It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and we’re talking tips, techniques, and more about all things related to breastfeeding your baby. Every woman’s experience is different; nursing is a breeze for one Mama while it’s a cause of constant stress for another. No matter where you are on that spectrum, please use these guides as a resource.
While breastfeeding is a very natural thing, do not get discouraged if this process isn’t coming naturally to you at first. There are many mechanics and logistics involved here, and we’re happy to break it down. If you already know you cannot breastfeed, please understand that is perfectly okay. All of our motherhood journeys are different, and no one should diminish yours. If you’re interested in some bottle-feeding tips, scroll for more info. However you choose to nourish your baby, we know you got this.
First things, first: what’s going on with our breasts?
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Our breasts get ready to produce milk during pregnancy. You might notice fuller, more tender breasts and darker areolas while milk-making tissue grows rapidly. That means your hormones are hard at work preparing your body to produce milk for your baby!
Once your baby is born, a lactation hormone called prolactin is released, letting your breasts know it’s time to make milk. This hormone, combined with your baby’s suckling, will stimulate more milk production.
As your baby feeds, the hormone oxytocin drives the contraction of small breast muscles, which helps release more milk. This process is called the let-down reflex.
There are three phases of milk production:
Colostrum: Thick and usually yellow, although sometimes clear, it’s the first milk produced right after the baby’s birth. Maybe you noticed it leaking out of your breasts during pregnancy. It’s full of protein, nutrients, and minerals essential for defending against bacteria and viruses. Colostrum protects your baby’s immune system while stimulating their first bowel movement and combating the risk of jaundice with just a few tiny teaspoons of mother’s milk.
Transitional milk: Typically, this transition milk starts being produced within your first week at home with your little one: a mix of colostrum plus mature milk. Even though it might look gross at first, like curdled milk, it’s even healthier for your baby. It now includes the fat, lactose, and calories needed to fill your baby’s tiny belly.
Mature milk: About ten days or two weeks after birth, this thinner milk will become your baby’s new treat. It might look whitish-blue with a consistency similar to skim milk, but it’s full of essential nutrients your baby needs. This fantastic elixir will even adapt to your baby’s needs over time.
How to tackle your baby’s first feedings:
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Even in the first two hours of life, your baby will be alert and ready for nursing. At this stage, your baby will likely only feed for short intervals before getting tired. Feeding patterns will probably be frequent but in brief spurts. That’s a good sign, and your body will adapt as needed to meet the demand.
Encourage your baby to feed on the fuller breast first, then put them on your other breast. If they are satiated after only one breast, that’s okay. Their tummies are only the size of a walnut, and your breasts will naturally produce more milk to alert you it’s time to nurse again. Pay attention to these signs, so your breasts do not become overfull.
It’s common for hospitals or birth centers to have lactation consultants available to help get you started. Midwives or doulas can also aid in breastfeeding techniques, so please take advantage of any in-person assistance offered.
Like most things, it all comes down to supply and demand
For the first six weeks after birth, your baby should be allowed to go on a feeding frenzy. The more milk your baby consumes, the more milk your body will produce. That might mean feeding every couple of hours, but don’t worry if it’s less or even frequently more than that. Your baby will communicate their needs, and your body will listen. As your baby grows, the time between feedings will increase. Before you know it, your body will create a schedule that matches up with your baby’s demands. If only economics worked as efficiently as mother’s bodies, right?!
Tips to get a good latch on
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A good latch is vital to ensuring your baby is getting the most efficient breastfeeding possible while keeping you comfortable and avoiding sore nipples later. Don’t worry if it takes some trial and error; it does for most Moms.
- Newborn babies love skin-to-skin contact. Lean back and support your upper back and neck with a pillow. Position your baby facing your breasts with the front of their tummy touching your tummy. Keep their head aligned with their body.
- Gently motion your nipple toward your baby’s lip and encourage them to open their mouth. Even if all you get is a yawn out of them, keep trying. Drip some colostrum onto your baby’s lips if you can.
- If they seem uninterested, caress their cheek closest to you with your finger. This will help turn your baby’s head in your direction; it’s an instinct known as the rooting reflex.
- When your baby has an open mouth, let them grab and suckle. Try not to lean forward and push your breast into them. Let them instead take the lead and grow more comfortable feeding.
- Your baby’s chin and nose should be positioned on your breast. When this happens, you’ll know you have a good latch. If you see your baby puckering their lips, that’s also a great sign.
- Occasionally, make sure they aren’t suckling their lips or tongue by gently pulling down their lower lip while they nurse. Your baby should get into a rhythm of sucking, swallowing, breathing, and repeating. Listen for these sounds. If you hear clicking noises instead, likely the baby isn’t latched correctly. Do not get discouraged; keep trying, perhaps in a different nursing position.
Still, having trouble? Try these different breastfeeding positions:
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A good latch can sometimes depend on how you’re positioned when breastfeeding. Above, we described the laid-back position, but do not worry if that one doesn’t work well for you. It’s essential to make sure you and your baby are comfortable. Here are some other suggested positions, give them a try and see which fits best for you both.
Cradle: To achieve this popular breastfeeding position, lead your baby’s head in the bend of your elbow on the arm you will be nursing. Use that same hand to support your baby’s torso. With the opposite hand, gently draw milk from your breast into the baby’s mouth.
