Tips for Breastfeeding Success
Natural, Not Instinctive
Breastfeeding is the best way to forge a bond with your new baby and take care of his needs all at once. It's the very best food, and 100% natural. Each year, scientists make new discoveries about the nearly miraculous properties of mother's milk. Anecdotally, some newer studies even suggest that breastfeeding can make your baby smarter!
Breastfeeding is natural; that doesn't mean it's instinctive. You will need to learn to breastfeed, and so will your baby. Misinformation and misconceptions abound, and it is important to have a good coach. Your breastfeeding coach can be the lactation consultant employed at your hospital; La Leche League volunteers are another good choice. Most hospitals offer breastfeeding classes that you can take while still pregnant. Many are offered for couples, and this is helpful, because your partner can help you remember all of that new information!
A Good Latch
Learning Breastfeeding as a Skill
As you will learn in your breastfeeding class, as well as from any books you read, or from lactation consultants or other knowledgeable breastfeeding coaches, there are a few things you must master:
- A Supported Head: In your comfortable seated position, and usually with the assistance of a nursing pillow, be sure that your infant's head is properly supported at the base of the skull (not the neck).
- A Good Latch: Unlike bottle feeding, in which the milk will flow without any prompting once the bottle is turned upside down, the breast needs stimulation. Stimulation comes from the outer portion of the areola, not the nipple. In order to get proper milk flow, and avoid pain and irritation, the infant must have as much of the brown portion of the breast in his mouth as possible, not just the nipple. If your infant is only latching onto the nipple, your breastfeeding relationship will be short-lived, frustrating, and painful. To get the good latch you want, offer the breast to the baby, and wait until his mouth is open very wide to bring him to your breast. A good latch will involve the nipple itself being toward the back of his mouth.
- A Clear Airway: Since your infant's mouth is presumably in use, you must be cognizant of his airways, and keep his nose free. Especially if you are well-endowed, your breast may have a tendency to press against his nose. To keep this from happening, be sure that you don't hold your infant's head at an angle where his forehead is facing your breast. In other words, don't press his face into your breast.
- A Buried Chin: The best way to keep the nose free (above) is to bury the chin. Be sure that your infant's chin is pressed into the bottom of your breast.
Common Issues, Misconceptions, and Pitfalls
- "I'm not making enough milk!" Yes, yes, you are. Except in very rare cases, you are making enough milk. It won't seem that way because a) the breastfed baby will eat every two hours for half an hour or so, and that will seem like he is eating constantly, and b) the newborn typically cries for no discernible reason quite frequently, and that may make you question whether he is getting enough to eat. Trust me, the newly born infant's stomach is only the size of a marble. After a few days, it's still only the size of a golf ball. Your milk supply will grow according to how often and how much your baby eats. That doesn't mean that the growing of your milk supply will be a walk in the park. Your baby will have hungry days once in a while as your milk supply catches up. It's part of nature.
- Supplementing with Formula: It's a slippery slope. Remember, remember, remember the size of your new baby's stomach. The bottles that are distributed in hospitals are typically two ounces, which is WAY more than your new baby needs. If you "supplement" with one of these bottles, you should not feed the baby the entire bottle, or what you are really doing is feeding formula, and supplementing with breastmilk. Supplementing with 2 ounce bottles of formula has the unpleasant and cumulative effect of stretching your baby's stomach to a size that can't be filled with your breastmilk. This means that if you start supplementing with large amounts early on, you may find yourself needing to supplement more and more as your body continues to make less than your baby needs. Your body will only make as much breastmilk as your baby is consuming, so if your baby is getting a large proportion of his nutrition elsewhere, your body will learn not to make as much as your baby really eats. If you must supplement with formula on day 2 or 3, before your milk "comes in," supplement with only 10 to 20 milliliters of formula at a time, maxiumum. Don't worry about wasting the formula; your baby doesn't need the whole bottle. Then, once your milk comes in, phase out the formula as soon as possible in order to guarantee that your body makes the proper amount of milk.
- "I'm not sure I'm getting full enough." Don't pay attention to your size or your firmness. Pay attention to swallows and diapers. If you are hearing a lot of glugging, and if your baby is having enough wet and poopy diapers, you are full enough.
- "He's crying; It must be something I ate." There is actually very little evidence to support the many old wives' tales that surround breastfeeding and various foods. Remember that formula feeding mothers have similar fussiness issues with their infants, and they never wonder if the grass or grains fed to the cow that produced the milk that was processed into the baby's formula made the baby gassy. If you notice an obvious pattern, it could be a sign of a food sensitivity or allergy. Otherwise, eat as you normally would (skip the McDonald's), but add about 500 calories.
- "I shouldn't breastfeed when I'm sick, should I?" Yes, yes you should. In fact, breastfeeding when you are sick is one of those miracles of nature. You know those antibodies your body is producing to fight off your illness? Well, they appear in your breastmilk, effectively helping your little one to fight off this illness that they haven't even caught.
- "The baby breaks the latch- What should I do?" There are a lot of reasons why a baby breaks a latch. If the baby is young, he probably just got his airway blocked and needs to take a breath. If he is older, he might be distracted by something else in the room. Offer him the breast again, and if he is hungry, he will get back down to business. If this is a very common occurrence, it could be a gastrointestinal issue, and might be worth bringing up to your doctor at your next pediatric visit.
Take all of the help you are offered, and that means enrolling in a breastfeeding class (mine was taught by the hospital's lactation consultant, meaning that I already knew her when the time came for her to visit my hospital room), and asking once you are checked into the maternity ward to have the lactation consultant come as soon as is reasonably possible after your delivery. Some hospitals even have a hotline that breastfeeding mothers can call after they return home. After returning home, mothers, mothers-in-law, other relatives, and friends can also be invaluable resources in helping you to learn the best techniques for breastfeeding.
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