We all know that nothing beats breastfeeding in terms of feeding your baby Thanks to doctors, La Leche League, and lactivists around the world, this message has been drilled into our heads and breastfeeding is now happily experiencing a resurgence. But, despite the fact that all moms know that ‘breast is best’ – many women experience great difficulties nursing their babies and many give up on breastfeeding early on. I personally think that some of this has to do with the fact that many new moms typically don’t realize how difficult breastfeeding can be, and don’t have reliable sources of support when challenges arise – a function that in generations past was served by sisters, mothers and extended family. (More to come on this in my next post….)
1. Take advantage of maternity leave
There’s this thing called maternity leave – use it! It exists for a reason. In cultures around the world people typically place special emphasis on allowing the new mother and newborn to bond and get in sync in the first 6 weeks, and there is a biological reason behind this. It takes about 6 weeks to establish a good breastfeeding supply and get into a rhythm. I mistakenly thought maternity leave was a great time to catch up on work, and it took me longer than it should have to get in sync with my baby’s sleeping and feeding schedule.
2. Sleep when the baby sleeps – and sleep WITH your baby
See point #1. It’s been scientifically shown that prolactin levels rise at night and milk production is highest in the middle of the night, so trying to work at night while your baby sleeps, and/or get your baby to ‘sleep through the night’ at 4 weeks old (Believe me I tried both of these things) is going to have a negative impact on your milk supply and your ability to breastfeed. If you get on a rhythm with your baby, it will help your milk supply, and allow you to feel rested as well.
3. Stock up before you give birth on functional / practical / comfortable nursing gear and wear
The idea that nursing happens ‘naturally’ is sort of a myth – it can be awkward, challenging and messy before you get into the hang of things. The items that I personally found invaluable for comfortable, relaxed nursing were: a brestfriend pillow, glamourmom nursing tanks (get a bunch), my trusty Belle baby carrier (a great way to nurse your baby in public), and a simple cotton cardigan. Things I bought that I totally did not need? Fancy nursing bras (useless)… Nursing tops (anything other than tank tops are a pain in the butt)
4. Avoid bottles and pacifiers in the first six weeks
A lactation consultant told me that ‘nipple confusion’ was a myth and that I should supplement my 4 day old’s feedings with a bottle. She was wrong about the nipple confusion thing. My baby took a very strong liking to the pliability of the rubber nipple and didn’t want to nurse after I introduced the bottle. I spent about 6 months battling this issue and trying to coax my baby back to the breast. I only really resolved it by switching my baby’s bottle to an Adiri Natural Nurser (a bottle shaped like a boob). I’m still mad at this lactation consultant for leading me down a bad path. Don’t use a bottle unless you have to, and if you do have to – try an Adiri.
5. Prolonged engorgement is not normal
If it happens to you, pump as soon as you can, to get the milk out.
I did not know this. My books said that engorgement was to be expected, so when I was engorged for a week, I just thought this was par for the course. I learned later that engorgement tells your body to stop making milk. After the first week my milk supply dropped off dramatically and it took me about 6 months (and medicine) to build it back up again. Don’t go through what I went through – if you are engorged for more than a few hours, pump that milk! It will help your milk production, and you’ll have backup milk to feed to your baby later.
I hope these tips help ease you and your baby into a wonderful, rewarding breastfeeding experience. No matter how rocky your start may be, with the right support and information, you can truly become an expert in your own right on the art of breastfeeding.