It’s been 22 days since my second child was born. My nipples throb and I’m loopy from little sleep and bad TV – what better time to have a frank discussion about breastfeeding?
I wish someone would have told me what nursing was really like before I had my first child. Yes, I took the breastfeeding class but it did little to prepare me. My child had a weak suck, didn’t gain enough weight and ended up receiving most of my breast milk through a bottle. I was the poster child for an anxious new mother (my in-laws have told me multiple times how much better I am doing the second time around!).
Equipped with realistic information, I believe the act of getting breast milk to babies can be more successful – and rewarding – for many women. Here’s what I think moms-to-be need to know…
1. The first 6 weeks are grueling: When I was having difficulties breastfeeding my daughter, a friend told me that even when everything goes right, nursing is still hard. Now that I have a successful feeder the second time around I know what she means.
The tough first 6 weeks are the result of recovery from birth mixed with severe lack of sleep and hormonal changes. In order to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship, it’s up to mom to feed baby around the clock (every 1-3 hours). And the first couple nights home from the hospital babies tend to be awake most of the night and asleep all day. Being solely responsible for feeding a baby can weigh on a new, exhausted mother.
Instead of being taking off guard with this reality, a mom-to-be can prepare by letting her loved ones know that breastfeeding will be her main concern the first few weeks. Family and friends can help by bringing meals, watching the baby while she sleeps or babysitting older children. She can work to get everything done before birth so she can put all her energy into feeding, knowing that at about 6 weeks baby will sleep longer and feedings will become more predictable.
2. It hurts! Every nursing book says that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you are doing it right. But most of the moms I know including me, say that sore nipples are a pain those first few weeks. This adds to the challenge of initiating a breastfeeding relationship because newborns like to nurse constantly.
Being proactive about nipple pain management can help a new, nursing mom. Make sure you have some nipple cream like Medela’s lanolin that you can put on your nipples after feeding. Let your nipples air dry when you can. The pain is often due to a bad latch so make sure you see a lactation consultant in the hospital, have one visit you at home or go to support groups for additional help.
3. Pick out a lactation consultant ahead of time: The night I brought my first child home from the hospital my breasts were engorged and she couldn’t latch on. I was up at 3am searching frantically for a lactation consultant hoping to find one available 24 hours a day.
When things go wrong at home you don’t have the luxury of time – you need someone to come right away. Before the baby comes get a list of lactation consultants from friends and pick one just in case you need her. You can even call her ahead of time to check availability. Hopefully you won’t need one but it’s good to have a name and number in your back pocket.
4. Have a pump just in case: Some moms-to-be figure they don’t need a pump right away because they won’t use it until later. Every new mom needs a pump! If your baby has difficulty breastfeeding or won’t latch you’ll need to pump to keep your milk supply up. And if the doctor recommends you supplement with formula you might as well supplement with your own breast milk.
Remember, milk production works on supply and demand and if you give formula your supply decreases. If this happens in the first few weeks, you may not be able to get your supply back up later. Additionally, pumping allows your husband or partner to take over one late night feeding to give you a much-needed break.
5. You’ll be convinced you don’t have enough milk: Newborns nurse frequently. I used to take this as a sign that I didn’t have enough milk. The books I read said newborns feed every 3 hours. Apparently my second child didn’t read these books because he likes to feed constantly – and I’m trusting he knows what he’s doing. Babies also go through growth spurts at 3 weeks and 6 weeks when all they want to do is nurse. Knowing this is normal can ease your mind and build confidence that you do indeed have enough milk.
As long as your baby is gaining weight and having enough pee and poo diapers, they are fine. Save the routine-building for after 6 weeks and just feed your baby when they seem hungry.
6. The payoff is huge: Okay, enough of the downsides to breastfeeding. Once you get past 6 weeks you begin to see the benefits. Pain subsides and feedings become predictable. You start to enjoy the time alone with your baby. When baby wakes in the middle of the night there’s no need to warm up milk you just feed them and put them back to sleep. Babies become more efficient and breastfeed quicker. Knowing how hard it once was makes your success even sweeter. When it’s time to wean it’s usually hardest on mom.
7. There’s a third feeding option: When my first child refused to breastfeed at 7 weeks I was devastated. But I remembered that my sister-in-law pumped milk for her daughter for 6 months. So I decided to pump as long as I could. Not only did I make enough milk for my daughter but I produced about 5 extra ounces a day that I stashed in the freezer. Yes, pumping was a pain but I was still able to get breast milk to my daughter and it got easier as time went by. I kept offering her the breast and at 4 months she started to breastfeed. We made it 11 months with a combination of breastfeeding and pumping. I was very grateful for that pump!
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against formula. I know that breastfeeding does not always work for every mom. But exclusive pumping is another option for moms to consider. Most healthcare providers don’t know about full-time pumping and may discourage you from it. Just know that many moms make it work – for more information see this book/website on exclusive pumping, check out www.gotbreastpump.com and visit the online support forum (pumping moms) at Baby Center.
My hope is that breastfeeding goes smoothly for new moms everywhere. But by being prepared for the potential pitfalls, moms are more likely to be successful in this venture.
For more on infant nutrition see our Infant Feeding Guide
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