Many new moms have a big concern in their lives, especially first-time mothers: How do I breastfeed my baby and maintain my sanity? This may seem like a silly question, if you have never been a mother but in reality, it is a very important and natural question.
New babies are notorious for being difficult when it comers to breastfeeding. First, they want to eat every one and a half to two hours, with no set schedule, especially in the first weeks of life. Second, many new moms or their babies find that they have difficulty latching. This can occur even when there are no barriers to latching, such as a cleft palate on the baby, inverted nipples on the mother, tongue tie in the baby, or any other disorder that would legitimately prevent proper latching. Third, they may not understand the ways to produce enough milk, and may have a non-supportive pediatrician who insists that they need to supplement or replace breastmilk with formula. Finally, there are many misconceptions about breastfeeding, especially with regard to doing so after a C-Section. There are other difficulties of course, and this is just a short list, but these are some of the most common concerns. This article will discuss these barriers, and some easy to implement ways to solve them.
The first thing every pregnant woman should do is read about breastfeeding. There are so many good books available, however, there are a couple that stand out as excellent. Breastfeeding Made Simple by Kathleen Kindall is an excellent resource, and simplifies everything related to breastfeeding for new mothers. Another great book is The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide To Making More Milk by Diana West. This book gives new mothers a myriad of ways to increase their milk supply when breastfeeding. Ideally, you will read these two books while you are pregnant, since once the baby has arrived, it will be much more challenging to find time to read them at all.
Newborn babies need to be fed frequently. This can mean every hour and a half, every two hours, or whenever they indicate they are hungry. You can tell when your baby is ready for feeding when they start smacking their lips, sucking on their thumb and other things, twisting, and starting to cry. Ideally, you would start their feeding before they start to cry, as crying leads to stress, and can make it more difficult for them to latch.
For information on this stage of their life, as well as definitions of what is normal and what is not, a great book is Boobin All Day, Boobin All Night by Meg Nagle, aka The Milk Meg. For the most part, new babies will not stick to a schedule, cry it out techniques that are still recommended by some doctors cause stress even when the baby is not crying, and it is best to follow your baby’s needs. This stage will not last forever, and they will eventually start sleeping through the night on their own, and they will adopt a schedule soon enough. This period of time while you are breastfeeding will, in reality, be over before you know it, so there is no reason to force things.
The second, and perhaps most important concern, is getting the baby to latch properly. Without a proper latch, you are likely to find irritation, sore nipples, mastitis, and pain when the baby feeds. This is likely to lead to a discontinuance of direct breastfeeding, so it is a major concern. When you consider the advice of the major medical associations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, to exclusively breastfeed for six months or more, and all of the health benefits that come with doing so, having a proper latch is very important.
While some physicians will tell you to simply pump and bottle feed instead of trying to get a good latch if you are having difficulty, there is so much more to direct feeding than just bonding. There is a feedback mechanism between the mother’s body and her baby’s needs, which research is just beginning to uncover. There is a fascinating article about this topic, and how direct breastfeeding allows the mother’s body to make exactly the type of milk the baby needs due to this feedback. For example, if the baby is starting to get a cold, the mother’s breast will make milk for the baby with antibodies specific to that strain of virus, so that the baby can recover from the infection sooner. This is not something that is well known, as it has only recently begun to be appreciated, but you can read all about it in the article by Angela Garbes
So, how can you go about getting your baby to latch better? First, if you are able to arrange a consultation with your lactation consultant, that is the easiest, most one-on-one method. Barring that, you can also join your local La Leche League, which has chapters in every state and most cities. Third, you can purchase a nipple shield, which may increase the comfort of breastfeeding.
One technique that has worked for many women is simple. Hold the baby in your lap with your breast ready. Depending on if you prefer to feed on the right or the left, that is the side you would hold the baby on. Hold the baby close to you, and touch their top lip with a finger or the breast very gently, almost like a tickling stroke. The baby will then open their mouth wide, in a gaping manner. This is when you bring them onto the nipple. Place the nipple deep in their mouth, so that the tip of it reaches almost to the back of their tongue. Then, let them suckle until they are finished.
