In the 21st century, the reality is that not everyone breastfeeds. This means that a new mom may not have grown up seeing babies fed by breast and she may not have a nursing network to tap into (word plays inevitable here!!). In most situations, the three key ingredients for successful breastfeeding are accurate education, early support, and ongoing community. Let’s tackle the first of these today.
Pregnancy puts our breasts in a whole new light (and a new cup size). Yet, there is absolutely nothing a pregnant mother needs to DO to get the girls ready for action. Pregnancy takes your breasts through all the steps needed so they are ready to produce milk and nourish your baby whenever he makes his arrival, even if the baby comes prematurely.
But you do need to educate yourself on this new topic so you know some key steps to take in the early days/weeks. So what can you do?
You can read. My recommendations: The La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, now in it’s eighth edition, and the American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding.
You should definitely talk! Find out who in your network nurses/has nursed. You need to find women with whom you are already comfortable and ask them about their experiences. As with anything baby related, listen with an open mind, knowing that other women’s experiences will not necessarily be your own. There is certainly something to be learned from each contact!
You should expand your network. Visit a La Leche League meeting at least once while you are pregnant. This is a great time to come as you will leave with a much more realistic and accurate understanding of nursing after sitting amongst nursing moms and babies and hearing their questions and experiences. The La Leche League of New Orleans meets uptown at ZukaBaby on the first Tuesday of the month at 7:00. Our next meeting is October 2nd.
There is a lot to learn and books, conversations, meetings, and classes are the best place to get a comprehensive survey. To those sources, I add my best practice suggestions:
- Put baby on your chest (skin to skin) immediately after birth if possible. Your body temperature helps regulate his. Your heartbeat is soothing and this action helps calm and prepare you both for your first nursing.
- Nurse the baby on both sides within the first hour. Your breasts produce colostrum initially, the magic nourishment for a newborn, coating and protecting baby’s intestines. This is a substance packed with antibodies and proteins, but low in fat, so expect your newborn to lose some ounces in the first few days before your milk comes in.
- It is critical that your baby latches on to your breast well. This will ensure that your baby can efficiently remove milk from you and that your breasts don’t become overly sore (remember if you’ve never used them to nurse before, they will be tender at first, but will toughen up soon.) Make sure you have a lactation nurse visit you DURING a nursing session so you can get feedback. (If it feels weird to think of someone giving you hands on support with your breasts, remember your modesty will be greatly reduced after childbirth.)
- Nurse on demand while in the hospital and at least for the first two weeks. Nursing is supply and demand and the more you nurse the more milk you produce. The initial two weeks is when you are establishing your long term supply so it’s especially important to ignore the clock and feed the baby whenever he is interested/gives hunger cues.
- If you have a sleepy newborn, do keep an eye on the clock in the sense that you want to feed your baby 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. Undress or change a sleepy baby’s diaper before a feeding to help wake him up.
- Follow your baby’s cues when it comes to each feeding. Offer one breast until he is satisfied (when he comes off peacefully on his own or falls asleep). Offer the second side; if he’s still hungry, he’ll eat there also. Either way, at the next feeding, start on this other side. This helps you get both sides producing and ensures that a baby is getting both the initial foremilk (watery in consistency and best for satisfying baby’s thirst) and the hindmilk that your breasts produce at the end of a feeding (creamy in consistency and best for packing on calories.)
- Don’t underestimate the natural connection that your breasts and your baby have. It is a supply and demand set-up. Your baby is unique and is the best one to determine how much he needs and when, not the clock or anyone else’s opinion. Some babies nurse efficiently and quickly, getting all they need in a few minutes. Others take longer. It’s all normal.
- We are hardwired to want to know if we are doing things right. You will never know how many ounces your baby is drinking when you nurse and that’s okay. (Civilizations thrived on breastfeeding before the concept of ounces was even introduced.) Signs that things are going well are a baby that seems satisfied at the end of a feeding, one that is pooping and peeing at expected levels (remember ranges are normal), and that is gaining weight. (Check out these growth charts for breastfed babies).
NOLA, my goal is to get an open conversation started about breastfeeding. If you are not nursing now and don’t expect any more babies in your future, make sure to share this post with someone who is pregnant or might someday be! The more educated women become about breastfeeding, the more likely they are to have a successful and enjoyable experience nursing. The more women who nurse, the wider the network of nursing mothers becomes, moving us to a place where there is a rich and deep mother-to-mother community to tap into for help.
Do you have specific books, classes, groups, or people you would recommend as resources for breastfeeding education? Please share!
Be on the lookout for more on this topic!