Cross-cradle: This is a very similar nursing position but with a slight crossover. With this technique, you support the baby with the opposite hand you will be using to nurse. So, if you are nursing from your left breast, you hold the baby with your right hand.
Side-lying: This is a preferred position for nighttime feeding so that you can also stay comfortable. Lie on your side and keep a pillow supporting your head. Face your baby’s head toward your nipple. Place your free hand on your breast to squeeze in milk. If it helps, you might want to place a pillow underneath your baby’s back, too, so they are closer to you.
Football or Clutch: Tuck your baby’s legs underneath your arm on the side you’ll be feeding on. Then lift the baby with the arm on that same side and use your free hand to cup your breast.
Don’t like any of these positions? There are several more you can check out like the Koala or carrier holds.
Grab these breastfeeding supplies for some extra comfort:
If you want to take advantage of breastfeeding supplies, here’s what we’d recommend:
- Nipple cream to soothe soreness and sensitivity
- A supportive nursing pillow to get your baby in position while giving your arms a break
- A nursing bra for quick access on the go
- Nursing pads to soak up leaking breast milk and keep your clothes clean
- Nipple shields, if your baby has difficulty latching on
- Lactation cookies to help increase milk supply
Pump for tomorrow with today’s supply
Getting into a breast pumping routine is beneficial if you can make it work. It’s normal to pump only small amounts at first but should get easier with time. The best plan is to pick one or two times during the day to pump after nursing, then freeze your supply for later use.
If deciding to pump, invest in a hospital-quality breast pump and storage. These are likely to be covered by your health insurance. If not, consider using your Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account when buying these and other eligible breastfeeding products.
Suppose you are unable to or decide not to pump, not to worry. You can still maintain a healthy supply of milk for feedings in the morning and the evening. It’s also okay to supplement your breast milk with formula if needed and give your breasts a break.
How to Know if Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk
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Your newborn may lose a little weight during their first few days, but after their first week should start gaining about an ounce a day. Your Pediatrician will weigh and measure your baby during monthly check-ups and let you know how your baby is growing. In between check-ups, you can determine your baby’s milk intake by paying attention to these three things:
Weight: Starting around the second week, babies can gain around 4 to 7 ounces each week. That’s not a rule, just a guideline. Your baby’s weight gain will vary based on other factors such as length. Don’t worry, though; your Pediatrician will know if your baby is growing at the correct pace.
Dirty diapers: After just a few days, your baby should be releasing clear or pale yellow urine 6 to 12 times with 3 or 4 soft yellow bowel movements each day. Keep a written journal or use a baby app to record breastfeeding compared to diaper changing. If you are concerned, bring a copy of these notes to each visit with your baby’s Pediatrician.
Disposition: A full baby is a happy baby, and if yours is content after feeding, your baby is probably getting enough milk. Crying, fussing, or even sucking on fingers after feeding is all signs of continued hunger.
Is your baby frequently gassy?
If your baby often seems uncomfortable, it may be tied to what you’re eating. What you eat usually takes between 2 and 6 hours to make its way into your breast milk. If your baby is experiencing gastrointestinal issues, try removing things from your diet and see if that resolves the problem. You can bring that food back into the rotation in a few days to see if you guessed correctly.
Resources for Additional Assistance with Breastfeeding:
If you are still experiencing issues nursing, many groups offer support. Here are some helpful places you can turn to:
- Start with your baby’s Pediatrician
- Lactation consultants or postpartum doulas are the specialists you need
- Friends and family who have had similar experiences can lend a listening ear
- La Leche League International
- National Women’s Health & Breastfeeding Hotline
- International Lactation Consultant Association
- Other local breastfeeding support groups
Research shows that breastfeeding is not only good for your baby but also can have health benefits for you too, Mama. In addition, to some reports saying it helps with postpartum weight loss, nursing has also been linked to a lower risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
While it is an excellent practice for you and your baby, it is not without challenges. For those who are unable or prefer not to breastfeed, it is certainly not the only option. Plenty of strong and healthy adults grew up on formula. In our view, a conversation about breastfeeding is incomplete without talking about the alternatives too.
Bottle-Feeding Essentials to Know
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Moms, hear us loud and clear: there is no need to feel guilty about opting for formula. The same goes for if you are supplementing breastfeeding with formula.
For those formula-feeding, these are the essentials to know:
- Baby formulas typically come in these types: ready-to-feed (convenient but expensive), concentrated liquid (less costly than the ready-to-feed), and powder (the most cost-effective option).
- When selecting a formula brand, aim for one that uses packaging that does not contain BPA.
- When mixing powder or concentrated liquid, make sure you are following the label instructions exactly as written. Consider this a Goldielocks-esque story: too much water will give your baby fewer minerals, too little, and your baby will end up with a rubbly tummy. Read carefully and aim to get it “just right.”
- Figure out how much formula to prepare by halving your baby’s weight. For example, a 10-pound baby would likely need 5 ounces per feeding. Keep in mind, as your baby grows, they’ll feed less often too.
- Always refrigerate all opened formula containers. Don’t let them sit on a shelf and go to waste. Even refrigerated, they need to be used within 48 hours. This is another reason not to overestimate how much formula you need to prepare.
What babies require most is care and love, and we’re sure you are giving that little one plenty of it. As for feeding, whether it comes from breasts or a bottle, it’s all going to help your baby grow.