If it is uncomfortable, simply pull them off and start over again. It may take several tries, but you will know when you have done it properly. When they are correctly latched, there will be pressure, but there will be very little pain. The only pain will be from stimulation, which if you have every squeezed your own nipples, it will hurt a little bit. That is what you are looking for to indicate that there is a proper latch.
The next concern that breastfeeding mothers are likely to raise is that their physician has told them that their baby is not gaining enough. Rather than giving them solutions, such as telling them to see a lactation consultant, counselor, or specialist, their physician will often tell them to supplement with formula instead of trying to correct what is wrong. When considering the advice given by the APA and other organizations about the incredible benefits of breastfeeding, this may be advice that you would not want to heed, for the benefit of the baby. The problem with this advice is that it leads to a vicious cycle. The very best way to produce more milk is to take more milk. This is an adage that is repeated in most of the books on breastfeeding, and it is, “The more you take, the more you make.”
The human body is very simple, and the indicators for breastfeeding are, quite simply, removal. In other words, if you want to make more milk, what you should really do is direct feed whenever the baby is hungry, and pump every one to two hours, every single day. Even if you only get a little out when you first start pumping, empty both breasts as frequently as you are able to. This will cause your body to produce more and more milk, until there is more than enough for your baby.
While many people do not know this, it is actually possible to produce breastmilk even when you have not had a baby. There are many adoptive parents who have learned this, and they are able to breastfeed their adopted babies with their own milk, even though they have never been pregnant. This is called “Breastfeeding Without Birthing”, and there is an excellent book on the topic by Alyssa Schnell with the same name. It takes about two days of suckling with a supplemental nursing system, or pumping, for a woman to start producing milk on her own, even though she was never pregnant. This same system can also be used to increase lactation supply in mothers with a low supply.
If your baby does not consume all of the milk you produce, you can freeze the extra and either keep it for when you need to use it (such as after you return to work), or you can donate it to mothers who really need it. There are many women who cannot breastfeed, sometimes for medical reasons, such as having breast cancer and needing chemo, having seizures and needing epilepsy medication, or even having had their breasts removed if they had cancer. For these women, they cannot make milk themselves, since it would actually harm their babies.
A more common reason for new mothers to need donated breastmilk is when their babies have been born prematurely. These mothers are not yet able to make their own milk, as their mammary glands did not have a chance to develop. While they may later be able to make milk, they cannot yet do so. In addition, premature babies are at high risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) when they drink formula, which is usually made from cow’s milk. For these babies, breastmilk can actually reverse this condition, where parts of their intestines die as an inflammatory response to formula. These babies need breastmilk, which is often prescribed to them, in order to reverse this condition.
There are breastmilk banks in many states and in many communities where you can bring your milk to donate. They will sterilize the milk, usually through pasteurization, and provide it to motrhers whose babies need it. These babies will then receive the benefits of breastfeeding, even though their own mother cannot provide it. In the event that you do not live in a state where you can donate your breastmilk through a milk bank, you can find groups on facebook that connect mothers who donate milk with mothers who need it. In some communities, such as Muslim and Jewish communities, these types of networks exist to provide breastmilk to mothers who need it from community members who would like to donate their milk. While it is not sterilized before being donated, many mothers who receive it will boil it themselves at home to prevent contamination.
The final difficulty that some women have is breastfeeding after a C-Section. After this major surgery, which many women do not realize is a major surgery, many women have pain at the incision site. This pain can prevent them from sitting comfortably, and from direct feeding their infant, since the infant’s body weight would then press directly on the site of the wound. This makes it much more painful to feed than it would otherwise be. However, there are some things that a new mother who has had a C-Section can do to reduce the pain they experience. Using the football hold, or using a side-lying position to feed are both ways that will be less painful to breastfeed in. Check out the article on VeryWell to find other solutions to the common problems of breastfeeding after C-Section.
While all of the concerns mentioned above are very valid, and have caused some new mothers to stop breastfeeding early, the best advice from the World Health Organization and the APA is that every new mom should exclusively breastfeed for at least six months. Since only about 20% of women are actually doing, this, according to some research studies, there is obviously a disconnect between what women know they should do, and what they are able to do. It is my hope that the suggestions given in this article will help you if you choose to breastfeed for as long as possible, and the books mentioned herein will provide more detailed information that will help you as well.