You are a brand new mom. You know there are benefits to breastfeeding, and you want to do it. You prepare for the baby and buy a pump and parts, a nursing pillow, and a nursing cover. You are all ready and will figure the rest out once the baby arrives, right? Breastfeeding a baby is HARD, but also an amazing experience (that is totally worth it). It is challenging, time consuming, and exhausting. This article is not to discuss or debate what is best for your baby. If you know you want to use formula– awesome that is great! You are a great mom and doing a wonderful job– your baby needs to eat, and you are giving your baby the nutrition he needs. I have seen one too many women lack the confidence in their bodies and in their ability to be able to breastfeed when this may not be true at all. I have been there. As a mom that has breastfed two babies, it hasn’t always been an easy road. Every woman should feel empowered to be able to breastfeed. You should not feel insecure about your body or that you are not good enough. Often times caretakers can rush to introduce supplementation and formula too soon when it is unnecessary. Don’t let others discourage you and make you feel like you are inadequate. You can do it!
Here is some helpful insight for my fellow mamas to let you know what to expect and to hopefully get you started on the right foot if you are passionate about breastfeeding your new baby.
Get skin to skin and nurse your baby right away. As soon as the baby is born (or as soon as possible after) bring them to the breast. Babies instinctively know how to nurse. Getting your baby to latch right away and know where to find mom and the food will help tremendously. It is natural for the baby to want to nurse immediately, and this will set you up for a great start. The more skin to skin and attempts to help the baby nurse, the better. The contact will help your body release more oxytocin ,a hormone that stimulates milk let down and bonding between you and your baby. In addition, most hospitals have lactation consultants that will be able to come in and help you right away. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
Your milk will not come in until 3-5 days after the baby is born. However, your body has already produced colostrum the yellowish-gold liquid that is the first form of breast milk. This liquid is jam-packed with nutrients and important immune boosting antibodies. You may not feel like your baby is getting much of anything. You may not feel like your breasts are engorged or filled with milk yet. They aren’t, and they aren’t supposed to be. Your baby’s stomach is very tiny and gets filled quickly. He or she only needs a very small amount at a time (a couple teaspoons at most) although he will eat often. As long as your baby is having enough wet and dirty diapers (6 wet, 3 dirty is average) per day and he is gaining weight, you are giving your baby enough. Note: babies will lose a little bit of weight after birth but then regain the weight. You should use growth and weight to monitor that your baby is getting the nutrition that it needs, and not a set amount of mL or ounces every so often.
It is time consuming. Breastfeeding can take up to 40 hours a week– that’s 5 hours per day! Literally it is a second job! You may not be prepared or aware of this if you are a first time mom or if it is your first time breastfeeding. Your newborn baby is little and needs to eat frequently–typically 8 or more feedings in a day. The body can easily break down and digest breast milk more quickly than formula, so the baby will eat often. Do not follow a schedule yet. The baby will give you cues to when he or she is hungry such as smacking the lips together, sucking motion, crying, putting hands or fists in the mouth, or turning the head to the side and opening the mouth. Feed your baby on demand any time he shows these signals. A general rule of thumb is every 2 to 3 hours from when the baby last started eating but, there may be certain times of day or during growth spurts where the baby will want to nurse every hour. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that the baby isn’t getting enough milk. Don’t worry. It gets better!! As your baby grows, he will become more efficient and eat faster.
The first 6-8 weeks are crucial for establishing supply. Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. The more baby nurses and eats, the more it will signal the mom’s body to make. The more the breasts are emptied, the more milk will be stimulated. In the beginning nurse as often and as much as the baby wants because it will help your body establish an abundant milk supply. It takes 6-8 weeks for the body to adjust and regulate so this time is important to let your body understand the baby’s needs. Ideally, if you have to pump you should be pumping the same time the baby is eating. If you skip or go too long between feedings, your body will be signaled to produce less. Of course missing one feeding is not going to hurt your supply but if you miss feedings consistently over time your milk production will drop. When you go back to work, you want to be pumping or emptying the breasts as many times as the baby eats when you are away (or would be eating if you weren’t away).
