Congratulations! Your bumbling little cocoon of joy is home and you couldn’t be more ecstatic, exhausted, scared, and ready to do everything you can for your baby. So...now what?
The choice to breastfeed or not is one of the first decisions you will have to make for your little one. There is no right or wrong answer. No matter what method you choose, the choice to breastfeed is dependent on what you believe will work best for you and your baby.
While this guide was made with breastfeeding mothers in mind, there are plenty of helpful tips and pieces of advice mothers can use whether they are breastfeeding or formula-feeding their baby.
As always, as long as you and your baby are healthy, that is the most important thing. For when you love yourself—and you are happy—you love motherhood even more.
The benefits of breastfeeding are countless. But the most crucial benefit and reason for breastfeeding is the nutrients your baby receives in the breast milk.
Breast milk is jovially called “liquid gold” because of all the built-in natural antibodies, nutrients, proteins, and fats your baby needs to develop. Babies who are breastfed are said to have fewer infections and viruses, and have lower risks of chronic diseases and ailments in the future.
As for the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, when you breastfeed, you burn more calories as your uterine section shrinks back to normal faster than if you were not to breastfeed. Nursing can also speed up healing time and post-delivery bleeding and is said to decrease the risk of having future breast and ovarian cancer.
Nursing also creates a stronger bond between mother and baby. Although difficult at first, breastfeeding leads you to work together with your baby. Finding the right position, recognizing hunger cues, and knowing when they’re satisfied is something you will learn—and become an expert at—over time.
When should my milk come in?
For the initial few days after giving birth, your breasts will produce colostrum or “pre-milk.” After three to four days, you may notice that your breasts are firmer, a sign that breast milk is in the process of being produced and will come in shortly. Keep in mind that all bodies are different. Some mothers may have milk that is quickly produced while others take longer. If you are concerned that your breast milk is taking too long to come in, consult with your doctor or a lactation specialist.
Does breastfeeding hurt?
Breastfeeding will take some getting used to. In the beginning, your breasts may feel sore and tender, but there are positions and techniques you can learn that help your baby latch on correctly while minimizing pain. New mothers may experience a few seconds of initial latch-on pain, but if latched correctly, the pain should subside as the baby feeds. If you have significant pain, try repositioning and re-latching your baby. If the pain still does not decrease, talk with a nursing consultant or doctor to make sure there aren't any other factors, like infection, that may be causing the pain.
How often should I feed?
Your baby will often give hunger cues when he or she is ready to nurse. Hunger cues can include seeking or rooting (looking for or moving their mouth towards the breast or milk source), moving their heads side to side, opening their mouths, and crying (note: crying is a late hunger cue. Your newborn will give you other cues to signal he/she is hungry, but if they go unnoticed, your baby may start to cry.)
Noticing hunger cues can be difficult in the beginning, so putting your baby on a feeding schedule may be more beneficial for you and your baby. A typical schedule is feeding every two hours in the very beginning to help with your baby’s initial weight gain. While feeding every two hours can be exhausting, the more you feed, the more milk will be produced. When you first start breastfeeding, your milk supply will consistently increase until it is fully established around three months. This is why nursing frequently and adhering to a schedule during the first three months will benefit you and your baby in the long-run.
When should I start pumping?
Whether you are going back to work or you want to store breast milk in case you can’t be with your baby, pumping is a great option. If you are exclusively pumping, you can pump as soon as six hours after birth, and then up to 8-12 times a day thereafter. A good tip when it comes to pumping is to pump in the morning. Mothers typically have more milk supply in the morning as opposed to night.
How long do I pump for?
The average recommendation is to pump 15-20 minutes in the beginning when you’re first producing your milk and 30 minutes once your milk is fully established. Some mothers find it more helpful to pump based on a daily volume goal instead of basing pumping off of timed sessions. If you want to aim for a daily volume goal, 25-35 ounces daily is a sufficient amount of milk to produce and store for your baby. If you’re in the initial stage of breastfeeding, know that it will take time to reach this 25-35 daily ounce total, so don’t stress if you can’t produce this much in the beginning!
Do I need to switch sides when breastfeeding?
