped me gain confidence in my parenting and I am grateful to have this eternal connection with my children.
The majority of new mothers initiate breastfeeding (nearly 76%), but the duration rates at 3 and 6 months are disheartening at best. Mothers discontinue breastfeeding for a variety of reasons; unfortunately, it’s most often due to a combination of misinformation and lack of support. Knowledge is power. Here is some useful information for getting started and staying with it.
1. Built to nurse
The good news is that you are designed by nature to breastfeed! Less than 1% of women physically cannot nurse. That means that more than 99% can! A small percentage of those women may not produce a full supply, but any amount of breastmilk is extremely beneficial for both baby and mom. Pregnant mothers ask me all the time what they need to breastfeed their baby. Besides breasts and a baby, the most important things to have are good information, good support and the desire to do it!
2. Supply and Demand
In the beginning, you may feel like you do not have enough milk for your baby. You may even be told this while you are still in the hospital. The truth is, nature is no fool! Keep putting your baby to breast. Nothing stimulates milk production like skin-to-skin contact and nursing. The more frequently you nurse, the more milk you will make. Babies go through a number of growth spurts in the early months. You may find that your baby wants to nurse even every hour. This can feel intense and can be misperceived as mom not having enough milk. Keep nursing! Growth spurts increase babies frequency at breast and therefore increase milk supply but it can take a few days, so hang in there and your body will catch up! It works the other way too for oversupply. Keep nursing, follow your baby’s cues and your supply will regulate.
3. Stomach size at birth
A baby’s stomach is the size of a small marble at birth. This is not by chance! Mom is producing colostrum or “early milk” when her baby is born. Colostrum is low in volume but high in nutrients and is all a newborn needs to thrive. Keep your baby skin-to-skin as much as possible. Let baby have unlimited access to the breast to minimize engorgement. Sometimes it can take up to a week for your mature milk to come in, especially if your baby was born early or via cesarean. The more you hold and nurse your baby, the faster your mature milk will come in. By day five, your baby’s stomach is the size of a shooter marble and by day ten it’s the size of your baby’s fist. Your baby is designed to take in small amounts very frequently and will continue this pattern for quite some time.
4. Seek Support
One the most important keys to a successful breastfeeding relationship is to find support. Most of us go through life without much exposure to breastfeeding until it’s our turn to nurse. If we experience challenges with nursing we may have no idea where to turn for help. Establishing a connection with a nursing support group and a provider of lactation services prior to delivering your baby may be the best way to ensure success. Knowing where to go for help and support before you’re in a difficult situation makes it that much easier to seek out that help when it’s needed. Kangaroo Kids offers a free Nursing Mothers Group every Thursday at 12:30 and Saturday at 10. We also offer prenatal and postnatal lactation consultations by appointment.
5. Nurse on Demand
Watch the baby, not the clock. Your baby will tell you everything you need to know about when to feed. In the early weeks, increased moment is a feeding cue and it’s important to let your baby regulate your supply. If you hold baby off because “it’s not time” to feed, your milk supply can be damaged. The clock has no clue about when your baby is hungry so pay it no attention. Just relax and nurse!
6. Trust your body
You’ve trusted your body to conceive, grow, carry and birth your baby. Now it’s time to trust that your body can feed and nourish your baby as well. Your body is powerful, especially when it comes to providing for your child. There is a learning curve to breastfeeding for both mom and baby. This is true even if you’re nursing your second, third or fourth child. You can do this! If you have obstacles along the way, get help early and you can experience the bliss that nursing can provide.
7. Relax while pumping
Ideally, as the mother of a newborn, you should not worry about pumping until breastfeeding is well established. If there is a need to pump, then by all means, pump! But keep this in mind: The amount you are pumping is no indicator of how much milk you are producing. It also has nothing to do with how much milk baby is getting or should be getting. Pumping is a completely different ballgame. There are hormones at play here and one of them is called oxytocin or “the love hormone”. Oxytocin is what allows your milk to flow. Your baby stimulates this hormone by the initial quick sucking that happens just after latch on. Then the milk begins to flow and baby’s suck slows and deepens and swallowing ensues. We love our babies and just looking at them can get that oxytocin flowing. We do not love our pumps! So it can take time and practice to teach our bodies how to let down to a machine instead of our baby. The hormones caused by stress, anxiety, and pain can all inhibit milk flow. That’s why it’s important to relax while breastfeeding or pumping (I know, easier said than done!). Try not to stare down at every little drop flowing into those bottles! Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and think soothing thoughts; the calmer you feel, the more milk you’ll release.
8. Get help from a lactation specialist
Medical professionals are not educated or trained in lactation unless they have sought out that education separately from their medical curriculum. If you are experiencing challenges with breastfeeding, be sure to seek help from someone experienced and educated in lactation: a CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor), IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) or a La Leche League Leader.
9. Nothing worthwhile is easy
While breastfeeding is not always easy, it is something you need never regret and may become one of your proudest achievements. When we make our way through difficult times we add the confidence of overcoming that experience to our arsenal of resources to draw on later. Almost all breastfeeding challenges can be overcome and you can do it! One of my favorite things about being a lactation counselor is watching a mother grow from being nervous and unsure to happy and confident. You have the power to persevere inside you and a little support can help draw it out.
10. Supplements can damage supply
How can you tell if your breastfed baby is getting enough? It would be easy if we had see-thru breasts with measurement markings! But seriously, you’ll know your baby is getting plenty if you’re changing 3-4+ quarter-sized poopy diapers in 24 hours (after day 4) and 5-6+ sopping wet diapers in 24 hours (after the first week). If baby is gaining weight well on mom’s milk alone, then baby is getting enough. It can be normal for baby to lose weight initially but should regain birth weight by two weeks (three weeks if born via cesarean). Average weight gain is 4-6 ounces per week after mom’s mature milk in is. Other positive signs include: After a feeding, mom’s breast feels softer and baby seems reasonably content. Baby is alert, active and meeting developmental milestones.