How a parent decides to feed their baby is completely their choice. If you do intend to breastfeed your baby, here is some helpful information to prepare you for the process.
There are instances where breastfeeding is medically and physically impossible for a new mom. However, breastfeeding is not an all or nothing scenario — moms have options. Some moms must supplement with formula; these moms do double-duty providing their own milk and preparing bottles at every feeding. Some moms have babies who never latch, and therefore they commit to pumping their milk for the baby’s first year.
The best way to feed your baby is to do what works best for you, your baby and your family. As long as you are happy, your baby will be happy. As a certified lactation counselor, here are six tips I offer to help new and pregnant moms succeed and reach their feeding goals.
1. Banish the easy-going-totally-natural-milk-goddess image from your mind.
Recovering from labor and delivery is hard and nursing is something moms practice at every latch-on. Breastfeeding is beautiful once you have some practice. Give yourself a break, because you are learning to breastfeed at the same time your baby is learning. You’re both new at this. The first three weeks are the hardest for a nursing mom.
2. Follow your baby’s cues.
Milk supply follows the law of supply and demand from the baby (or in some cases, the pump). Ideally, babies should be put to breast when they show the earliest signs of hunger. Cues often start while baby is still sleeping, moments before baby stirs. A crying baby is a late cue; latching is much easier when the baby is calm and just starting to give you hunger cues, like turning his/her head with an open mouth. Newborns nurse anywhere from 10-12 times a day; this is about every two hours around the clock for the first two to three weeks. In time, your baby will space out the feedings to about every three hours.
3. Babies are supposed to spit up.
A lot of moms worry that spitting up is a bad sign. However, babies are supposed to spit up. Their digestive system is built to allow milk to come up easily as their gastrointestinal system is still developing and their stomachs are extremely small (thimble-sized). Reflux includes failure to gain weight. If your baby spits up a lot, but they are without pain and still gaining weight without issue, you are doing OK.
4. Your body will NOT run out of milk.
Many new moms are panicked about their milk supply and feel as though they should have a huge freezer stash or pump 8-ounce bottles right from the start. Feed your baby, not your freezer. The best way to protect, secure and increase your milk supply is frequent letdowns. The more you nurse, pump, or basically remove milk from your breasts, the more often your body will produce milk.
5. Babies hit growth spurts at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months.
At these times, they will nurse around the clock to increase volume. The more you nurse, the more milk you make. Fact: reducing the number of nursing sessions, or waiting a long time between nursing sessions (more than three hours for newborns) will actually decrease your supply. You are then telling your body, “We don’t need milk this often; shut down production.” So nurse as often as baby needs and your milk supply is set.
6. It’s a lifestyle change you commit to making, and it’s always changing.
Having a new baby changes priorities, and parents are hyperaware of the food going in and what’s coming out into diapers. Breastfeeding is something top of mind and it’s consuming, but it will get easier. Nursing a newborn is much more time consuming than nursing a 3-month-old or 6-month-old. It becomes a lot faster and easier as time goes on because baby becomes more efficient and mom more comfortable. What once took 20 minutes will take five minutes.
You are not a milky island. Find support! Find support, tips and tricks from peers, lactation experts and other friends/moms who are walking the same journey you are as a breastfeeding mom. Social media is great for connecting with moms. You can research local moms’ groups and La Leche meetings to connect in-person with others going through the same experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.