Most experts recommend alternating sides when you first start breastfeeding in order for both breasts to produce milk. Switching sides during a feeding can also help prevent milk duct blockage and will help both breasts produce milk equally. According to Mom Smart Not Hard, nursing a newborn for 15-20 minutes on each side after let-down is a good starting point. If you decide to breastfeed from only one side during a feeding session, make sure to start with the opposite breast during your next feed.
One breast produces more milk than the other. Is that normal?
While let-down typically occurs at the same time on each side, you may notice that one of your breasts produces more milk than the other. While there is no harm in this, try feeding your newborn longer on the breast that produces less milk. To put it simply, the more your baby feeds, the more milk is produced.
Having one breast produce more milk than the other could also be because your baby has developed a side preference. Try repositioning and do your best to nurse on each side evenly to keep your milk production functioning. Only feeding on one side indefinitely may stop lactation in your opposite breast completely.
Am I feeding too often?
A newborn will typically feed every 1.5 to 3 hours as babies usually digest breast milk within 60-90 minutes. As a newborn, you may feed your baby around 8-12 times a day. After a month or two, your baby won’t need to feed quite as often and may feed around 7-9 times a day. Remember that breast milk is more easily digested than formula, so if you are breastfeeding your baby, don’t compare the amount of feedings to a baby who is formula-fed.
When should I stop breastfeeding completely?
Choosing when to stop breastfeeding is up to you. Doctors often recommend exclusively breastfeeding your newborn (sans formula, non-breast milk food) for the first six months and to continue breastfeeding up to a year in addition to age-appropriate foods. Some mothers choose to continue to breastfeed up to two years if breastfeeding works for both mother and child. Talk with your doctor or a lactation consultant to talk about the best plan for you.
If you lost a significant amount of blood during delivery, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite due to your diminished iron levels. During the postpartum period, focus needs to be placed on rebuilding your red blood cells by meeting your daily suggested intake of iron. Iron in animal and veggie proteins are ideal. Vitamin C aids in more effective iron absorption so consume foods and liquids high in vitamin C.
After delivery, strengthening your nutritional health is critical to you and your baby’s well-being. While all vitamins are good for you and aid in more effective absorption and faster tissue healing, each vitamin ultimately serves a different purpose. Below are some of the most beneficial vitamins to consume during the postpartum period.
Studies have shown women who are nursing can lose 3-5% of their bone mass. During breastfeeding, babies acquire calcium from the mother which is why maintaining calcium intake is so important.
Nursing mothers are said to need double the daily amount of protein than non-pregnant, non-nursing women. Protein is important for developing and growing tissue in the body, can optimize your milk supply, and leaves you with more sustainable energy throughout the day.
Folic acid - or folate - is recognized as an integral vitamin during pregnancy. During the postpartum period, folic acid is just as important while breastfeeding as it aids in the production of red blood cells and proper bone development.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Science has shown that approximately 60% of the brain is comprised of fat. This fatty material is known as DHA or Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown throughout the years that the more Omega-3 your brain consists of, the more effectively your brain functions. When a mother is breastfeeding, the mother’s supply of Omega-3 decreases as some of it passes through to the baby. Eating foods high in Omega-3 or other healthy saturated fats supports proper brain development for the baby, strengthens the immune system, enhances circulation, balances hormones, and has also been known to lessen symptoms of postnatal depression in mothers.
Galactogogues are substances that promote or increase the production of breast milk. Galactogogues are most commonly found in the forms of food, medicinal drugs, and teas.
When breastfeeding, new mothers are often concerned with the amount of milk they produce and how they can increase their milk production to better feed their baby. There are many natural ingredients and supplemental products out there that can help with lactation.
There are a substantial amount of foods and supplements that can help with lactation. Some of these include:
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful, yet very stressful period, especially at the beginning. If you are experiencing pain, are worried that your baby’s health is at risk, or find yourself feeling anxious about breastfeeding, contact a lactation consultant to see how you can make breastfeeding the best experience for you and your child. Search for lactation consultants online in your area, contact your OBGYN, or utilize one of the below resources to find a lactation consultant near you:
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