Breast milk changes composition throughout the day. The female body is truly amazing. The amount of fat, protein, sugar and immune cells in the milk vary throughout the day to meet the needs of the growing baby. The first milk that comes out is called foremilk and is more watery and the hindmilk comes later in the feed and contains more fat that makes the baby full. In the evening, it is common for your baby to eat more frequently and closer together. This is known as cluster feeding. This helps to prepare the baby with a fuller tummy in the evening. The mother’s milk during this time of day will contain more serotonin which makes the baby relaxed and sleepy for bedtime. Another fascinating fact is that when your baby is sick it sends a signal to the mother’s body through sucking and saliva that makes the mother produce antibodies and immunities to fight off the illness and are then released into the milk.
Milk supply changes throughout the day and is most abundant in the early hours of the morning. Prolactin the milk producing hormone is at its highest between midnight and 6:00 am. This is why the baby will want to eat during this time period. These are the best hours to pump, as you will be able to pump the most milk. Don’t worry if you are able to pump 10 or more ounces in the morning but then later in the day each side is only expressing 1-2 ounces. It is common for women to have one side that makes more than the other. The baby may only eat 2-3 ounces at a feed and may feed on both sides (which means you could potentially only produce 1-1.5 ounces during a pump session.) My 5 month old still only eats 2-5 ounces at each feeding. Don’t use the amount that you pump as an indication of how much you are producing. Some females respond better to a pump than others. The baby is the most efficient at getting milk out and may be getting more than you are pumping. If you want to know how much your baby is eating, use a baby scale (hospitals, lactation groups, and some doctors will have them available) and weigh your baby before and after the feed to see how much she has ingested. This amount probably won’t be the same at every feeding, but will give you a general idea of how much your baby is getting.
Hands down get yourself a Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump. I repeat. Get yourself a Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump! I did not have one of these with my first baby but it makes storing and building up a stockpile of breast milk super easy and hassle free. This is great especially in the early weeks when your breast supply is being established. You simply suction it to the opposite side you are feeding on and it will catch all the leaking and let down from the other side so that the precious liquid gold doesn’t have to go to waste. I was able to save hundreds of ounces with this tool without having to use an actual breast pump in the first couple months.
Proper nutrition and hydration is key. If you aren’t drinking enough water you will not be able to produce as much milk. You need half your body weight in ounces of water normally. Plan to add 30-35 ounces of water to that as a minimum while breastfeeding. You may need to drink more than that as your baby grows depending on his or her weight. Eating a nutritious diet full of variety is important. Healthy fats and plenty of protein are necessary. The baby is going to take the nutrients he needs from you. If you need ideas on what types of foods are good check out one of my previous nutrition articles.
Take time to de-stress. High stress levels will negatively impact your supply. Take a few minutes each day to meditate, relax, or take a walk to keep anxiety in check. Many moms find it helpful to look at pictures of their baby when they are away from them to help stimulate the breast milk while pumping.
Check baby for abnormal findings. With a normal and good latch nursing should not be painful. If you are hurting or having cracking or bleeding ask someone for help. Sometimes there are anatomical findings or imbalances that can be causing difficulty for the baby to nurse. Babies can be born with a tongue or lip tie which alters the latch and makes them ineffective at getting milk. Ties can easily be corrected if indicated. A long and difficult labor will put pressure and tension on the infant’s neck and spine. In addition, even with an easy birth and delivery, during pregnancy the baby can be in a cramped or restricted position in the womb. This can lead to muscle imbalances and tightness or shifting of the spine that doesn’t allow the baby to move properly and can cause discomfort for the baby while nursing. A chiropractor who works with infants and children can assess the spinal movement and free up any interference or restriction to allow the baby to nurse easier. Things to look for include: head always tilting or turning to one side more than the other, painful latch, difficulty latching or sucking, baby has difficulty nursing on one side but not the other, crying or discomfort for baby on one side versus the other.
If you still have concerns or questions find someone who can support you. In our area we have several good breastfeeding support groups that are available, and I work with some fabulous lactation consultants if there is a need for referral.